Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Their OTDs Were Better Than Our OTDs: Rabbi Dovid Schwartz Responds

Rabbi Dovid Schwartz offers a response to Michael Makovi:

As I indicated, what most troubled me about your letter was that while it was quick to defend the secular Zionists and such (which is remarkable - I do sincerely thank you), nevertheless, it was quick to condemn the contemporary OTDs and such.

I beg your pardon.  I did not "condemn" anyone.  But as politically incorrect as this may be neither do I shy away from being judgmental.  The Torah enjoins us to judge favorably, not to suspend judgment entirely.  What I wrote, and what I believe, is that not only was the religiosity of the observant Jews of the interbellum period superior to the religiosity of contemporary Jews but that the IRRELIGIOSITY of the NON-observant Jews of the interbellum period was "superior" to the irreligiosity of their contemporary counterparts.  On a absolute dispassionate, non-empathic level any Jew with Torah -fidelity ought to "condemn" Torah infidels as we presume that a just and compassionate G-d does not visit insurmountable nisyonos on anyone.  A tough test is a compliment from G-d.  But I am neither dispassionate, without empathy nor "holier-than-thou".  I stand in awe of the BTs I work with and who have done a remarkably better job of the hand that HaShem dealt them than I have with done with the one that He dealt me. 

Nor do I presume that I would have stayed "on the derech" if confronted with the tests of interbellum irreligious (Please re-read the letter.  This is its denouement) or even with molestation or some of the severer tests that confronts contemporary OTDs.  I was merely voicing a Tom Brokaw-like opinion about what I consider to be the "Greatest [Jewish] Generation". In comparing, on a pan-societal level, yesteryears irreligious with today's OTDs I voted in favor of the former.  Does this equate to a "condemnation" of the latter?  Not IMO.  I'd ask you to be slower to judgment in your condemning me for imagined condemnations.

You admit the "broken school system", and you admit that the school systems are unable to impart true religiosity unless they include 8+ years of kollel. Shouldn't this set off alarms in your head? Perhaps the OTDs are responding to these failures of the school system?

No doubt many are. Others are responding to lousy parenting, sibling rivalries or a myriad of other "failures". Those alarms were set off in my head long ago or I could never have written what I wrote... least of all to the editor if the Yated. I am all for Yeshiva and Bais Yaakov school reform but people of good conscience can agree to disagree on what reforms are needed and how best to implement them.  I am not for throwing out the baby with the bathwater and a total revamping of the system from the ground up.  For our time and place there is much that IS good and holy in the current educational system.

Again, on a case by case personal level I was not blaming any particular OTD for their jettisoning of Torah-study and observance.  Nor am I ready to make any case by case condemnations of particular schools, teachers and/or parents. A myriad of factors result in pushing youngsters OTD some from the realm of yedeeyah and others from the realm of bekheera.  That said,  on a generational,  pan-societal level I opine that the (failed) tests that conspired to push the 1920-30s Bundist OTD were more daunting than those that pushed and continue to push the 1990s- 2010 Yeshiva or Bais Yaakov dropout OTD.  Especially in instances when abuse and molestation are absent. I am neither statistician nor (professional) sociologist.  And while it may be true that 75% or more of abused/ molested students go OTD I'm not convinced that 75% of those OTD did so because they were abused and/or molested.  A system that demands too much of some, too little of others has too few extra-curriculars and invariably tries jamming square pegs into round holes is a helluva rough row to hoe.  But again IMO it hardly compares with dealing with grinding poverty, genocidal anti-Semitism, educational and professional state-sanctioned apartheid and discrimination and come-hither sweeping intellectual ferment movements and parties which were the testes of the interbellum OTDs.

I know more about the Modern Orthodox community than the Haredi one, so it is difficult for me to speak of the Haredi one except as an outsider looking in, but what I see, from where I stand, is that the Haredi community forces an outdated and obsolete worldview on its students.

Talk about sweeping self-congratulatory condemnations!  For now I have lost my ta'am in further responses.  As a product of that community and its School Systems I fear that anything else that I write will be greeted with the dismissive contempt reserved for those who are out-of-touch and mired in a medieval mentality.  Explain to me why further responses will NOT be utter exercises in futility?



Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

Rabbi Schwartz: regarding the bulk of your response, I thank you for your clarification. It seems I misunderstood your intent. What you say now is far more agreeable to me than what I thought you were saying. My apologies and my thanks.

Now then, as for your final paragraph ("Talk about sweeping self-congratulatory condemnations! ..."):

Please excuse me. I meant no disrespect, but nevertheless, it was difficult for me to avoid being harsh.

After all, Rabbi Slifkin was declared a heretic merely for relying on the Rambam, and Rabbi S. R. Hirsch's positions have been declared heretical as well, albeit Rabbi Hirsch himself has escaped the sentence, probably because few read his works in the original to know what he actually said; I've been myself called a heretic for merely quoting a position of Rabbi Hirsch's, and had my opponent known whom I was quoting, I can only wonder whether he would have accused Rabbi Hirsch of heresy or not.

My point is that I've had plenty of bad experiences with the Haredi community, and it is difficult for me anymore to avoid being equally as harsh in response. Even the right-wing YU community considers me a heretic. It's getting harder and harder every day for me to have restraint when responding to the right-wing of Orthodoxy. One can be accused of heresy only so many times before he loses patience.

Dovid Schwartz said...

...and how many times can one be accused of being a "Caveman" or "Magical Thinker" before, similarly, losing patience or all desire to continue the dialogue?

It seems that you did not mean to give offense and from what little I've seen of blogging commenters with thin skins need not apply. but in any event I've no time for more comments today.

