JJ Goldberg Gets It Right

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It’s not often that I agree with anything from the Forward’s JJ Goldberg. This quote, though, clearly qualifies to be one of the exceptions:

Looking at recent population figures in the world’s two largest Jewish communities, it’s not entirely fanciful to wonder if the modern Jewish experience of the past two centuries — the culture that produced Einstein and Freud, Gershwin and Chagall, Kafka, Buber, Ayn Rand, Jonas Salk, Betty Friedan and Bob Dylan, not to mention the sovereign Jewish state of Israel — isn’t turning out to be a historical blip.

The above is part of his column on the radical pro-Orthodox shift in NY’s Jewish population, a topic which deserves much more attention than this brief entry.

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15 Responses

  1. YM Rafael says:

    The claim that the era that produced Jewish genuis is limited to secular Western Europe stems from a blinkered view.

    No one should take anything from the creative force of “the culture that produced Einstein and Freud, Gershwin and Chagall, Kafka, Buber, Ayn Rand, Jonas Salk, Betty Friedan and Bob Dylan, not to mention the sovereign Jewish state of Israel”.

    But nor should anyone demean the creative power of acknowledge giants of Jewish history: Avraham, Moshe, David, Shlomo not mention massive number of jurists, philosophers, psychologists who created our oral law, the Talmud and adaptive halachic system.

    Discarding the self-imposed blinkers of time and culture shows all Jews – Ashkenazi, Sfardi and Mizrachi alike- draw from rich and thoughful culture that has a stellar track record for thousands of years.

  2. Charles Hall says:

    “the culture that produced Einstein and Freud, Gershwin and Chagall, Kafka, Buber, Ayn Rand, Jonas Salk, Betty Friedan and Bob Dylan, not to mention the sovereign Jewish state of Israel”

    May it be HaShem’s will that the world completely forget the ideology of Ayn Rand, and preserve and protect the State of Israel.

    “ohr la goyim means rich and with a PhD”

    Rather few PhDs get rich; the many jokes about underemployed PhDs have more than a grain of truth to them.

  3. L. Oberstein says:

    high levels of household poverty (66% make under $50,000 per year)

    We “out of towners” are derided as naive because we believe that “dina d’malchusa dina”. The level of tax cheating, off the books income, having the father in law own the house and the son in law rent it from him with HUD money, inflated work study jobs for non students,etc. as well as the out and out connivance between corrupt public officials and schools is so well documented in the press that it isn’t much of a secret. Maybe the poverty isn’t as real as the statistics claim, maybe they just don’t report it.
    When people offer me $100 donation if I will take their $1,000 check and return $900 cash, or ask if they can bill their Bar Mitzvah affair to the yeshiva so it is a “donation” and even let us keep some of the money, etc. and tell me that it is ok to cheat the government because our tax dollars go for others and we should take advantage of their naivte , I wonder if there isn’t more wealth in that world than the statistics reveal.

  4. Doron Beckerman says:

    Rabbi Yisrael Shurin z”l recounted that he remembers when R’ Elchonon Wasserman visited Telz. When R’ Elchonon stepped off of the train on to the platform, some of the gentiles spontaneously kneeled before him out of Yiras Haromemus.

  5. mycroft says:

    “Ori Pomerantz
    June 19, 2012 at 9:39 pm
    Yehudi Yerushalmi: According to this logic, the great sages of Eastern Europe were unable to be great spiritual examples to humanity because they lived in abject poverty and they were “backwards” because they did not posses secular educations.

    Ori: Were they examples to the gentiles? Did the gentiles in their vicinity appreciate them enough to try and follow their teachings?”

    How influential were they among Jews? Before 1750 virtually all Jews were at least publicly Shomrei Mitzvot-by 1939 the vast majority of Jews in Eastern Europe had ditched traditional Judaism

  6. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Yehudi Yerushalmi: According to this logic, the great sages of Eastern Europe were unable to be great spiritual examples to humanity because they lived in abject poverty and they were “backwards” because they did not posses secular educations.

    Ori: Were they examples to the gentiles? Did the gentiles in their vicinity appreciate them enough to try and follow their teachings?

  7. Tal Benschar says:

    Uri: it’s called hyperbole. It’s a rhetorical device. And I don’t think in this case it’s unfair. The writer characterized the Charedi world as “a third-world population” based on lack of secular education, poverty and high birth rate, all of which, it was asserted are inconsistent with being a “light unto the nations.” WADR, I sharply disagree. None of them have anything to do with that. There have been many fine, holy Jews, who were poor, lacked secular education and/or had large numbers of children, who could still be an “ohr la goyim.” Was Hillel any less because he was poor? (And BTW, how do you know the writer meant at most a high school education? In many places I know, someone with only that is considered an ignorant rube.)

