Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sociology Without Leaving Home

I find myself in disagreement with much that Samuel Heilmann has written over the years. I think his basic premise is faulty in that he starts with the assumption that Orthodoxy is essentially more or less like the version he is comfortable with, and all deviations from the way he grew up need an explanation. His base line Orthodoxy is what they used to call the Orthodoxy of the ‘big shuls’ as opposed to the shteiblech, yeshivish and chasidisher minyanim. In these big tent sorts of places everyone was Orthodox, but some were lax in their observance. If left-wing Modern Orthodox becomes the paradigm, charedi life is marginalized and, as a result, becomes a problem that requires a special explanation.

None of this corresponds to my own recollection. The Orthodox refugees who came to America immediately before the war largely came from traditional homes in Eastern Europe. None of these people had the slightest familiarity with American Conservative or Reform Judaism. After the war, the bulk of the people who came to Orthodoxy were Ultra and Strict Orthodox, and not Modern Orthodox. The famous yeshivas in New York and elsewhere were already seriously frum before the war. Although the world was frum, the current ideological divisions were much less severe. I’ll give a few examples.

In my youth, I remember reading that the Satmar Rav, Harav Yoel Teitelbaum z”l gave a talk in Mesivta Torah Vodaath. It wasn’t considered particularly odd for the leader of the anti-Zionist and the most extreme version of Hungarian Transylvanian chassidus to be invited to speak in an American yeshiva. While we’re on the topic of anti-Zionism, it’s useful to remember that the American Agudah in the 50’s was far from being a pro-Zionist movement. It is my understanding, and readers can send in their own impressions, that the ideology that was dominant in Agudah, especially in Camp Agudah in those years was very close to the Neturei Karta position that is today considered over the top, off the wall, and extremist. The charedim then were less Zionist than today where many have turned more right wing pro-settler. Nevertheless the contacts between Strict Orthodox Agudah and Mizrachi Jews was closer than today.

I remember in my teenage years Rabbi I. Domb’s The Transformation: The Case of Neturei Karta was being passed around, not exactly what you would call a left wing Modern Orthodox manual. Some friends read The Transformation, some played basketball, and some talked eventually about philosophy of science or mathematics. Some did all three. I did not feel growing up that my surroundings were particularly extreme or charedi. It didn’t feel charedi. It didn’t feel Modern Orthodox. It felt like growing up with everyone else, some bigger learners, some less into learning, more frum, less frum. It’s called growing up in a neighborhood. I should also add that at least during adolescence people didn’t sort themselves into cliques based on religiosity. You played ball, schmoozed, kibitzed with whoever was around. I am willing to bet many others had similar experiences.

The parents who sent their children to the famous American yeshivas and bais yaakovs were not Modern Orthodox Jews who became more religious. They were European Jews who originally came from families that today would be called Strict Orthodox, but who might have modernized somewhat before and after the war. Charedi life was not foreign to them. The same phenomenon exists today. There are thousands of Orthodox Jews who want to daven in a chassidish shteibel, perhaps headed by some miniscule rebbele. It’s not because they are so charedi themselves, but because that way of life is familiar and comfortable. Even if they go to the movies and send their son or daughter to YU, they might want their rav to wear an appropriate outfit. They want to daven nusach sfard. Heimish chassidish is a big tent, capacious space.

Many, many of the students at Yeshiva University and its associated schools were drawn from the ranks of families that were connected to a European orthodoxy. I would say that in those days the lines of separation between the various stripes were loosely drawn. One kid went to Chaim Berlin and Brooklyn College. His brother or cousin might have gone to YU. In the years immediately after the war the ideological separations we have today were much gentler. It wasn’t so uncommon for someone to be a Munkaczer chasid, with all that such an affiliation implies, and be clean shaven and sympathize with the Mizrachi.

Heilman’s attributing college and professional education to Modern Orthodox and learning, kolel and estrangement from the world to charedim is just not the way it happened. It was all mixed up…big learners went to college and became charedim big time. Plenty of guys who didn’t go to college or went to college and dropped out were Modern Orthodox . The attitude towards college as most everyone knows hardened as the years went by.

Heilman will have none of this. If children grew up in America yeshivish and frum, it’s because the charedi influence infiltrated American Orthodoxy and captured these children from their modern parents. He is describing, what I consider, a marginal phenomenon: a Modern Orthodox day school that can’t find Modern Orthodox teachers and must import extremist yeshiva trained teachers, who in turn, indoctrinate these modern kids. It is not the way I experienced the formative years of American Judaism. My experience was of somewhat modernized parents happily sending their children to the great American yeshivas.

There were plenty of crossover rabbis. Rabbi Maryles has just written (10/25) a detailed, vivid portrait of the Skokie Yeshiva as a premier Modern Orthodox institution that in more recent years has turned charedi. Yet at various points during its Modern Orthodox period two important charedi personalities taught there, and no one gave it a second thought, Rabbi Kreisworth z’’l who became the head of the distinguished charedi community of Antwerp, and yibadel lchaim Rabbi Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe and current head of the Moetzet Gedolei Hatorah. In the years after the war many Strict Orthodox Jews were distinguished rosh yeshivas at YU, the intellectual, spiritual center of MO. Consider the case of Rabbi Bleich who teaches at YU, who was trained elsewhere in, I assume, more charedi institutions. His books on halachic problems are read and accepted by most everyone. Is he RWMO or LWUO? No…he is Rabbi Bleich whose books are read and accepted by most everyone. I can give many more examples where the attempt to impose sociological ideal types on a fluid reality leads to ludicrous results.

The entire schematic categories of MO and UO, and the neologisms RW (right wing) and LW (left wing) UO and MO were either nonexistent or didn’t carry the rigid associations they do today. A downside of the Jewish world of blogging is that everyone, me included, has become an amateur sociologist. It is important to remember that the typological categories being used do not and never did pick out unique non-overlapping classes of people. Many Jews were and are a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

Heilman’s narrative is not only biased against charedim, it is far too neat and artificial and fails to capture the complex strands that were interwoven to create the colorful tapestry we have today. Heilman gets his story wrong because he has a story, and then makes a messy reality fit his tidy theories. His story consciously or not is permeated with the entire edifice of the sociological literature on acculturation and assimilation. His observations, to the extent that he does look outside, are totally theory laden. He sees what his theories tell him to see.

A better way would have been to have talked to people, hundreds, thousands, and listen empathically. Try to get a feel what it was to belong to Breuer’s kehila, Bais Medrash Elyon, YU, the Young Israel of Boro Park and on and on. Only then should he have put together a narrative. But with Heilman you get the feeling he can produce an answer without ever leaving his office.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Orthodoxy and the Holocaust

In his book called Sliding to the Right, Samuel Heilman provides a summary of his insights from his previous publications and tries to provide a coherent sociological narrative of how American Orthodoxy became what it is today. One area, and there are many, where I disagree with Heilman’s account of the origins and development of Orthodoxy is the role he attributes to the Holocaust in shaping the attitudes of the community. He uses the Holocaust as a sort of deus- ex- machina to solve the problems that occur in his narrative. Why do charedim have so many children? Answer: the Holocaust. The charedi world was determined not to give Hitler a posthumous victory. Sounds right, except for one thing. Why didn’t all the other Jews that went through the Holocaust have a lot of kids? Even the Orthodox Frankfurt Jews in Washington Heights, who were certainly as familiar as the Hungarians and the American yeshiva people with the Holocaust, did not have large families. Second, each subsequent generation in Ultra-Orthodox Jewish life has more kids than the previous generation. If the grandparents, having lived through the terrible years of the Hitler period, didn’t think the Holocaust were grounds for having ten kids, why did the children need a victory over Nazism? No problem…the parents couldn’t, you see they were 'greener' (new immigrants) , but the children could. Maybe. And why do the grandchildren 60 years later have even more children? Aduh.

Similarly, Heilman uses the Holocaust as a way of giving an account of why charedim were secessionist from American culture and why they work so hard to form a counterculture. He gives scant attention to the fact that charedim were secessionist in Europe. Rabbi S.R. Hirsch used this technique with great success in Frankfurt, the Hungarians picked it up, and it became a dominant idea in Agudah circles. In Eastern Europe, where there wasn’t any reform and the kulturkampf was less severe, there was still a tradition of limited contact with secular Jews and the gentile environment. One doesn’t need a Holocaust to explain why Ultra-Orthodox life is inward looking and xenophobic. If the holocaust was crucial in the self definition of charedim, Reb Moshe Feinstein would never have said flat out, as he did, that a special Holocaust Remembrance Day is unnecessary.

My main objection to using the idea of the Holocaust as an explanation of any aspect of Orthodoxy is that it goes counter to my own experience. I remember, as if it was yesterday, Orthodox Jews after the war shpatzering (strolling) on Shabbus, speaking to each other in German and a mixture of Yiddish Deutsch as if the war had not occurred. Some Oberlander Jews continue to speak a dialect of Judeo- German even today. The Hungarians spoke Ungarish. All these people knew Yiddish. I assume they spoke German and Hungarian because they liked speaking the languages. They knew who the Germans were and what they did. They knew the Hungarian and Romanian fascists were not much better.

Let’s focus on shpatzering, Every attempt was made to carry on life just the way it was before the war. The women were farputzed, the men paid attention to how they looked. Nobody was rich, certainly not by today’s standards. But there was this European tradition of caring about and taking care of clothes. They pulled it off. A little fur trim here, a piece of jewelry there, the ensembles somehow came together. All this took effort and shopping and planning; and pretty much everyone did some of it. How many times did I hear that Budapest was the Paris of the East? (I remember thinking at one point why don’t they call Paris the Budapest of the West.) The idea was to be elegaant. And they were. Very much so. The acting out of this entire fantasy would have been impossible in a population that was traumatized by the Holocaust.

