June 7, 2006

by Reb Yudel
If there was a Nobel price for wrongness....

I'd be nominating Jack Wertheimer. From his new Commentary article
Whatever Happened to the Jewish People (warning: PDF link):

Hosting Mikhail Gorbachev at their first
summit in Washington, D.C. in December
1987, Ronald Reagan regaled his guest with a description
of a mass rally held in the city just two
days earlier to demand unrestricted emigration
rights for Soviet Jews. Over a quarter-million
Americans, mostly Jews, had gathered on the Mall,
some coming from as far away as Hawaii, to march
under banners demanding “Let My People Go.”
So moved had Reagan been by this display of ethnic
solidarity in the name of democratic rights that
he spoke about it for five long minutes as his visitor
uneasily tried to shift the conversation to a safer
topic, like arms control.

Today, less than twenty years later, it is almost
inconceivable that the American Jewish community
could muster the will to mount so massive a
show of unity. It is not just that, at the moment, no
large-scale crisis seems to engage the American
Jewish psyche.
(emphasis added))

What a fine, fact-free critique. Too bad that between the writing and the publication, a decent fraction of the quarter-million went to the Washington Mall to rally for Darfur, a cause promoted with far less urgency (and one with far less clarity of purpose) than the Soviet Jewry rally?

For too many years, Jack Wertheimer has been dismayed by the fact that American Jewry has changed in ways that his intellectual framework tells him are worrisome -- and hasn't paused to ask whether (1) his framework is true, and (2) whether his framework is part of the problem.

Full discussion of the paper over at JewSchoo


Hey. Don't try to distract those guys with facts. They have created their own reality and you don't want to upset them!

Posted by: tzvee at June 7, 2006 11:38 PM

Now you attack Jack Wertheimer and his perfectly good piece in Commentary Magazine. Your blog is a fine example of the fact that Jews are very disunited and agree on nothing that once united us. He is correct to note that it seems like a hundred years ago when Jews rallied for Soviet Jews. Jews do not rally for Jews or for Judaism en masse anymore.

We rally for Darfur and we do NOTHING for those people. All that matters, led by the Left, is that we feel some general sense of sympathy--as our former President said so often that it was a caricature: "we feel their pain." Big deal. Ruth Messinger came to my shul and her sole argument, just like all liberals, is to invoke Hitler and the Holocaust. Do people know the reason why few black Americans fight hard for starving people in Darfur? They believe it is a Jewish issue so they leave it alone. Fake compassion trumps real moral purpose for the Jews of today and we cannot pretend any longer that this is not a problem.

When our Governor in MD comes to speak to groups of Jews--he knows how to address the Jewish people of this state: abortions and separation of church and state are sweet music to the Jews.

Wertheimer is obviously right. We are way off the path.

No surprize, Larry gives us a link to Jewschool that is linked to radical lefties like Mikey Lerner, the fake Rabbi, and calls to end the "occupation"--that is to say, Jewish life in the Land of Israel.

If you think there is something wrong with Jack Wertheimer--please tell us how he is so wrong-headed.

Posted by: David N. Friedman at June 7, 2006 11:51 PM

Mr. Friedman,
You are still ignoring the basic Jewish questions.
You are serving a political agenda and not Hashem.
Yiddishkeit is about Torah and Mizvos. We can debate about how to relate to the goyim, we can debate politics, but we dont debate the basics of mizvos. You are a scandal to Judiasm. So please now answer my questions.

Have you ever eaten shrimp? To do so is an abomination to Hashem. You are as bad as other abominations. Or maybe you are in behavioral therapy to avoid your abominations?

Do you keep the Sabbath with all the proper halachos? Or are you guilty of the death penalty?

Do you daven three times a day?

Does your wife go to the miikvah, the ritual bath or were your children conceived in a state of impurity?

Posted by: Hashem's Torah at June 8, 2006 9:51 AM

a) jews don't rally for jews en masse anymore? i guess the israel day parade is a construction of the zionist media, and that big "we stand with israel" march on d.c. in 2004 never happened.

b) imagine the nerve of that ruth messinger, invoking hitler and the shoah when discussing a currently ongoing genocide.

c) if abortion and church & state are the two biggest issues your governor has to campaign on, america is in worse trouble than i thought.

d) lerner, commenting on the same allegation of being a fake rabbi, on jewschool wrote:

"For those who wish to know, I received my smicha from a Beyt Din of three rabbis each of whom had received their ordination as orthodox rabbis. Rabbi Zalman Schachter and Rabbi David Wolfe Blank received their ordinations from Chabad, and Rabbi Phil Leibowitz who received his smicha from the rabbinical school of the Yeshiva U. Since all Chabad rabbis and many other orthodox rabbis receive their smicha from a Beyt Din of this sort, there is nothing unusual about the procedure and was the procedure for all rabbis until the Reform and Conservative movements created American-based rabbinical schools."

e) eat it, mccarthyite.

