Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Three things contemporary Orthodox Judaism needs to fix

As we enter Elul, the month of reflection, repentance and growth, I'd like to start a conversation about the things we'd like to see changed in out culture and community. 

To get things started here are three of my personal pet peeves:

(1) The fetishization of the black hat. There is nothing special or holy about a clothing style, yet we continue to teach our kids that wearing a hat is important and a sign of refinement.  The fact that our generation attaches so much significance to a stupid piece of shaped felt, originally popularized by gangsters, is strong evidence of our superficiality and fascination with spiritual short cuts. I think this hat love also contributes to the OTD problem. Teenagers have a sixth sense for BS. Rebbes who preach unrealistically and irresponsibly about the importance of hats are, in fact, undermining themselves and the system itself. 

(2) The fetishization of cholent and kugel. The food we love is making us fat and unhealthy. Don't believe me? Take a good look around your shteiblel this weekend and count the fatties. If your shul is like every other shul at least half the men are obese, and most of the rest are getting there. This problem isn't unique to Judaism of course - most Americans are too fat. The difference is that upper-class Americans, generally, recognize the importance of living and eating healthy while Orthodox Jews, generally, do not. A fancy prep school, for example, won't serve grease and fat for lunch, but in the finest yeshivahs kugel and cholent are deemed excellent school lunches -- and the parent body offers not one word of protest. 

(3) The rejection of science: We're raising a generation of Todd Akins. Its bad enough our children are taught that evolution is a conspiracy involving nearly every living scientist*, but they are also taught that their health problems can be cured with blessings and spells. Most of the wealthiest Rabbis in Israel are faith healers, who have accumulated massive fortunes by peddling snake-oil to simpletons. And while we can count on Avi Safran to yell and scream about women who learn Torah, the chief spokesman of Agudah hasn't yet been troubled to denounce the criminal behavior of those so-called Rabbis who capitalize handsomely on the failings of our educational system.

* A paraphrase of something Laura Helmuth said

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