The primary way of dealing with the Holocaust was not denial, but an intense attempt to recreate what they had before the war. They wanted the same clothes, the same language, the same style shuls. They clustered according to regions, gubernias and towns. A favorite conversation piece began ‘’Where are you from? Oh, from Diniv , that’s near Bluzhov, west of Ropschitz ...Yes... I know, I know, I just said its close. Don’t tell me, I’ll remember. You go right just outside Diniv and then after maybe 10 kilometers you turn right again. Yes, yes I know where it is.’’ By the time I was ten I had heard the names of so many European towns and cities I used to play East European geography. Everyone knew what had happened to Diniv and Bluzhov. Everyone knew there was no going back. It was still reassuring to talk about it.

There was no serious talk about the Holocaust for the first fifteen or twenty years after the war. People were actually enjoying life during the Truman and Eisenhower years, not exactly what you expect from a community suffering traumas from the Holocaust. It is true people were hysterical about finding any relatives that might have survived. People searched the HIAS lists to see if anybody they might have known was still alive. They put ads in newspapers, here and in Israel. But the search for relatives was part of the attempt to get on with life. Not the sort of morbid preoccupation we have today with life in the concentration camps and the sadism of the Nazis. Books about the Holocaust didn’t appear in any number until the seventies and eighties. If everyone was so busy with the Holocaust, and if this was the dominating influence in their lives, why were there no publications? If you look at the many Yizkor (Holocaust Remeberance) books of the period, the treatment of the Holocaust is very superficial. Every attempt was to remember life before the Germans came. Everyone knew fully well what happened once they came.

When I was a young child, and the table conversation turned to relatives who perished during the Holocaust, I was told "The Nazis, yimach shemum, came and murdered everybody. Eat your peas."

I think there’s an important difference between Holocaust survivors and their families, and refugees or others who survived Nazism, but not in the camps (e.g. in the forests or behind Soviet lines.) In the case of Holocaust survivors, it is true that some of them, not all, were so traumatized they never fully recovered. Many managed to drive their children ‘crazy.’ There is merit to the idea of treating children of Holocaust survivors as a special psychiatric category when appropriate. The case is totally different with refugees, etc. Their traumas were in the context of the twentieth century not that abnormal, and being the resourceful Jews they were, they were determined to rebuild their lives as quickly as possible. I once heard a psychiatrist say that there’s a special category of children of refugees of the Holocaust. I think the psychiatrist was trying to make a living by inventing new traumas.

The public culture that Orthodox Jews created after the war was not the culture of Holocaust survivors. It was a culture of refugees and religious Jews who came to America before and after the war. Even when Holocaust survivors told their stories, and I remember a few from my youth, they did not linger and repeat the stories endlessly. Public discourse was always about the present and the future, as it should be.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


I just came back yesterday from a chasuna and was very exhausted from the trip. I had heard at the wedding, news travels very quickly, that Hirhurim, Rabbi Gil Student, one of the most respected bloggers in this Jewish space, said nice things about my blog. When I came home and got to see his post and the comments, I found it all somewhat overwhelming. It felt very much like I was sitting in a semi-dark room engrossed in thought and, all of a sudden, someone turned on all the lights. When a person is young, they drop in at each other’s homes without hesitation. At my age, I wouldn’t mind visiting my friends without calling, but I wouldn’t want anyone dropping in my house without a week’s notice. Here I come home, there are a thousand unexpected visitors and I forgot where I put the napkins.

So first things first. I’d like to thank Rabbi Student for being so kind and generous, and I should add courageous. I don’t believe Rabbi Student has read all my comments, but I’m sure he read enough to realize that I have and am going to say things, from time to time, that he most certainly would not agree with. It takes a certain true understanding of tolerance and pluralism on his part, to say what he said. Everyone must understand that I do not take what Rabbi Student said as a haskamah (certification of approval) on the contents of what I have written, and I am certain that it was not intended as such.

I would also like to thank all the kind people who went out of their way to say nice things about my blog in the comments section. Frequently I experiment with different voices, sometimes more funny, sometimes more moralistic, and I never quite know how it will work. So I am really pleased to see that I have not made a total fool out of myself.

In my comment on Hirhurim, I made a Freudian boo-boo. I wanted to say that my blog has twists and turns that might not be appropriate for everyone. I take my responsibility as a blogger seriously. I should have said caveat emptor, meaning buyer beware. Since my Latin is almost as good as my Greek, I made a Freudian slip and said carpe diem, which means seize the day. Here I was trying to protect people and I ended up saying don’t be so cowardly and go for it.

A number of people said that I’m writing too quickly by putting out a post every day. I know this, but my thought was to say what I had to say and stop. I wasn’t hoping to become a columnist. I’m trying to present a way of looking at Jewish life and that’s it. While I was away I realized that, although this is my intent, it’s not going to be so easy. I was working on notes for a piece on Yiddish, which I then saw could be split into two, which got me thinking about Bundists, which in turn raised issues of the thirties and forties, and all of a sudden there are eight possible posts. Writing a post everyday, indefinitely, is much too difficult for me. I’m going to cut back to three or four times a week and see what happens. It is still my goal to stop at some point.

I want to say something about the literary conceit involved in my blog. I am trying to write an allgemeiner blog, one that appeals to all segments of Jewish life. I’m especially concerned with not alienating secular liberal Jews. My goal and I know it’s a bit grandiose, is that I should be considered a definite but honest person by Jews of very different religious persuasions. In order for me to get anywhere with this conceit, I must maintain my anonymity. It is important for me to be able to write about secular Jewish life from a charedi point of view, charedi Jewish life from a secular point of view, shift tones and perspectives, and so on. Once I become the topic of conversation, it’s going to be very difficult. My feeling is that a person has to have a self that is together and coherent. It’s less necessary, in this post-modern age, to have one identity. Identities are much more fluid and there are fragments of different identities in many of us.

My intent is to write an interesting constructive blog. My goal is never to try to move furniture around. My goal is simply to put out an idea and ask people to think about it for themselves, and decide where they stand. I have a sharp tongue and, in real life, I have a colorful tongue. The way I frequently write is to work up a little passion about the topic. I said, in my first post, that a certain rabbi was either a fool or corrupt. I opted for fool. I’ll add that I remember a time, way before this rabbi became a gadol, when I and everyone else still saw him as an ordinary mortal, with an ordinary family. I do not believe there are many liberal bloggers out there today, who worked harder to provide a coherent appreciation of gadolim, Daas Torah, Kollelim and the life of Torah than myself. I stand by what I said until someone shows me how I made a mistake.

I ask everyone including those who really don’t like what I write not to out me. I am a private person with no aspirations other than trying to present a view I have about Jewish life. I should be entitled to do that without difficulties.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Obama and Me

The conservative David Brooks and the liberal Maureen Dowd have both recently called upon Barack Obama to run for the Democratic nomination for president. I am beside myself with misery. It’s not that I disapprove of Obama. Quite the contrary, I like him very much and I will certainly vote for him ahead of Hilary. I am unhappy because of a story I am about to tell.

A true story that happened, happened this way. I live on a fairly busy street with a lawn in front of my house. Every time elections roll around, people come to me and ask if I would put up a sign for their favorite candidate. I generally refuse because I don’t want to get too involved. I used to put up signs for my Congressman, Sidney Yates. I was about Yates. He was in Congress for like forty years until he was, maybe, a hundred and twelve. Whenever they asked him anything he said “I’m in favor of funding for the arts.” Vietnam…arts. Budget deficit…arts. With Yates, I knew his position on everything and I agreed. I, too, like funding for the arts. When he wasn’t talking about the arts, he stayed home and rested.

He then retired and I was left with Jan Schakowsky, a Jewish woman who has an opinion on everything. I went to a little pot-luck dinner fund-raising deal, and they asked her for a brisket recipe. She had an opinion. They then asked her about NAFTA, she also had an opinion. The ACLU gives her, on a scale of 0 to 100, a 400 rating. I vote for her but I’m not about Schakowsky, and she gets no sign on my lawn.

Four years ago, people came and said there’s this guy Obama, he’s really cool and would I put up a sign for him in the upcoming primary. I asked my beloved late wife a‘’h, what to do and she said sensibly, “He ain’t no Yates.” So I said no. Then my friends came and said, “There’s this heimisher guy Klein, he’s running for traffic court judge…we know him…he has some opposition this time around. Help us out. We don’t know anyone else in Evanston.” I say okay. I put up a sign for Klein. On my street, we end up with 15 Obama posters, 5 Schakowsky, and 1 Klein, My neighbor comes and asks who and why Klein. I say, “Very liberal guy. Solid opinions. Gem of a fellow.” The neighbor says, “What are you talking about? He’s running for traffic court judge.” I sputter, “Very, very, fair man. Trust me.”

The primaries come around and Obama wins by an overwhelming landslide. In Evanston he got 102% of the vote (remember we’re talking Chicago, where we vote early and often). Schakowsky mobilizes her little machine and trounces Klein. People walk by my house saying, “Poor guy, he was in favor of Klein.” I hid my head in shame and tried to forget about the whole affair. But they don’t let me rest. As the Yiddish expression goes ‘’It would be possible to live, but they don’t let.’’