Posted by: mobius at June 8, 2006 8:41 PM

OK, Mobius.

The issue with Wertheimer, and myself, is that Jews do not rally in support of anything with Jewish content that expresses our Jewish identity.

Cohen and Wertheimer drive home a point I have made long and hard on these folders, Jews have changed with the general culture. The social glue that holds our Jewish community has weakened as the relationship between the individual and the group have weakened in the cultural patern of the US.

Regarding the Governor, you dropped my point completely. As a smart politician, he knows how to appeal to get Jewish votes. He talks up his pro-abortion credentials and he talks approvingly of the so-called "separation of church and state." This is the reputation that Jews have and it is quite embarassing.

Ruth Messinger failed to appeal to our shul, across the board. Please tell me, isn't it curious liberals always drag out Hitler. Darfur is like the Holocaust, Bush is Hitler, DeLay is Hitler, conservatives are "fascists"--(indeed, you call me McCarthy and I have no fondness for McCarthy--you defend and support Michael Lerner and this admission speaks volumes. I do not have to say another word). That is all Messinger said. The point is to simply feel for the victims. No, this will not help. Our troops in Iraq could use our moral support (the Left offers only grotesque protests). Starving people being sold into slavery need more than a morale boost.

Posted by: David N. Friedman at June 8, 2006 9:38 PM

Since you are not responding - it shows that you really are a form of Christianity.

Our difference is not over the trinity but that we take vayikra- Leviticus as our lives. We follow deed and they don"t.
Like the Christians you eat shrimp, an abomintion before the Lord and have martial relaitonal without using a ritual bath.
Also Jews accept the Talmud- the halakhah as our lives. You have a Biblical religion like the goyim.
I assume that you are a missionary, even if you were born Jewish.

When Mormon's come to my door to try and missionize they say that Mormons dont drink alchohol and Jews have dietary restrictions, so we are alike. But that is a false comparison. ALchohol is permitted in Judaism.
But in your missionary style Reverand Friedman - you say "show me a rabbi who is in favor of getting drunk and taking drugs."

You dont know the basics of Jewish values. You dont know what is in the Talmud like a christian.

Don't distract from the issue that for Leviticus eating shrimp is like sodomizing men.

Do you pray 3 times a day? DO you study Talmud?
Have you even heard of the 39 forbidden categories of Sabbath work?
Answer the original questions before you continue your heresy.

Posted by: Hashem's Torah at June 8, 2006 9:52 PM

Rev. David N. Friedman,
Is you need somethig for Jews to rally around about Torah,? siyum hashas,? mizvos,? am Yisrael?

Taking a goyish agenda to defend Prof. Wertheimer
is not helping his cause.

Posted by: Hashem's Torah at June 8, 2006 10:07 PM

I assumed, the person who calls himself Hashem's Torah is not really asking questions.

Forgive me sir. They are not relevant ones to this blog. It is flattering that you wish to take my personal inventory. I do not know you and your assumptions are clearly wildly off base. A missionary? Are you serious? As I have stated, I simply follow the lead of the Rabbis in this regard. Do you ask Rabbi Soloveichik if he is a Jew?

No I do not eat shrimp. I am a Jew. Why do you ask such a question?

I do not intend to respond further to your peculiar questions. If you read through this blog you will discover that our tradition is being slammed.

Unlike you, I do not know how God will judge my actions on this earth when my time has come. Forgive me if I have a hunch that central issues will involve my willingness to defend Torah and tradition and not whether or not I ate shrimp.

Posted by: David N. Friedman at June 8, 2006 11:08 PM

>>Have you ever eaten shrimp? To do so is an abomination to Hashem.

And the shrimp is pretty unhappy, too!

Posted by: Yori yanover at June 9, 2006 7:30 AM

Rev. Freidman,
They are real questions.

You dont think like a Jew or understand the Bible
like a Jew. Our tradition is first and formeost kasrus, shabbos, talmud torah, tefilah, mikvah.
Any rabbi that is a real rabbi would agree with me.

