Isaac Kaplan

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

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Rabbeim: Shtick vs. Substance, pt. 2

For the purpose of further discussion, I'd like to begin by making a quick summary of the pros and cons of each mehalech:

THE CASE FOR SHTICK:

a) In today' ADD/instant gratification world, it's very difficult to keep listeners, especially kids, interested. And that's why shtick is so important. We must use every option possible to get kids to pay attention. Substance is nice, but generally won't get people to listen, and isn't as quick to get students into learning as much as shtick.

b) Kids like a Rebbi who's cool. The first step for many kids to get into Judaism and learning is by hooking up to a cool Rebbi.

c) People like Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky have proven that you can have shtick yet still have plenty of substance, all in the same shiur.

THE CASE FOR SUBSTANCE:

a) If you get too caught up in the shtick, you don't end up accomplishing much.

b) You want to keep the rebbi-talmid relationship as exactly that, as opposed to a buddy-buddy relationship.

c) While some of the weaker students may go for the shtick, the smarter and more intellectual students might be turned off by it and go elsewhere looking for something more stimulating.

d) Shtick grows old and corny after awhile. Good substance can't grow old-- there are always new chiddushim out there.

The basic conclusion that comes out is that the shtick is more effective for the weaker and beginning students, while more advanced students will go for stimulating, more intellectual discussions. And in our ADD-plagued era, I believe that shtick will draw many more people than substance. People find shtick appealing and engaging.

However, argument d) in favor of substance is a very strong argument against the long-term strengths of shtick. Many people, after being stimulated by the shtick and getting into the learning, begin to get bored by the shtick and want to hear more substance, more content. So it seems as if shtick is but a means to an end, sort of like a "lo lishmo" to a "ba lishmo."

One comparison that comes to mind is my personal changing taste in baseball announcers.

When I started following baseball in the early '90's, my favorite broadcasters were the likes of John Sterling and Phil Rizzuto, guys who would tell lots of jokes and get really excited when a homerun was hit. And when sports TV/Radio critics Phil Mushnick and Bob Raissman would rip those guys, I just never understood it. In fact, when John Rooney and Jerry Coleman announced the world series on radio back then, I couldn't listen. It was too boring.
Ten years later, I must say that I can barely listen to John Sterling and his compadre Charley Steiner! The shtick has grown old and annoying, and I cringe each time Sterling tries to be funny (or says "Yankees win!" after another thrashing of the Rockies). For me, the ideal broadcaster is a guy like Jon Miller or Vin Scully, two professionals who do as good a job as anyone out there describing a game.
Yet, even in broadcasting, some people can excel at both. The Red Sox' Jerry Remy is a great example of a guy who can combine shtick with substance.
In his new book, Ralph Kiner quotes longtime Tigers' voice Ernie Harwell as saying that if he were applying for a broadcasting job today, he would not stand a chance. And in today's shtick-filled generation, his words are all too true. Most people today clearly will take shtick over substance.

Another point: the old "yochid vs. the rabbim" argument comes up as well. Should we appeal to the more intelligent kids, so that they can reach their full potential, or should we try to get everyone into it, even at the risk of the intelligent kids' underacheiving? Most people would agree with the latter (as I do), but I've heard differing views.

In Part 3, I'll elaborate on these points and discuss the possibilities and ways to create a happy medium.... if that's possible.

5 Comments:

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Anyone who likes John Sterling has his heat on backwards.

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