The Triumphalism Meme and Its Uses

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Amidst all the controversy that Rabbi Landesman’s recent post sparked, one particular statement of his failed to receive the attention it deserves. He wrote that he is “deeply concerned by the chareidi triumphalism often voiced on this blog as well as other chareidi media outlets which loudly proclaim how ‘goodly are our tents’ – a statement that I am not certain is consistent with the facts on the ground.”

My comments here will address the charge of triumphalism on the assumption that the Orthodox community indeed has much to feel good about, along with, as well, quite a bit to be concerned about within its ranks. I’ll set aside, however, what I find to be the more astonishing part of R. Landesman’s statement — that he’s not certain the verse “how goodly are your tents” comports with the current Orthodox reality — and leave it to the readers to decide whether they share R. Landesman’s perception of that reality.

First, let’s define triumphalism; then, in Part 1, we’ll take a bit more circumspect view of claims of triumphalism; and, in a coming Part 2, we’ll discuss when and under what circumstances one might rightfully celebrate his community’s successes, or – gasp! – take note of another’s failures.

“Triumphalism” can be a somewhat amorphous term, with shifting meanings for different people. Here’s how I broadly define the term, drawing on my trusty Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary: celebrating victory or success boastfully or exultantly. For me, this would include celebrating one’s successes in such way that it conveys to the Other one’s sense of exultation over his defeat or failure, even if the Other goes without explicit mention.

But while triumphalism is a real phenomenon, including in the fervently Orthodox* community, it is important for us, too, to be real and recognize that the charge of triumphalism is sometimes nothing more than a cynical manipulation or psychological defense mechanism that says a great deal more about the indicter than about the indicted. At times, this charge is leveled by those who a) may well know the speaker had no intent whatsoever to be triumphal, but b) feel threatened or inadequate because of what the speaker has said, and therefore c) cry “triumphalism” in lieu of what they’d really like to shout, which is “shut up, you’re saying things I don’t want to hear.”

The case of Rabbi Norman Lamm is telling in this regard. Last May, he caused quite a stir by telling an interviewer for the Jerusalem Post that “[w]ith a heavy heart we will soon say Kaddish on the Reform and Conservative Movements…Reform is out of the picture, because they never got into the picture, and the Conservatives are getting out of the picture.” He went on to say that the Conservatives are “closing schools and in general shrinking,” while the “Reform movement may show a rise, because if you add goyim to Jews then you will do OK.” Consequently, said Rabbi Lamm, the “future of American Jewry is in the hands of haredim and the modern Orthodox [who] have to find ways of working together.”

On the facts, Rabbi Lamm was indubitably correct. Per Marvin Schick, the “Solomon Schechters are hemorrhaging students and losing some schools along the way and the process is ongoing,” and the profuse evidence of Conservatism’s severe demographic crisis is plain for all to see. R. Lamm’s remark about Reform is an open secret in that movement and beyond; back in 1996, the God Squad’s Marc Gellman admitted that “even Reform rabbis like myself, who do not perform intermarriages, have benefited from a huge influx of intermarried couples who have nowhere else to go,” and matters have only snowballed since then.

As to tone, our own Rabbi Adlerstein, in a May 18, 2009 post, rightly observed: “What should be instructive to those of us who would have had no problem making the same statement ten years ago, is Rabbi Lamm’s insistence on not making triumphal hay of his pronouncement. The words with which he began – “with a heavy heart” – should be a model to all of us who interact with Jews outside the Orthodox community.”

Ever the optimist, Rabbi Adlerstein suggested that “[p]erhaps he will get away with the severity of his pronouncement precisely because he almost always resists the opportunity to be triumphal. He repeated the need for humility a few moments later. Outreach to Reform and Conservative Jews is a good thing, ‘but not by watering down what we believe and not by demonizing them either.’ ” Given who Rabbi Lamm is and the pains he took to speak a most inconvenient truth in the most sensitive way possible — short of not saying it — Rabbi Adlerstein may indeed have had reason for hope.

But it didn’t quite work out that way. Here’s what ensued: A Reform columnist wrote in a Post op-ed that Rabbi Lamm “needs to criticize with a sincere tone of love rather than with a bitter sense of victory.” The head of Conservatism’s Rabbinical Assembly (RA), issued a press release touting her movement’s Hekhsher Tzedek initiative and noted that it has “sadly eluded the notice of Rabbi Norman Lamm . . . who felt moved to publicly declare the need to recite Kaddish for our allegedly-dying movement. . . . It seems Rabbi Lamm has been so busy making funeral arrangements that he missed the news of our movement’s great and global vitality. . . . My advice to Rabbi Lamm is – save your Kaddish. . . . [and stop] “eulogizing the institutions where Jews live their lives.”