I am sure that any rabbi that you ask would want you to keep the Sabbath laws, that your wife should go to mikveh, and that you daven. Tradition is wearing zizis and not shaving with a razor, not the latest goyish fad.

Even if you were born a yid, you think like a goy, so I assume that you are a missionary.
Judiasm is not based on "hunchs" and personal insight but the real Torah of Leviticus. You want hunchs and discuss how you accept god in your heart.

You still argue like a mormon who wants to prove that Judiasm and mormons , lehavdil are the same.

You do not know how God will judge you because you dont know Torah. The first question that Hashem will ask you when you get to Gan Eden is if you were honest in your business practices.

Before you single out your gospel agenda read the Jewish text. The fact that you have eaten shrimp is an abomination like sodomy. I assume that you have also stopped sodomizing boys because "I am a Jew" but your singling out of issues is more like one of those goyim. Read below:

These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.
10 And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you:
11 They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination.

Do Teshuvah. Please contact a real kiruv organization and return to a real way of Jewish thinking.

Posted by: Hashem's Torah at June 9, 2006 10:32 AM

The weakness of the C and W article is found in this throwaway statistic: "The total size of allocations to Israel dropped on an inflation-adjust basis of almost two-thirds." That's because in the period they write about, Jewish federations made a very conscious effort to change the domestic-global split to keep more of the money at home for domestic giving-- schools, identity-building programs, family services, the local needy -- local agency stuff. C and W have decided, arbitrarily IMHO, to identify Israel-giving as "peoplehood," and care for the Jewish poor, elderly, and Jews in need of scholarships for schools and Israel trips as "thousands of otherwise disparate but needy individuals in the here and now." I also think they are romanticizing a very distinct, and perhaps sui generis, moment in Jewish history -- actually, American Jewish history -- when that "we are one" stuff could be said with a straight face. The history of Jewish philanthropy before the Holocaust was a lot of individual kehillot taking care of their OWN poor, hungry, indigent, raising money for a local scholar or two to attend yeshiva, and perhaps giving a few kopeks to the guy coming thru to collect money for Eretz Yisrael. Before the rise of fedeated giving, did Jews really think of themselves as "a single collective whose religious civilization must be nurtured,whose cultual institutions merit constant support"?

Posted by: andy at June 9, 2006 3:24 PM

Andy, my complaint here is that it is plain that Cohen and Wertheimer make a lot of sense and even if you find some of their points alarmist, there is simply no need to agree that they are "wrong-headed."

I give a good amount to various Jewish charities both locally and abroad in Israel and almost all of them have complained that their donations are down significantly with the tsunami in Indonesia and the US hurricanes. This is good evidence in itself. More to the point, our community is far less likely to think of the collective Jewish people reflexively and this is not a good thing.

In the same way that Jewish marriage and family were once unshakebale, the sense of am yisrael is lacking in greater measure than in the past.

The ties that unite us in peoplehood have been frayed and may be irrevokably broken--unless, God forbid, there is a serious worldwide movement in antisemitism.

Your question actually cements my point. Today's Jews have enormous wealth in comparison with pre-WWII. You are correct to note our self-help structures and the way in which we were very cognizant of other Jews. The few dollars of the past were spent wisely, now we throw big money around to the Clintons, to various "causes" of dubious value, etc.

Note how Larry also makes my point--our community makes Darfur a Jewish issue while intermarriage is not worth fighting over and the Jews in Israel are seen as "occupiers."

Posted by: David N. Friedman at June 10, 2006 10:36 PM

I think everyone should give to a fund that gets people like Rev Freidman, if he is Jewish, to keep the laws of Shabbos, to daven three times a day, and
use the mikveh. That is how most people think that we fight intermarriage.
And since he used to eat shrimp and his chidlren were conceived in impurity - I bet they are not observant. We should start with them. His kids are assimilating and we should place the blame firmly on Rev Friedman.
Rev Freidman proves Wertheimer's case- The rev spends all his time fighting for abstractions and not yiddisher things like mizvos.

Posted by: Hashem's Torah at June 11, 2006 8:23 AM

You misread me again, David. Wertheimer said he couldn't imagine Jews rallying for Soviet Jewry again. But in fact, the Jewish community, operating on a much smaller level of organization, produced comparable results even though the goal, as I and Andy pointed out at the time, was so amorphous as to be ridiculous.