Obama is running for President, and I could have been in on the ground floor. If Obama wins the presidency, and had I been clever enough to take his stupid sign, there’s no telling what could have happened to me. I would have been invited to all these meetings, I would have made a strategic donation here, and there, and he would have owed me big time, this Obama, since I would have been one of his earliest supporters. Maybe an ambassadorship to Togo or the Fuji Islands, you never know. I then would have been Togo Jew instead of Evanston Jew. But all this will never happen. He won’t even invite me to a victory Kiddush downtown.

The moral lesson to this sad tale is: there’s more to life than being heimish.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Empathy in Jewish Life

I want to talk about the role of empathy in Jewish life. First of all, what is empathy? It’s not the same as sympathy, though sometimes the two words are used as synonyms. Sympathy involves compassion for another human being. You might have rachumnis for somebody, without having much idea who the person is or what it is like to be such a person. For example, we might show sympathy and compassion for the sorrows and troubles of homeless refugees. Empathy most often refers to a vicarious participation in the emotions, ideas, or opinions of others, the ability to imagine oneself in the condition or predicament of another. Empathy is essentially a tool of observation, a way of collecting data about another human being. After the data is collected, there is still a need for interpretation, analysis, etc. It’s no different in principle from perception or hearing or smell. It’s a way of finding out about the world outside, but only with respect to fellow human beings. You have reason to be concerned if you begin to feel empathy for a rock.

Empathy is a skill that is acquired. How does empathy actually work? Unlike sight or hearing there is no particular apparatus involved. Some people are better at it than others. It takes practice. You have to be able to put yourself in another’s position and try to imagine or feel what it is to be that person in that position. It helps if you can find the other in yourself. It works, I believe, by being present to another, and not allowing your principles and ideals to interfere prematurely. The relevant question is always what does the other believe, how does he perceive the world. I admit our ability to be empathic is a bit of a mystery or maybe it should be called a miracle. If not for empathy we would never really connect with anyone outside ourselves.

If you’re not too secure about who you are, if you imagine the other as being very, very different, it’s going to be a lot harder to imagine yourself as the other person. All your energies are being spent holding yourself together and projecting onto others traits that are unacceptable to your conscious ideals. In terms of my discussion about narcissism in Jewish life, groups that are more narcissistic and insecure are less likely to be empathic to other groups. I’ve already worked the theme in my previous post and I don’t want to repeat myself.

I want to give a different example of empathy in Jewish life. I think the relationship between a Rebbe and a chasid is to be understood partially in terms of the empathy that the Rebbe can have for his disciple. After all, how does a Rebbe know what to tell a chasid when he comes in with a request (kvitel)? It’s not a trivial question because there’s a huge anecdotal body of evidence that Chassidic Rebbes are very helpful in talking with their Chasidim and helping them make important life decisions. I say that the great Rebbes have, first of all, an intuitive understanding of people, which comes from a vast experience of talking to and helping people. Intuition is not empathy. Intuition is the ability of some gifted practitioner, doctor, lawyer, or rebbe, to speedily and preconsciously collect a large number of details and evaluate the possible outcomes. Empathy, on the other hand, involves the ability of the Rebbe to put himself in the chasid’s place, to feel what the chasid is feeling and to look at the world from the chasid’s perspective. Once the data is gathered, the Rebbe goes back into himself, analyzes and interprets the information, and has enough distance from the material to sort out plausible ways to proceed.

Sometimes empathy alone, without any advice, is of great value. When you go on a shiva visit, all a person has to do is listen and, somehow, not necessarily verbally, communicate to the mourner that he knows what the other is going through. Similarly, when you’re talking to a depressed person, it is frequently a bad idea to say, “Why are you depressed? Snap out of it!” which only makes the person feel worse. Many times the best thing a person can do is to communicate “I know where you’re coming from; I understand why you feel this way.” The Bible describes God’s empathy as being-with- us in our woes (imoh anochi btzurah). Being- with another human being is the most basic way we can relate to others. I believe that the ability to be empathically with another is the essence of the virtue called ahavath yisroeol, love of one’s fellow Jew.

One last glaring example of the lack of empathy on both sides is the Israeli –Palestinian conflict. Here two insecure people, one might even say two traumatized people, find themselves more or less incapable of mutual empathy. Life is too short to spell this out in detail. Most Jews would think my analyzing the conflict in clinical psychological terms is one more example how muddled a liberal can become. In any event I have already said much of what I have to say on this topic in my earlier posts about the conflict.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Jewish Narcissism

In my last post ‘Dvekus for Dummies’, I said (I’m beginning to quote myself; very sad.):

‘’The opposite of dvekus is self absorption. Religious narcissism frequently leads to a self absorbed type of Judaism that is most concerned about how the chosen subgroup is really better than all others. For narcissistic Jews, no one but members of their small group is quite good enough, and even within their group, they are not quite sure.’’ Such Jews have fallen pathologically in love with their own and their group’s religious perfection.

Now there is something of a difficulty here. Religion is a serious business. Every individual and group naturally feels their way is right and good. How do we differentiate between a natural commitment to some particular religious practices, e.g. Right Wing Conservadox with a dollop of Reconstructionist ideas, and a pathological self absorption in one’s own religious way?

It’s possible to have fanatic Reform Jews who are closed to any other way of being Jewish and, it’s possible to have flexible tolerant charedim. So, the right- wing left-wing indicators are of little value. Following Kohut, and generalizing his results to groups, I want to offer some signs, none of which are conclusive, but may very well be indicative of an infantile narcissistic attitude with respect to one’s religious position. Here are some signs:

Object love: The opposite of loving yourself is to love objects outside yourself. At the most basic human level it involves love of spouse, children, parents, friends, community, and to a lesser degree, all other Jews and, ultimately, mankind. At the higher, more sublimated level, it involves a dvekus to/or immersion in some transcendental object, God, Torah, metaphysical truths, and in a more secular context, art, music, the law, science, and so on. The more secure a group is regarding their own acceptability, the more a religious stripe has a sense of who they are, and the more safely internalized their system of values-the more self-confidently and effectively will they be able to offer love, care, and empathy for other stripes. I would attribute much of the backbiting and hostility between charedim and Modern Orthodox to the failure of the above conditions to be satisfied. Both groups are not secure in their acceptability to others. Both groups are defining who they are as they go along, and both groups have not yet fully internalized their own system of values. They are not secure enough, are too much on the defensive to be generous and appreciative of each other.

Humor: When a group’s values and ideals are secure in a non-defensive way, it becomes possible for religious ideals to coexist with a sense of proportion with respect to these ideals, which can then be expressed through humor. On the other hand, a fanatic group is, at best, capable of sarcasm, but are never really able to get any distance on their preoccupations. Making a joke about something held sacred is taboo. It is frequently said extremist Muslims don’t have a sense of humor, and there is no reason to doubt that such an observation is correct. Some Jewish religious stripes continue to have a sense of infantile grandiosity, which enables them to aspire to being sovereign over all of Jewish life and to imagine themselves as most perfect in the eyes of God. When these feelings are transformed so that they accord with more realistic perceptions, the feelings of triumphalism will give way to a greater sense of humor, and an ability to see these aspirations in a more realistic light. Until then, triumphalist groups are a humorless lot when it comes to questions of their special place in Gods eyes.

Wisdom: Wisdom can generally be considered one of the cognitive and emotional peaks of human development, and is associated, usually, with late-middle and old-age. When the ideals and the aspirations of a group are fully integrated, then the group begins to behave in a manner that exhibits wisdom. In the case of an individual, it is quite common that a modicum of wisdom appears at the end of a successful psychoanalysis. When such wisdom appears, the patient is able to maintain his self-esteem despite the recognition of his limitations, and to feel friendly, respect, and gratitude towards the analyst despite the recognition of the analyst’s conflicts and limitations. As they part, the analyst and the patient will admit that not all problems have been solved and that some of the frailties remain. These frailties, however, are now familiar and can be contemplated with tolerance and composure. (Kohut 328) The same with competing groups. Each group recognizes their own, and the other’s limitations and frailties, but they are now familiar and instead of the mutual accusations, groups that exhibit a modicum of wisdom can contemplate the other with tolerance and composure. They feel free to show mutual respect and gratitude without feeling threatened. Until a group achieves a degree of wisdom, its members can be condescending to the religious competition, but find it difficult to show respect, appreciation or empathy.

It is no accident that after God and the Israelites (and the reader) have been through so much, so many ups and downs together, beginning with Abraham and ending with the return from the Babylonian exile and the cessation of prophecy, a wisdom literature appears in the Bible in the form of Ecclesiastes Proverbs and Job. Everyone, so to speak, is older and wiser and has arrived at some understanding of the conflicts and limitations in the relationship.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Dvekus for Dummies

I want to talk today about a topic I feel uncomfortable addressing …religious feeling, and in particular the virtue of dvekus or cleaving to something larger than oneself. Freud addresses this sentiment when he discusses the oceanic feeling involved in the religious and mystical experience. He traces it back to the separation- individuation phase of human development, when the child has not yet fully separated from the mother. My feeling of discomfort stems from my commitment to writing a naturalistic blog about Jewish life. I can’t really talk about dvekus to God with the implication that the intention to encounter God has any hope of success. To do so would violate my self imposed naturalistic constraint.

Yet dvekus is an important part of all lives, not just religious lives. We all have the experience of losing ourselves by becoming so immersed in something, a book, music, a movie that we forget for a moment where or who we are. The success of the movie- going experience rests on the darkness of the room, the large size of the screen and the power the movie has to force us to suspend our ordinary common sense beliefs and immerse ourselves in a fantasy. When we emerge from the movie we always are a bit dazed and frequently smiling, happy to see our partner. We lost ourselves for a moment and our mazal has helped us find the way back. It is exciting and enjoyable.

