Jewish Action

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A new issue of Jewish Action, – the OU’s glossy quarterly – hit the stands last week. A confluence of factors leads to this unabashed plug.

Of course I’m biased. I’m on the editorial board. So are a number of other people you will recognize as shuttling back and forth across the Agudah/OU divide. That’s the main reason I like it. It is one of the only Orthodox publications that offers real debate: two or more sides of an issue.

It is a good issue for Cross-Currents contributors. Toby Katz turns what could have been a boring magazine review into an important examination of the values communicated to girls and young women by secular and Torah publications. Yours truly wrote the cover story about friends and foes in the Christian world. Readers have commented in the past that several CC pieces seemed to go out of their way to be friendly to Christian interests. Some of these readers approved; others did not. Perhaps at least some in the latter group will understand after reading the article why it is possible today to react to Christians with something other than the animosity and hostility that we displayed – and they often deserved – for centuries. Some will also understand why expressing thanks and gratitude may also be both the right thing to do as well as an important part of building strategic alliances with a shrinking group of friends in a world that grows more hostile by the hour.

Finally, a request from JA’s editor, who wants to do a story called “Travel Tales.” Here is her request:

Have you ever been stuck on the New Jersey Turnpike in wall-to-wall traffic at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon when Shabbos comes in at 4:45?

Have you ever had to subsist on a few cans of pickles and Coca-Cola because you didn’t prepare adequately for a business trip to Mexico City?

Jewish Action would like to hear your outrageous travel stories! Please drop us a line at [email protected]

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16 Responses

  1. Baruch Horowitz says:

    L.Oberstein,

    For reasons beyond our control, the right-wing appears to have become polarized. There is nothing wrong at all with the people caught in the middle; many of us just happen to be caught in historical and societal forces larger than ourselves.

    It would be nice if there could be a chevrah or publication that would fit the needs of such people. Another idea is to take advantage of opportunities to meet Torah personalities that one can relate to; it doesn’t have to be the Gadol Hador, just someone “moderate” that one can relate to, and counter-balance voices of polarity.

    One can be based in the charedi world, but compensate for the polarizations in the above ways. Also, one can buy the Jewish Observer or Yated, but read them critically, and in addition, subscribe to the Jewish Action or Jewish Press for balance. A person can attend the Agudah convention, if they desire, and give appropriate respect to gedolim, but in addition, find a Rav or friend that one can discuss any aspects that he feels could have been presented in a more nuanced or balanced way.

    There is comfort, I think, in the fact that many people, are caught up in these issues. There are more serious problems facing the Klal and individuals, but these are still valid concerns.

    Agudah addressed the issue of k’vod chachamim in the blogosphere at large which was important ; however, if people had a place to fit in the Orthodox divide, perhaps they wouldn’t need to ventilate on the blogosphere in disrespectful ways. Anyhow, I really hope that we will see the right-wing world balance out, and swing to the center in the next few years.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    If an organization’s public message ran counter to its private message, how would a loyal member outside its inner circle know what it really wanted him/her to think or do?

  3. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “Why does a society that enshrines argument as part of Torah study shy away from it about practical matters? ”

    I think that one should distinguish between public and less-public discussions. On the public level, there are concerns with undermining leadership, confusing some people, and inviting the protest of zealous elements.

    On the less-public level, on the other hand, one may certainly respectfully discuss the strengths and weaknesses of certain policies. The fact that a community may have an ultimate Torah authority for making final decisions, doesn’t mean that one is not permitted to express an opinion, or that one is required to “let someone else think for one’s self”, as charedim are sometimes accused of doing.

    Also, it should be noted that there are different degrees of acceptance of the Daas Torah doctrine in the Orthodox community. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being a high degree of authority, and 1 a high degree of personal autonomy and open public discussion, one might somewhat arbitrarily place Agudah and the Charedie world at a level 8, and OU/RIETS at a level 4. Some of those above level 8, might be extreme, even by standards of the charedi world.