I have no doubt, therefore, that were an issue of comparable urgency to Gorbachev and immigration be promoted at the same top levels of the American Jewish bureacracy, there would again be a comparable turnout. In fact, given that day schools have always provided a high percentage of organized Jewish rallies, from the earliest Soviet Jewry days to the Darfur rally and last week's NYC Israel Parade, and since day school enrollment is up, I would suspect a high overall turnout could be predicted.

In other words, Wertheimer used a fantasy of his own devising to introduce his argument. His fantasy had the misfortune of being disproved between the writing and the publishing.

The real question everyone should be asking Wertheimer -- and in particular, his editors -- is what has *he* done for the Jewish community lately. For a man so devoted to Jewish community, it's rather odd that he plays a leading role in an institutions that failed to utilize the internet to implement adult Jewish education... despite receving a much-publicized grant to do so.

Posted by: Reb Yudel at June 11, 2006 11:17 AM

Larry, It is a welcome admission that you put your hopes in our community in the day school population. From that admission, you stop. Yes, Wertheimer has been active in promoting Jewish Day schools.

I believe the first step in correcting a problem is recognizing the problem. For recognizing the problem and writing an influential article, Wertheimer and Cohen have done something positive for the community.

I believe it is a challenge for all Jews to ask what they have done for the community. I do worry that part of your contribution is to publicly diss Cohen and Wertheimer by denying that there is a problem.

C&W say: "something vital in the American Jewish psyche has changed." You insist that our response to Darfur is meaningful when it is, in reality, an excellent argument aginst your point of view and in favor of C&W's thesis.

Gorbachav was blown away by the response by our community. Reagan dug in his heels and demanded action. Action was the result.

By contrast, Jews today believe that our empathy is enough and the solution is less of the goal than it is how it makes us feel. The contrast is magnificent and I am sorry you cannot see it. We came together as a community to gain a result and we gained it inthe case 20 years ago with Soviet Jews. Now, we come together to have the pretense of moral purpose and not the reality. We make feeling the suffering of others a Jewish issue (of course, it IS a Jewish issue--only a secondary one)and we are not following through. The rally WAS the goal not the improvement of the lives of those Africans. We wrongly believe that simply saying that Darfur is like the Holocaust will give us moral leadership when it does not.

The very same Jews somehow DEPLORE our actions in Iraq where we have removed a brutal dictator and improved the lot of millions of people. THIS, my friend, is action in honor of the lessons of the Holocaust--not posturing over the victims of Darfur without the willingness to actually remedy the situation.

This level of phony compassion is a classic trademark of our liberal community and a very pale substitute for moral action and care for our own community.

After listening to Ruth Messinger, I fear we all need theraphy and a kick in the pants and not hearty congratulations for showing up on a sunny Sunday to hold a sign and then go to Starbucks.

Posted by: David N. Friedman at June 11, 2006 12:18 PM

The lack of crises cannot be understated. The success of any mass movement is the sense of imminent threat and the simplicity of its message: "Let my people go!" "No nukes!" "US out of Viet Nam!" The Jewish people have not had a significant, unambiguous rallying cry -- nor immediate existential threat, thank God -- cry since the mass aliyah of Ethiopian Jews. C and W describe the Jewish reality -- the decline of ethnicity, the rise of individualism, the erosion of "copororate" identiy -- accurately. But W'heimr, more so than Cohen, places moral culpability on the Jews and their leaders who grew up in this post-crisis world, in effect blaming them for their self-centeredness and playing down the historical forces that originally shaped Jewish "peoplehood" in the last century. C and W call the shift in federated giving from Israel-centered programs to local needs as "symptomatic of a decline of morale, of national self-respect." It would be much more useful if they were asking, given the inevitablity of the tends we describe, how can Jewish individuals and institutions craft an identity that is not dependent on crises for its corporate health? If they cast the question this way, they might observe that the globalization of a group like AJWS and the new individualism of the UJC are efforts to address this decline, not causes or symptoms of it.

Posted by: andy at June 12, 2006 9:41 AM

OK, Andy. I thank you for your remarks and your belief that Cohen and Wertheimer correctly and accurately describe the Jewish reality. Therefore, it seems you place a lot of distance between yourself and Larry Yudel.

I must disagree with your beginning assessment. "The lack of crises cannot be underestimated." First, as C and W point out, there are many crises and the "reality" you say is accurate highlights these problems. I understand that you mean something different. Far enough. I disagree with this conclusion as well.