Religious Jewish life has three areas where dvekus figures in an important way.

In prayer. A Jew who knows how to pray, and it is not an easily acquired skill, loses herself in prayer.

In learning. A Jew, who learns Torah for its own sake, with the desire to read the text in accordance with its correct meaning, becomes immersed in the Torah and experiences over time a certain merger with Torah so that the learning becomes internalized. He becomes at the highest level a breathing walking Torah.

In thought. Rationalist Jews find elements of dvekus in philosophical contemplation of metaphysical ideas. I would think in our time all serious systemic thinking creates the possibility of dvekus. A thinker becomes so involved in thinking, the material world fades and the thinker enters the higher world of thought.

Mystical Jews conceptualize dvekus more as a hamshachath haoroth, a drawing down of the supernal lights, through study of Torah, now including mystical texts, tefila, (prayer), and maasei hamitzvoth, performance of mitzvot and good deeds. The intuitive idea is that we can influence the quality of our time by drawing down the heavenly sparks (light,warmth). An absence of such light leads to dark times, times of war and famine and disease. The literature on dvekus and the hamshachat haorot model is abundant and truly wonderful. The model is flexible and works as a framework for understanding much of religious Jewish life.

Dvekus is open to every Jew including secular Jews. Hypnotic deep nigunim/songs, texts, works of art are all vehicles. I have serious doubts about the neo-chasidus that is found in liberal Judaism, especially in Jewish Renewal. At the same time, I applaud their attempts to teach Jews how to daven, how to sing a nigun with feeling, how to aspire to a deeper religious life. It would be best, in my opinion, if these mystical aspects were also grounded with the sort of deep thought available in Talmud, metaphysics or some serious discipline of their choice. A concentration on joy and mystical unions leads quickly to New Age spirituality, which in my opinion is more often than not pablum warmed over.

Here is the punch line: The opposite of dvekus is self absorption. Religious narcissism frequently leads to a self absorbed type of Judaism that is most concerned about how the chosen subgroup is really better than all others. For narcissistic Jews, no one but members of their small group is quite good enough, and even within their group, they are not quite sure. Instead of embracing the diversity of Jewish life, such Jews are full of complaints. For them most Jews are either too religious or not religious enough, sometimes both. Kvetching, carping and in- fighting follow. Oceanic feelings, mergers with transcendental objects outside one’s self are inclusive. The narcissistic perfection of being part of a chosen group is not. Instead of yearning for something great outside, they fall in love with their own and their group’s religious perfection. Once narcissism dominates, the narcissism of small differences takes over, and people begin to fight about minutiae.

Rather than give examples I ask readers to decide for themselves if my characterization of religious perfectionism corresponds to their experiences.

I’ll close with a little fun story for shabbus. Reb Leib Malin z’’l, the legendary Mirer lamdan, once visited the Satmar Rav, Reb Yoel Teitelbaum z’’l. As was the style in those days, Mirer yeshiva bochurim were clean shaven while in Satmar, of course, they only allowed Chasidim who never cut their beards. The Satmar greeted Reb Leib very warmly and they spoke at length in learning, as is the custom when Torah scholars meet. When Reb Leib had taken his leave, the Chasidim were all beside themselves. How could the Rav be so warm and welcoming to a young bachur who was clean shaven? The Satmar Rav said to his Chasidim like this: ''When Reb Leib gets to heaven, they will ask him ''Reb Yid, where is the beard?'' When you simpletons get to heaven they will ask ''Reb Beard, where is the Yid?''

Even in Satmar, the greater the dvekus, the more inclusive the vision of Jewish life.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Holy Times, Social Times

In my last post I claimed that Orthodox Jews spend more than half a year involved in mitzvoth and the associated lifestyle. It might not be obvious to non-Orthodox Jews, so I will spell it out. I’ll do it in terms of a running total, counting a day as 20 hours. Passover, Sukkoth, Shavuoth, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur (21days), plus 2 days erev all these holidays (23 days). Fifty-two shabbusim (75) plus 13 (52x.25) days of ErevSabbus (Friday afternoon) (88). Four fast days plus Purim, I’ll count as two (90 days). Daily prayers, assuming 45 minutes total with no travel time, comes to 10 days (100). I have not counted travel time to and from the synagogue plus the time between mincha and maariv (afternoon and evening prayers). Many Orthodox Jews attend, at least, one service daily in a synagogue, so I think it’s fair to add another 45 minutes (110). I have not counted the special shopping, cleaning, and cooking, the time for blessings and grace, the washing of hands, and most importantly, the time allocated to the study of Torah. I think 10 days (200 hours/year) is a fair number (120).

On to lifestyle. Let’s start with weddings. In a well-defined community, and assuming a reasonable social world and family, (siblings, mechutanim with children, cousins, fellow congregants, friends and acquaintances) it is impossible to go to less than twenty weddings and twenty bar mitzvahs a year. And then there are lechaims/ vorts/sheva beruchos, (engagement and wedding parties) and an occasional upsherin’. Oh, and I forgot about all the circumcisions. So, adding it all up, we’re talking about sixty social events a year minimum, where not to attend is totally out of the question. Assuming, with travel time, five hours per affair, we get 15 days (135). I say five hours an affair because people travel around the country for these events, which can take three days total. People also travel to Israel which is a five day turnaround. So assigning 15 days a year to simchas, is seriously underestimating the total. But I want to be conservative.

Speaking of traveling, I haven’t counted spending time with the many grandchildren, a natural result of large families. I also can’t forget the almost mandatory trip to Israel, Florida, or Switzerland, depending on one’s social group and income. Count it all as 5 days (140). Oops I forgot Chanukah and presents and dreideling and what not. Not to worry. Since its so much fun, it’s a freebie. Besides many assimilated Jews have Chanukah- bush parties. On the down side of life, there is sitting shiva and shiva visits and time spent helping the bereaved and other acts of personal benevolence, 2 days (142). Add in six more days for parlor meetings, fund raisers, banquets, memorials, special lectures, yarchei kalah, tischen, kvitlech, mikveh and everything I left out and we are up to 148 days.

So I exaggerated. I said a half a year, and I’m off by 34 days.

It’s not easy to live in a face to face community, and the world of Orthodoxy is no exception.

The large amount of time spent serving God might also be a factor in the relative difficulties of earning a living. I have not stressed this point because I believe most participants feel they are enriched by all this religious and social activity, and as a result are more efficient and successful in their work. I believe the claim is essentially correct, and that something magical occurs which enables many religious Jews to be financially successful in the capitalist world, even though they are devoting so much time to God and community. It is a mysterious phenomenon, and a topic worthy of further discussion. The puzzle is: How can one give a naturalistic, non theological account, how Orthodox Jews who devote 148 days a year to religion and a special life style earn incomes that are not below average? Working on Sunday is only part of the answer.

The most expensive aspect of the Orthodox life is not the schools or the kosher food or the synagogue dues. It is the opportunity cost of the time spent living la vida Orthodox.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Is Orthodox Culture Low- Brow?

Once one gets past Orthodoxy and its environs, it is not always useful to think in terms of degrees of observance and commitment to Torah. Such a perception is essentially Orthocentric and is not the only informative tool for understanding American Jewish life. There are endless categories…some Jews are tall, some short, some thin, some fat, but these are not useful distinctions. One idea that carries some punch is to divide all Jews by degrees of culture. Following the old distinction of Dwight Macdonald that everyone is high-brow, low-brow, or middle-brow, we can use a binary cut. Let’s say every Jew has a commitment either to high culture (high brow) or popular culture (low brow). This distinction cuts across denominational lines since there are more than enough people on each side of the divide all across the Jewish spectrum.

We need three more premises and we might have a small result. The first is that high-brow culture is more valuable than popular culture. It is better to read Shakespeare than People magazine. It is better to listen to Mahler than Kanye West and so on.

The second is that one cannot be high-brow without a serious and life long commitment to high culture. A young person who goes to college and takes a survey course in the history of philosophy, where Monday it’s Aristotle, Tuesday it’s Aquinas, and by Friday we’re up to Descartes, is receiving a pop culture version of a high-brow subject. Reading “Wittgenstein for Dummies” is dumb and not a serious study of the philosopher. So, to be a maven in some area of high culture takes lots of time…years of reading, looking, thinking, and studying. If you take a child to a museum, even if it’s done once every year, it’s very nice but the kid is far from being knowledgeable in art. If you want to understand art, you have to start looking and reading when you’re young and never stop. Similar comments apply to music and all the rest.

My third premise is that Orthodox Jews spend half the year serving God and living the Orthodox life. I’ll count the exact number of days tomorrow. Assuming this is true and assuming people have to make a living, raise families, etc., etc., there isn’t a lot of time left over to cultivate high culture. Some Orthodox people do, most don’t. Liberal Jews have an extra half a year and have internalized, in a big way, the importance of culture and the arts in a good life. The expression is “culture vultures.” Liberal vultures have more time and more energy to run after culture than Orthodox vultures and would-be vultures. In addition, the Orthodox Rabbinate either condemns non-religious culture and the arts, is lukewarm, or ambivalent, each rabbi, according to his degree of alienation from secular life. I’ve already had the opportunity to discuss the Torah, Torah, Torah ideology of the Orthodox Rabbinate.