The Israeli Conservative movement’s Andrew Sacks blogged in the Post with a more-in-sadness-than-in-anger tone that he “would take no solace in knowing that the numbers of any Movement were in decline, for each Movement has a valuable contribution to make to our people” — and proceeded to catalogue the failures of Israel’s Orthodox community, concluding with his assurance that “I take no pleasure in the failings mentioned above.”

And in yet another blog on the Post’s site, Orthodox Rabbi Seth Farber, noting that “my colleague Andy Sacks has already sought to counter Rabbi Lamm’s claim,” wrote of his concern that Rabbi Lamm’s statement “can obfuscate [his] greatness . . ., as it portrays him as adopting the triumphalism that is so characteristic of ultra-Orthodoxy.” Ah yes, for the heterodox naught but sweetness and light, while for the “ultra-Orthodox,” with whom, last time I checked, Rabbi Lamm is not affiliated and who thus had no connection to this story, a gratuitous, broad swipe.

Finally, American Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna cautioned Rabbi Lamm that his “triumphalistic prediction” might yet prove false, and that a religious movement’s “smugness . . . has often been the first sign of [its] own impending decline.”

Now, we can debate whether Rabbi Lamm’s comments ought to have been made and whether they served any constructive purpose. But again, an objective reader of his words, and certainly anyone remotely familiar with him and his views, might well take strong issue with his assertions, but would readily acknowledge the absence of any triumphalistic sentiment on his part. He was stating a harsh truth, which he presumably believed he had good reason to do; it is a truth whose impact could only be softened so much, which he strove to do.

But that’s precisely the point. Rabbi Lamm’s intentions and efforts at sensitivity were entirely irrelevant. Although, obviously, I can’t prove it, I believe the responses to his words and those in countless similar instances, stem from a confluence of two factors. One is the liberal Jewish movements’ chronic lack of religious self-esteem and nagging – and indeed unerring — sense of inauthenticity, which can be documented copiously from the statements and writings of both the leaders and laity of those movements.

The other factor is the pronounced predilection of the political left and its Jewish counterparts in Jewish heterodoxy and the secular Jewish media, to eschew debate and true diversity of thought and to, instead, seek to censor opposing viewpoints at every turn. Yes, I know, the reader is shocked at the assertion that the greatest boosters of open-minded pluralism would be among its greater transgressors – alas, this truth, too, can be all too abundantly documented, from heterodoxy’s antecedents in the Enlightenment right down to the day of this writing. (Such is equally true of the political left, whose attempts to squelch open debate and dissent have reached something of a crescendo under the current U.S. administration).

But there’s the rub.

When the heterodox ego is bruised by those within movement ranks or those beyond who can be pressured or controlled, there’s no need to roll out the free speech-chilling T-word. So, for example, when new United Synagogue head Steven Wernick, comparing Conservatism’s outreach efforts to Orthodox Judaism’s success in that area, said, “They’re missionaries! We want to get paid. We don’t believe. What do we believe in? That is the problem of progressive Judaism,” Wernick was quickly brought to his senses.

Within a week, he issued a letter of contrition to the RA – written, a Forward reporter earnestly noted, “just before the High Holiday Days of Awe, when Jews traditionally review their conduct and seek forgiveness” – and helpfully clarifying that “[w]hat I was trying to say is that we are not missionaries. . . . [W]e do not have a network of people ready to swoop in for no money to win souls. Instead, we try to give our congregants meaningful, moving, engaging programming, free of hidden agendas and . . . look for a high level of intellectual sophistication . . . in the speakers and scholars we choose. All that costs money.” He caved, just as, according to JTS’ Joel Roth, the “world-class luminaries” on its Talmud faculty who opposed women’s ordination were informed the decision to ordain had been made by others and were “made to kiss the papal ring.”

And when the Jewish Agency’s Masa program, which brings young Jews to Israel for sustained periods of work, study and volunteering, ran a 34-second commercial on Israeli television pairing photos of young Jews on missing-person posters with the statement that “over 50% of Jews abroad are assimilating,” it drew a firestorm of criticism on blogs and in news reports, and most importantly,from donors worldwide, causing it to kill the ad after a six-day run.

I wrote at the time that the furious demand to pull the ad was in line with the banishment in recent years of any talk in the American Jewish world of intermarriage as an evil, or even something to work against. As JTS’ Jack Wertheimer, writing in Commentary, put it:”How, then, does it serve Jewish group interests to silence all discussion about the relationship between intermarriage and assimilation? This hesitance to grapple seriously with the issue of intermarriage is part of a broader phenomenon: Speaking of threats to Jewish survival has become passé.”