  8. Bob Miller says:

    We ought to ask whether or not we’re progressing according to the letter and spirit of the Torah. Our income level or secular education level are incidental unless they impact on this progress. It’s not hard to recognize examples of negative impact. For example, if only a few rich people support a generally poor or near-poor community, they can sometimes wield too much power over rabbonim and lay people. Working, at least part time, typically generates self-respect, so “non-working by design” should only be for those who can handle it properly and be truly productive as scholars.

  9. Uri Gordon says:

    Regarding Menachem Lipkin’s comments, Tal Benschar writes:

    “Really, I didn’t know that ohr la goyim means rich and with a PhD.”

    Yet Menachem Lipkin wrote about poverty and about, at most, a high school education.

    We see this type of distorting argumentation in Genesis 3:3.

    No reasonable interpretation would put Tal’s words in Menachem’s mouth.

  10. dr. bill says:

    I was fascinated to see the list; it did not include the rav ztl, as well as a host of other major Jewish leaders, whose creativity and brilliance was produced by their ability to live in “two” worlds. To mention just two leaders, the lubavitcher rebbe ztl and rav hutner ztl, were in different ways the product of that more open society. as the most famous MO RY of note said to a small group a month ago – roughly – don’t confuse the ability to reproduce with the ability to produce.

  11. Netanel Livni says:

    >According to this logic, the great sages of Eastern Europe were unable to be great spiritual examples to humanity because they lived in abject poverty and they were “backwards” because they did not posses secular educations.

    Isn’t this a less polite version of R’ Hirsches critique of Eastern European Jewry?

    Up until the modern era, it was quite an implicit part of mainstream Jewish hashkafa that one can not be a proper Jew without having a strong background in worldly knowledge. Just one great example of this point of view can be found at the end of the the second essay of the Kuzari:

    אמר החבר: והסנהדרין היו מצווים שלא תעלם מהם חכמה מהחכמות האמיתיות והדמיוניות וההסכמיות, עד שהכשופים והלשונות היו יודעים. ואיך ימצאו תדיר שבעים זקנים חכמים, אם לא תהיינה החכמות מתפשטות קיימות באומה, ובעת שימות זקן אחד, יעמוד אחר תחתיו כמוהו.

    The nation as a whole MUST remain educated in all areas of knowledge, otherwise there will not be a population from which to choose the rabbinic leadership – who must be well versed in general knowledge in order to fulfill their function.

    It is sad to say, but the only leaders who actually serve as an example to the world, are those who were able to engage the world on universal grounds – which includes, of course, being able to go toe-to-toe with the nations in areas of General thought. Those greats of the past who were infected by the getto, were very pious and spiritual people but their example is probably be seen by general humanity as being a type of monastic typology, not relevant to the general population.

  12. Mr. Cohen says:

    Tal Benschar said:
    “being a paragon of moral and ethical behavior”

    If a poor man continues to bring children into the world when
    he knows he cannot provide for their basic needs because of his poverty,
    is that “being a paragon of moral and ethical behavior”?

  13. Yehudi Yerushalmi says:

    Menachem Lipkin:
    This is a profile of a third-world population, not an advanced society who are supposed to be a “light unto the nations”.

    So in other words, according to the “logic” of Menachem Lipkin, as a prerequisite to being able to provide the spiritual lessons of ‘a light unto the nations’, one must first posses material wealth and an “advanced society” is defined as “success” in having achieved the “American Dream”???

    According to this logic, the great sages of Eastern Europe were unable to be great spiritual examples to humanity because they lived in abject poverty and they were “backwards” because they did not posses secular educations.

  14. Tal Benschar says:

    “This is a profile of a third-world population, not an advanced society who are supposed to be a ‘light unto the nations.'”

    Really, I didn’t know that ohr la goyim means rich and with a PhD. Silly me, I thought it meant living a Godly life and being a paragon of moral and ethical behavior.

  15. Menachem Lipkin says:

    I took R. Menken’s advice and read the whole article. It’s a very good article and I look forward to the rest of the series. Of course, reading the article puts R. Menken’s quoted section into a context that makes it much less sensational than it sounds. The next sentence alone should have deflated much of R. Menken’s glee; “Before we let our imaginations run away with us, several caveats are in order.”

    But even more important is this quote:

    “As the new survey shows, they’re [Chassidim] also distinguished by high levels of household poverty (66% make under $50,000 per year), low levels of secular education (63% high school or less) and high birthrate (average 5.8 children per woman).”

    This is a profile of a third-world population, not an advanced society who are supposed to be a “light unto the nations”.

    A generation ago everyone was predicting the end of orthodox Judaism. Now folks are gloating in the other direction.

    The thing is, once that pendulum starts gaining momentum there’s not much that can stand in its way.