Turn it upside down and I would be happy to make the opposite claim, namely, individual events speak loudly and are more revealing than a crisis mode.

Look at it this way, Matthew Shepperd is a household name and this clearly shows that gay activism and gay pride is very high. The Catholics are clearly in trouble but certainly came together strongly over Terry Shiavo and her plight. By comparison, how many Jews know about Ilyan Ramon? I heard a young Jewish woman named Olga Hartman speak about the movie she intends to make about the plight of the Jews of Gaza. I reminded her that some people may be sympathetic but the Jews (the majority are liberals)will not be interested. A beautiful story about a miraculous survival of a Jew and his 4-year old in Israel is celebrated on the Christian broadcast of the 700 club but is not covered widely in the Jewish press.

Speilberg makes a pro-Arab movie called "Munich" (indeed, a good percentage of Jews protested)and many Jews applaud.

I have many anecdotes to share. Please Andy, give me a case of our community reacting en masse to some celebration or some protest of victimhood. We have many chances to do so.

By the time we have a crisis, perhaps only the conservative Christians will care.

Posted by: David N. Friedman at June 13, 2006 10:42 PM

I'm just trying to figure out what sign I would carry at the Ilan Ramon rally. "Hey, Hey, N-A-S-A -- how many Jews did you kill today"? "Jews belong in shtetls, not shuttles" or "How many Israeli astronauts have to die until Steven Spielberg makes a movie about it?"

As for an example of "my" community reacting to en masse to some celebration or some protest of victimhood: Rutgers students, with the help of the state's JEwish federations, two years ago staged a big campus-wide "Israel Inspires" rally and weekend of learning in response to pro-Palestinian activism on campus. Earlier this year Rutges students also organized a well-attended rally in support of the French Jews murdered in Paris. And the bike rides staged by Hazon and Alyn Hopsital attract hundreds of cyclists each year -- not for a quick rally, but a grueling few months of training and then a tough few days of biking.

Posted by: andy at June 20, 2006 1:31 PM

We need no more movies from Speilberg--the Ramon story would likely feature a way to diminish his Jewishness in favor of some universal theme.

I am pleased something happened at Rutgers. My point is that if you wish a contest of anecdotes (I have proposed one!!)it is fair-minded to generalize that Jews are not pushing Jewish themes with pride. This is why I harped on Larry's Darfur point with the observation that black Americans believe that Jews have so strongly indentified with the plight of black Muslims that the issue seems to be a Jewish one.

How and when and where do Jews lobby for Jewish issues? And if our community has so thoroughly thrown its moral weight into such wrong-headed issues as protesting the war on terror, supporting abortion "rights"--going to the mat for gay marriage and anything having to do with promoting homosexuality or bashing Christians--(especially when they want to stand up for the 10 commandments or stand in opposition to Charles Darwin)--the Jewish moral compass is wildly out of whack and one must womder: "What ever happened to the Jewish people?"

Jewish Federation now spendsa minority of its money on Jewish causes. Haddassah was once a proud organization of women fighting for Israel--now they spend all their time lobbying for abortions and the liberal agenda. 50 years ago, Jewish congressmen, judges or Senators read Hebrew and spoke Yiddish--today (with one of two exceptions)--they are ordinary liberals and appear Jewish in no obvious way. One Jew, Joseph Lieberman--is actively being pushed out of his Senate seat by activists who want his head because he supports the President's war on terror. The trouble with Lieberman is that his Jewishness guides him in at least some of his policy decisions. He does not fully understand that liberals believe in a different God and require that all Jews leave their Torah scrolls at the door.

Cohen and Wertheimer are clear about the facts of the matter and you have not disputed any of them. Jews are disengaged with Judaism and with their fellow Jews in an unprecendented way.

Further, in the blogosphere, note how on this blog for instance, there is contempt and clear hatred towards only the finest Jews one can look at--our Rabbis and exemplary Orthodox Jews such as David Klinghoffer who simply are acting on their Jewish beliefs in ways that are consistent with the Jewish mission.

Posted by: David N. Friedman at June 20, 2006 10:34 PM

> Jewish Federation now spends a minority of its money on Jewish causes.

Really? Which federation? Which definition of "Jewish"?

