Isaac Kaplan

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Respecting Other Religions

This is one of those very broad topics, and it touches on many other issues, such as the cardinals visiting YU and the Jewish role in the culture war. But for now, I'd like to go for a very general view.

What got me thinking about this topic was a discussion with a friend of mine about George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord." Is there something to be said about the guy expressing his religion and longing to be close to God, or is it all silly anyway, because he's not Jewish and his religion is false?

I don't think there's anything intrinsically signficant about a non-Jew following their religion. In most cases, it's avoda zara, so what good does it do for us? What good does it do for the world?

But that said, there's something to be said for the effects of religious non-Jews, in two ways:

1) Most religious non-Jews generally will follow the seven mitzvos of Bnei Noach. It's unclear whether those mitzvos have a transendental positive effect on the world as when Jews do mitzvos, or whether they're merely meant as a civil code so that the nations don't live in chaos. (According to the latter understanding, it's a bit unclear where the prohibition on blashphemy fits in; according to the former, why is there no inyan of "arvus" when it comes to the seven mitxvos? But ANYWAY....)

And even if their mitzvos don't have a spiritual positive effect, their religious practices still make a difference. After all, the Jewish world is strongly influenced by the non-Jewish culture. For example, the fact that divorce is no longer taboo in the non-Jewish world has lead to an increase in divorces in the frum community. And in the 1970's, when everyone including Jimmy Carter was becoming a born-again Christian, many baalei tshuva returned to the fold.

Of course, in the case of the Muslims, their return to fundamentalism has not done much good to the world. But in moderation, religious practice is not problematic, especially in America, where the courts preserve religious freedom.

2) The other benefit from the non-Jewish religious practice is that we can take some mussar from it. Perhaps, for example, we can look at a song like "My Sweet Lord" and think about whether we've felt a longing to be close to God. And perhaps from their search for meaning in life, we can take a lesson and try to make the routine practices of Judaism more meaningful. I'm not saying that we should study the world's religions in-depth to get all sorts of lessons from them, but there are certainly things we can pick up from them, even from passive observation.

So I don't see how their worshipping whatever they worship makes the world a better place. But their observance of their laws certainly is not a bad thing. And let us not forget Ben Zoma's statement - "Who is wise? He who learns from all people."

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Do Some People Have It Easy?

You know the feeling. I think everyone knows it, but most people won't admit to feeling that pang of jealousy.

There's always that guy in the neighborhood, the one who seems to have everything going for him. His Dad is a richie with a Lexus and a mansion, he has lots of friends, good health, a great spouse, and happy, healthy children. And so often, we think, "why can't I have it easy like Mr. Goldberg over there? He's got nothing to worry about."

I heard Paysach Krohn speak last year, and he said "nobody has it easy!" And R' Ezriel Tauber in one of his books says that "you will not find a Jewish family today which is not somehow, somewhere suffering."

I'm not sure if I agree with the above statements. After all, the gemara in Avodah Zara states that God does not give people a nisayon they can't handle. So any challenge that we receive is tailor-made for us. God gave us the special abilities needed to deal with the unique challenges facing us.

So perhaps the people with the easy lives can't sweat the big challenges. Maybe their biggest challenge is not going shopping every day. Also, it could be that just having a content life can be a big challenge in and of itself. Many people need a rough situation as a kick in the butt in order to improve their davening and avodas Hashem.

Also, many rishonim discuss the question of "tzaddik v'ra lo, rasha v'tov lo." Conversely, there's also the concept of "pairosaihem b'olam hazeh," getting reward in this world. Thus, there can also be a "tzaddik v'tov lo."

So if some people out there are getting the "tov lo" treatment, I find it hard to believe that "nobody has it easy." And again, their nisayon might be to find God and a meaningful life even in a state of prosperity.

So does anyone have it easy? It's impossible to know. We can't find out the details of everyone's personal lives, including the tzaros that may be well-hidden from the public. But to say that NOBODY has it easy -- where's the evidence?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

That's An Old Story

Great post by R' Harry Maryles on the yeshivas' focus on churning out gedolim, and saying to hell with everyone else.