    Those in between levels 8 and 4, might be uncomfortable with certain aspects of speeches at an Agudah convention, and feel that the topics should be presented with a greater degree of nuance, and allowance for public participation. This doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with such people, or that they don’t have a role to play in the Torah community, only that at the current time, a custom-tailored group or forum doesn’t exist that fits their needs.

    I also feel that it is important for those to the left of Agudah, to give credit to the RW/Agudah when they show “broadness”, even if people consider these instances minor. First, I think that this is the correct thing to do. Additionally, the RW might feel that it is not worth their efforts to put themselves at risk from their own more zealous elements, if their efforts, however great or small, at inclusiveness and broadness are not recognized and appreciated.

  4. L.Oberstein says:

    I appreciate the comments on my comments. Maybe we have to understand that there is a dichotemy. Most chareidi people I meet exude ahaavas yisroel and really do a lot of chesed. If someone needs help, Satmar is the place to go. There is a feeling in chareidi cicles that we are Jews who happen to live at the moment in this particular golus of America. The fact that now they no longer allow normal English Literature in their schools and have produced their own ArtScroll textbooks that are clean shows that they really want no part of American society, except to make money from it. College when it is allowed is only for parnassa and no one is supposed to learn the subjects non essential to earning a living. The Modern Orthodox world has a totally different world view. also, if someone feels they are fighting a battle for survival , they circle the wagons. This is my take on Lakewood. Their kanoim don’t acknowledge even the moderate Agudah element. Rabbi Keller of Telz Chicago wrote a series of articles in Jewish Observer that doesn’t give even any legitimacy to any view on Evolution than his. Thus, the majority of orthodox Jews are apikorsim to him. I am sure,however, that he is a warm and caring person who would help someone in need.He just doesn’t live in the same millieu. That is the Jewish Observer’s situation. [EDITED]

  5. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Why does a society that enshrines argument as part of Torah study shy away from it about practical matters? Is it that when studying Torah in Yeshiva most arguments are about matters that don’t really happen all that often (when was the last time you actually owned a chicken that laid an egg you wanted to eat on Yom Tov)?

  6. Ahron says:

    >“…one wit answered with a smile: Jewish Observer would print both sides of an issue if there were two sides to an issue.” I’m not sure that’s entirely witty. It’s basically the impression the JO gives. Its ability to be viewed seriously is terribly retarded by its mission to project homogeneity. Even on the famed “Teens at risk!” issue those in the know know that JO was probably almost a decade late and many dollars short–but the rules JO plays by blocked acknowledgment of the issue until it had already reached full red-alert proportions.

    >“Their right wing is looking for excuses to destroy the legacy of achdus that Rabbi Sherer devoted his life to…. [T]he leaders must hold their noses and go along or be faced with the secession of the kanaim.” Would it necessarily be a bad thing if the Agudah’s “kanaim” decided to secede? There is obviously a price being paid either way. The flip-side is that most of American Jewry has seceded from the Agudah.

    >“Agudah’s rabbinic and lay leaders are highly dedicated, and have the weight of Klal Yisrael on their shoulders.” The rabbinic and lay leaders of the Agudah are one segment of a broad group of people that carry “the weight of Klal Yisrael on their shoulders”.

    >“For the most part, the organization brings diplomacy and “class” to Torah activism, and this has been publicly recognized by even those outside its orbit.” Not precisely: The Agudah brings effectiveness to certain dimensions of political lobbying on behalf of Orthodox communities and causes that are relevant to its constituency and to broader issues of religion in America. For that work its efforts are appreciated.

  7. Steve Brizel says:

    L Oberstein-It is well known that the Agudah caters to and is afraid of its right wing, despite the fact that many of its professionals and members of the Moetzes are college educated. That explains the rhetorical excesses and revisonism of its speakers at conventions where speakers are basically “preaching to the converted” with the full knowledge that their remarks will reach the Charedi, frum and secular media and be the subject of blog discussions. It is no different in that regard Lhavdil from any other political or corporate gathering-the best speakers offer rhetorical excesses ala Pat Buchanan and Al Sharpton designed to catch the attention of the least sophisticated attendees. That being the case, many of us who respect Agudah’s lobbying and Harbatzas Torah via the Daf Yomi but identify otherwise with many MO and RZ organizations will always have reluctance about identifying with a group that has really never been about tolerating MO, RZ, RIETS or the OU as a religious equal for its constituency.

