Friday, April 09, 2010

Change by any other name...

So it’s interesting, I was looking at the OU’s "Jewish Action" webpage and they’ve got an article by a Rav explaining all about kitniyot… and in the midst of bending over backwards trying to rationalize a totally ridiculous custom he lays out this line:
It is important to realize that the value of a minhag is much deeper than the reason for its original inception. A minhag is our link to Jewish history; it is the way our ancestors observed Judaism for hundreds and even thousands of years. In fact, perhaps there is no greater time to appreciate the value of minhagim than at the Pesach Seder.
All well and good, of course, except that the Orthodox approach is to demand that all Ashkenazim follow this silly minhag whether or not they get anything out of it…
We dare not abandon minhagei Yisrael even when the reasons no longer seem applicable, for a family that abandons its traditions severs its connections to the past.
I love this. The suggestion that all traditions are deserving of equal support and protection is mind-blowing. Isn't this fetishization of the past the stuff that leads to certain Hasidic groups quarreling over who wears the "right" kind of hat? I mean, my ancestors had plenty of ridiculous traditions that quite frankly, I have no interest in perpetuating. Alcohol abuse and domestic violence come to mind. Defrauding the government is another good one.
Next time you avoid eating rice or corn on Pesach (if you are Ashkenazic), remember that by doing so, you are connecting to the magnificent history of the Jewish people.
Got that? So abandoning a minhag is not allowed because it will sever your connection to the past.

But here's the funny thing... in the same issue, you have no fewer than three articles, talking about NEW, yes, new, approaches to Jewish day school/Talmud education curriculum!
Some fifty years ago, following the birth of his first son, Rabbi Yitzchok Shlomo Zilberman undertook the study of the sources concerning the mitzvah of talmud Torah. After consulting with the Torah leaders of his day, and receiving encouragement from the preeminent Torah sage Dayan Yechezkel Abramsky, the well known educator from Jerusalem created the method that bears his name.
Created it, you say? Well, that sure sounds new, doesn't it? But wait, then they'd be no better than the dirty Reformies, right? Oh, the horror.

If that wasn't enough, there's another article by an Orthodox lady talking about how the MO world has gradually done a complete 180 in its position regarding Bat Mitzvahs. Bat Mitzvahs? I didn't even know that Orthos were having them. How nice that they've come around. However, using what limited English language comprehension skills I have at my disposal, I'm still having a problem seeing how this could be seen as anything other than "change."
My attitude toward the Bat Mitzvah celebration was not a mere idiosyncrasy: Rav Moshe had denounced it in a famous responsum written in 1959.

In the era when Rav Moshe penned his responsum, the Bat Mitzvah celebration was linked to the Conservative and Reform movements’ efforts to modernize and Christianize ritual in an attempt to “normalize” Jews in America. Orthodoxy was engaged in a battle for authenticity, fiercely preserving its distinctiveness. The prevailing opinion in frum circles was that it was better to avoid celebrating the Bat Mitzvah altogether. Certainly a pageant with white wedding dresses was far too close to the Catholic confirmation for comfort.

We began thinking about our daughter Bruria’s Bat Mitzvah nearly fifty years after Rav Moshe wrote his responsum. Today, the Jewish world is transformed; Orthodoxy is ascendant.2 It has triumphed in its struggle against the other denominations, and no longer has to judge itself based on the practices of others.

But wait! This can't be "change!" It can't be "new!" No, of course not!

Prominent posekim published response disagreeing with Rav Moshe, sometimes vociferously, permitting and even encouraging the Bat Mitzvah celebration.

In his zeal to stem the post-war flight from Orthodoxy, Rav Moshe apparently believed that the community was best served by doing nothing for girls reaching maturity. By maintaining this position, he discounted the Orthodox tradition of celebrating the Bat Mitzvah that existed in the early part of the twentieth century in Ashkenazic communities in Russia and Lithuania, as well as in Sephardic communities in Egypt.

See, the OU says so. That should be enough, right? Oh, and ditto for the article on the Zilberman method:

Far from being a revolutionary approach, the Zilberman method draws upon traditional teaching methods as outlined by Chazal and championed by the Maharal and Vilna Gaon.

Got that? Would-be Haredi Inquisition? I mean, sure, it works, and, yes, apparently, it's way more effective than the other method, and yes, this guy is getting credit for coming up with it FIFTY YEARS AGO, but no, it's not new. Of course not! On the contrary, it's so “traditional” that no one had heard of it for the last 200 years. Hmm, finding a new approach that makes more sense and then scrounging around for a historical precedent to back it up? Are we sure you guys didn’t go to JTS?

So, yeah. Just to recap: we dare not abandon silly outmoded food prohibitions lest we sever our connections to our past. But reinventing the entire way kids study Talmud or pulling Bat Mitzvahs out of nowhere, that’s cool.

Got it?

I have to say, this reflexive denial that any innovation is actually something new seems to almost verge on the pathological. It certainly takes the Chasam Sofer’s ridiculous mantra to a whole new low.

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