Of course, much of the suppression of speech and thought in these circles takes the form of self-censorship. The failure to conduct a national Jewish population survey this decade; the near-total news blackout on the beehive of vibrant intellectual and social activity and communal development that is today’s burgeoning Orthodoxy in all its stripes; the failure to report the chasm that exists between the respective political parties and between Jewish movements in their support for Israel; all these and many similar instances do not require invocation of the T-word.

But when an Orthodox person, even one who has spent a lifetime working for the spiritual and material betterment of the Jewish people, bar none, dares to speak the truth about today’s Jewish reality, for a legitimate purpose and indeed, with much sadness, he cannot be silenced or controlled. So there’s only one recourse: shout him down with the charge of triumphalism.

*In case the term “fervently Orthodox” leaves you confused, it means the same thing as “ultra-Orthodox.” The latter is the term of choice in secular and heterodox Jewish publications and speeches to refer to fervently Orthodox individuals and their communities, despite members of the latter having voiced, in print and otherwise, the offense they take at the use of that term. Hmm, might the continued use of that term against our wishes — rubbing our faces in it, as it were — a practice those publications deem unacceptable with regard to every other ethnic and religious group in our society, be described as a bit . . . triumphalist?

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25 Responses

  1. dovid says:

    You write re. Mark’s post that “We [CC] publish comments that are challenging”. Wadr, his comments and innuendos amount to character assassination of a Jew whose cheskas kashrus is to this day in good standing. Regardless of whether R’ Dovid Landesman read Mark’s post, or not, we have all been guilty of mevazeh him b’rabbim. Some of us actively (Mark and CC) or passively (the rest of us, myself included).

  2. dovid says:

    I take issue with Mark’s comments (May 4th), as well as with Counter-Currents posting it without taking a position one way or another.

    Mark expresses his criticism of Rabbi Dovid Landesman in objectionable ways. Here are some examples:

    “but it takes a certain amount of chutzpah”

    “it also requires a certain measure of dishonesty”

    “There are thousands of people working to solve those problems …”
    “I’m not sure whether he’s part of the solution”

    Mark let us know that he read 13 articles posted by Rabbi Landesman on this site. I am sure he read CC’s comment “Rabbi Dovid Landesman is a veteran mechanech and writer, …” at the bottom of each one of these articles.

    Rabbi Dovid Landesman has been in hinuch much of his life and I believe he still is. He is in pain seeing entrenched dysfunctional charedi attitudes and practices that bring disgrace to KBH and to Knesset Israel. He challenges such attitudes and practices forcefully. He very much works towards the solution of these problems as a rebbe, writer, and as an anonymous eved Hashem. The language and the insinuations of Mark’s comments, and posting it unchallenged by CC, however, IS very much part of the problem. If you don’t like Rabbi Dovid Landesman’s criticism, you won’t like R’ Israel Salanter’s criticism either. R’ Israel advised us to blame neither the nations of the world, nor the non-observant among the Jews for the misfortunes we are experiencing, but to blame ourselves. That’s pretty much what R’ Dovid has been doing.

    Now a question to Counter Currents: If you truly believe that Rabbi Landesman is dishonest and displays chutzpa (You posted the comment on your blog 20 days ago and didn’t rebut it) – these are two traits that either one would disqualify him from teaching our children, did you contact R’ Dovid’s employer to have him fired, and if not why not? I hope you won’t answer that you don’t take responsibility for comments posted on your blog.

    [YA – Close. We publish comments that are challenging, in the hope that the readership will respond. What took you so long? There also, for the record, is no such thing as either Cross-Currents or Santa Claus. Cross-Currents is a group effort, and different editors and contributors differ with each other, although we are all friends. Regarding this little controversy, I happen to be the one who posted R Landesman’s post in the first place; reading everything, I am still drawn more to the thrust of his thinking than that of his antagonists. (OK, Doron Beckerman may be an exception there.)]

  3. lacosta says:

    i wonder if in trying to be triumphalist, we downplay the massive problems, the undercurrents of dissent, the looming financial collapse, the curses of Tuition, The Parsha, Off-the derech [ probably larger than either MO or haredim wan’t to admit affects their flock], White collar crime , etc …. maybe when we talk about the previous waves of R and C triumphalism, the seeds of their downfall were inherent in their lifestyle—- maybe we face a similar fate if these structural issues can’t be changed quickly….