I just wanted to add that, in this case, Shlomo HaMelech's credo of "ain kol chadash tachas hashamesh" rings true once again. In my first go-round on the blogosphere, I wrote a piece on how the yeshivos glorify the frumkeit in Europe as if it were Bnei Brak. People were moser nefesh, and they had no TV's, internet, newspapers, etc. so they much shtarker than we could ever be. I said that what they don't tell you in yeshiva is that in Europe, the majority of Jews went off the derech. Maybe they mention the famous Meshech Chochma from last week's parsha about the people who treated Berlin like Jerusalem, but it gets merely a cursory mention.

And perhaps Rav Dessler's description of the yeshivos' "mission statement" was true long before his time. In fact,as I said in my post from '04, my Uncle Harvey said something similar (in the name of someone else, whose name slips my mind.) In Europe too, the goal of the yeshivos was to produce gedolim. And that's why they were super-intense there, because many of the medicore kids couldn't hack it. And once the haskalah came to town, many of their religious lives were toast.

- I once asked a mashgiach, "I don't understand. When you talk one-on-one to a bochur, you'll tell some guys to go to college. But when you give a shmuz, you say that everyone has to sit and learn. What's the deal?"

The mashgiach responded with a statement similar to Rav Dessler. Basically, he said that on a public level, the bar has to be set very high so that the future gedolim don't underacheive. If they hear that college is okay, they might want to go there rather than learn their whole lives. So because the goal of a yeshiva is to produce gedolim, on a public level the bar has to be set so high that they'll be inspired to learn for life.

But the problem with that is, the mediocre guys listening to the shmuz don't know this! So they'll hear about how they have to learn all day, will try it, get burnt out, and lose interest. Or, like me, they'll have a guilty conscience for life: why are you not in yeshiva? And of course, you have many people who will simply go off the derech. To me, it also seems like there's a strong element of sheker involved here (if not everyone is supposed to learn super-intensely, why are you saying just that), which is very troubling.

And as R' Harry said, if we're not producing any gedolim this way, then maybe it's time to change the system.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

On Thinking and Not Thinking

One thing that's bothered me for years is how differently some yeshiva guys approach gemara and hashkafa.

If a yeshiva guy stumbles upon a gemara that they don't understand, they'll spend many hours trying to understand it. Some people I know would get visibly frustrated if they couldn't get pshat. The attitude of "it's okay, I have emunah that this is right" is ultimately behind all the frustration. But that attitude isn't so strong to the point where people won't try to understand the gemara because of their emunas chachamim.

When it comes to hashkafos, though, a lot of guys just sip the kool-aid. I don't think they think objectively about hashkafos.

Why is that? I think it comes from how each issue is presented. Gemara is learned in a "fair and balanced" manner. There's no agenda in trying to understand a gemara one way as opposed to another. So most yeshiva guys look at a gemara with a clean slate.

But when I would attend vaadim about hashkafa, there was clearly an agenda there. You knew what the mashgiach was going to say. Sometimes he would discuss the other side, but usually it didn't get much treatment.

Also, you hear a lot more about emunas chachamim when it comes to hashkafos than when it comes to gemara. Questions are not encouraged in this setting. Why?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Faith Be Damned? Part I: Gadol Bashing

The Kolko situation has been on my mind over the past few days, and it's been troubling me like more than any other fiasco that we've dealt with in recent vintage. The fiasco called the wedding takanos ticked me off to no end. For the disclaimers included in the kol korei ("extraordinary circumstances"), I still think that there was some sheker involved there. Their destruction of Reinman, R' Nosson Kaminetzky, and Slifkin was also very disturbing. I didn't think I would ever have as many doubts in my emunas chachamim. But the defeaning silence of the gedolim surrounding the Kolko situation trumps them all.

Here we are, worrying about whether there are microscopic bugs in our water, wondering whether hagbah is a 360 to the right, holding parlor meetings for a million schools for Russians, and fighting incessantly over the Flatbush eruv, when cases of abuse are happening under our eyes. What's being done to combat the abuse? Anything? Are we just supposed to pretend that it never happened and never will again?

