Monday, December 04, 2006

Post of the Day

You know it's a good one when a number of people have already linked to it, even though it's been up just a few hours. BeyondBT's R' Yonasan Goldson says It's Lonely in the Middle:
I’ve long been taken with the following quote from Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik: “All extremism, fanaticism, and obscurantism come from a lack of security. A person who is secure cannot be an extremist.” ...

Professor Koppel observes that both the modern world and the Chareidi world make the same fundamental mistake, each in its own way. In their efforts to eliminate this spiritual-physical tension, Chareidim are inclined to reject any involvement with the physical, whereas Modern Orthodoxy is inclined to legitimize everything physical in the context of being a Torah Jew. In my own language, Chareidim tend toward forbidding everything not expressly permitted, while the Modern Orthodox tend toward permitting everything not expressly forbidden.
Read the whole thing (especially as those quotes are way out of context). As Serach always says, "Everyone follows their own rav and has their own minhagim (customs). Each person should respect the other for what they do, even if it's different from what they themselves do."

One quibble with the piece - R' Goldson seems to feel that people in the middle are being forced to choose one side or the other, to their detriment. I feel that over the last number of years, we've seen first a large split along the lines of what he describes; but more recently, we've begun to see the reverse - a rejection of both extremes, particularly by the younger generation, and a resurgence toward the middle from both sides.


  1. I haven't read the whole piece, but he seems to agree with what I've been saying the whole time: Polarization is bad for us, Extremism only divides us (and we're small enough as is), and the only way we're going to stay cohesive as a people is to moderate and find common ground in the middle.

  2. I feel that over the last number of years, we've seen first a large split along the lines of what he describes; but more recently, we've begun to see the reverse - a rejection of both extremes, particularly by the younger generation, and a resurgence toward the middle from both sides.

    I'm curious as to why you think that. Of course, I want to believe that. And my own anecdotal experience supports it - but I must acknowledge that I see a skewed cross-section because I generally associate with people who have a similar worldview to my own.

    It's tempting to think the blogosphere can be a good indicator as well. But it can also be very misleading. Only a small fraction of the population is even aware of blogs, and they are a self-selected group - perhaps already far-more open-minded.

  3. PT - Amen.

    LT - True, I want to believe it as well, and I definitely am relying somewhat on anecdotal evidence and my own personal experience. But I've spent a bit more time in 'all camps', so to speak, and there's a general recognition that the extremes are the wrong path. I spent quite a bit of time in Israel with my Charedi cousins, grew up in Cleveland which was very split between the communities, and spent time in some yeshivish schools; OTOH, I also spent a nice amount of time in more "MO" places while many of my friends were as well. Again, it's not as if I ran a study, but I was (to some extent) pleasantly surprised to see that everyone basically agreed on just about everything, with slight variations along hashkafic lines here and there.

  4. Ezzie, we've discussed before the significance of our black-srugi-wearing kind and eventhough I have my black hat for Shabbos, you know we're both on the same page when it comes to trying to be in the middle of the road. But I also wish I could say there are more like us who've seen both sides and chosen our hashkafa as a sort of middle ground position (which I tend to refer to as the R' Gordon way) and I think that your feelings about there being more people like us come more from the fact that you hang out with a lot of smart open-minded people and not from an observation of what's actually going on. I know you said it wasn't done as a study, but dude, think of how many more of our OJ people came back fully shtarked out and officially Chareidi than how many more came back directly in the middle. And then apply that idea to all the other yeshivos and think about the many people who come back either totally shtarked out or certified MO's. I think us middle of the road folk are a lot less than we'd both like to admit. And I did agree with you for a while that I thought there was this resurgancy of people headed back toward the middle, but after obvsering my diverse group of friends and acquaintances, I've realized that a lot of them are a lot more polarized than I had originally thought. I don't know if they've become consciously polarized toward a particular derech, but practices and actions do speak louder than words and intent. However, in self defense I would like to add that I carry on a healthy amount of contradictive behavior in order to still count myself among the middle minded.:) Also, when you look at some of the people we know that are a little older than us and you discuss their worries about where to send their kids to school, it's like once they've asserted their middle of the road status, they now have to worry that they may not be able to succesfully impart that hashkafa to their children. And it worries those people. I mean, I'm sure you and Serch have discussed where you want to send Elianna but I've seen with my sisters, how by sending their kids to a certain school, they have unofficially identified themselves with a certain polarized group, no matter how much they'd prefer to remain in the center. And then one gets to the whole parenting issue in that they don't want to interupt or contradict what a child hears in school, however they'd like to still mold their child into an individual with a binding familial hashkafa that they feel should be the true foundation. But obviously the point is meaningless if the parents actually ascribe to the polarized intentions of the school that they send their kids to. Which is not a problem, unless these are the parents that are training their kids to scoff at anyone wearing a yarmulke different than their own.