  4. YM says:

    Micha, if you add up the attendance at all the small minyans at all different times, from neitz until 9:30am, I think the same # of men show up for shul during the week as on Shabbes.
    –your neighbor in Passaic

  5. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Within the microcosm of orthodox Jewry, which represents a mere 9% of US Jewry, there is much to be proud of in having saved ourselves from the brink of predicted extinction. However, a true, community minded Jew who looks at the macro picture of the unmitigated disaster that is the Jewish American story should do nothing but shudder. The Kiruv “success” is a pimple on the holocaust of intermarriage and ignorance. It’s like the few people who survived Katrina unscathed boasting of their good fortune at the ones who didn’t. Such people can and should be thankful for being saved, but stating, even without triumphal intent, the “harsh truth” surrounding them would be nothing less than despicable. And certainly not a reflection of Jewish values.

    Further, after seeing the pendulum swing from one side to the other in the very short span of the lifetime of many of us (ok maybe just some of us) are we really so haughty as to believe that it won’t swing back? There are deep, systemic problems within orthodoxy which, if ignored, it would not take a prophet to see so much we’ve accomplished come crashing down.

    Just because orthodoxy was treated with hubris 50 years ago is no reason that we shouldn’t act with humility now. Our fellow Jews don’t need tough love from us, they need to know that we’re all in this together.

  6. Thematic Giant says:

    Although the points raised in this article are certainly correct, I do not see how they relate to R’ Landesman’s comments. True, liberal Jews may engage in Triumphalism name calling to silence criticism and to assuage their own theological guilt. Charges of triumphalism that emanate from the secular leaning should therefore be treated skeptically.

    But just because JTS cried wolf does not mean R’ Landesman is doing the same. R’ Landesman is not an outsider seeking to stifle debate. He is instead an “insider” who would love nothing more than an open discussion about issues that he feels are being swept under the rug. Far from trying to silence “Chareidi” free speech, he is instead pleading for more of it.

  7. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Notwithstanding the fact that Rabbi Lamm’s comments regarding the issues facing Reform and Conservative Judaism were sugar-coated with a sensitive sounding “heavy heart”, these comments still fit Eytan Kobre’s definition of triumphalism which includes a “boastful” celebration of one’s “success”; as merely stating them is “boastful” or at least can legitimately be perceived that way. In fact, to the recipient of such statements saying that one is stating them with a “heavy heart” can also add the perception of condescension to the to the mix. Regardless of the psychoanalytic reasons why the recipients of such statements would respond as they did, is this really how a “fervently” orthodox, or any orthodox person for that matter, really wants to project himself? Is being boastful and condescending a trait we truly aspire to?

    Furthermore, within the microcosm of orthodox Jewry, which represents a mere 9% of US Jewry, there is much to be proud of in having saved ourselves from the brink of predicted xtinction. However, a true, community minded Jew who looks at the macro picture of the unmitigated
    disaster that is the Jewish American story should do nothing but shudder. The Kiruv “success” is a pimple on the holocaust of intermarriage and ignorance. It’s like the few people who survived Katrina unscathed boasting of their good fortune at the ones who didn’t. Such people can and should be thankful for being saved, but stating, even without triumphal intent, the “harsh truth” surrounding them would be nothing less than despicable. And certainly not a reflection of Jewish values.

    Beyond all of that, after seeing the pendulum swing from one side to the other in the very short span of the lifetime of many of us (ok maybe just some of us :), are we really so haughty as to believe that it won’t swing back? There are deep, systemic problems within orthodoxy which, if ignored, it would not take a prophet to see so much we’ve accomplished
    come crashing down.

    Just because orthodoxy was treated with hubris 50 years ago is no reason that we shouldn’t act with humility now. Our fellow Jews don’t need tough love from us, they need to know that we’re all in this together.

  8. David says:

    In marriage, for example, a husband and wife will disagree many, many times over many different sorts of issues, with each insisting that he/she is right and the other is wrong. The test and challenge is to ensure to keep these arguments as respectful disagreements, rather than a power struggle, competition and exercise in one-upmanship.

    If achdus among the different sectors of Judaism is an important goal, then we need to follow the model of a good, healthy marriage. Without compromising our views, we need to express them in a polite, respectful manner and not in a competitive, “I’m better than you” kind of way. I think what worries Rabbi Landesman (and many of us) is the non-explicit message of “see, I’m right and your wrong” that many in the Torah world (knowingly or otherwise) present. It’s not necessarily being arrogant, but rather the lack of discretion in formulating our positions.

  9. Shira Halperin says:

    On Shabbes, most people are home and even have guests = shul is full. Most people can get up late and go to main, late minyan.
    During the week, people daven early, some daven near work, few have guests = shul is less full. Yes, sometimes we wake up late and have to daven at home to get to work on time…but most of the disparity is not due to that.

