Friday, April 11, 2014

The State of the Jewish Blogosphere

There's a new article in Tablet Magazine about the Jewish blogosphere, focusing on its relationship to rabbis and scholars, which includes quite extensive discussion of this blog. I'm pleased with its coverage, with one exception: the article describes this blog as having "brought an entire new worldview to the fore," whereas I would have preferred it to describe this blog as having brought new life to a dying traditional worldview. There's also a point that needs clarification: when Rabbi Eliyahu Fink says that "Slifkin revolutionized modern Orthodox Judaism," he means contemporary yeshivish Judaism, and is not referring to Modern Orthodoxy. You can read the article at this link: Online and Unabashed: Orthodox Rabbis and Scholars Take to the Internet.

26 comments:

  1. Glad to see that you, and those of us who participate here are making waves. I do have to disagree with the following assertion:
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    ” Bloggers, (Rabbi Aharon) Feldman claimed, had caused a crisis of confidence among traditional Jews who, until then, had left the ideas of subservience to rabbinic authority unchallenged".
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    This seems to ignore the repeated mass defections of the majority of Jews from traditional Rabbinic authority throughout the ages, and seems blame bloggers for the crisis of confidence in today's Haredi community. After all, as far back as King Yeravam I who split the kingdom after the death of Shlomo HaMelech already rejected what could be called tradidional rabbinical aurthority, and this was 3000 years ago. Then there was the mass defection of the Hellenists more than 2000 years ago. Then there was the explosive growth of Karaism, which completely rejected the Oral Torah and HAZAL something like 1700 years ago. I once heard that the majority of Jews went over to Karaism in the Middle Ages. Then there was the mass hysteria following Shabtai Zevi. Then there was the fact that Hasidism conquered the majority of East European Jewry against the will of the traditional Rabbic world lead by the Vilan Gaon. Then there was the mass defection of traditional (what would today be called Haredi) Jewry towards assimilation, anti-reliigious trends in Haskala, secular Zionism, and in the end,by the mid twentieth century, the large majority of world Jewry, including most of those raised in what today would be called Haredi families just abandoned the world of Torah. ALL OF THIS LONG BEFORE THE BLOGGERS AND INTERNET CAME ALONG. Apparently, people had all kinds of unanwered questions about the relievance of Torah from the very beginning of Am Israel (I forgot to mention the multiplre rebellions against Moshe Rabbenu!).
    The problem is NOT the internet and bloggers, the problem is a failure by part of the Torah leadership to understand the spiritual crisis of the modern Jew. "Turn on, tune in and drop outt", although appealing to a certain element of today's Orthodox Jewry is not sufficient for many others.

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    1. "The problem is NOT the internet and bloggers, the problem is a failure by part of the Torah leadership to understand the spiritual crisis of the modern Jew."

      Amen. Selah!

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    2. If anything, the blogging is an outgrowth of the spiritual crisis.

      At the same time, are they , the establishment of that sect, really concerned with the spiritual crisis of the everyday Jew? Their yeshiva system's purpose is to manufacture gedolim, not produce a society or well rounded person who isn't a gadol, and they teach everyday Jews to follow these gedolim. It would seem they are not concerned with the everyday Jew or his crises. The remedy they offer is to follow the gedolim, otherwise you are lost. Right? So Rav Feldman is right in saying the bloggers cause a snowball effect regarding obedience. I don't think they think they are failing at anything, and by their definitions and what they do and don't set out to do, maybe they aren't.

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    3. I question your assertion that by the mid 20th century the large majority of world Jewry abandoned the world of torah. I assume you mean before the holocaust, since the holocaust would undermine your point that the abandonment was voluntary. True that most of western European Jewry was not observant, but I believe that the majority of Eastern European and sefardic Jewery was, What do you think the percentage was, and what is your source for this?

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    4. There's much evidence that by 1940, a very large percentage of Jews weren't observant. Millions of Jews in the United States were non-observant Orthodox at best, and a majority were outright Reform. Most Jews in Israel weren't religious. Most Jews in Hungary weren't. Many Jews in Russia became Communists. Sephardim at the time were actually not that large a percentage of world Jewry.

      Certainly by 1960 or so, Orthodox Jews were only about 10% of US and Israeli Jewry, and there weren't many others. Again, pre-internet.

      Of course, we all know what R' Feldman meant. As Jews drop out, they are simply written off by the charedi world. So he's taking a perspective of, say, 1995 and counting any defections from Orthodox from that period, and no earlier.

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    5. Regarding the main bastion of traditionalist Jewry which was in Poland. due to the loss of Orthodox Jewry in Soviet Russia....during the inter-war period, I believe that the majority of the Jewish youth abaondoned Orthodox religious observance I read that the vote for the Orthodox Jewish parties in the "Sejm" (Polish parliament) fell by half between 1919 and 1939.. The Sefardim made up only something like 10% of world Jewry before 1939.

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  2. "left the ideas of subservience to rabbinic authority"

    The statement itself is fallacious - it is self-serving tripe. There is no Jewish concept of subservience to rabbinic authority. The people are required to insure that the rabbinic authorities are following the Torah. There is no king, no Sanhedrin, no Navi, and no Nasi.