Adding it all up, I think it’s fair to say that apples for apples, liberal Jews, as a group, are much more involved in high culture than Orthodox Jews, both historically over the last two hundred years and even today. Certainly in the future this will be true because of the charedization of Orthodox life.

The flipside of this phenomenon is that Torah study itself is a high culture of the first order. In fact, there is no other literary tradition in the world quite like it in terms of antiquity, development, ingenuity, depth, and much else. We all know, however, that not every Orthodox Jew is seriously involved in the study of Torah. For each person who devotes his life to the holy books, there are many who pay lip service but do little. This latter group, I want to suggest, generally consume popular culture…movies, television, magazines, blogs and so forth, or nothing at all…work, money, and family. The Orthodox lifestyle prevents most from having the energy, time, or interest to pursue high cultural pursuits. There aren’t many artists, serious musicians, poets, and literati in Orthodoxy. Nor are there many chassidim of literature, philosophy, social science, humanities, and the arts.

Offsetting the generally low brow tastes of most of Orthodoxy, it must be said that Orthodoxy as a whole is a high culture, where culture is now being used in the very broad sense of total way of life. The way of eating, dressing, conducting oneself in private and public are all governed by traditions that have the net effect of elevating the entire community into a more formal,refined and noble life. All this can be true and consistent with an Orthodox public that is uninterested in the arts, humanities and even science.

Orthodox Jews are quick to say that liberal Jews miss out on the beauty of Jewish life, the community, the holidays, and the wonders of Torah. They are more reluctant to acknowledge that they are missing anything of value in the secular world, but they are.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Orthodox Poverty and Wealth

I see great wealth in the Orthodox community. I see great poverty in the Orthodox community. In the liberal Jewish community I personally have not encountered poverty. My cohort both Orthodox and secular have had an economically relatively easy life. When I was young, kolel people used to say to me ‘Why go to college? America is so rich you can live off the crumbs.’ They were right. The post war period has been an incredible run. I am afraid our children, frum or not will not have it so easy. I see it everywhere. Young have to hustle and even then it’s iffy. In the case of Orthodox with large families the parents frequently are unable to help the next generation. Not so for liberal Jews where parents frequently subsidize their children’s perpetual identity crisis. The very rich have gotten filthy, astronomically rich. The middle class have fallen behind. Here are some more thoughts on the topic, some of which were inspired by the comments on the blog askshifra

Yeshivas and day schools are the primary cause of Orthodox poverty. The OU reports communal rabbis are faced with increasing shalom bayit issues, marital problems, because of the economic difficulties caused by the high costs of educating kids in day schools. Middle class people can’t get scholarships for their kids. By the time they finish paying tuition they are poor enough to be eligible for tuition reductions. Catch 22. There are formulas for dealing with this issue, since it is structurally similar to the problem the poor face when they try to get off welfare. I don’t know why they are not standard practice. It is outrageous that tuition committees require second mortgages and the like before giving any discounts.

The deeper problem is how to bring the school costs down. Every city should look into developing a tuition fund. Liberal Jews MUST be made to understand how important school vouchers are for the survival of the Orthodox Jewish community. The cynical part of me says they understand fully well how it would benefit the Orthodox world, and it is precisely for this reason they oppose vouchers. The attitudes of the major Jewish organizations like the AJC and ADL to vouchers is driven by many considerations. One of these is, in my opinion, anti -Orthodox sentiments.

Many Orthodox Jews have a lower standard of living than their parents even when they are professionals, and even after they have accumulated sizable debts. Most Orthodox women work, if at all possible. In order to make ends meet many resort to extreme measures, cutting back on expensive foods, no vacations, no eating out and much more. I see the effects of belt tightening here where I live. Evanston with its large college population has 70 restaurants. The community of people who eat kosher in Chicagoland should have on a proportional basis approximately 21 restaurants. There are around 7 including diners and very minimal places.

People who have difficulty making ends meet still give money to charity, at least a few percent. I find this trait so very impressive.

In the frum world people say, as an irony of contemporary life, poverty starts at $100,000. It is an exaggeration, but not by very much. I would think a family of six in the New York area that aspires to a low- end upper middle class life, i.e. some family vacations, some eating out, some entertainment, two cars, etc. must think in terms of $250,000 gross and maybe more. A more serious upper class life for a family with five kids buying more than a minimal home, not wealthy, just really comfortable, (e.g. a brownstone in a charedi equivalent of Park Slope say the five towns, a pied a terre in Jerusalem or a place in Florida, colleges and professional schoolsfor the kinderlach, trips to Israel and Machu Pichu, Pesach at a hotel for the extended family, mildly lavish life cycle celebrations, a position of significance in the community) is $400,000 plus. Low- end rich starts at a million dollars income annually. Very rich $50 million. I am curious to hear if readers agree with my estimates.

Neighborhoods that are walking distance from a desirable Orthodox shul are pricier than those that are not, apples for apples. Many families would be able to lower their cost of living and find better and cheaper housing if they moved to less Orthodox neighborhoods and cities around the country. The fear of the unknown, of finding a job, of being able to do a good shiduch with their children keep many close to home. Here is an area where a lot can be done. There are many small Orthodox communities around the country that would be excited if new frum couples moved in. It is a typical case of asymmetric information and the solutions are well known.

Money and the need for more of it is the driving dynamic force in the community. The old joke makes this point in a sly way. A car hit an elderly Jewish man. The paramedic says, "Are you comfortable?"- The man says, "I make a good living." Parenting, daily prayers and the quest for money keep most Orthodox Jews very busy campers. There isn’t a lot of empty time for fun and mischief, sports and culture or scholarship and self improvement. With the exception of the community of Talmudic scholars there isn’t very much time for extended Torah study.

In reading the blogs on the economics of Orthodox life, I felt that the situation was made much worse because Orthodoxy is a face-to-face community. It’s as if everybody was asked to go into a room, they locked the door and threw the key away. The need to keep up with one’s circle of friends and acquaintances, the need to impress others, accentuates the pressure to maintain a certain lifestyle. In life almost everyone has up years and down years. It becomes a lot easier if in a down year you can cut back. In a face-to-face community, tightening one’s belt is much more difficult. Orthodox life in smaller cities and towns is less of a pressure cooker. And it goes without saying, that in liberal Jewish communities, which are not face-to-face communities, the economic struggle is a lot easier, even if you factor out the cost of Yeshivas and day schools.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sexy Sheitls

Frum women frequently cover their hair by wearing a Sheitel (wig). Now days a sheitel, usually looks better than the women’s own hair. Not only do the sheitlach look great, some charedi women are stylish, attractive and sexy looking. I would think these facts are a cause for rejoicing. What can be better than walking down the street and seeing a great looking woman dressed in a modest way, (tzniusdig). Halacha has been satisfied, the woman feels good knowing she looks good and men get to look at a good looking woman. Not so. Puritanism is alive and well in the Orthodox community.

I discount Puritanism from the left. The strategy there is to claim that nothing less than a mop will do, and then turn around and say ‘Look at these women, they are wearing a mop. Is this reasonable?’ There is something particularly galling to the liberal mind that a frum charedi woman looks sexy. I don’t know why. Imagine you are invited to a home that keeps kosher and are served a stylish, trendy wonderful meal. Would any sane person complain that halacha has been circumvented by using culinary tricks, unless you are trying to prove kashruth is impossible to follow. Is there any reason on earth why a kosher home must serve kugel, kishka and gefilte fish 24x7. The laws of kashruth act as a constraint, a handicap as it were. A stylish baalabusta is challenged to present the finest meal she can, the more she can overcome the halachic limitations the better. Same for the requirement to cover the hair.

Puritainism from the right is a more difficult subject. There are many issues.

Charedi men who encounter glamorous women might be unhappy in that their own wives might be frumpier looking. I would imagine frumpy wives can be a problem in secular society as well. I see no reason why all charedi women must look equally frumpy so that some charedi guys not feel frustrated.

It is frequently said wives need to dress up for their husbands and not for the ‘prying eyes of the public’. I disagree. Body narcissism is a very basic, natural and universal feeling in both men and women. A man or woman who exhibits their attractiveness in public, subject to the constraint of tzinius, needs no justification, any more than an athlete or a charismatic, handsome rabbi. Remember the fuss is about a woman who is walking down the street, arms covered, skirt below the knee, and no décolletage. If seeing such a woman is prying, we are into burqa country. Men who are proud to wear their tzitzit outside their pants, and take joy in wearing a gartel are really not in a position to complain about exhibitionism. Modesty prevents me from elaborating on this point.

There is a set of rich to very rich Strict and Ultra-Orthodox Jews. The men are happy to see their wives dressed to kill. No charedi woman walks out of the house regularly looking stylish and uber-farputzed, let alone sexy unless the husband approves. The sheitlach are just a small part of the intense jockeying for relative status. Much of the resentment to these very expensive sheitls is really a jealousy and envy of having to coexist in one community with such a fast, wealthy crowd.

I am not in a position to discuss the halachic intricacies of tznius and chasidic dress. It is clear, whatever the details it does depend a least a little bit on the style of dress in the society at large. If after living in a country that regularly wears shorts and tank tops, charedi men are still aroused and bothered by a woman dressed tzniusdig/ modestly but wearing a sheitl, I say in general it is their problem and they ought to lie down until they calm down.

I don’t mean to minimize those select Jews, who want to live a life of kedushah veteharah, purity and holiness. Such men and women know how to act to maintain their special ascetic life of preishus, separation from society. It is mistake to impose those standards on an Orthodox public that is already acting in a chasidic way, at least relative to the rest of America. If you take every last drop of pleasure out of charedi life, the long term damage will be far greater than the benefits.