  10. joel rich says:

    There’s a line in “The Big Chill” (uttered by a 60’s child some years later at a reunion of friends) that we’d all do well to consider -because in some version of the future (which I pray we can avoid) those of us who are now waxing triumphant may find ourselves saying something very similar – “Wrong, a long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time; you don’t know anything about me. It was easy back then. No one had a cushier berth than we did. It’s not surprising our friendship could survive that. It’s only out there in the real world that it gets tough.” (me-substitute frumkeit for friendship)

    KT

  11. L. Oberstein says:

    If you go out into the field, you can’t escape the decline of Conservative Judaism as a movement. In 1975, I heard Marshall Sklare, the famous sociologist and Conservative ordained rabbi, speak. He said that in the late 19th century, the Reform were triumphalist, in the first half of the 2th century, the Conservatives were triumphalist and now it is the orthodox’s turn. How far we have come since 1975. Marshall Sklare’s grandson learns in the Ner Israel Kollel and authored a learned sefer.

  12. Shua Cohen says:

    Nachum wrote (in the name of R. Lamm): “Better there be some kesher than the sad alternative. It’s something Orthodox Jews…are going to have to deal with.”

    Well, here is another take on Jewish reality, going beyond a mere “sad alternative” to an altogether shocking one:

    “Those who have returned are those whom Eliyahu [HaNavi] has selected to lead the Jewish people to the redemption of Mashiach…There is a selection going on now. Some people are being brought back, and some people, due to the high intermarriage and assimilation rate, are being thrown out. There are prophecies concerning this unfortunate fact. Those prophecies state that there will be members of the Jewish body who will be removed from it.” [HaRav HaGaon Simcha Wasserman, zt”l, from “Reb Simcha Speaks,” Artscroll, 1994, pp. 33-34]

    As per Reb Simcha, Nachum understates the case when he points out that the vast majority of Diaspora Jews are beyond saving. But more than that, the implication of Reb Simcha is that they are not, in fact, prophetically destined to be saved. They are being “thrown out” by the Ribbono Shel Olam Himself. A sobering thought, which may provoke angry, critical responses from certain circles.

  13. another Nathan says:

    Don’t get hung up on the sub-label of orthodox (ultra, fervent, modern, sorta). “Orthodox” was a pejorative label attached to traditional Jews by the non-traditional.

  14. Dr. E says:

    Eytan

    I think that one litmus test of whether triumphalism exists or not (in terms of the facts on the ground) is how Torah and Mesorah (no pun intended) are transmitted by parents and educators to the next generation. Do they convey a Yiddishkeit in terms of Halacha and Hashkafa that excludes and invalidates or one that includes and respects? This does not only apply to how Conservative, Reform, and non-affiliated are viewed, but other flavors of Orthodoxy which may me one or two shades away. To me, the shtiebelization and chederization have served to be counterproductive in this regard. People and sub-facets within Orthodoxy can live their own exclusive lives within their shuls, Yeshivos, employers, and social service entities. Unlike when the numbers in our communities were quantitatively smaller, people in these camps no longer have to talk to each other or cooperate with one another. When children and students can transition into adulthood within the more general society (i.e., beyond one’s 4 Amos) and be responsible and conscientious employees, colleagues, community members, spouses, parents—while maintaining the basic Torah values—that would convince me that we are OK. Young people often look back and realize that although they have not been given the tools of exclusion, they have be short-changed on the tools of inclusion. And there are basically two paths that kids can go in response to this deficit—neither of them ideal.

    One manifestation of triumphalism is sometimes evident within the Kiruv industry. Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but the implication that shines through the various techniques and marketing is that “We have the answers, the emess, and the happiness….So, come join us for a Shabbos meal and you will end up staying for Eternity.” Really? Any reader of CC and other media will know that Orthodoxy neither has all of the answers nor a monopoly on morality-or Eternity. So, when those in the Kiruv space to openly capitalize on the struggles within non-Orthodox denominations (many of them self- admitted by their leadership) that is understandably reason to be tagged with the triumphalism label.

    I also find it troubling when I hear that in a large-scale public forum, someone gets up to speak and seizes the opportunity to who how the numbers shows that “we have been victorious over the Nazis, ….. etc.” The take-home message seems to be identical to the above in terms of us having a monopoly on the answers and the emess. (Instead of triumphalism and the obvious need for self-validation, I’d much rather hear from Baalei Battim of all stripes who have sacrificed their time and have internalized the values of the intellectual pursuit being celebrated.)

    So, I think that there is both “micro-triumphalism” (within Orthodoxy) as well as “macro-triumphalism” (vis a vis other denominations)–which often get confounded in our camps–each having its own negative ramifications. As Rabbi Oberstein and you imply, of course we have what to be proud of and we should celebrate that appropriately. The question is whether we should be the “Ohr L’Goyim” through action and example in ways which demonstrate true empathy and humanity. Or, do we seek to change the world and hope for high enrollment and membership numbers as a metric of success, and be quick to take credit for it through our rhetoric?