As you are either a Mavis Beacon typing champion or have invested a lot of time and effort in writing your posts I will blee neder try and continue responding over the next few days.

OTD said...

The system is so dysfunctional I don't even know where to start. I see no hope, without a complete teardown start from scratch approach. I think Orthodoxy deserves to go because it's one of the most immoral sociopolitical system in first-world countries and it's a disgrace to humanity.

R' Schwartz, your comments were atrocious. "OTD kids of today who "drop it all" on account of a broken school system or sheer boredom in favor of vacuous, hedonistic lifestyles for the flimsiest and most narcissistic of motivations?"

How dare you? Do you know even one OTDer who says he left for those reasons, and how dare you label unorthodox lives "vacuous" and "hedonistic"? You represent everything that is wrong with religion in general, and haredism in particular.

Shame on you.

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

Off the Derech,

I'll let Rabbi Schwartz reply to your more substantive comments; he can defend Haredism better than I can.

I just want to reply to one point you make:

"I think Orthodoxy deserves to go because it's one of the most immoral sociopolitical system in first-world countries and it's a disgrace to humanity."

You're painting with an awfully large brush. "Orthodoxy" is an immoral "system"? Are you going to group Rabbi Avi Weiss and YCT with Rabbi Elyashiv and Edah Haredit?

Are you really intending to group such widely disparate factions together? If not, could you please clarify who the target of your criticisms is?

OTD said...

MD: Yes, my comment there was a bit over-the-top, oversimplified, and overgeneralized. I apologize.

R' Daniel said...

A reason why many people go off the derech, I feel, is that they simply do not believe in the lifestyle and religion they are brought up in. HaShem would much rather a person to daven and do mitzvos out of a true innate desire, not out of extrinsic motiivations (i.e. wife, kids, inheritance, job, money, prestige, etc.) Should we force kids who have no desire to daven to daven? You can't cram religion down the throats of those who don't want any part of it. This breeds distress, dysfunction, and resentment. I agree with the Modern vierwpoint first articulated in Luther's ethos and later reiterated in the actions and kimu ve kiblu-oriented writings of Rabbi Hirschenson.

Anonymous said...

i hope u all will forgive me staying aunonomis im sure u will understand after reading and grasping the senstivity of wat i want to discuss. i dont put a labe on myself in terms of "brands of judaism" i just do the best i can with wat i have and to the best of my knowledge. most would group me as chareidi i go to a right wing yeshiva wear a black on shabbat etc. iv been molested and iv been severely screwed over by teachers and administration members in my old school so im an example of both of wat u are talking about. i have one thing to say.NOBODY IS FORCED TO GO OTD!! everyone makes there own decisions and is responsable for there actions.excuse me for not trying hard enough not to sound like a prick. lifes a bitch. things happen things that we dont have control over and ppl get frustrated no denying that. abusing drugs or alcahol can be caused directly from a painful situation. that makes sense. ppl have pain to cover up and will resort to artificial means to do so. but someone who went otd made that choice. yes the main problem is in the schooling. but not wat u think! except for extreme cases such as wat i went thru the main problem is parents leaving to much of the responsibility of educating there kids the school. i never had that prob growing up in an out of town city where the religious education wasnt gr8 and therefore parents werent really confronted with an oppertunity to make that mistake.if somoone is secure in his beliefs devostating situtions wont damage his belief system. ppl who went otd either never really connected with their judaism or use it as an excuse. ppl who are intellectually turned off from orthodox judaism isnt because of the things it preaches but of the ppl who are practicing it. yes sometimes jews suck sometimes othodox jews suck. orthodox judaism def doesnt.

Izgad said...

Welcome to Izgad

I am okay with anonymous comments, particularly when dealing with sensitive issues, as long as you are not insulting or threatening anyone.

Forgive me if I also point to your writing as well. I am not in a position to talk about what may or may not have been done to you (I assume you are telling the truth). What interests me is the fact that you have gone through high school and yet are unable to write a grammatically correct sentence. I do not mean to be rude; I do not believe that it is your fault. Someone failed to teach you and I see that as another form of child abuse. Rabbi Horowitz of Project YES talks about the importance of having people come out of Yeshiva knowing how to write. The truth is my Yeshiva did not seriously teach writing either. I learned how to write from going to college. Not teaching writing is a means of control. If people are incapable of communicating with others on the “outside” then they do not have other options.

One of the things that I find very interesting about the Haredi world is the extent to which writing does not play a role in gaining positions of leadership. How do I evaluate the scholarship (Torah or otherwise) of Haredi leaders if I am not personally in their Gemara shiur besides for simply taking partisans of these leaders at their word.

Anonymous said...

i am that same anonymous dude. I agree with those sentiments completely. as u can see im a passionate i dealist and i can think clearly and i have no doubt that i wud be a fairly decent writer if only i knew how. im deeply regretfull that i dont have those skills and yes i do blama the school system to a certain extent for my my faiures. there has has to be a certain point in which u say enuf is enuf i goofed off during class. i showed about half the time and i would just cram in wahever i needed to to pass. fortunately im inteeligent that i was able to do that or i would sit here having gone through 4 years of high school without so much as i high school diploma.BUT THIS WAS MY FAULT. i do plan on going to college and if i come with half the ability to express myself thru writing as u have il be happy.

Izgad said...

If you wish to get into college, even a community college, to the best of my knowledge you are going to need a high school diploma or a GED. You are also going to need to be able to fill out forms and write an essay. If you wish to contact me through my email address I am willing to provide whatever assistance I can.

Anonymous said...

im getting my diploma soon as i was able to reason with my old secular studies principal that i waould make up that work andhe wud accredit me. im just finishing now. i thankd u for that offer and i might just take u up on that in the future