As a result, for the next few days, I'm going to be a one-trick pony and give my thoughts on gedolim, emunas chachamim, and daas torah.

- In a general discussion about gedolim, Harry Maryles discussed gadol-bashing.

I think this phenomenon comes from the blind faith that many chareidim have in gedolim. They talk about them as if they're infallible; if they weren't Jewish, you'd probably think they're talking about Jesus or Mohammed. It's possible that this attitude comes from the chassidim, with their extreme reverence of Rebbes.

I don't know what the source is for an attitude of infallibility. The Torah and Gemara talk about mistakes that were made by many great people. And the Rambam, the one revered by every chareidi yeshiva guy, gets heavily critcized by the Vilna Gaon in his commentary on Yoreh Deah.

When people expect perfection from gedolim and then see things they really can't understand, they start bashing the gedolim. They figure that they can't be gedolim, because gedolim are perfect. So instead, they're just a bunch of clowns. If they can't bat 1.000, then I guess they're no better than we are.

To me, the attitude that makes the most sense is that the gedolim are certainly much greater than we are. They know much more Torah, and have spent a lifetime refining their characters. Despite all that, however, they are fallible and will make mistakes. They're human, and can fold to the pressure of the richies.

With expectations like these, the occasional mistakes by gedolim are more palatable. They're to be expected, to some extent.

And such an attitude allows us to ask questions. Not just "what," but "why?" And perhaps to be aggressive in asking why, especially regarding hashkafa questions. And with the expectations of possible mistakes, perhaps we can have respectful discussions, rather than gadol-bashing.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Life After R' Moshe

I've often heard that part of the reason that MO isn't what is used to be was that after the Rav ZTL passed away in 1993, nobody replaced him. And in fact, nobody could replace him. Don't get me wrong - there are many huge talmidei chachamim who are roshei yeshiva in YU - but the Rav was on such a high level and had such a presence that nobody has been able to fill his shoes.

I was speculating that perhaps one can say the same in terms of psak with regard to R' Moshe. Although there were other great poskim in New York during his lifetime, such as R' Moshe Bick and R' Tuvia Goldstein, R' Moshe was world-renowned and considered the premier posek for Jews in the United States (I can't stand how so many rabbeim just call it "America," but that's for another time). While we don't follow all of his shitos (e.g., recorded music and summer school), and while the Satmars weren't a big fan of his, he was certainly a leader for much of Orthodox Jewry.

What got me thinking about this was the article about Kolko in New York magazine, which quoted R' Pinchas Scheinberg. The whole thing bothered me. Why ask him? What about all the gedolim in America?

Another thing that got me thinking was a comment on another blog, which basically said that it's amazing how everyone followed R' Elyashiv's psak when it came to Indian wigs, but nobody listens to him when it comes to shaving. If we did, every man in Brooklyn would have a scraggly beard. And college would be as assur as chazer.

Face it. There's no preeminent posek in the US anymore. You have some big talmidei chachamim out there like R' Belsky and R' Dovid Cohen, but they don't have nearly as big a following as R' Moshe did.

And the fact that we've gone to Eretz Yisrael for piskei halacha - what's up with that? Many of those gedolim aren't familiar with our culture, which can play a role in many piskei halacha. (Of course, it's likely not a big deal to follow R' Shlomo Zalman's piskei halacha about davening. But other major issues?) Part of it is likely due to the fact that there's no universally respected posek here anymore. The closest you'll get to that is R' Elyashiv. And the rightward shift in Orthodox Judaism - probably the biggest factor here.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Chazoras HaShatz Charades

I don’t like when people talk during chazoras hashatz. To me, that is. If they want to talk amongst themselves, whatever. I know the shulchan aruch says that one who talks during chazoras hashatz has “a sin too great to bear,” as Cain said after slaying Abel. Why do some people talk? Maybe they don’t care. Maybe they have a hetter somehow. A different minhag? Who knows? Whatever it is, I’ve been freaked out by the words of the Shulchan Aruch. So I do my best to keep my mouth shut during chazoras hashatz.