    Who determines the rabbinic authority? Does the Jewish Cardinals have a conclave and appoint The Authority? It is interesting how these self-serving, super pious, self appointed authorities quote from the RamBam when it suits their needs and completely ignore him when it doesn't. RamBam is clear that at this time we are no longer beholden to any one authority. We are responsible to the Rav of the community. That is it, no more. That is the reality.

    This same idea of posek Acharon that everyone must follow. Who says? Who made that decision?

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  3. In every generation there has been an Internet to blame for rabbonim losing followers.

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  4. In the modern era, where communication has now brought us to the point of a worldwide community, surely a case can be made for a worldwide authority. In times bygone, you couldn't have a community waiting for a psak from a Rav in another part of the world, or for that matter searching out the most competent halachic authority; perhaps this is the reason for the power given to a mara d'atra (?) .

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    1. Theoretically, I cannot see it in any practical way.

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    2. You’re not the first to think so, Dave, although you’ll be among the last if you hold onto such notions for much longer. Such was the favoured projection of all establishments out there, even of most sci-fi writers and futurists, not to mention Hollywood, academia, governments and most intellectuals who like to think about such stuff.

      Alas, reality didn’t play along. Without going off-topic into the merits of the contentious climate warming/change/disruption or whatever-is-next debate (no, really please, don’t get Temujin in trouble with the Rabbi!), one can draw a very good analogy between dissenting scientists and dissenting orthodox bloggers. Without any kind of organization, centralized direction or even efficient communication among themselves, independent skeptical scientists and thinkers initially numbered in the hundreds and dented a well-structured monopoly which enjoyed the best centralizing communication equipment and an almost unlimited reach. Without any even intending to at first, these rogue rascals stood up to a decades-old, centrally-planned, multi-billion dollar coordination and promotion drive by a UN agency and its “armies” of NGOs, the mainstream media, powerful industries, almost all governments and nearly all grant-receiving scientific institutions. These now flail against an unexpected level of expert scrutiny, a mounting barrage of very difficult questions and rapidly growing levels of dissent even in the mainstream. Similar things, but on a much tamer and smaller scale of course, are happening at the very core of Orthodoxy even as we speak.

      It bears mentioning too, that in spite of the airs these two very different “legacy establishments” like to put on about their superior expertise and greater wisdom, neither the UN and its involved national governments, nor the Hareidi sector, its leadership or armies of critically essential full-time kollelniks ever came even close to predicting the challenge the Internet would present. To put it less delicately: They didn't have the foggiest; got totally sandbagged; got caught like a deer staring wide-eyed at the on-rushing headlights. And they haven’t a clue about what to do about it except to do what what the UN-IPCC is trying to do: to raise the panic, to frighten, to try and ban dissent and control the message. Which clearly can’t work. So, abandon ye all hope about creating a centralized closed-loop system by controlling communications as was possible until very recently.

      --Temujin Who Must Really Split Now and Get Some Stuff Done

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  5. I would have preferred it to describe this blog as having brought new life to a dying traditional worldview. (R'S)

    Sure, but at this point in time it might as well be new; what with the sorry state of knowledge of Jewish history in yeshivish circles...never mind that, in all sectors of Jewish society nowadays. Might as well be from Mars, for that matter. A note to some: There are some really, really great overview and intro courses in Jewish Studies departments all over the Western world, folks. It's a buyer-beware situation of course, as mostl humanities departments suffer from an over-representation of politically correct and trendy neo-neo-Marxist-light faculty members, but we're all adults, strong and firm in our positions by now, capable of hanging onto our souls and minds, right? There is more than idle curiosity or a diversion at stake here; the Hareidi world has been engaging in a massive project of historical revisionism, with Agudah at the helm, attempting to create a closed-system gold standard of orthodox historiography. It is pushed through the filters of a biased, self-serving, authoritarian and obscurantist world view and pretends to be rational, or scientific. The blogosphere is the best medium to challenge this takeover, but to do so, many more need a better understanding of mainstream Jewish historiography to enable useful debates.

    There's also a point that needs clarification: when Rabbi Eliyahu Fink says that "Slifkin revolutionized modern Orthodox Judaism," he means contemporary yeshivish Judaism, and is not referring to Modern Orthodoxy. (RS)

    A common and frequently recurring problem. Easily fixed with the words "current" or "contemporaneous," the latter which Temujin would like to revive and bring into common use.

    Anyhow, congraulations, Rabbi! Now one needs to send a gloating "told ya so two years ago!" text message to some skeptical friends abroad.

    --Temujin on Second Cup of Coffee

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    1. "There is more than idle curiosity or a diversion at stake here; the Hareidi world has been engaging in a massive project of historical revisionism, with Agudah at the helm, attempting to create a closed-system gold standard of orthodox historiography. It is pushed through the filters of a biased, self-serving, authoritarian and obscurantist world view and pretends to be rational, or scientific."

      Temujin speaks the truth.

