Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Yekke Man, Galitzianer Man

I have noticed on internet dating sites Orthodox people include in their self representations religious virtues and character traits, whereas secular Jewish people usually list common interests and activities (see my post 6/18). I want to know why this is so? Here’s my thought:

The Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger constructed the valuable abstract concept of dasein, the distinctive way a human being has of being in the world, his way of going through life, his relationship to his future & to his surroundings, the sort of human he is. Dasein is different from what is called a lifestyle. I dislike the term ‘lifestyle’. What is its antonym, a death style? Can you go through life without a lifestyle? Can you lose your lifestyle? I much prefer the term ‘dasein’, because the idea of lifestyle is usually spelled out in terms of activities, and the corresponding consumerism

There is a difference, a major one between the dasein of Orthodoxy and the rest of Judaism. There is no special way of being in the world as a Reform Jew. Whatever way a human is, his style, his sensibility, his personality, how he walks through life, is not in general essentially determined by his reformness. He’s a weasel or a macher, he’s anxious or not, depressed or happy or bipolar. Whatever he is, he is. Going to Temple does not affect how he is, though it might change his identity. The same is true for Conservatives and all the rest, except Ultra Orthodox. Modern Orthodoxy is generally the same as UO, but to the extent it is like all the rest, to that extent the Ultra Orthodox have a problem with it.

It’s easier to explain this concept via a concrete example. Imagine a human being is a movie star, say Humphrey Bogart. Going to temple will not affect his dasein in the world. If he enters as Bogart, sitting in some pew will not turn him into Cary Grant or even Edgar Bronfman. Not so Ultra Orthodoxy. A man starts out as Bogart, becomes a Satmar Chasid, yeshivish, a Breuer yekke, a Belzer chasid, whatever, provided it is Ultra Orthodox, he isn’t coming out as Bogart. He’ll come out as a Satmarer, a yeshiva Torah person, a Torah im derech eretz Orthodox, a Galitzianer chasid. Becoming a stripe of Ultra Orthodoxy changes your being-in-the-world, because in becoming Ultra Orthodox you discover how to be a member of your stripe, and that involves a change in your dasein. There are no special classes, no Reb Yoelish for Dummies, not at all. Nevertheless, hang in Satmar for a year or two, provided you have enough cultural capital to speak the languages and socialize, you’ll end up a Satmarer, you’ll slouch the way they slouch, you’ll talk the way they talk, the hat will be tilted the way they tilt. In time you’ll think the way they think, serve God in their distinctive way and so on. Eventually you’ll say things like ‘’those Zionists y’’ms(may they disappear from the face of the earth).’’ It’s magical. The religion gets to your kishkes; it shapes and informs the very being that you are.

For those familiar with Rabbi Solovetchik’s famous essay Halakhhic Man, I am saying there is not only a phenomenology of being a Brisker lamdan, there is also a distinct way of being a frum yekke , a galitzianer chasid and so on. There is Yekke Man, Galizianer Man, but no Reform Man. A talented and sensitive writer should be able to give a phenomenological account of what it is like to be a representative man of any one of these UO stripes.

Being UO is more like being a Hells Angel or a Chinese peasant or a member of the high British aristocracy, than say being a dentist, or a golfer. The attractiveness of the Orthodox way of life is not just that it is an off the rack set of rules how to act. It is first and foremost a way to be. It’s difficult to put into words, but a dasein, a way of being in the world is deeper, much deeper than a person’s identity, (in the sense of the term popularized by Erikson), or self, (in the Kohut sense of an arc of ambitions and ideals). Being Ultra Orthodox, results in a special way of being alive at a particular place and time. The study of Torah, the performance of rituals and prayer, and the multiple acts of personal charity changes the very way you go through life, and the way you are attached to this world.

I feel Reform and Conservative Judaism would be more successful if they could create and exhibit ideal types that people could internalize and use as an ideal, which in turn would bring about a distinctive way of being Conservative or being Reform. (See my post on Conservative Baseball Cards, 8/10.)

12 Comments:

At 10:58 AM, Blogger B. Spinoza said...

Reform and Conservative Judaism are modern American entities. Modern philosophy, especially American, speaks more from the perspective of individuals rather than groups. While UO, on the other hand, try to emulate the European ideal which was much less individual oriented. In modern times a community is a group of individuals rather than a separate identity. The group hardly transcends the individual parts at least not to the extent that it did on the past.

I don't know if the Reform/Conservative movements can change because it may be part of their essential attribute

 
At 11:59 AM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

b. spinoza...You make an excellent point and I, too, don't know if it could ever change. But clearly, part of the attraction of Orthodoxy is that it provides a way of living and feeling. If one is left with all the burdens of individuality, the pick-up from services and the like is clearly not sufficiently powerful to make a big impact on people's lives.

One more point...think of all the people who are Emersonians(i.e. American transcendentalists), or chassidim of Walt Whitman or, going further afield, post-Wagner music people. They all share common feelings and ways to be, without being a herd.

 
At 12:33 PM, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

Why waste time attempting to create "ideal" types antithetical to the Torah-committed way of life?

Do we want the movements heretofore dedicated to leftish bourgeois suburbanism to follow their present logic with more inner fire, or do we want them to make an abrupt turn toward Judaism?

