Thursday, October 27, 2005

Why I blog

Sunday, we went to the city to see the sites. When the lunch bell rang, we bought a pie at Jerusalem, and took it to the Lubovitch Sukkah in Bryant Park, behind the public library.

In the sukka, a medium sized lubovitch man nodded a hello, and pointed us to a table. The group behind us - a pack of teenaged girls, many of whom were wearing pants - received a different greeting: "Did you shake the lulav today?" Three of the girls said no, so one-by-one the man gave each an esrog and a Lubovitch lulav (one with perhaps 25 haddasim on it, instead of the customary three) with instructions to say the blessing and to shake the lulav according to the Hasidic custom: Right, Left, Front, Up, Down, Back.

Were the girls of Hasidic ancestry? No. So why weren't they given a lulav with three hadasim? Why weren't they taught their own custom? And, yes, of course, I know that these questions are Lilliputian indeed, but this small quibble is part of a much broader complaint. Increasingly, as Orthodox Jews talk about "authenticity" and "legitimacy" the old ashkenaz customs have become marginalized. I attend a shul where the majority of the membership are convinced that singing Yigdal after maariv Friday night is a "modern" or "Young Israel" practice, when in fact it predates their shtriemals. In my own shul, I am an outsider because my nusach - a nusach that dates to the Geonim, is deemed inferior by men who use a nusach established less than 500 years ago, and because my clothing is deemed too modern by men who descend from men who consciously chose to copy the dress of Polish and Hungarian aristos.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg. I blog in a community where people are happy to tell you that certain practices and beliefs are Torah True - to the exclusion of all of other Jewish practices and beliefs - when in fact, the tradition records a multiplicity of approaches. Just last year our very own gedolim deleted the Tiferes Yisroel and Samson Rephael Hirsch from the mesorah when they were found to support R' Slifkin's view of the universe. Orthodox Jewish people have lost their tolerance for diversity, for the richness of Judaism's own tradition. And with it - or perhaps because of this - Orthodox Jewish people have lost their respect for Orthodox Jewish people like me.