What I can’t stand is when people start talking to me during chazoras hashatz, see that I’m not answering, but keep yapping away. Hey, I choose not to talk during chazoras hashatz, is that okay with you?

And then, of course, I feel bad blowing the guy off, so that’s when the chazoras hashatz charades begin. I have to try to take part in the conversation without saying anything. And I have to do so in a way that’s somewhat comprehensible to the other guy. And that, of course, never works.

Far too often, I’ll mouth my answer. Maybe I’ll accompany that with some sort of hand motion, in an effort to make things clearer. To which the guy will say, “what?” So I try to enunciate my motions some more, in the hope that he’ll get what I’m trying to say. And of course the guy still doesn’t get it. So then I go all out in trying to motion what I have to say. At this point, of course, half the shul is staring at me trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing. So I simply give a wave as if to say “later,” and slink away, blushing.

(When I was very young, the chazoras hashatz charades would bring to mind those old Sergio Aragones cartoons in Mad magazine. You know, the ones where the characters never say anything? I always felt like the guys in those comics, struggling to express themselves without saying anything. In his later years, Aragones would sometimes have a character with a “thought bubble” on top. That’s when I knew the guy was losing it.)

Heck, only in Brooklyn do you lose more potential shidduchim by NOT talking during chazoras hashatz than you would by talking.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Thoughts on Kolko

Those of you who have been following UOJ's blog know all about the ongoing allegations against Kolko. And those of you who don't can simply click the link and find out all the gory details.

- Do I think Kolko is guilty? Not yet. I would have to see what comes out from the pending lawsuit. If the victims win, or we see a Michael Jackson-like settlement, then I'll believe the guy is guilty. As of right now, I've gotta go with the old cliche of "innocent until proven guilty."

When the case first came up on UOJ's blog, I thought that Kolko was probably guilty. After all, let's say I had a bad rebbi. Years later, I might badmouth the guy, but would set out to destroy his life and reputation just because he was a jerk? No way. So I figured, if these guys are willing to accuse Kolko, chances are there's something to it.

But recently, I haven't been as sure. After all, many of the victims are finally piping up after decades of silence. Where were they till now?

Besides, according to numerous poskim, one can call the cops on someone who's a child abuser. (In fact, someone once followed this psak in a different situation, which caused a major controversy.) So why didn't any of these kids simply call 911 and put Kolko in an orange jumpsuit?

The answer might be, of course, that they got so freaked out by the threats of Kolko and Margolis that they've kept their mouths shut until now. Which leads me to my next point...

- If Kolko is guilty, then to me the real "rasha" in this case would have to be Margolis. If Kolko is guilty, the guy's a sick man. As much as his actions would anger me, part of me would have sympathy for a guy like him, who must have severe psychological issues to do what he did. But for Margolis to sit tight for 30 years without any effort to rectify the situation would simply be horrible. That would really make my emunas chachamim go down the tubes.

It brings to mind Watergate, where the issue wasn't so much the crimes that were committed, but mostly the cover-up. Same thing here.

- If Kolko's guilty, how much would that change the way things work in the Flatbush community? Not nearly enough, unfortunately. Temimah might have to close down, and I'm sure many yeshivos will do thorough background checking of prospective rabbeim. But otherwise, the system will run as always. The chareidim will still drink their kool-aid. The "frum apathetic" will continue not giving a damn and won't try to revolutionize the system. The UOJ-types are a rarity in Brooklyn. So, most likely the balance of power will still be what it is right now.

Now, what might happen is that the Kolko allegations spur off a domino effect of similar accusations. Or perhaps the blogosphere may be used to expose other latent crimes and illicit acts in the community. If this were to happen, it would be fascinating to see the effects on the Flatbush community. Or scary.