For some very different ideas on this topic see here (10/04/06, especially the fascinating comments) and here (8/30/06).

Friday, October 13, 2006

Talmudists from My Youth

Since I have been told more than once I am bordering on senility, I thought it would be useful before all is gone to reminisce a bit about people I knew in my childhood. I’ll talk about four colorful Talmudists from my youth.

The first was a man who was reported to be a Talmudic genius. He was so great that he already had a formal name like the so-and-so ilui, (young genius) where so-and-so was the name of the town from where he came. I remember him already in his sixties. He sat in this iffy institution that said kadish for people who didn’t want to say kadish on their own. He was paid just to sit there and enhance the reputation of the establishment. All my friends were very anxious to talk to him since his reputation was so great; but it wasn’t easy. He would sit all the time and write chidushei Torah, Talmudic commentaries, notebook after notebook in an illegible handwriting. When approached, he would answer but in a barking tone, thus intimidating everyone. If you managed to get a question off, he would say something in Yiddish like “a Ritvaw , Bubba Metziah 74b. What else do you want to know?” Not very encouraging, especially if you didn’t know 74b. I have no idea what happened to the notebooks. I don’t believe they were ever published. For all I know, he was working on a solution in Hebrew to Fermat’s last theorem. I would say just watching this “genius,” even from afar, made a big difference to everyone.

I also remember a man they called him Reb Itche, who was a chicken flicker. He flicked chickens. In those days, they didn’t come pre-packaged. They still had their feathers, and if you had a butcher store, somebody had to take the feathers off the chickens. His brother sold the chickens, he flicked the chickens. When he wasn’t flicking, he was learning, so by the time I got to know him, he knew pretty much everything, at least from the perspective of a 14 year old. Nobody made a big deal out of him since in my neighborhood there were many people who knew a great deal. Ordinary people. He was one of the best. Whenever a question came up in shul, he would know the answer. His children all went on to get PhDs and are successful in various fields. For me, however, none of them surpassed their father. I believe, as Reb Itche did, an ideal life is to have an honest occupation, and the rest of the time learn, without making a big deal either about the occupation or the learning.

The third guy I want to talk about was a Holocaust survivor. He lived for three years in a tiny bunker with a woman and a daughter, underneath the house of a friendly neighbor. When the war was over, he proposed to the much younger daughter. She wouldn’t have him. So he proposed to the mother. She took him. He had a very fast mind and also knew how to learn Talmud very well. I remember how he used to ask me questions always more difficult than my level of competence, and would shake his head and say, “Well, some day.” In all respects he was a pious Jew, except one…he had an insatiable lust for poker. Every week, one or two nights, he would travel on the train for a mid-stakes poker game. His lust for danger satisfied, he would come back home and act like everyone else. The idea of a poker-playing Talmudist appeals to me until today.

My fourth Talmudist, Reb F., was a teacher in a middle school Yeshiva in my neighborhood. He wasn’t my teacher but he was a teacher to many of my friends and was well-known. He used to teach in some miraculous way ninth and tenth grade. He would begin the year by saying “Gut morgen kinderlach” and in Yiddish say “This year we are in ninth grade.” The next year he said, “Gut morgen kinderlach. We have graduated. This year we are in tenth grade.” That was the only frivolous remark he made for the year. The rest of the time, he taught Talmud, Rashi and Tosfoth plus some Rishonim (Medieval commentaries) and a few select eighteeenth and nineteenth century Achronim (later commentaries) up to and including the Ktzoth and the Nesivoth. They covered somewhere between forty and sixty blat (120 pages) a year. Whoever got through those two years had a well-deserved confidence in their Talmudic abilities. I would describe the style of learning as Polish-Galitzianer, which I conceive as a middle way between the Lithuanian analytical method and Hungarian pilpul. In my mind it’s an exceptionally powerful way of teaching young people. I happen to feel it’s important for families that have Chassidic backgrounds to resist in their children’s education, at least initially, the hegemony of the Lithuanian yeshivas. Many of the graduates of this middle school went on to become significant personalities in the Torah world.

The only other place I ever saw the same sort of educational philosophy applied was in Evanston high school. For a variety of reasons, the high school introduced a very advanced science program, two years of difficult physics, one year each of chemistry and biology plus the corresponding mathematics through multivariate calculus. Kids who survived that program were never fearful of another academic course. Having gone through chem.-phys. they were masters of the universe and could do anything.

If I were running a Jewish day school, I’d hire a Reb F. in the morning, and do chem.-phys. plus some writing in the afternoon, call it quits, and cut the tuition by half. For extra curricular activities I would teach the children poker.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Jewish Hipsters

The young people involved as artists and audience in the world of avant- garde Jewish culture, the group I called in yesterday’s post ‘Generation Heeb’, fully embrace the influence of the outside world. They are as interested in how Jewish life changes and intermingles with other cultures as they are in Jewish culture itself. They are interested in Judaism strictly as a culture and remove all sense of religious obligation or affiliation. The latter is privatized; a person can have in his heart a total and pure faith, but publicly, religion does not figure as a feature of the scene. In principle avant- garde Jewish culture could be compatible with much of Orthodox life. ''Yeshivish at home, hipster in public.'' I am exaggerating, but there is really no reason why such combinations will not eventually occur.

The really creative feature of this new version of cultural Judaism, unlike so many earlier versions, is that they set out to deliberately make Jewish culture appear as something that is constantly changing, something that exists in the present and evolves with popular culture. At its very best it can make Jewish life appear even ahead of the curve, which is a feat that is quite difficult to pull off given the ferocious speed with which the contemporary musical and art worlds move. The now- ness of the scene, its homage to bohemia's and avant- gardes past, and its youthful devil may care in- your- face insouciance all make it attractive to young people. The young feel they are not being manipulated for the sake of some ulterior end, like becoming a Lubavitcher or going to Temple. Heeb culture aspires to be an autonomous scene that fits naturally into the stylish and youthful communities of young secular Jews. It can be found in neighborhoods like Alphabet City on the Lower East Side, Park Slope, Carol Gardens, Williamsburg and Red Hook in Brooklyn and Bucktown and Wicker Park in Chicago. The Heeb world view looks at Jewish life through the same prism as it’s demographic, so that the audience and artists are especially close in spirit, on the same page as they say.

It is interesting to compare Generation Heeb with two other groups of Jews devoted to culture. The first is the Modern Orthodox satirical, comedy web site bang it out. The latter is basically behind the curve, its strong point being parody. It treats politics, news, and culture as grist for joking around…a sort of elaborated Purim Torah, derivative and dependent on others to step out and say or do something. The site, though it has its share of college humor is frequently funny. The effect of reading the material however is that of a sideline spectator on a larger culture far away. The outside world changes, different players come and go, but Modern Orthodoxy and its anchor in the world of religion and Torah remains a constant. Even the more sophisticated secular Latke-Hamantash festival held each year at the U. of Chicago is essentially a spoof, a throw away item and not a cultural force. Heeb culture is frequently something new that is part of what is happening now, a creative take on the world we live in today.

A more interesting comparison is to the group known as the New York Jewish intellectuals centered on the Partisan Review of the late forties and fifties. There is a great deal to be said about this very important group of thinkers, and much has already appeared in various memoirs and studies. In terms of intellectual heft, seriousness of import, contributions to highbrow serious culture there is no comparison. In its day the Partisan Review crowd, almost all Jews, dominated much of the world of criticism and literature. There is a direct line of descent from Partisan Review to the New York Review of Books, Dissent and the Nation and on the right to Commentary, the Public Interest and the neo-conservatives. The Heeb group in comparison is a bunch of schleppers, nobodies. However in terms of influence on Jewish life the situation is more complex. Heeb is proud of its Jewish heritage and is intent on making a contribution to Jewish life. The New York Jewish intellectuals, even the formidable Irving Howe all graduated from Jewish life. Lionel Trilling may have gotten his start in Commentary, but he saw himself as an American Matthew Arnold, defending the genteel pieties of Protestant culture. Alfred Kazin, Philip Rahv, Lionel Abel and the youngest of the group, the recently departed Susan Sontag all saw themselves as playing on a larger world or American stage. Their long term influence on Jewish life has been minimal. If anything they signify the inability of American Jews to develop an indigenous American Jewish high culture. Heeb culture being less pretentious and much more accessible has a better chance of having some influence. It would be wonderful if the culture continued to develop and became more widely known.

One final thought. Jewish bohemians in the thirties and forties, as well as the Jewish beatniks of the fifties and hippies of the sixties were poor and operated outside of the capitalist core. The Jewish kids who think of themselves today as hipsters, a term whose meaning is very different from the original use of the word in the fifties, are far from poor. All one has to do is look at the prices of condos in one of the neighborhoods where these hipsters live. When the beatniks and hippies used to live in Alphabet City they occupied rat infested tenements with junkies as neighbors. Today the restaurants on Clinton Street and Rivington Steet are not ashamed to charge a $75 for dinner. And they are full. With hipsters. Life is too fast and expensive to afford any significant number of people, (with the exception of charedim,) the luxury of forming a genuine counterculture. Apparently Jewish hipsters somehow have found a way to support their style of looking like they lead a bohemian life. I give them credit for creating the illusion of being cool and fancy free.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Generation Heeb

One approach to the problem of intermarriage and assimilation, which would have some of the features of an invisible hand process (see my blog on Starbucks) is to work on the common perception of Jewish life as being un-cool and uninteresting. How to do that is not an easy task. Kiruv (proselytizing) organizations try but they don’t have a clue because they are essentially un-hip themselves. The intuitive idea is to create some cultural world which young people can relate to and which is cooler than their own situation, and still has some tangential relationship with being a Jew. Such work is very different from the work of a Hillel. Hillel organizations after providing for religious services and kosher food essentially are a sort of Rah Rah Rah! for Judaism. They function, to some extent, like a fraternity or sorority on campus. I noticed a sign the other day at the Northwestern Hillel that read “Hookah in the Sukkah…Come join us.” Cute, but it only works for the sort of kid who thinks a sukkah at Hillel is the place to be. What about all the young people who wouldn’t be caught dead in a Hillel?

