Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Positive Force

It occurred to me that before proceeding further with my critique of Mishpachah's Kolmus supplement, I should clarify some things about Mishpachah in general. Make no mistake about it: in the general battles over the issues of concern to readers of this website, Mishpachah is very much one of the good guys. That's not to say that I agree with what they write (in fact, they once printed something about me that was so appallingly bad, it was actually funny). But in terms of engineering a revolution in the charedi world, Mishpachah has enormous positive effect.

Beneath the black hat, Mishpachah is part of a revolution in charedi society. They print articles from Jonathan Rosenblum about how the Gedolim are manipulated by kanna'im to do harmful things, and about how the desire to have young men supported in kollel has led to money being the most important factor in shidduchim. They feature interviews with all kinds of people who would never be profiled in Yated or HaModia (although I'm not expecting them to feature me ever again!) The Hebrew edition of Mishpachah recently discussed, very positively, all the new programs to help charedim enter the workforce. Furious condemnations from the Gedolim followed, after which Mishpachah offered a profuse apology. But a wise friend of mine reckoned that they knew in advance that they would have to do this, but felt that it was worthwhile in order to get the information out there.

Is Mishpachah having an effect? I think so. Just look at how many horrified letters appear all the time! (My personal favorite is from a reader who was appalled at the description of Ramchal as a playwright; the reader insisted that Ramchal was a mekubal who used theater to spread kabbalistic teachings.) The hardcore charedim are furious with Mishpachah, but it's too successful for them to do anything about it; Mishpachah already put the Jewish Observer out of business.

(At this point, I have to share a funny story. When the ban on my books came out, I spoke to Rabbi Nisson Wolpin, editor of the Jewish Observer, with whom I was very friendly. He said, "As soon as I saw you on the cover of Mishpachah this summer, I knew that "they" would come after you!")

Some people are so frustrated with problems in the Orthodox community that they can only think of addressing these problems with a sledgehammer, which inevitably means that their campaign is entirely ineffective. But the path of Mishpachah - staying within the charedi framework, while gently and apologetically getting a new message across - is likely to be far more effective. I wish them great success!

25 comments:

  1. Yes, and it was so nice when you were part of that world for that reason. Unfortunately they essentially kicked you out. I've always thought that the only way anybody can ever have a real effect in the charedi world is if a huge lamdan/gadol discovered rationalism (Rambam/Rav Hirsch etc.) later in life and started espousing its teachings.

    Because the charedi world simply doesn't care what MO rabbis say. But if Reb Shmuel Kamenetzky, for example, would suddenly start publicly espousing MO positions, he might be shouted down, but he would have their ears at least.

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  2. Rabbi, I think there is room for both a scalpal and sledgehammer. If you just have a sledgehammer, of course people only view you as the enemy looking to destroy their Torah and hashkafas. If you just have the scalpal, people won't realize that Rosenblum and others who write in Mishpacha and may be seen as "moderate haredi" don't go nearly far enough in accepting "outside" ideas (like, say, evolution) and in fact will change their minds nearly overnight if the gedolim tell them to (as you saw through his Discovery Institute lecture).

    Baruch Pelta
    bpelta.blogspot.com

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  3. Good point R. Slifkin. I've had this conversation with J. Rosenblum after critiquing him for not going far enough. I don't always agree with him but he understands the limits of what he can do from "within".

    Another big point in the magazine's favor was the positive cover story on Rav Schechter. Of course the advertisers threatened a boycott afterwards if they didn't apologize, but you're right, they had to have known in advance what they were getting into.

    While the magazine is not for me, it's certainly important for its target audience.

    Of course what's really needed is a high quality weekly magazine for the rest of us.

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  4. Good point R. Slifkin. I've had this conversation with J. Rosenblum after critiquing him for not going far enough. I don't always agree with him but he understands the limits of what he can do from "within".

    Another big point in the magazine's favor was the positive cover story on Rav Schechter. Of course the advertisers threatened a boycott afterwards if they didn't apologize, but you're right, they had to have known in advance what they were getting into.

    While the magazine is not for me, it's certainly important for its target audience.

    Of course what's really needed is a high quality weekly magazine for the rest of us.

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  5. It is great to hear it from you, Rabbi. I feel that you have lost your purpose by focusing too much on the science aspect. The real issue at stake here isn't whether or not lice spontaneously generate. It makes little difference to anyone's lifestyle. The real issue is the social one. The control of ideas, and activity which has been getting worse and worse. It seems that many askanim and rabbis feel (correctly so) that if the Tannaim and Amora'im are not infallible then they also may make mistakes in their daas Torah and hence their political moves may be wrong.
    By focusing on the science aspect, and removing yourself from that Haredi world, you are losing your purpose. Are you trying to explain to the modern orthodox world that Chazal may have been mistaken about science? They thought so all along. Yet Mishpacha is using the press to encourage real changes, and by staying within they are doing much more.

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  6. R' David Berger had a great definition for (moderate) chareidi which may fit here "Proud of our secular education but opposed to it"
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  7. "Proud of our secular education but opposed to it"
    I think it should really be the opposite - "In favor of secular education, but not proud of it."

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  8. Rabbi S. I think you ht it on the head.