UPDATE: Turns out my good buddy Harry Maryles also discussed the issue. There's also a very disturbing New York magazine article about Kolko. After reading that article, it's harder to say Kolko is innocent. More to come on the whole matter.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Boys Following Sports

Very interesting discussion over on Joseph Schick's blog about the pros and cons of Yeshiva guys following sports. He quotes Rabbi Yosef Bechhofer of Chicago as being anti-sports because of kids idolizing the athletes rather than the gedolim.

I've heard other reasons for being anti-sports. My 8th grade rebbi used to call it "avoda zara." I think it was because of how obsessed some kids got in following sports, watching every game, listening to WFAN all day, memorizing all the stats, etc. His other beef was how silly it was to care so much. Does it really affect my life whether the five guys on the Heat put the ball in the basket more times than the guys on the Nets? Or whether the Yankees or the Red Sox end up in first place? Does it make the world a better place?

I think all of the above points have some validity, but nonetheless I'm very pro-following sports.

The way I see it, some kids will be motivated to learn Torah and enjoy it. Perhaps they'll enjoy it to the point where they'll talk about it outside of class and even be willing to learn about gedolim, collect gedolim pictures, and eventually be like the gedolim.

But most kids, especially the 10-11 year olds, don't have the zitzfleish to sit and learn. Unless they have a dynamic rebbi, chances are that it's not something they'll enjoy and look forward to doing on a daily basis. So like most kids their age, they'll be looking for diversions and distractions outside of class.

And compared to the other distractions out there, sports is the most tame. These days, kids who aren't into sports will gravitate towards TV, movies, and music. And 90% of that stuff is pure filth. Some kids, especially the nerds, might get into books. But even those are often filled with questionable material. And video games are an option, too, but these days, some games have gotten a lot more filthy and violent since the days of Mario and Pac-Man.

So sports is the cleanest option out there. Maybe there's a little pritzus (some NFL games show cheerleaders for about 30 seconds, the occasional racy issue of SI), but it's nothing compared to the average reality show on TV. It's still good, clean, family fun.

And as for kids getting obsessed with sports and idolizing athletes, that's not an argument. If a kid's not into learning, there are plently of other things that he'll get obsessed with. And many of those things are far worse than sports.

For example, while most of my buddies were into sports at ages 6-7, I didn't get into it until I was 9. Was I a future gadol till then, only to be tainted by the lure of the Yankees and Mets? C'mon! Before baseball, I was obsessed with Nintendo. I would play video games every night for hours.

A buddy of mine was a rebbi for a bunch of Persian eighth-graders. Because of their cultural background, they had no interest in sports. Instead they were obsessed with all sorts of female celebrities like Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Hilary Duff, etc. Halevai that those kids would be obsessed with sports!

So basically, if my kid isn't that motivated to learn about gemara and the gedolim, I'd rather have him be obsessed with A-Rod than with Lindsay Lohan.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Higher Standards?

Back when I was in high school, I would go to a newsstand in my neighborhood and pick up a USA Today Baseball Weekly every now and then. This was before I realized that it, like the USA Today, was written on a third-grade reading level. Anyway, one Friday I went there, and the guy behind the counter asked to go to the back of the store and get some kid out of there. Seemed a little strange, but I figured I'd do the guy a favor. I saw a heimishe-looking kid with peyos behind the ears reading a magazine. Suffice it to say, it wasn't quite Mishpacha Magazine.

I was shocked and outraged. How could a yeshivish kid with peyos behind the ears read porn!? What a faker!

A few years later, my Hasidic aunt saw a movie in a theater. And one of my cousins had a similar reaction of outrage. "She's makpid on cholov yisroel, but will go to a theater!?"

But as the years have passed, I've realized that such outrage is silly. 3000 years ago, we all stood by Har Sinai. The modern, the chareidim, the chassidim, the sfardim, etc.. When it comes down to it, we all have the same mitzvos. And a kid in a srugie looking at a porn is just as bad as a yeshivish kid.