I want to talk about a movement of sorts that speaks to these issues. I’m not even sure movement is the right word. There is this developing scene in New York, Philly, L.A., Berkeley, and even in Chicago that is a combination of music, arts, satire, in-your-face-outrageous whatever, and all with a Jewish patina. I like this crowd and I think it could accomplish a great deal. Apparently, I’m not the only one. The UJA Federation has donated a million dollars to Jewish arts organizations. They have funded twelve fellowships of up to $45,000 for emerging Jewish artists. The Federation is beginning to recognize that avant –garde art and culture have a huge impact both on young people and people who are not so young. A recent study by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture found that young Jews, even those who avoid synagogues and JCC memberships, read Jewish books, listen to Jewish music and attend Jewish concerts. The report noted that “the events that form the core cultural experience for young Jews aren’t overtly Jewish.’’ Unaffiliated Jews were most comfortable in secular venues, watching bands that blend Jewish music with other genres, like hip-hop and jazz. Some who were interviewed for the study described Jewish organizations by comparison as “bland” and “conformist.” Young people most always find the society of their elders bland and conformist, and they are usually right.

I’d like to give two examples from this cultural scene. There’s an organization in Chicago called Kfar and their offering a concert series this year called Tzitzit: Voices from the Jewish Fringe. Here are some of the groups that will be performing:

Shtreiml- a band that combines klezmer, gypsy music and jazz and won an award for their debut album, Harmonica Galitzianer

Juez- jazz and progressive rock rhythms with hip-hop, garage rock and Yemenite influences.

Simply Tsfat- a group known in the Orthodox community consisting of three Breslov Chassidim, two Americans, and one Israeli, violin virtuosity, flamenco guitar, Breslover melodies, and their infectious sense of joy.

Y-Love (Yitz Jordan)- a hip-hop, black rapper, convert (Bostoner chasid- who woulda thunk?) who weaves polyglot rhythms in English, Arabic, Yiddish and Hebrew with Aramaic thrown in. (I assume because he’s into Zohar.)

RebbeSoul- rock, world-fusion, Mizrahi chants, played by a power percussion trio using balalaika, darbouka, djembe, and cajon.

I don’t know about others but it certainly looks interesting to me, and if I’m in town, I’m going.

My second example of the scene is the provocative magazine called Heeb. I don’t know what exactly to say about Heeb. OTOH…OTOH. Sometimes Heeb verges on smut. Most of the time, it’s just a very funny magazine. They will do almost anything to twist the dialectic one more time, but I believe their heart is in the right place. Recent issues included interviews with Jeremy Piven and the very funny, and admittedly very foul-mouthed, Sarah Silverman. In the current issue entitled “The Food Issue” they have a pig on the cover. In this issue they have a piece called People of the Bulk: History’s Hungriest Heebs” where they discuss two figures in the Talmud with very large stomachs together with Mae West, Ariel Sharon, Buddy Hackett, Adam Duritz of Counting Crows, Wendy Wasserstein, Elvis Presley, Herod, and Richard Simmons. It takes a peculiar outré and eccentric imagination to put all this together, precisely the sort of imagination that might appeal to high-spirited non-conformist young people.

Heeb also runs parties and events around the country celebrating nothing in particular and bringing together young people interested in fun and social networking.

(If I had the space I would describe New York’s Jewlapalooza festival, JDub RECORDS, and the more serious music of the artists associated with John Zorn. Maybe some other time.)

If the Federations would only recognize that many JCC’S are so nowhere, (New York and Washington being notable exceptions), and the continuity of the Jewish people does not require elderly women play mahjongg in absolute comfort, there would be lots of money to create a creative edgy Jewish culture that would enable young people to feel being a Jew is something very special.

To be continued…

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Starbucks I Don't Drink In

Evanston is gebentsched, blessed in having, not one, not two but six Starbucks. I refuse to go to five of them. Here’s my reasoning. The one downtown has lots of students who make lots of noise. And they’re college kids… who can go there? The one near me is full of soccer moms with their little darling kids who make even more noise and are messy. The soccer moms talk as if God is about to turn them into a pillar of salt at any second. Can’t go there. Then there’s one in North Evanston near the Skokie-Wlmette border. It doubles as a, can you believe this, drive-thru Starbucks. So every second minute they’re yelling, “SOY, NO FOAM, VENTI CARAMEL MACCHIATO, DOUBLE CUP!” Three down…three to go.

There’s one in North Evanston that’s okay, I mean, it's quiet enough, but I would have to deal with North Evanston people, which I refuse to do. North Evanston people are “bessera mentschen”, a better class of people than us regular Evanstonians. They think of themselves as really living in Wilmette, but by accident their address happens to be in Evanston. But they think they are not Evanstonians…they are really Wilmette people caught in an Evanston address. How can you sit and drink coffee with people like that?

There’s a nice Starbucks on Main Street, but I can’t drink there either. There are too many schizophrenics in the place. Now, I’m a liberal guy. I’m happy to drink with any ethnicity or class, even with a rich person, but I refuse to drink with schizophrenics. They sit down at my table and they start talking. It’s never really clear if they’re talking at you, to you, or just talking. In Evanston there are two or maybe three insane asylums. Being a liberal town, the residents are free to roam the street during the day, and like everyone else these people would like a cup of coffee. In fact, in Evanston, we are so liberal we have a dedicated park, two square blocks, to schizophrenics. No one goes to the park except people who live in the insane asylum. Each schizophrenic sits on a separate bench jabbering away, surrounded by his inner friends, not talking to anyone else. Sounds a bit like jihadists.

I’m left with the Starbucks I do drink in which is terrific. It’s the Starbucks for middle-aged people who want to read without being interrupted. It’s the Starbucks where the Yiddish club of Evanston meets every other week. There are even frum women with long skirts and sneakers who show up after their power walk. It’s racially integrated, which is a big positive. It has a big Slavic section, which enables me to sharpen my nonexistent skills in Ukranian, Serbo-Croatian, and Russian. There even are Israeli yordim who show up with two phones, one in each hand, and a cigarette. Fortunately, they drink alfresco at the tables outside. This Starbucks is such a nice place they remember to put out water for the dogs.

Starbucks to me is an example of a self-organizing totality. Mr. Schultz did not send a directive from Seattle. There was no rabbi or apparatchik who said,” Soccer moms here, students there.” Over time, everyone found their place without anyone saying who should go where. (The same occurred with the parks.) I am a big fan of these kinds of solutions to allocation problems. Free markets are the best example of how this works. No one dictates the price, no one dictates whether to buy or sell. It all works itself out. Ideally, the solution to Jewish problems should occur in this “invisible hand” sort of way. The idea is to devise policies where everyone can do what they want and we still end up with a good solution.

Policies that require Jews to change their beliefs or their places of residence require endless ideological reinforcement. There’s been a hundred years of Zionist teaching and persuasion, yet it is a commonplace for people to say that Zionism is dead. In my view, one reason is that Zionism required constant top-down reinforcement. Same problem exists with Orthodoxy. In order to keep secularism at bay, there’s a constant need for teaching, preaching and censorship. An ideal form of Zionism would be one where people aren’t Zionist ideologues. They live in Israel because they believe it’s the best life they could possibly live. In this day and age, the best form of Orthodoxy should have a similar feature. People should feel that it’s hands down the best way to live. The same should apply to all the other denominations.

Ideally people should reject exogamous marriage because they feel their chances for happiness are best if they remain in the Jewish world. Chizuk, strengthening Jews in achieving their life plans has an invisible hand feature that causes Jews to want to remain inside Jewish life. Chizuk takes each individual’s conception of ‘the good’ as given, and tries to enable the person to achieve his goals. If done properly it should make no difference if the individual ends up charedi or secular, he should want autonomously to remain a Jew. Why? I believe because we tend to love those who have shown us love, whether it is a community or an individual. If young Jews are helped along their life path over an extended period of time by other Jews, there arises in a natural way a hakaras hatov, a recognition of gratitude for the attention and kindness shown along the way. In time people come to understand who are their brethren, who are their real friends. They become connected through bonds of affection and fellowship to their family and community.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Chizuk vs. Kiruv

I recently read a piece by Jay Michelson that said explicitly what I have been struggling to put into words.