  15. Mark says:

    As usual, Eytan articulate his points eloquently and provides much food for thought.
    The truth is that Rabbi Landesman’s accusation ring hollow on a far more basic level. While there is certainly a fair share of praise expressed on this site for the Orthodox world [not only Charedim] there is at least an equal, if not greater share of criticism aimed at the Orthodox world [especially Charedim if one includes the comments.] And that only describes this site, one of the few sites dedicated to defending the Orthodox world. Nothing need be said about the myriad sites whose sole existence is to tear into all things Charedi and there are plenty of them out there.
    Moreover, Rabbi Landesman himself, although he initially introduced himself to this blog as a person struggling to find his identity, “Every year the day accentuates the fact that I am really not sure who I am – a chareidi, a chardalnik, a dati leumi.,” [Yankel ZT”L Apirl 28, 2009,] anyone who has read his writings [13 in all on this site] knows that the vast majority of them have been critical of Charedim in one form or another.
    That in itself doesn’t mean his points are wrong [although I personally don’t agree with all of them] but it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to then level an accusation about how this board promotes an attitude of Charedi triumphalism and “how goodly are our tents” when Rabbi Landesman is a prime example of how untrue this is.
    More to the point, only a complete fool would deny that there are problems in the Charedi world, but it also requires a certain measure of dishonesty to proclaim that the sky is falling, when in reality it isn’t despite our problems. Failing to adopt Harry Marylis’ approach of issuing one Machaah daily, does not mean that no one but Harry and Rabbi Landesman are aware of the problems within our camp. There are thousands of people working to solve those problems [perhaps many more are needed and that’s a discussion in it’s own right] and responsible people are careful not to shoot from the hip if they truly want to make a difference. So far, having read all 13 of Rabbi Landesman’s critiques, I’m not sure whether he’s part of the solution or simply another fellow who prefers to shoot scattershot.

  16. Micha Berger says:

    Actually, Reb Eytan, speaking as someone in both/neither camp, I do not agree that “there are many, many more Jews within the chareidi community who are sincerely fervent … in their spiritual lives than outside that community.” As I wrote, I think it’s an illusion created by one community has more chitzoniyus (externalities / appearances) than the other. Therefore the Orthodox-lite chareidi is simply less obvious than his Modern Orthodox counterpart.

    I live in a primarily yeshivish community (you might remember which). I see the same Shabbos vs weekday Shacharis shul attendance ratio as when I visit Teaneck.

    To answer your questions:

    1- I do have the same problem with ultra-Orthodox, in addition to sharing your concern. I only raised my nit (so termed because it’s a distraction from your basic thesis) as an attempt to join your quest for a better alternative. For the same reason…

    3- (Yes, out of order, who said I’m a chakham who answers “al rishon rishon”?) I have similar problems with the term “Modern Orthodox”. As I said, I was confining my comments to your quest for finding better terminology.

    2- The point I was trying to make about the “monochromatic attire” (which is pretty true where I live, minus ties and a minority of the women) is the aforementioned one of chitzonius. I have no problem with proper use of externalities and uniforms. R’ Kobre knows firsthand that I wear a kapote on Shabbos. I am more uniformed and more obviously monochromatic (at least one day a week) than the people we’re discussing. Uniforms create self-image, and self-image pushes the person to live up to it. However, that doesn’t mean that in practice, there are actually fewer chareidim missing weekday minyan. In general, the corners each community cuts are in different places, but as someone who fits equally well/poorly in both, I really don’t see more or fewer corners cut in either.

    What Modern Orthodoxy outside the denser Jewish communities has that chareidi do not are those who simply affiliate Orthodox, and therefore want the Orthodoxy that requires the least external change with which to associate themselves. But I didn’t think we were counting the “show up for Yom Tov” Jews. And even in that domain, Modern Orthodoxy has less and less room for them, which is why R’ Avi Weiss saw a niche for Open Orthodoxy.

    Notice that none of the above questions your basic assertion, because I am perfectly comfortable with it.

    -micha

  17. Bob Miller says:

    Well, we do think true Torah Judaism will triumph. The main point is not to rub it in so as to put people off. Another point is that the individual Jew (FFB, BT…in whichever Orthodox camp) should never feel that his teshuva process has been completed.

  18. Moshe P. Mann says:

    Contra to Eytan Kobre, ultra-Orthodox triumphalism takes on a particularly salient note when dealing with the prime vehicle of Orthodox triumphalism – the kiruv movement. I have heard and read ostentatious braggadocio countless times from kiruv activists and hareidi publications about how “in a few generations all of Israel will become Chareidi” and “the Chilonim are all dying off” or “Oooh look! We just founded a kollel on Rechov Dizengoff! In another 10 years, Tel Aviv will be the next Meah Shearim!” etc.