  5. Ah, but that's my point, sort of, Mordy. One need not to outwardly portray themselves as "middle" to actually be in the middle - this I'm sure you'd agree with. More importantly, even a charedi or MO person can be "in the middle", if they are open to the views of the other. It could be that I define the middle a bit more broadly than you or LT, and that's part of the confusion here... I may need to write a post to clarify this, but here's a quick attempt to explain: My sister's best friend lived in Mattesdorf when we were in Israel. She once sadly recounted that she missed the high school they went to in Cleveland. Their class was a huge mix of girls, from the most Charedi such as herself to the staunch MO such as my sister. It opened her eyes to so much, and she learned to understand/respect all of them - and as I said, her best friend was my sister, the polar opposite of herself. She remarked that her son (then 3) would likely never experience the same thing. (Though considering where they moved to in Canada, she may yet be wrong!)

    Someone like her - though quite charedi, with a more charedi hashkafa - is "in the middle" in my book. Even my own charedi cousins, with all their charedi bona fides (marrying into "big-name families", going to "big-name yeshivos", etc.), are generally more "to the middle". In fact, it is my charedi cousin who basically introduced me to the middle when he said I absolutely couldn't miss out on R' Herschel Schachter's visit to OJ because "he is probably the most knowledgeable person in halacha in the US". It is he, his brother, his sister, and some of my dati leumi cousins there, who all explained that they were far more similar - despite their many hashkafic differences - than they were different. Their mutual respect and admiration for one another was quite a learning experience for me.

    Regarding parenting, I was going to add to my comment to LT, but thought it would get way off-tangent... but perhaps it is part of this discussion. I was going to question if parents somehow drift away from the middle as they grow older, even if they themselves were in the middle when our age - but then thought it doesn't seem logical as a general rule, even if it happens to some. More likely, it is the schools which do the pulling of kids one way or another, and the parents are - as you put it - unwilling to give their kids mixed messages.

    Wow, I could really go on about this stuff.

    Anyways... while outwardly, many people seem to be drifting from the middle, I think that in the overall scheme of things, far more people are drifting towards the middle.

    Back to your OJ example, Mordy: Overall, there aren't that many people from my year OR your year in OJ that are Charedi, when you actually count them up. Of those who are, most of them are *very* open-minded in terms of hashkafa, even if they feel that the one they chose was best for them. You will not see almost any of them expressing extreme positions, bashing MO, or anything of the sort. On the other side, you won't see as much bashing of the charedi lifestyle, either. One of your best friends (my ex-roomie) married into one of the most recognizable MO families, and while he'd joke about Charedim as much as he would anyone else, he is perfectly tolerant and very respectful of the way they do things.

  6. I see you're being a lot more open minded about what it actually means to have become "polarized" than I am. Because you are correct, and especially about that mutual respect factor, that even people who do deem themselves of a particular hashkafa still respect the others. The R' H Schachter example is perfect and it probably does describe a lot more Charedim than most non-Chareidim would believe. However, I believe the friend your talking about has no doubt shifted toward MO in practice, and I think you'd agree. But I realize that the real difference in our opinion is based more on the fact that I'm looking at actions, identifiers and actual labels while you seem to be talking more about the mindsets and how the different groups think and feel about each other. My issue now is that I'm not quite sure which aspect R' Goldson really meant to address, since either direction could be hashkafic in nature. If he was taking issue with the way the different groups co-exist, then the community needs to work toward a goal of coming together. But if his problem was the way each of them actually practice Yiddishkeit, then like others have said before, everyone can and should continue to contact and follow their local orthodox Rabbi, and I'm not quite sure a problem really exists. People have been practicing the religion differently (in some sense) since it began!

  7. I think he was addressing how each group criticizes the others' actions, ignoring that they have their own hashkafos. Methinks we agree...

  8. "I feel that over the last number of years, we've seen first a large split along the lines of what he describes; but more recently, we've begun to see the reverse - a rejection of both extremes, particularly by the younger generation, and a resurgence toward the middle from both sides."

    could you be specific? i don't see this at all from my perspective living in brooklyn. and i'm not sure this changes much even when i visit or read about the more provincial parts of the jewish world.

    gil recently had a post about what defines someones as mo, and i guess we all know what haredi means. so what exactly does the middle path entail?

  9. AK - I think I explained it a bit better in the comments above... I'm talking more about the attitudes than anything else, though overall I think people are less closed off to people who are not 'like them' than they have been in the not-so-distant past.