The most recent page I could find from my federation is here; the closest allocation that's not to a "Jewish cause" would be the 10% given to the local Jewish home and the local Jewish Family Services agencies; all the rest goes to Jewish education or to Jews in Israel and overseas. If you look at this PDF file from Andy's MetroWest federation, you'll find similar percentages.

Fifty years ago, you'll find something quite different. You would have found a serious percentage funding Jewish hospitals. Until you show me that your federation is different, I'm going to think you're quoting from someone's talking points from the '70s.

Posted by: Reb Yudel at June 20, 2006 11:43 PM

Larry, you are correct and my point lacked specificity. I call your attention to the entire punchline of the article, which is excellent.

To quote: "seeing Jews as a global extended family, exhibiting concern on these grounds for one's fellow Jews, are authentic expressions of what, from biblical times forward, it has meant to be Jewish, and to act responsibly for the sake of the Jewish future. Jews are not solely the agglomeration of adherents of a particular faith, each seeking personal meaning:they are a people whose primary mark has been the conviction of a unique corporate role in history--the mark of...chosenness. To retreat from peoplehood is to repudiate what has been at the core."

"Nowwhere in the United Jewish Communites catalogue of needy sub-populations is there any mention of support for the state of Israel, or for Jewish communities in their totality, or for over-arching Jewish causes. Rather than a single colective whose religious civilization must be nurtured, whose cultural institutions merit constant support, whose future generations will have to be educated, the Jewish people is imagined in terms of thousands of otherwise disparate but needy individuals in the here and now."

The "idiom" has changed dramatically, so say the authors and it is not merely the language. The shift is fundamental and reflects directly in terms of defining what it means to be a Jew.

Parenthetically, I add that changing the definition of marriage is argued by gay activists to be merely a civil accomodation for all of its citizens. Instead, that change will help spur a changed definition of what it means to be married and this is why it must be stopped.

The UJC and the Federation do not refuse to give to Jews, this is true. I did not mean to say otherwise. Rather, their focus has broadened to be very different from their original mandate to include needy individuals who happen to be Jewish, living in the US, Israel, the former Soviet Union or whereever.

I note that the Cohen and Wertheimer article has been very positivley reviewed in the Jewish community and Cohen and Wertheimer are distinguished individuals, writers and professors. On this blog, it is claimed without any argument at all that they deserve a Nobel Prize for wrongness. Why, Larry? Please take the article apart and take them on with good counter-argument.

My Rabbi did an entire d'var Torah on the article and all I have seen in the Orthodox world gives the impression that they are thought to be on target. So if you have a gripe and everyone else is wrong--please make your argument so someone can have a sense that what you say is not merely flaming but has some sense and thought behind it as well.

Posted by: David N. Friedman at June 21, 2006 10:59 PM

You quote Wertheimer & Cohen:

"seeing Jews as a global extended family, exhibiting concern on these grounds for one's fellow Jews, are authentic expressions of what, from biblical times forward, it has meant to be Jewish, and to act responsibly for the sake of the Jewish future. Jews are not solely the agglomeration of adherents of a particular faith, each seeking personal meaning:they are a people whose primary mark has been the conviction of a unique corporate role in history--the mark of...chosenness. To retreat from peoplehood is to repudiate what has been at the core."

"Nowwhere in the United Jewish Communites catalogue of needy sub-populations is there any mention of support for the state of Israel, or for Jewish communities in their totality, or for over-arching Jewish causes. Rather than a single colective whose religious civilization must be nurtured, whose cultural institutions merit constant support, whose future generations will have to be educated, the Jewish people is imagined in terms of thousands of otherwise disparate but needy individuals in the here and now."

Was it always thus? Were we always the ever-sighing people? Because while this may be a true state of things today, it is, in it's implicit nostalgia for a better age, arrogantly false.

There was no shared ideology of "chosenness" when the United Jewish Appeal was formed, except in the sense that Zionists and non-Zionists realized that Hitler had chosen the Jews for annhilation, and the variuos fundraising campaigns had to work together. So too, the Joint Distribution Committee was formed to paper over ideologies and help individual European Jews.

To argue that the sense of "peoplehood" felt by 20th century American was because of a shared mission of "chosenness" -- rather than because of concepts analogous to ethnicity -- seems to me to be a rather radical claim, worth more than an apositive assertion.

Put briefly: If you read those two paragraphs, you are liable to wind up stupider than if you hadn't.

Posted by: Reb Yudel at June 22, 2006 4:21 AM

Thank you for your response.