 
At 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about becoming a Belgian man or a Mexican man?

 
At 1:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evanston Jew:

When reading through it, I thought you were headed in a different direction. Be it as it may.

The downside of "typing" is that it creates distinct stereotypes. From a psychological perspective, doing so keeps everyone in neat categories and prevents cognitive overload. Interestingly, anyone who has been following the shidduch world knows that such categories are used very often. In fact, many new variations o those categories have had to be created to accomodate people who have not fit neatly into any of the original designations. On the other hand, there are individuals who play the role of what is expected of them given the category that they most identify with. So, if one wants to be considered Chareidi, he has to act, think, and follow whatever the "club" sets as norms. And we know who ends up setting those norms. And that's stifling IMHO.

Then there are people who are out of the box--sometimes ordinary people and sometimes even religious leaders. People who know them well stipulate that the person described does not fit into a neat category. They have to go through exhaustive semantic gynastics in trying to describe such an individual ("...deep down he's very xx, even though he dresses like yy"). That's unfortunate because it is often the complex individuals who make the most effective rabbinic and lay leaders, not to mention appealing as people.

It's interesting that you mention Rav Soloveichik because he was such a person who was very complex. He had views on Halachic and Hashkafic matters that one may not have expected, given the way that followers and observers defined him.

But that aside, it seems that your point is that R., C., or unaffiliated would benefit from philosophical or cultural archetypes. But I think what you are really pointing to is the value of religious standards and minhag that permeates the O'dox world. On some level, it does present a context and an identification that unaffiliated Jews do not have, beyond any superficial denominational label.

 
At 1:27 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

bob miller...I can't speak for you but I would prefer a motivated liberal Jew committed to the Jewish people to one who is on the way to leaving Jewish life. I think if someone knows how to make liberal Jews Orthodox they should share their knowledge.

As someone who is bourgeois,lives in a suburb and is definitely very left, I do not view that particular triad with the distaste you seem to have. To the best of my knowledge neither suburban Orthodox, bourgeois Orthodox or left-wing Orthodox are oxymorons.

 
At 1:42 PM, Anonymous Berthold in Arizona said...

The 'Dasein' of the Yekke. A Yekke is always punctual, well dressed, wearing a tie, a kippa or a hat but never a black hat. He is honest to a fault and will run after you to return a penny owed.
He speaks High German and even when he tries to speak Yiddish it sounds like German.
He is frum with all the precision and discipline of a Marine. He will never skip a prayer nor fail to keep the right z'man. He follows all the laws scrupulously according to the Mishna Breuer.. :-) He is clean shaven and the Omer period is a pain to him. He has no problems with secular education--the more the better--and to be called Herr Doktor is as good as Herr Rabiner. He is patriotic and will gladly go to war for his country--but he will never be able to overcome the grievous rejection and eternal scar that his 'Heimat' inflicted on his people.

 
At 2:23 PM, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

"To the best of my knowledge neither suburban Orthodox, bourgeois Orthodox or left-wing Orthodox are oxymorons."

If the stress is on Orthodox, that's a good start. If the stress is on one or more of these modifiers, priorities are tilted toward assimilation.

 
At 5:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To study torah and to live one's life by ritual works if you want to confine your life to being part of a particular group. As you describe the incorporation of the rituals and ways of being that one acquires as part of the group, you could also be describing, obsessive-compulsives, Scientolagists, lemmings or members of cults too numerous to mention. I don't know that this makes a whole person.

 
At 7:04 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

anonymous 5:08...'you could also be describing, obsessive-compulsives, Scientolagists, lemmings or members of cults too numerous to mention'. I don't know where you are coming from and the degree of familiarity you have with these communities. The comparison to scientologists,etc. is unfair because members of these communities are not zombies who lose their inviduality. Orthodoxy even in its most specific stripe is not a cult, but an example of relgious community life.The obsessive issue is to my way of thinking complicated and I have no easy answer. But it is a point about religious behavior as such. Praying on day 1 does not free a person from praying on day 2 and so on forever. There are only two religious ways to go,I think.Either because a mitvah brings a person closer to God it is not obsessive, because though the behavior is the same the person is changing, deepening; or some kind of obsessive behavior is desirable.

 
At 7:21 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

anonymous 1:09..I was hoping I was saying something more than the importance of standards and minhag in Orthodoxy; something more along the line of berthold in arizona's comment on yekkes. You tend to see these labels as sterotypes, confining, repressive, limiting individuality. I am less sure...we are already talking about groups within Orthodoxy.I think in general the burden,if any,is the Orthodoxy, not being a X,e.g. a Gerer chusid, which is actually part of the joy.

I am not sure but I guess that the fight over the legacy of Rabbi Soloveitchik is related more to what is to BE modern orthodox than to the spcific issues in public policy and halacha.

berthold in arizona...I very much enjoyed and appreciated your comment. I wish I knew how to work up such a characterization for other specific groups.

 
At 3:44 AM, Blogger bruce said...

"I wish I knew how to work up such a characterization for other specific groups."

While some of the typing is dated, a good place to start is the work of the great yiddish writers of yesteryear- Grade,Mendele etc.

 

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