Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Yated Gets Its Jewish History Right (For Once)




The Yated Ne'eman, run in the States by Pinchos Lipshutz (who, I am informed, I may actually be related to), is usually one of the best representatives of what is wrong with the Haredi world. I do not deem fit to call it a newspaper. It is a propaganda reel that uses a newspaper format. I mean this quite seriously. They allow organizations to write articles about themselves and then publish them as news articles. They used to not have an official website. There was the Dei'ah veDibur site, which posted Yated articles. Now, I am informed there is an official site. How this works with the newest round of bans specifically for Haredi sites is anyone's guess. Recently I came across an article in this paper that took my breath away for being both well written, correct, and about Jewish history. The article was by Avrohom Birnbaum and titled "The 'Der Heim' Myth."

Birnbaum sets out to refute the common Haredi belief, preached by all the major Haredi news outlets and "history" books (with the Yated taking a leading role), that Eastern European Jewish life was some sort of religious utopia, full of pious learned Jews, untroubled by the temptations of modernity. Birnbaum quotes a Holocaust survivor as saying:

This view [of Eastern European Jewish life] is an outright lie. They are romanticizing one of the most terrible periods in our history. From what I remember, in addition to the terrible poverty, there was great spiritual poverty. People were leaving Yiddishkeit [Judaism]; falling like flies. One could almost say that 'ein bayis asher ein shom meis' [there was no house (in Egypt) in which there was no dead] – no house was without a meis, a spiritual causality, and in some homes it was 'ein bayis asher yeish bo chai' [there was no house in which there was life] – every one of the children was lost to Yiddishkei. Youth were rebelling against the old order, attracted by virtually every new ideology except Torah.

Birnbaum, himself, points out: "The greatest talmidei chachomim [Torah scholars] in the Mirrer Yeshiva of Poland … could not find shidduchim [marriage partners]. At the outbreak of the war, many were well into their thirties and still not married" because there was no supply of educated religious girls to marry.

This was such a wonderful article that I expect that by next week the editorial staff will print a retraction and Birnbaum will apologize for the article. The hordes of angry Haredi readers will be assured that no religious Jew would ever dare imply that Eastern European Jewry was anything less than a bastion of religious observance.

The reason for this is that the "Der Heim" myth is at the foundation of Haredi self understanding. Haredim see themselves as defending and continuing the legacy of Eastern Europe. Regardless of whether this is true or not, there is the issue of should we be trying to perpetuate Eastern Europe. The moment we turn Eastern Europe from a Haredi version of Fiddler on the Roof to a hellhole of assimilation then the answer would appear to be negative. Why should I try to maintain the Orthodoxy of bubbe and zeidy if I am not certain that bubbe and zeidy were all that Orthodox to begin with? (I often like to ask people who they think their bubbies were sleeping with that they have such European features.) More importantly there is the issue of leadership. How do we continue to look up to rabbis like Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan (the Chofetz Chaim) or Rav Chaim of Brisk once we recognize that they stood host to a spiritual holocaust and proved incapable of stopping it? The only person and system that was in any meaningful way successful at turning out religious Jews from one generation to the next was the Torah im Derech Eretz of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. Therefore the only Jewish tradition that should have any credibility today among Ashkenazic Jews today should by Hirschian Torah im Derech Eretz. The rabbis of Eastern Europe would be left somewhere between Nero fiddling while Fiddler on the Roof burned and hapless King Lear. (Rabbi Kagan, to his credit, did help create the Bais Yaakov girls school system. This was, in essence, a Hirschian project, designed precisely to create educated religious brides for the thirty year old rabbinical students in the Mir.)

11 comments:

Garnel Ironheart said...

The pendulum can swing too far either way. My father grew up in a frum pre-war home and no one was on the verge of leaving "the derech". On the other hand none of them continued cheder past grade 8 and all wer expected to go and find trades.
The truth is always between the two extremes. The haskalah damaged the frum community but was not on the verge of wiping it out. 99% of Jews were not uber-pious chasidim. They were 3 dimensional characters like you and me.

The Bray of Fundie said...

In keeping with the Haredi ban on the internet, they do not have an official website, but there is the Dei'ah veDibur site, which posts Yated articles.

Formerly true...but no longer.
http://www.yated.com/

how new this iste is I don't know but for the sake of accuracy you ought to ammend the post.

The Bray of Fundie said...

The hordes of angry Haredi readers will be assured that no religious Jew would ever dare imply that Eastern European Jewry was anything less than a bastion of religious observance.

I am not angry because of such an implication but because the article is shallow ans fails to articulate the superiority of pre-war European Jewry IN SPITE of all these factual deficiencies.

I'm also angryu at you for your caricature of Kahredim as naive, gullible fools. Most Kharedim over the age of 14 are well aware of all the deficiencies of pre-war Jewry described in this article.

Izgad said...

Thank you for point out the Yated website. I made the changes.

"I'm also angry at you for your caricature of Kahredim as naive, gullible fools."

I do not believe that Haredim are naïve gullible fools. I believe that many of them are quite intelligent radical skeptics, who reject the very legitimacy of the historical and scientific methods of inquiry. This allows them to accept any premise that suits their purpose, no matter how absurd, with a straight face.

The Bray of Fundie said...

snark offered up with a straight face ARGHHHHHH

Izgad said...

That was not me being snarky. That is the world as I honestly see it based on numerous conversations with Haredim.

Vox Populi said...

>The reason for this is that the "Der Heim" myth is at the foundation of Haredi self understanding.

I think you're overstating how much Charedim actually believe this myth, and how much it means to them.

>Haredim see themselves as defending and continuing the legacy of Eastern Europe.

As defending what they see as the best of Eastern Europe. They do not wish to recreate Eastern Europe in toto, but rather to perpetuate in America what was Charedi society in Eastern Europe.

>Why should I try to maintain the Orthodoxy of bubbe and zeidy if I am not certain that bubbe and zeidy were all that Orthodox to begin with?

Why do Chassidim soldier on? Surely Satmars don't think that everyone was Satmar before the War. They don't believe that Satmars existed before even the first Satmar Rebbe. Ditto Lubavitch, Karlin-Stolin, etc. The point of their efforts is not to restore the universal Charedi society but to establish a utopia founded on the old-timey values of the Greatest Jews ever of all time - the specific, very narrow brand of Judaism of their intellectual predecessors.

Similarly, MO Jews don't think that everyone was Modern Orthodox or that people 500, 600, 700, 1000 years ago were either Modern or Orthodox.

>How do we continue to look up to rabbis like Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan (the Chofetz Chaim) or Rav Chaim of Brisk once we recognize that they stood host to a spiritual holocaust and proved incapable of stopping it?

The same way they look up to the current crop of nonagenarians. What has Rav Elyashiv done to stop our spiritual autoholocaust? The only groups to have made any headway with this are Ohr Sameiach, Aish and Lubavitch. None of whom charedim are particularly fond of.

The Bray of Fundie said...

I love Ohr Sameach

The Bray of Fundie said...

they are mekarev jews to what is IMO a stream within normative Judaism (unlike Chabad) then they mainstream them (unlike Aish)

Mikewind Dale said...

Good mention of Rav Hirsch. I like to note that Rav Hirsch came to a wasteland with only one youth still wearing tefillin (Jacob Rosenheim), and he built a whole kehilla. By contrast, the Hungarians started strong but merely succeeded in standing their ground. Which type of Orthodoxy is stronger?

Ha-historion said...

Wow, this finally gives me an excuse to look into the Yated.

I am expecting some juicy back and forths in the Letters to the Editor section..