  8. Steve Brizel says:

    IMO, JA consistently offers more than one side of an issue. The issues of MPBP, Chabad messianism , RSRH as lchatchilah and Torah codes are a few cases in point. JO is IMO uneven at best-the special issues on kids at risk really lit the fire on this issue. OTOH, IMO, the JO is far more critical of YU, RIETS and MO and RZ than of the heterodox movements. I found it most ironic and egregious for the JO to bash YU for meeting with a RCC delegation when in fact a group of Chasidishe Admorim asociated with or sympathetic to Agudah also met with the same delegation. One wonders whether that delegation was aware of either RMF’s teshuvah barring all dialogue and or RYBS’s article banning all ecumenical dialogue of a theological nature. Its stance on many issues ranging from brain death to MBP to disengagement to pre nuptial agreements to Torah and science remain predictably hostile to any arguments that might not fit its perception of Daas Torah . I see no positive movement with respect to the JO’s treatment of non Agudah Orthodoxy and its leaders since the 1993 “obit” for RYBS ZTL. The JO’s stance towards RIETS basically is to deny that RIETS and its RY, RK, Kolleleit and Talmidim exist except on a very rare occasion when a RIETS RY voices a view that supports Agudah ( i.e. the get law) and basically views any gestures in a positive manner as acknowledging that RIETS is a world class yeshiva whose RY and talmidim have a college education. IMO, the JO’s stances are a large part of the reason why any mutual appreciation between the OU and Agudah requires a gesture ala Nixon going to China after many under the radar steps in this direction. (However, I should note that Yated was far more critical of YCT in an excellent response to a letter from a YCT department chair last summer than the JO. In contrast, Mishpacha has a far more open and favorable view to MO and RZ in its news pages and features.) When I read about the OU/Agudah fault line, I am reminded and haunted by the Meshech Chachmah’s observation about why we mention Meciras Yosef in the tefilos of Yom HaKippurim-it is the averah that is behind all sinas chinam. I dream of a Torah community where RHS will be welcomed to give a shiur in BMG and RMS will be welcomed for a Mussar shmeues and Vaad to RIETS. Perhaps, those who value the insights of both of these Marbitzie Torah in both camps can serve as the impetus for this seemingly unthinkable but desperately needed gesture.

  9. Baruch Horowitz says:

    I would like to give another example for illustrative purposes, l’toeles (in a constructive spirit). I remember a debate years ago in the JO between, I believe, Dr. Aron Twerski and Rabbi Berel Wein on some issue relating to the Christian Right, perhaps similar to Rabbi Adlerstein’s topic. I don’t remember the exact issue, but it was more of a pragmatic issue(“tachsesie milchamah”), as opposed to a “heavy” and contentious philosophical topic like evolution.

    Could such a topic be *debated* today as well in the JO, along with spirited letters to the editor by *laymen* representing *different* viewpoints? Or is public debate limited to girls’ seminaries in Israel? (perhaps such debate occurs at conventions, and I am unaware of this). It seems as if there is no point in presenting public opinion, or emphasizing that certain issues are ambiguous: “just let Daas Torah debate it privately, and form a consensus”. This aspect seems not to have been part of the Jewish Observer policy ten or twenty years ago(about ten years ago, the issue of Yiddish in Yeshivos was discussed by laymen in the JO with different views).

    The JO recently published an article reviewing “Off the Derech”, which stated that it was a good source of understanding the phenomenon, but gave the disclaimer that it contained views from non-charedi source. In a past issue in a letter to the editor, there was a more critical evaluation, and it gave, basically, a negative review. I perfectly understand the latter view, and even agree with some of the concerns raised, but I think that it would have been fair to let the original reviewer respond to why he felt a kiruv professional could at least somewhat benefit from the book; this is the normal practice in the rest of the world to allow a response.