    Although it is out of the scope of this posting to delineate the shortcomings of the kiruv movement and why an ultra-orthodox takeover will not occur in the near future, it must be noted that this sort of triumphalism is not simply a meme – it is intellectually dishonest, a chillul Hashem, and with the tone that it takes on, it is a uniquely Orthodox phenomenon.

  19. Shades of Gray says:

    My guess is that “fervently Orthodox” as well as “haredi”, are terms used primarily to identify communities to the secular press, as both are better than “ultra”. The use of “haredi” to describe American “haredim” might also reflect a merging of Israeli haskafa with American hashkafa, as my sense is that it wasn’t always used in America. For example, a May 1998 article in the JO on feminism by Levi Reisman(“Feminism: A Force That Will Split Orthodoxy”), talks about ‘Right-Wing’ individuals (in quotes) successfully working for various MO organizations. From the other angle, there is also change, as R. Norman Lamm, in an interview in the February, 2010 Commentator, discourages the use of the word “Centrist,” which he had previously used, “because it has been misunderstood and has absolutely no noetic content, in contradistinction to “Modern Orthodoxy,” which does”.

    (Compare preferences for “haredi” by Dr. Chaim Soloveitchik , in “Rupture and Reconstruction”, 1994, footnote #1, stating that “ the term “haredi” has gained recent acceptance among scholars because of its relative neutrality; and R. Nosson Sherman’s statement in “Shma” interview, February 07, that “the title Haredi was adopted by the fervently Orthodox people 100 years ago”, versus R. Berel Wein’s statement in a Summer 2007 Jewish Action article that, “the creation of the term “Chareidi” in the 1980s has had a disastrous effect on Orthodox unity”, and that it was originally created by Religious Zionist movement. People’s various preferences in terminology was also described by Debra Nussbaum Cohen in an April 1998 JTA article “Labeling Of Orthodox Jewry Has Never Been More Confusing” and a May, 1998 article in the New York Times titled “Yeshivish at Yale” ).

    However, I think that all of the above is no longer au currant and will perhaps become less relevant. The RCA in a recent resolution titled , “Dialogue and Partnering with the Greater Orthodox Organizational World” begins “whereas we live in complicated times, when religion in general, and Orthodox Judaism in particular, is under attack, much good could be derived from a greater unity of purpose between all responsible segments of Orthodox Judaism”. If the above is true to some extent or another, then perhaps differences will be less important in coming years, just as they were when the Orthodox community was smaller in the decades before, during, and after the Second World War.

  20. Nachum says:

    I think that those Charedim who decry the use of “ultra-Orthodox” should realize that in the mind of a committed Modern Orthodox Jew- and there are many- that is exactly what Charedism is: Something more than Orthodoxy. In that sense, it’s pretty accurate. Most other terms imply that there’s something lacking in the Orthodoxy of other Orthodox Jews, which is simply untrue, at least as a rule. (Indeed, some Modern Orthodox thinkers certainly state that by nature, there’s something religiously lacking in Charedism, and that’s it’s Modern Orthodoxy that’s the l’chatchila and Charedism that is, at most, a bedieved. R’ Lamm is not one such person, by the way. But that’s for another day.) Of course, whether it’s the business of someone who isn’t Orthodox at all to use the phrase is another question.

    All that is a side point. More importantly is something I think of when I see claims trying to refute R’ Lamm’s statement: They just don’t add up. I know you don’t link, but there’s an article in the “Jewish Review of Books” by a Reform rabbi where he lays out the numbers pretty plainly. There are far less than a million Reform Jews in the US, and even less Conservatives. An important number to bear in mind is that less than half of American Jews are affiliated with anything, period. (Even secular Jewish movements, like Zionist organizations or the like.) Once that 54% or so is eliminated, the number of Orthodox Jews, percentage wise, jumps, so that instead of, say, 50% Reform, 40% Conservative, 10% Orthodox of the total number of American Jews (Numbers achieved basically because of two responses: “Well, I’m not affiliated. What’s the most liberal movement? Reform? That’s me.” and “Well, my parents were Conservative. I guess I am.” That, of course, betrays an ignorance of what these movements actually stand for, especially Conservatism, and accounts for most of the numbers.), it becomes more like 20% Reform, 15% Conservative, and 10% Orthodox of the total. The first two thus aren’t so vibrant and the last isn’t so comparatively small. (And, of course, many of those within the first two are barely affiliated at all. Thus a response to the RA head’s statement quoted above- there may be “vibrancy” in the ivory tower that is Conservative leadership, but not really anywhere else.)

