Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Sunday, June 20, 2004

MEDIA NATION: Dissecting Dr. Stern

One of my all-time favorite weekend activities has got to be checking out the Jewish Press letters section. Unlike other frum newspapers, where the "thought police" ensure that only the most pareve, syrupy letters get published ("this is a beautiful newspaper" "you're being mezakeh the rabbim", etc.), the Jewish Press lets the opinions fly. Dr. Yaakov Stern's letters are regularly published in the JP. I almost always disagree with the guy. Let's see what he had to say this week:

Disrespectful Attitude

It was a popular joke of my youth, albeit one rife with anti-Semitic overtones: "You know why Jews have such long noses? Because the air is free." Why do I fear that we are not long for an updated version along the lines of, "Do you know why air is so expensive? You can`t breathe it unless it`s under rabbinic supervision."

Hold on to your Borsalinos, everyone. I`m the last person to cast as-persions on our gedolim. No less an authority than Rabbi Akiva stated that fear and reverence of talmidei chachamim is tantamount to yiras shamayim.

Somehow this sentiment is lost on a generation that has no compunction about taking potshots at its rabbinic leaders. With the recent wig controversy and the question of bugs in New York City tap water, the scoffers have come out in droves, but it’s been open season on rabbis for some years now. Their reputations are impugned, their
decisions are mocked and in many cases deemed irrelevant. It`s not uncommon to find people with the barest knowledge of halacha chal-lenging the opinions of those who have toiled in earnest for decades, their lives devoted to the Living Torah.


The letter so far I have no problem with. However, I must note that in a generation full of wedding takanos that are a joke and a certain rabbi's chumra-filled publications (even other rabbis admit the guy is too much), this generation's emunas chachamim has been tested arguably more than ever.


Yaffa Rabinowitz`s letter to the editor (Jewish Press, June 4) is reflective of this attitude. Mrs. Rabinowitz has a son learning in Israel who related to her that his rosh yeshiva recently eschewed discussion of a series of terror attacks, choosing instead to focus on the aforementioned wig and bug controversies. She is concerned that her son
will leave the yeshiva a religious automaton, with no sense that there is a world outside the beis hamedrash.


Here's where Stern starts running the ol' spin machine. He calls Rabinowitz's concern "reflective of this attitude." Unlike the scoffers and cynics mentioned above, Rabinowitz is merely concerned, and not just because she doesn't care. In fact, it's her concern for her fellow Jews that has created this concern. So, Dr. Stern, how is this at all reflective of the dont-give-a-darn attitude mentioned above?

Besides, most of those rabbis Dr. Stern claims to revere actually are concerned with the world outside of the bais medrash. In fact, that's why they have said tehillim since the Intafada began. So her shittoh, if anything, seems to be quite consistent with the Rabbis'. I would view Mrs. Rabinowitz's question as a question of an apparent inconsistency, quite a valid point. When you were in yeshiva, Dr. Stern, did you just sit there like a lemming or actually (gasp!) think!?

Mrs. Rabinowitz`s letter leaves much room for criticism. For one, her protestations notwith-standing, I don`t believe she has the proper respect for Torah. While the secular media may poke fun at us regarding the wigs and water, these are in fact critical issues which demand our full attention. Talmud Torah kineged kulam is not simply a line we mumble in the morning — it is the bedrock of our faith.

Still, one might ask, shouldn`t there also be room for saying Tehillim and visiting wounded Israelis? Mrs. Rabinowitz is propagating a chillul Hashem by implying that yeshivas in Israel are monolithic. Baruch Hashem, there is a vast array among which to choose, ranging from haredi to Zionist. Rather than use The Jewish Press to besmirch and
malign, Mrs. Rabinowitz should tell her son to transfer elsewhere if she believes he is not being taught the proper values.


Another terrible point. Mrs. Rabinowitz never said that all Yeshivos are monolithic. In fact, I believe that she was discussing one yeshiva and ONE YESHIVA ONLY--- her son's yeshiva. She never makes any mention of another yeshiva.

Her point was, "I don't understand the mehalech of my son's yeshiva." That's it. I think she's allowed to complain about her son's yeshiva, especially considering she raises a valid point. Anyone who thinks she's implying anything about all yeshivas is being ridiculous.

I chose to comment on this letter because the writer implicitly gave voice to a notion that is heard with increasing frequency; namely, that there are two camps within Orthodoxy — a yeshiva division whose members focus on Torah to the exclusion of mentshlichkeit, and a modern element whose members may not be as exacting in adherence to halacha but make up for it by concerning themselves with the needs of others.

Though this dichotomy may indeed exist within Orthodoxy, it does not register for those who aspire to the higher calling of “Torah Jew.”


Dr. Yaakov Stern
Brooklyn, NY


Wait a second. Am I missing something? Did Dr. Stern actually argue against Mrs. Rabinowitz's point? He started saying something about things she implied, then something about a Torah Jew.... Did he ever say it was right to not say the tehillim and visit the soldiers? Does he agree or not? Hello.....

This woman had a kasha. She didn't understand the mehalech of her son's yeshiva. And her kasha has some backing in Chazal (Avoda Zara 17b):

One who concerns himself solely with Torah (and not Gemilut Chasadim) is as one who has no God.

Some "higher calling" that is, Dr. Stern!! In light of that Chazal, I find Mrs. Rabinowitz to have a valid point.

But Dr. Stern apparently cannot deal with the issues. Instead, he harps on about things she allegedly implied and starts accusing her of ridiculous things. I just finished reading Ann Coulter's "Slander" in which she discusses how liberals will call conservatives names (e.g. fascist, racist) rather than arguing the issues. Stern is the same way: using terms like modern, scoffer, and Torah Jew --- he doesn't even come within ten feet of the issues!

As per the implications, allow me to quote part of Rabinowitz's letter:

I sent my son to learn in Eretz Yisrael, to become a ben Torah. A true ben Torah is involved in Toras Yisrael and Am Yisrael - wherever they are. How can a yeshiva not pause for a moment to utter a prayer or to say some Tehillim when such terrible tsaros befall the Jewish people? What kind of a generation will we produce if they have no connection to the klal and are only involved in the "daled amos of kedusha" of the yeshiva world?
The connection I am referring to does not have to involve a disruption of Torah study. I am just suggesting that possibly during the tefillah a mishebeirach be said for some of the maimed and injured. Or that perhaps at the conclusion of the tefillah a few kapitelach of Tehillim be said in unison with the rabbonim, requesting Hashem to have rachamim on us. Or that those young men who have a little more time on their hands (maybe on a Friday afternoon now that Shabbos begins later) visit a hospital to comfort the wounded or make a shiva call to a family whose loved one made the ultimate sacrifice.


Where do you see any implication of a dichotomy? Where? Not an inkling of modern vs. yeshivish is there. Nothing! If Dr. Stern is reading between the lines, then I must have read the wrong lines. Either that, or Dr. Stern is extremely paranoid. Is he so insecure about his mehalech that he has to make an issue out of an non-issue to attempt to prove his point?

Besides, where I come from, "Torah Jews" have a tendency of being donn l'kaff zchus. Ever heard of that?

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Yaakov Stern thrives on and lives for writing and saying controversial things. He would be well advised in helping his fellow Yid rather than creating ill will among his fellow Jew.

10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What does Dr. Yaakov Stern have to say now about the shanda of the arrests of the Rabbis for money laundering?

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