Common sense must operate in any analysis and at a baseline level, effective and accurate generalizations can be made and defended.

If your point is that Cohen and Wertheimer make a baseline generalization about the essential nature of the Jewish people that is not accurate and that, in fact, little or nothing has changed about us then I believe you are in denial.

They published their article with lots of supporting documentation.

It seems your debating point therefore breaks down to how we can characterize the nature of the Jewish people at its core. Your response to the distinctions they are making as observers of the group as a whole is to deny that distinctions are to be made.

Please understand that it is apparent that the Jewish people have never been 100% in unity of purpose and we must speak of large phenomenon and core values--not 100% universal ones.

This is why there is so much power in citing numerous anecdotes, numerous signs that we have changed in orientation as a community.

You fail to respond to his points and to my own. My Mother was President of Haddassah when I was a kid. Jewish Women's activism for the state of Israel was the single goal. She organized groups, she led a group of women to visit Israel. Jewish women united for a Jewish state's survival was the agenda. There was no other agenda in an ideological way and concern for the totality was absolutely the over-riding impulse.

Today, Haddasah spends a lot of time speaking about the divisions and not the unity of the people of Israel. The Haredi community is all evil, the Zionists Russians are a problem, they pick favorites. Some Jews are good, some Jews are not. More importantly, they spend a lot of time worrying about "women's issues"--including the liberal agenda's sacred cow of abortion, sexual freedom, homosexual rights, etc. This agenda would be unthinkable just one generation ago. My Mom wanted to Help the people of Israel live in the land of Israel. Period.

Today, the existential threat is even greater and our voices are muted since we want to support the "right" Jew and not the "wrong" Jews. We want to help as long as the politics of it is correct. If the leader is Netanyahu--don't send them any money!! If the leader is Rabin--OK send money. If the leader is Sharon--no money either, until he gets sick and then he is a hero and it is OK to send money again. Or send the money but protest the heck out of what they do to Conservative and Reform Jews at the Western Wall. Send some money but protest what the Israeli Supreme Court just said.--etc.

The net result is that far too many of us do not care about Israel. And we see Israel in a conflicted manner.

This is a change. Speak to the change and stop denying that there is a change.

If you deny it then go through all the numbers and surveys they cite. Look at your own community and tell me we have not changed since the early 20th C. People agree with them because they are so obviously right. You have quite a burden to demonstrate that they are not.

Go ahead and fulfill the burden.

Posted by: David N. Friedman at June 22, 2006 3:13 PM

Echoing the arguments of Cohen and Wertheimer, please heed the words of Conservative JTS chancellor Schorsh, his final words before he departs.

""Our forebearers embraced history to enlarge and enrich Jewish observance; we wield it, if at all, to shrink it. How quickly have we forgotten the bracing spiritual power of Gershon Scholem's Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Yehezkel Kaufmann's Religion of Israel, Saul Lieberman's Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, Nahum Sarna's Understanding Genesis, or Jacob Milgrom's commentaries to Leviticus and Numbers. Our addiction to instant gratification has stripped us of the patience to appreciate any discourse whose rhetoric is dense and demanding. Mindlessly, we grasp for the quick spiritual fix.

A grievous failure of nerve affects Conservative Judaism. We have lost confidence in the viability of the distinctive polarity that once resonated within. It is not a slick new motto that we need, but a vigorous reaffirmation of the old which gloriously captures our essence. When Schechter left England in 1902 to head the Seminary, he inveighed against Anglo–Jewry for its shallow quest for a decorous spiritual Judaism. What the confounding epoch of emancipation actually called for, he claimed, was more spiritual Jews. To educate and inspire Jews of such sturdy timbre remains the unaltered mission of a vastly expanded Seminary in an age of pampered and promiscuous individualists contemptuous of all norms. A Seminary true to itself still holds out the brightest beacon for the future of Conservative Judaism.""

It is so very obvious that we have changed and Jews of today are not as a group like the Jews of yesterday. The "age of pampered and promiscuous individualists contemputuous of all norms" is the defining signature of Jews today. Judaism, remains as good as ever since its precepts are unchanged. We only must embrace them.

Posted by: David N. Friedman at June 23, 2006 1:49 PM

(Sorry for not replying to your previous post -- I drafted something, then came down with a fever. I do plan to return to it.)

Regarding Ismar: I said most of what I have to say about his address in the JewSchool discussion, but there is one point I want to add.