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    2. Alas, Rabbi Zvi, Temujin merely echoes what he hears and reads from others here and there and with the help of some great coffee and daily multi-vitamins, digests it all rather thoroughly and then re-packages it smartly in new wrapping. Salute and a Shabbat shalom to you and all !

      -- Temujin the Rushed and Late for Everything

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    3. Temujin the Inscrutable said:
      "...the Hareidi world has been engaging in a massive project of historical revisionism, with Agudah at the helm, attempting to create a closed-system gold standard of orthodox historiography."
      In other words, ArtScroll.
      Speaking of which, is it my imagination or are many of the major donors whose names end up on the covers of ArtScroll publications Jews of the three-days-a-year variety? How is it, then, that they are convinced to fund these particular projects?

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  6. What R' Natan has done is to provide an eloquent and moderate voice for views long held by others. His unique contribution is a result of his having spent many years in the Hareidi world as an adult, only to be cast out of that world by virtue of the rationalistic views he expressed in 3 books. As a result he acted as a catalyst in the increasing polarization about views of science and technology vs traditional attitudes. I wouldn't call him a revolutionary - at least not an intended one. I would call Rabbi Avi Weiss a revolutionary (albeit, a moderate one) who has drawn a significant following - at least judging from the recent dinner in his honor attended by nearly 700 people at $360 a plate.

    Y. Aharon

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  7. The rabbinic establishment likes to defend itself by quoting this statement: “Who is an apikorsis? Rabbi Yosef says, anyone who says, what do the Rabbis help us?

    Well, I'm sorry. That's a self-serving statement, and I don't care if one person in the Talmud says it. A rabbi says that anyone who even merely questions (let alone criticizes) rabbis is an apikorsis? That's like a painter saying anyone who criticizes painters should be jailed. Gimme a break. Rabbis deserve criticism like anyone else. In fact they *need* it more, because unlike regular working people, there is no evaluative process, no annual review, etc. They have a one-sided pulpit from which to preach with no chance of rebuttal, and they use it to preach that their word is the word of God (daas torah). There are plenty of fools, or newcomers to Judaism, who believe all this.

    Thank God for the Internet, I say. With all the gossip and hate it's caused, the free speech it has brought about has made it all worth it.

    Chesky Choziz

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    1. The same is true of many of Chazal's statements about the authority of rabonnim and the value of Torah study. When a group of people whose claim to authority and primary mode of worship is study tell us that "talmud torah keneged kulam," we should treat it the same way as when a group of painters tell us that paintings are the greatest form of cultural expression.

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    2. Lately, I've reflected a bit that much of what we think of as "Jewish history" (certainly from a stretch of time from about 500 BCE to 1800 CE) is in fact the history of Jewish religious leadership, and written by said leadership. It makes you wonder what life was like for the hamon am and what they thought (it's not impossible to figure this out, but those sources aren't usually studied in the Orthodox world) and how much of what we are taugth about the importance of Torah study and so on is colored by that.

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    3. I think secular history is also all about the leaders. Why are so many Shakespeare plays about kings?

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    4. Yosaif: Indeed. Recent DNA studies have shown that despite all the invasions and changes in leadership, the ordinary inhabitant of the British Isles is genetically similar to the same people who lived there in the Stone Age, 3,000 plus years ago. (This is well before the Celts- these are the people who built Stonehenge.) The leaders come and go, but the hamon am stayed the same.

      Of course, the difference is that no one is under any illusion that Shakespeare was writing about the kings. There's a belief among Jews that the ideal is the manner in which what must have been a handful of talmidei chachamim lived 1500 years ago. (And, of course, most of even those people had full-time non-Torah jobs.)

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  8. I agree, the main benefit of Rabbi Slifkin`s blog, and Student`s as well, is to show that those of us who have major questions are not alone. Yes, many people before had doubts, saw contradictions ( I said contradictions ?), but it would be taking a major step to point them out publicly. You couldn`t very well nail them to the door of the shul.At least now, there is a forum.

    But the contradictions remain.

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    1. I think the biggest change the Internet brought to the world of Orthodox Judaism is that it gave frum kids who'd been molested a place to feel safe, and by giving them a voice, it brought attention to the fact that these cases were unfortunately more prevalent than most people thought - - which has finally forced the community to recognize there is a serious problem and through this awareness, slowly changing attitudes that previously made it impossible to incriminate.

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  9. Brooklyn Refugee SheygitzApril 13, 2014 at 1:48 PM

    I would add one more point to Y. Ben-David's historical analysis.
    It's pretty clear that chazal all but lost the greek speaking Jewish world to the christians. During the first few centuries of the first millenium, most of the greek speaking Jews in the mediterranean basin from northafrica all the way arround to western europe, abandoned Judaism.

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    1. One may be wrong about this, but one remembers reading that there were not enough rabbis, especially in Anatolia and the near East to help in the aftermath of the destruction of the Temple.

      --Temujin Uncertain

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  10. BTW one commenter at Tablet mistakenly thinks that RGS says of himself that he crossed the line from MO to CO. But no. RGS says that he crossed the line from the *Conservatism* of his youth to Orthodoxy. He thus considers himself familiar enough with Conservatism to tell Morthodoxists that in their unawares they crossed the line the other way.

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