    But triumphalism? Never! Let’s not fool ourselves- that 54% is far, far gone. Years ago- well over a decade- I remember R’ Lamm telling us YU students that in his younger days, he had a “Better dead than Red” attitude toward all this. Better be nothing at all than Reform. (This was back when people were more traditional, of course, and Orthodox shuls had many non-Shomer Shabbat members.) Now, he said, he’s got a much different attitude. Better there be some kesher than the sad alternative. It’s something Orthodox Jews- who, by definition, believe they have something of a monopoly on (Jewish) religious truth, are going to have to deal with.

    Here in Israel, things are similar and different at the same time. I was in a Steinmatsky’s (a secular book store chain, but, this being Israel, always with lots of sifrei kodesh) recently, and woman was looking for a siddur for a gift. Considering that she’d come to a secular store indicated that she was pretty secular herself. The saleswoman showed her a big stack of new siddurim up front. The customer only wanted to be assured that the siddur was not Reform, and was assured it wasn’t. After she left, I took a look, and saw that it was Conservative. I imagine the saleswoman didn’t know better, as they look superficially the same as Orthodox ones, and Conservatives are a bit…devious in labeling themselves, certainly in Hebrew (“Masorati,” etc.), but it showed me that there’s really very little attraction in non-Orthodoxy here. Most Reform and Conservative Jews here seem to be Olim from the West or extreme secular and leftist Israelis who are moving *toward* religion when they take it on. (When Yediot Acharanot Books made a “popular” siddur for the secular public recently, they went the Orthodox route.)

  21. L. Oberstein says:

    Nice topic that tells us it is ok to feel good about ourselves.I remember reading back decades ago how ultra orthodoxy was going to decline. It was wishful thinking on the part of the left wing of orthodoxy. Triumphalism bothers me if it is someone else’s brand of orthodoxy and that might really be the sub-theme of your article. We’re ok, its the others who give us a bad name because we really are winning but these other people foolishly think that they are the real Jews. In the end, I just want my children to marry shomer shabbos mates and remain active members of their communities. So far, so good. What other kind of triumph matters?

  22. Ori says:

    I’m Heterodox and intermarried. I go to a Conservative synagogue. Frankly, I couldn’t care less if somebody tells me some other Jewish group is doing better, especially if they have the numbers to prove it.

    If you do something better than me and I have good reasons not to adopt it, spiffy for you. If you do something better than me and I can adopt it, I might. In no case do I lose anything by your success. If this were Israel, where Jews enforce laws on one another, it would be different. But this is the US.

  23. Eytan Kobre says:

    R’ Micha,

    I certainly do agree that “both communities have strong and large populations of serious and fervent Jews” and that the chareidi community does not have a “monopoly of fervency.” But I believe there are many, many more Jews within the chareidi community who are sincerely fervent — we’re discussing one particular element, fervency — in their spiritual lives than outside that community. Do you disagree?

    A few more points: 1) Why don’t you have the same point to make re the term “ultra-Orthodox”?

    2) I really don’t like it when people speak of things like the “monochromatic attire of the chareidi”. It’s not entirely accurate (which, of course, raises the issue of how to define chareidi), and has negative connotations that I’m sure you don’t want to make.

    3) Could your contention not apply equally to the term “modern Orthodox,” in that it implies something negative and untrue about chareidim? Again, of course, this would depend on what the word “modern” in that phrase connotes, which is not entirely clear.

  24. A Bloome says:

    WADR to Rabbi Landesman, this talk about “chareidi triumphalism” is old. Where we used to see articles announcing the pending death of “ultra orthodoxy” (it was common MO rhetoric in the 60’s), in the 1980’s we saw articles by such Modern Orthodox spokesmen as Rabbi Dr. Emanuel Rackman decrying the spirit of “Ultra Orthodox Triumphalism”. Something didn’t work out the way they thought it would. And in this atmosphere of “chareidi triumphalism”, we find more articles on the identity crisis taking place within Modern Orthodoxy.

  25. Micha Berger says:

    Rav Eytan,

    “Fervently Orthodox” suffers a major shortcoming as a title. It implies that the chareidi community has a monopoly of fervency within the Orthodox community. While much of Modern Orthodoxy has a fervency shortage, the same is actually true but less visible behind the hats and monochromatic attire of the chareidi. Chitzonius (externalities) makes it less obvious.

    On the positive side, both communities have strong and large populations of serious and fervent Jews. (Not that R’ Eytan Kobre needs to be told this, I’m just trying to undo the damage by an inadvertent implication of his choice of words.) It’s easy to find someone on one of the 167 NJ Transit Lines to Teaneck, seifer in hand, fervently poring over its words on his way to work. No less so than on the 139 from Lakewood.

    -micha