    I bring all of this up, l’toeles, as I think that it healthy and important for the issues to be discussed *somewhere*; if anyone feels that I am being unfair to the other side on these issues, I would like to see such views in response.

  10. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “The American Agudah has gained my empathy much more in recent years as I came to realize how difficult a balancing act they have to perform.”

    I feel the same. My arguments are simply to give voice to people who don’t fit in neatly into the Agudah mode, not to bash Agudah in any way. These people’s needs, I feel, are not fully taken into account, and I hope that in the future some type of forum or informal group will develop for them.

    Agudah’s rabbinic and lay leaders are highly dedicated, and have the weight of Klal Yisrael on their shoulders. For the most part, the organization brings diplomacy and “class” to Torah activism, and this has been publicly recognized by even those outside its orbit. But this doesn’t mean that people can’t respectfully question if a particular issue is being dealt with effectively, at least in terms of transparency, perception, and two-way communication with the public.

    Although I believe Agudah originally was somewhat of a Hirschian concept and it included Western European lay leaders, its dominant vision is more that of Rav Aharon Kotler Zt’l and Rav Reuven Grozovsky Zt’l, and people who recognize RYBS Zt’l or Rav Kook Zt’l as their guides in hashkafa, should realize that on a whole, at least, that is not Agudah’s vision and purpose.

    Agudah certainly has pressures from those who feel its not sufficiently “kannoish”(zealous), and it also needs to to cater to the relatively less intellectual on hashkafa issues, and both of these concerns usually dominate. It would be a tragedy if the American Agudah would adopt the Eretz Yisrael model of the Degel Hatorah coalition, and even in the Lakewood world, people realize the need for the American model.

    It is very fortunate that unity was not destroyed over the Metzizah B’feh issue, where according to one(well-meaning) letter circulated electronically, there was a perception among some that “the Torah community has matured and outgrown the Agudah”. The latter is of course totally incorrect, as was clear from Rabbi Bloom’s remarks at the current Agudah convention, but it illustrates the “difficult balancing act” L. Oberstein referred to, and why the needs of those on the left margin of Agudah are, arguably, not always sufficently taken into account.

  11. Roman Catholic says:

    I read Rabbi Adlerstein’s article. I give it my imprimatur (heh). In addition to being Catholic presently, I did spend a couple of decades in the Protestant world and feel I can therefore say that the rabbi has captured the state of matters among Mainline and Evangelical Protestants accurately.

  12. L.Oberstein says:

    When I once asked why Jewish Action has symposia with multiple views and Jewish Observer never does, one wit answered with a smile.Jewish Observer would print both sides of an issue if there were two sides to an issue.
    Seriously, Jewish Action’s constituancy is vastly different. The American Agudah has gained my empathy much more in recent years as I came to realize how difficult a balancing act they have to perform. Their right wing is looking for excuses to destroy the legacy of achdus that Rabbi Sherer devoted his life to. A lot of times, I get the feeling, the leaders must hold their noses and go along or be faced with the secession of the kanaim. Luckily, there are other forums ( actualy it should be fora) for discussion and debate, at least in the US.

  13. Baruch Horowitz says:

    The JA would fulfill the needs of someone interested in two views, and unquestionably would fulfill the needs of someone on both sides of the divide. However, it basically caters to its constituency, which I think is more firmly MO. Dealing with Kannoim (bleach-throwers or trash burners) is off its radar screen, and two- sided discussions on such a topic don’t take place in the JA(like it did on CC in response to R. Rosenblum’s excellent article in Hamodia).

    Perhaps the JA could invite a RW writer to present a charedi perspective on such issues , as it has done at least once in the past(I would be overjoyed if the JO could invite a OU writer to present their perspective on any topic, as that would clearly confirm the arrival of the Moshiach :) )

    Theoretically, I also don’t see why the issue of Ramat Beis Shemesh kannoim can’t be dealt with in the JO with letters to the editor in the spirit of honest, internal communal cheshbon hanefesh; twenty years ago, it probably would have been acceptable to have a multiplicity of views written by laymen.