After all, it's not like everyone makes a conscious choice, "oh, I'll be a chosid" or "I'll be chareidi. Therefore, I'm accepting a higher standard upon myself." Get real, folks. The chassidim are all born into their system. And many of them have yetzer haros too, as the world found out a month ago. So it's not like someone is subscribing to a higher standard just because they happen to be born to chassidish parents. What do you expect the guy to do? Cut off his peyos and desert hs family and friends, simply because he has a yetzer hora?

To me, the outrage in these situations has to go their leaders and, in general, to the system in question. Like with that incident in BP: the rebbes have to condemn it and do everything in their power to make sure something like that never happens again. And rabbeim in chareidi yeshivos have to deal with the porn issue, rather than sweep it under the rug as if it doesn't exist. The leaders have to do their best to rein in the yetzer horas of their constituents.

Many people in different sects of Judaism have a "holier than thou" attitude, thinking that their brand of Judaism is far superior than others out there. Many chareidim will rip YU and the MOs. But when their kids are looking at porn, I feel like telling them, "clean up the mess in your backyard before ripping everyone else." It reminds me of Lipschitz's piece in Yated about how wearing a black hat is a response to "mi l'Hashem ailai," in the same week that Jack Abramoff was on the cover of every paper in the country with his Borsalino. Get off your high horse, Lipschitz.

So yeah, if the kid in the above incident thinks he's better than me simply because he has hooks behind his ears, he's got something else coming.

There are bad chassidim out there, bad chareidim, and bad MO people. Part of what separates the better groups from the worse, in my opinion, is how they deal with them. But to hold chareidim or chassidim to a higher standard simply because they were born into that system? Gimme a break.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

"Can't Complain"

You know what I can't stand? When you ask someone how they're doing, and they say, "can't complain."

Come on people, everyone can complain. There's always something to vent about. The humid weather, your mother-in-law, the newest chumra of the week, the shleppy baal tefilah. If you choose not to complain, then, as my Dad would say, kol hakavod to you. But don't lie and tell me you can't complain!

But of course, a more accurate answer like "won't complain" would be way too vague. If I ask how you are, I want to hear "good," "bad" or whatever. I have no interest in your choice not to complain. And once you're avoiding the question anyway, why not just say "Baruch Hashem" like many others out there?

I guess everyone is sick of the age-old question "how are you?" and are too busy trying to get clever. But when you see your buddy you haven't spoken to in months, what the heck else are you supposed to start the conversation with? Current events? "What did you think about David Blaine?" And if the guy isn't following, you have to explain the whole thing to him and get a look like you've lost your mind. Talk about the weather? To me, that's just a nice way of saying "I have nothing to say to you."

For better or worse, there's no decent alternative to "how are you?" So just suck it up and answer the question! If I want you to be funny, I'll attempt to start a real conversation with you, thank you very much.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Here in my hometown of Brooklyn, there are shteebles all over the place. If you live anywhere in Midwood or Boro Park, there's gotta be one right around the corner.

But while it's nice to have so many shuls all over the place, I've found the concept of a shteeble to be troubling. We've always been taught that a shul is supposed to be a miniature Bais HaMikdash, a "mikdash me'at." When you go through the parshiyos of Terumah and Vayakhel, the Torah spends considerable length going through the details of the beauty of the mishkon. Even though the main point of avodas Hashem is supposed to come from our inside, from our hearts, yet the Torah clearly recognizes the importance of our physical senses seeing and feeling the physical beauty of the mishkon.

And that's why I find the concept of the shteeble so troubling. The mishkon wasn't just a cramped first floor of someone's house. Aharon HaKohen and his family did not have a house upstairs. I've never done much research on this issue, but I get the feeling that the shteeble is a relatively new idea in Judaism. When you look at many of the historic shuls in this country (next time you're bored as hell, get one of those Oscar Israelowitz books with the pictures), they're all large buildings with sophisticated architecture.

Many people get all upset about the lack of decorum in shuls. And I have a feeling that the shteeble hasn't helped the cause much. When you daven in a claustrophobic environment sitting on top of everyone else, all the while hearing the rebbe's kids horsing around upstairs, it's hard to take davening seriously. Being in a large, airy, beautiful building gives off more of an aura of kedushas bais haknesses.