    Mishpacha isn't perfect (who is?) but it is a revolutionatry breath of fresh air. I love it.

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  9. And of course they are probably the most powerful and persistent force in the effort to re-legitimize Chabad among the rest of Chareidi Jewry with very positive documentary articles on the work they do, basically every week.

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  10. I believe a competitor to Mishpacha, Ami Magazine, is set to release its first issue imminently.

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  11. As we speak, yated are running a massive campaign to have it banned or at least to convince people to stop buying it: articles in the yated, and posters signed, not by Gedolim but by assorted Talmud Torah principles. In yated-speak, the Mishpacha is called "השבועונים" meaning the weekly magazines.

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  12. dlz
    Maybe we need to differentiate between baalei tshuva and FFB's
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  13. "The hardcore charedim are furious with Mishpachah, but it's too successful for them to do anything about it; Mishpachah already put the Jewish Observer out of business."

    I don't think Mishpacha has that much of a difference with Agudah per se. I do recall an article a few months ago in one of the American Haredi newspapers criticizing "glossy magazines" for printing articles that cross "hashkafic read lines", and advising people to reconsider if they should buy it. This represents an internal split among Charedim with diffferent needs, and I think Mishpacha will continue to walk the tightrope.

    There was an article about Mishpacha by Micha Oddenheimeer in the April, 07 Foreign Policy Magazine(see link, which one must register for to download ):
    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2007/04/18/family_ties

    From the article:

    "Eli Paley, the magazine’s founder and the CEO of the Mishpacha Publishing Group, says he wants to foster dialogue between the ultra-Orthodox community and other segments of Israeli society, as well as promote haredi empathy with the struggles of others. “During the withdrawal from Gaza, we didn’t take a stand,” Paley says. “[We] were criticized for this, because much of the haredi world was against the withdrawal. What we did cover, however, was the pain of the settlers on being evicted from their homes.”

    Mishpacha’s unspoken agenda—to mediate the dètente between modernity and ultra-Orthodoxy—is already a work in progress. “What interests me,” says Paley, “is what we can learn from modernity, not what we have to fear from it.”

    There was also a recent article in Haaretz Magazine("Black and White in Color, 8/9/10), which describes the differences in Israel between more and less modern Charedim.

    http://www.haaretz.com/misc/article-print-page/black-and-white-in-color-1.312923?trailingPath=2.169%2C2.212%2C2.213%2C

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  14. Rabbi Slifkin-I advise you to follow Mishpacha's example (to some extent). Don't talk too much about exactluy how you identify. Just identify as a frum Jew.If some people see you as Haredi-so be it.

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  15. shadesof
    "I do recall an article a few months ago in one of the American Haredi newspapers criticizing "glossy magazines" for printing articles that cross "hashkafic read lines",

    freudian or a subtle point?
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  16. I just read the article in the Kolmus regarding the length of the Jewish year and how it's calculated. They mention the length between one molad and another (29 days 12 hours 793 parts) and I was pleasantly surprised that they did not attempt to use this as a proof of the superior knowledge of chazal as so many others do which is nonsense as this exact number was already used by the ancient Babylonian astronomers hundreds of years before the calendar was fixed.

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  17. Forgive my ignorance - but can someone from Israel please tell me of it's true that there is a Hebrew-language Mishpacha magazine? And if so, is there a difference between the Hebrew version and the English version? Is one just a translation of the other? If so, which is the original?

    Thanks.

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  18. Michapeset:

    Your ignorance is pardoned.

    Mishpacha was originally a Hebrew weekly, and about five years ago they began an English translation that was a big hit. They have the top circulation in Israeli chareidi newspapers/weeklies, ranking above Yated Neeman and Hamodia.

    In Israel they also publish a weekly newspaper format that goes with the glossy magazine, with politics and news. They are mostly neutral in Israeli chareidi politics, which means they tell the stories behind the politics you'll never see in Yated or Hamodia, which simply crow the party line.

    Most of the lead articles in the English version are translations from the Hebrew originals, usually with a week or so delay. Many of the features in the English are original, and Yonason Rosenblum's English op-eds are translated into Hebrew for the Hebrew edition.

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  19. So where is the review of the article?

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  20. The article about R. Dovid Ganz & Copernicus was printed in the Sukkos Hebrew edition.

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  21. I'm sure they'll appreciate your praise, but if they don't at least the kannai'm will!

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  22. David - Thank you for the info. If there are so many translations going on, back and forth from Hebrew to English and from English to Hebrew, it is quite impressive! Often the "tone" and phrases of something which is written in one language is hard to translate in both an accurate and well-written way from one language to another. It often takes a lot of skill and is a big job to do something like that. If they are doing this every week, it's very impressive.

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  23. "I've always thought that the only way anybody can ever have a real effect in the charedi world is if a huge lamdan/gadol discovered rationalism (Rambam/Rav Hirsch etc.) later in life...."

    I think the "party line" only accepts teshuva in one direction. Going more extreme or absolute or to the right is always seen as wisdom in one's old age, while suddenly espousing more open or modern ideas as something to consider is seen as senility. Look at how Em HaBanim Smeicha was (not) received for example.

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  24. i heard there is a big competition coming with the publication of ami magazine, one big plus with them is that its an american publication with no translated articles.

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