“If vibrant Jewish culture causes more people to value being Jewish, it will cause more to want to raise children as Jews. But for culture to work, the content of cultural institutions must remain absolutely independent from the ulterior motives of keeping more Jews within the fold. As soon as culture becomes another word for advertising, it’s over”

The quote expresses what I find wrong in the work on kiruv, the process of bringing Jews closer to religion. It is totally evangelical, and therefore manipulative. It is insincere, in that there is this overhanging ulterior motive that permeates the entire exchange…how to get the other to become religious. It’s condescending insofar as it not a real interaction where both parties learn from each other and move towards each other. The direction is predetermined. Kiruv is a one way ticket from ‘nowhere’ to religion. And it’s all advertising using the tricks of Madison Avenue: acting techniques that enable the religious person to come on as cool and hip, pseudo science and shallow philosophical arguments. They utilize every tear jerker from anti-Semitism to the Holocaust. Whatever it takes to get the job done. They are kiruv professionals.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin was in Chicago many years ago, giving one of these $10,000 a- pop invited lectures. He was doing this ‘’we are modern, we are Orthodox, we are liberal, we are pluralist’’ lecture, in the style made popular by David Hartman and Yitchak Greenberg. (The late Arthur Hertzberg z’’l used to call this speaking circuit ‘’Orthodox for Reform’’.) He was going on about kiruv as a dialogue, and asked for questions. I got up and asked him if perhaps he would like to go out for a drink. Since kiruv is a dialogue I was thinking of being mekarev him, bringing him closer to my way of thinking. How did he, Rabbi Pluralist that he was, know which way kiruv was supposed to go? Being the smart man that he is, he realized bad news was staring him in the face, and responded with one word, ’Geonisdig’’, very clever, and proceeded to ask for the next question.

More would be accomplished on a macro basis if the emphasis was placed on creating vibrant religious and /or cultural Jewish communities all along the religious spectrum, and especially among secular Jews. All the liberal branches of Jewish life, from Conservatives to Jewish Renewal, don’t need kiruv they need chizuk….strengthening the already existent subculture. If Reform culture were vibrant, intermarriage would take care of itself. Ditto for all the other stripes. But everyone has learnt with their mother’s milk that to help a Jew less frum than you to be strong in his own space is an abomination. Can you imagine, I am advocating Orthodoxy should lend a hand to Conservatives and so on down the line? I must have forgotten to take my meds. Don’t I know that Conservatives and Reform are the enemy of Orthodoxy; the ersatz substitute for the real thing?

I once saw a documentary where this remarkable Skverer chasid was the basketball coach at Ramaz, the very Modern Orthodox ritzy day school in Manhattan. It was awesome. Even if he never taught a single teenager a word of Torah he was having an enormous influence on their subsequent development. His presence, the strength of his personality, his dedication and enthusiasm was all that was needed. The kids saw up front in a non- manipulative context what it is to be a chassidic Jew. The teenagers in time will find their own way to incorporate this powerful image into their own lives.

I think the most manipulative of the kiruv crowd is Lubavitch, followed by the Orthodox professional kiruv organizations. But every denomination is involved in this sort of come-on. They treat this whole process of a deeper, more serious, more religious life, as if it were a question of how to take vulnerable teenagers off the street.

Every kiruv organization is subject to the same statistical illusions. They overweigh their short term success with a few individuals, and minimize the overwhelming failure with most everyone else. The intermarriage rate remains at 50% with or without kiruv.

There was a retired couple in Evanston who had a long and active career as professional community organizers: labor unions, renters, Saul Alinsky type projects. They wanted to give back, and took upon themselves to go to the Ukraine and help Jews develop better communal organizations. They had no agenda other than helping the Jews of the various cities organize themselves to achieve whatever goals the community would develop. They used to say, whenever they came back to Evanston, that a big obstacle in their work was the local Lubavitcher and Zionist emissaries. The Lubavitcher had his agenda, the Zionist had his. Neither was particularly interested in strengthening the culture and life of the Ukranian Jews themselves.

There is so much that could be done if the goal was chizuk. Jews who were stronger in their outlook and practices would make themselves available to weaker Jews and help weaker congregations and groups. There is enormous amount of work that can be done on college campuses. A typical Hillel has 2 professionals, a rabbi and a director and a few thousand students. Think for a minute….here are a couple thousand kids away from home, free to date anyone, with all the issues of late adolescence, and there are 2 Hillel people to run the activities and services and provide the necessary pastoral care. The upshot is that no one looks at or befriends a majority of the Jewish students on campus.

There is so much that could be done to strengthen liberal Jewish life and so few are interested. And then everyone wonders why the intermarriage rate is so high.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Intermarriage Is Driven by the Guys

I believe there’s another twist to the intermarriage story. I am thinking there may very well be two parallel stories, the friction story discussed yesterday, and for some a revealed preference story that is asymmetrical between men and women, as follows. My impression is that the dynamic of intermarriage is driven by the guys. For one thing Jewish men have a reputation of being good and loyal husbands. Many non-Jewish women think Jewish men make particularly desirable mates and go after them. Even more important are the Jewish men who, for one reason or another, find Jewish females less attractive than their shiksa counterparts. These men would marry a non-Jewish woman even if they were surrounded by Jewish women. These preferences are based on feelings and attitudes that are for the most part pre-conscious or unconscious, and many are not aware of any such feelings. Hence it is important to focus on revealed preferences, what the men do, and not on stated preferences, what they say they want to do.

Once a significant number of Jewish men are into dating and marrying non-Jewish women, there’s this imbalance in the demographics, leaving the corresponding number of women without mates. When these women find themselves in their late twenties and thirties and with no Jewish guy in sight, they draw the appropriate conclusions and begin dating non-Jewish men. These women would prefer a Jewish man but the prospects seem hopeless, and the biological clock keeps ticking. Now of course there are many exceptions and variations, since all I’m offering is a generalization. Nevertheless, I think if correct, it’s something important to take into account in shaping the Jewish response to intermarriage. I don’t know that I am correct, but such is my very distinct impression, and this impression is confirmed when I talk to Hillel people who have first hand experience in this area.

I have found quite by accident some empirical data that suggests there is something to my hypothesis. The blogger Marginal Revolution in summarizing an academic paper entitled Mate Preferences and Matching Outcomes in Online Dating offers the following interesting result: 38% of all women on line, but only 18% of men say that they prefer to meet someone of their own ethnic background. Generalizing this finding we could say there is a greater proclivity of men than women to marry outside their ethnicity. Maybe that is all there is to be said on this topic. But my intuition is that a significant number of Jewish men would generally like to marry someone of their own religion but frequently would prefer a different ethnicity or background. They yearn for the shikse; they could do without her religion.

So in the interest of self flagellation I ask the question “Why do Jewish men have a greater need to distance themselves from their surroundings?” One common answer is that the proverbial Jewish mother is more suffocating and domineering than the Jewish father. Jewish men then associate Jewish women with their mothers, and run away in search of more gentle and docile females. The second idea is a variant of the first and locates the difficulty in the young women themselves. Jewish young women have a reputation for being high-strung, nudges, and aggressive.

It is true there has been a shift because of women’s lib towards more independent and self-sufficient women. Jewish liberal women have participated in this movement; but who can say how much is Jewish and how much is the way women are today. I think it was true around the turn of the twentieth century there were a considerable number of Jewish women who suffered from hysteria; at least that’s the impression I get from reading Freud. But it was a long time ago and there’s no reason to believe that Jewish women today are more high-strung than anyone else. Every ethnicity can produce their share of high-strung, high maintenance women, but the stereotype is that everyone but Jewish women has undergone twenty years of geisha training. I propose that thinking about the comparative reality is a hopeless task. It is impossible to say anything conclusive about the reality. There maybe small differentials between one ethnic group and the other, but it is not these small differentials that drive the process of intermarriage. The same comment applies to the question of whether Jewish mothers correspond to their stereotypes. It might be true that Jews tend to be somewhat more voluble and effervescent than repressed Victorian WASPs. Here again there’s no reason to believe that the reality of the stereotypes are the important variable.

The key variable in my opinion is the perception Jewish men might have of such differences, which magnify and distort the possible element of truth underneath these perceptions.
What can be done to alleviate this problem? I think the first thing is to ascertain it is true that Jewish men have this distorting perception. If it isn’t true, why drive anyone crazy? If it is true, I think there would be some value if young women became aware of these attitudes. The awareness they are perceived this way by their male counterparts should have a positive effect on the relationships.

Second, we have to recognize that this male perception of Jewish females is, to a large extent, caused by the weak self-image of Jewish males. One central aspect of this weak self-image is the economic difficulties young people have today in establishing a family. Jewish life is very expensive, Jewish men and women are upwardly mobile, and it is easy for Jewish men to project their fragilities in their economic struggles onto Jewish women. I think it’s an illusion to believe Jewish women are more high maintenance, more competitive and more JAPy as it were, than their non-Jewish counterparts. It’s the other way around. Jewish women are competent, flexible, and intelligent. They will try to do whatever it takes to enhance the welfare of their families. Does it follow that the stronger the Jewish male is in terms of self cohesion, self confidence etc. the more likely he is to marry a Jewish women? I believe so, everything else equal.

How is it possible to strengthen the Jewish man without suppressing the Jewish woman? Perhaps this thought might help: There are ways of expressing the careerist and other aspirations a person might have that sound competitive and shrill. And then again there are styles of expression that emphasize the cooperative aspects of marriage…the voyage a man and woman undertake to raise a family if they are so blessed, and to be there for each other no matter what life may bring. An outlook on life that emphasized the cooperative and mutually supportive aspects of a relationship, and minimized the excessive, egocentric career aspirations would be very helpful. Some men and women have mastered the art of supporting their spouses in their endeavors even when they are themselves engaged in full time mega careers. Others have not. It is a question of hashkafa, outlook on life, in the deepest psychological sense of the term. As for who is to blame for the lack of an appropriate hashkafa and the sin of excessive careerism, there are more than enough candidates… overly ambitious parents, the highly competitive Jewish community, the young people themselves.

Vetzarich iyun, the entire subject requires further thought.

Chag Sameach