Now I know some of you might say, there are plenty of people who go to these big, beautiful shuls and talk anyway! But I'm not saying that destroying the shteebles would make everyone quiet. My point is just that they might be a contributing factor.

- An encouraging incident happened in my shul a few years back. One of the "richies" (as my Hasidic cousins would say) wanted to put up a hook in the shul so he could hang his hat in there. The gabbaim said "no way. This is a shul, not a coatroom." The richie got pissed off and left the place. I've gotta give the gabbaim credit for taking the dignity of the shul seriously, especially where a richie was involved.

Monday, May 08, 2006

New Template!

A new beginning calls for a new template. This template is a tribute to some of my favorite Jewish blogs out there, like HaEmtza (or is it Emes VaEmunah?), UOJ, and Semgirl. And please, folks, I was only joking on the last one. I can't afford to lose any credibility yet.

Has The Agudah Jumped the Shark?

For years, I've had mixed emotions about the Agudah. But it always seemed as though their critics were always those on the left. But now, they're getting ripped a new one from the Right. What's going on?

To me, Agudah always represented the charedi baal habatim. They were never too far to the right, and they've always seemed to strike a balance between being chareidi and yet worldly and intellectual. When you go through the Jewish Observer, for example, you get the impression that they're trying to appeal to the intellectual baal habatim out there. They have the cool covers, the Jonathan Rosenblum articles on Israeli politics, a few book "reviews," (I take the CD reviews in Country Yossi more seriously, but anyway), and a poem written by someone with nothing better to do. While I think they fail miserably in trying to be intellectually stimulating, their style is a stark contrast to that of Lipschitz in the Yated, who will just use his editorial page to bash YU. Lipschitz is blunt and direct; he doesn't even attempt to cloud his thoughts with an aura of intellectualism.

And with the article on metzitza, it was more of the same. They tried making it look like a balanced, intelligent discussion ("Public Health and Masores HaAvos"), and that's a big part of why they're getting ripped. Plus, some of the gedolim didn't agree with what Zweibel had to say, so that's also a big part of the issue.

The general public's shift to the right is what will doom Agudah. It is no longer fashionable to be charedi and intellectual. Now, only the former will do. Anything that even has slight implications that would be anti-daas torah is to be vilified. And as it is, there's been a split in daas torah over the past few years between the more "moderate" gedolim and the ones who are more to the "right." And people who are machmir very often have no tolerance for dissenting views. And in light of all the book bans and the general move to the right, the credo of "eilu v'eilu" doesn't quite ring true in many circles. Harry Maryles had a great piece on this idea, which I currently cannot find. But while you're looking for it, read through his archives. Great stuff.

The Agudah has represented the shtark baal habatim, the ones who went to yeshiva and went to college. But these are the last of a dying breed. These days, everyone is either learning for life, off the derech, or "frum apathetic." Very few worldly yeshiva types are being produced. So Agudah's clientelle is dwindling.

You also get the feeling that R' Moshe Sherer ZTL was irreplaceable. Nobody else in the Agudah has been able to fill his shoes. Then again, who knows if R' Sherer even would've been accepted by the chareidim if he were around in 2006?

- My prediction: over the next few years, the Agudah will either shift to the far right (no more JO's about secular studies) or simply cease to exist.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I'm Coming Back

Tell your friends, folks. Tell everyone you know. Announce it loud. And clear.

Face it people. Since Isaac Kaplan left the blogosphere back in August 2004, the Frum blogosphere has jumped the shark and then some. Every Joe Schmo has some blog. You have chareidim posting their kool-aid, atheists spewing their kefirah, and horny frum guys discussing their fantasies, and even posting them, too.

I'm not gonna be modest this time. Yes, I'm out to change the world. I'm out to give my take on what's out there. I'll go back to the usual mix. Judaism, some baseball, some classic rock, and whatever is happening in my life. And all the while, I'll be teaching some of the punks out there how to blog.