    There are a number of important hashkafa and social issues which need to be discussed within the part of the RW that recognizes multiple perspectives, and I list some: ” Universalism vs. Partcularism”, “Mysticism vs. Rationality”, “Chazal and Science”, “Different Models of Daas Torah”, “The Limits of Elu V’Elu within Orthodoxy”, “Do We Sweep Things Under the Rug” ” Dealing With Out-of-Control Kannoim” ” Flexibility and Tolerance for non-Conformity”(e.g. tolerance in Eretz Yisrael communities for the Ben Torah who makes Aliyah and wears a blue shirt).

  14. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “It is one of the only Orthodox publications that offers real debate: two or more sides of an issue.”

    I agree. The Jewish Press also does.

    Years ago, the JO would also offer exchanges within the RW purview, and even letters to the editor, but its purview became narrower as the community shifted towards the right. Charedi publications need to take in consideration the less-sophisticated and also the more extreme RW, and the JO has gotten flack a number of times in the past twenty years when it allowed a “broader” perspective.

    The JO still sometimes offers exchanges such as that between Dr. Heilman and Rabbi Shafran about a year ago, and I would welcome if it would do more of that. I also give it credit for not backing down from its Metzizh B’peh article. In the summer, they also dealt with the important topic of minimizing machalokes(controversy). Whenever the the Yated or the JO displays openness or internal self-reflection on extremism–and they do at times– ,I give them credit even if it’s within its own well-defined definitions of mesorah, daas torah etc.

    However, it might make sense for those interested in real intellectual back and forth to look for it elsewhere. The very concept of “two views” is really not a RW concept any more on the public level, although the Yated will print differing views on certain social issues such as girls seminaries, homework in schools etc.

  15. Harry Maryles says:

    Perhaps at least some in the latter group will understand after reading the article why it is possible today to react to Christians with something other than the animosity and hostility that we displayed – and they often deserved – for centuries. Some will also understand why expressing thanks and gratitude may also be both the right thing to do

    I’ve been saying this for year. And I have written about I many times, both on my blog and elsewhere. As you said there was good reason to be suspicious of Christian motives with respect to us in the past. But that time has long passed. The vast majority of Fundamentalist Christians truly support both Israel and the Jewish people.

    True, their theology requires one to believe in their god as the savior without which one is doomed to eternal damnation. But that is currently a side issue for them They now bless us… because Fundamentalists take literally Torah’s teaching that God blesses those that bless His people. This is their primary motive. The sooner we recognize this, the better.

    My good friend Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein was ahead of his time in recognizing this as well. He set up an organization that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars from purely Christian sources that he has been able to do great things with for the Jewish poor of Israel, and the FSU… as well as Ethiopian Jews and even for North American Jews who want to make Aliyah. He has been unfairly attacked as fostering a climate of Evangelical missionizing of Jews for his participation with that community. This is patently untrue. Although some missionizing exists it has nothing to do with him. One can perhaps argue with the extent of his involvement or some of the things that have been quoted in his name. But in my view those are minor quibbles. No one can in no way deny the tremendous fruit his efforts have produced. I salute him and now Jewish action for recognizing this relatively new reality.

  16. mnuez says:

    I think the whole Christian matter can be summed up in saying that the more intelligent folk realize that we’re in an alliance but recognize that the alliance can shift at some point. Alliances are meant to do that. Eight hundred years ago we were quite cozy with the centers of the Muslim world (relatively speaking) and considered Christians to be the worst of our enemies, and rightly so.

    The sands shift and we shift with them.

    The less intelligent of our people honestly and earnestly think that “Christian, good! Muslim, bad!” but they are, after all, the less intelligent folk and they’ll believe whatever we tell them and won’t bother to go back and look for the doctored pictures. Oceana, we all know, is at war with Eastasia and always was at war with Eurasia.

    So the alliance with evangelicals is workin’ out A.O.K. and I’m not too worried that anyone will get the wrong idea or that it will cause any long term harm. The smarter folk know where we all stand and the dumb folk are just there to shout slogans anyway. And hey, we’re the ones writing their mottoes.

    mnuez