It is fascinating how none of the examples of scholarship he cites took place at his seminary, on his watch. In fact, while 40 years ago the Seminary funded the creation of Understanding Genesis and Understanding Exodus, and then, shortly before Ismar took over, hosted Moshe Greenberg as "scholar in residence" for a year to begin work on his Anchor Bible commentary on Ezekiel, the Seminary produced no such scholarship in the past two decades. (In fact, Understanding Exodus is about to be reissued by an independent publisher, not JTS Press.)

In short: Schorsch (like Wertheimer) substitutes the sighs of nostalgia for the challenge of waking up and making a better world.

Posted by: Reb Yudel at June 23, 2006 2:02 PM

Thanks for your link, Larry, to the liberal-minded Jew School site that give Chancellor Schorsch's concluding remarks a fair amount of serious review. Absent in all the talk is a sense that he is simply "wrong-headed" since that summation comes only from you.

I do not find the comment that since he held a leadership role, any problem rests at his feet. As in any orgainization, a leader is only a leader and not a dictator. He cannot run JTS with an iron fist and micromanage every word that comes out of its publications or Etz Hayim.

At mininimum, every Conservative Jew should heed his words, even those who believe he was needlessly blunt. He points to a movement in crisis since, after all, Conservative Judaism is a movement in crisis.

He laments the fact that new trends will split the Conservative movement and sooner, rather than later, those who try to study sacred texts and go to morning minyan--or those who simply value normative Judaism, will see the trend that is bringing Reform and C Judaism together and they will become Orthodox Jews. That is, Orthodoxy will inherit the Conservative movement's best and brightest.

Reform will claim those who go to shul infrequently and prefer liberal politics to a serious theological discipline.

For Schorsch, this is worth decrying. It is true, C Judaism was an artifice from the beginning.

In the final analysis, Chancellor Schorsch is concerned that a movement that was originally formulated on the fringe of Orthodoxy has now evolved (that is to say *devolved*) to resemble Reform.

Schorsch cannot celebrate the trend that is now nomralizing gay marriage and quickie conversions at the JTS. He cannot celebrate many of the teachers at JTS who are not of his liking. He has distanced himself for years from many of the personalities at the top of the Conservative movement. Undenyably, he finds many of the students who come to JTS not of the same calibre as they used to be.

So he is turning the reigns over to someone else.

You act as if leaders can act in a vacuum when they cannot. Education is being dumbed down and he is not the first to denounce the trend.

PS, why don't you merge your blog with JewSchool?

Posted by: David N. Friedman at June 25, 2006 8:59 PM

My previous posting never made it. I can't take the time to recreate it.

I offer another anecdote that is revealing.News of another brutally murdered Jew in Israel brings up another anecdote of our community's gravely muted pride.

Regarding the kidnapping and assasination of an 18-year old kid, many would be quick to say that Americans should not be living in Israel where they are vulnerable. Better, we presume that they should live in, say Kishniev. But in 1903, it was a turning point.

Another dead Jew is not like Matthew Shepherd, since so many Jews die and we don't care about it while so few homosexuals are killed.

Our spirits are not aroused. We are not angry. Better, Jews should not live in that neighborhood--the conventional "wisdom" indicates.

Posted by: David N. Friedman at June 29, 2006 3:58 PM

On the other hand, the Israeli response over Gilad Shalit has been pretty clear and strong. This clearly shows a sign of life and at this point, there is some fight left in Israelis. Even Shimon Peres was willing to offer a clear statement.

For now at least, this anecdote demonstrates that Israeli Jews have a pulse.

I am pleased that there is at least some evidence of pride for the Jewish family.

On the other side, however, attacks against Jews in France are mounting at an astonishing rate and I believe that the 3rd largest Jewish population in the world may well be quickly dwindling.

The operative question regarding the thread on this blog is to note how many Jews follow the plight of the Israeli soldier in a positive way and how many consider French anti-semitism a real-life problem.

Andy was so quick to indicate that another example of Russian antisemitism would bring Jews out in droves to protest. Well, the French case is there for all to see and let's see if there is a similar outcry. I am obviously delighted to be proven wrong.

Posted by: David N. Friedman at July 2, 2006 9:28 PM

Israel is not America. A Los Angeles rally in favor of Israel as a counter rally to a pro-Arab rally netted only 100 Jews--a very poor turnout.

There is a Wednesday rally in Washington, DC.

Posted by: David N. Friedman at July 15, 2006 11:35 PM
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