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July 18, 2008

Have You Been "Aish'd"?

…How did a 15-year-old girl of the 21st century, who gave no thought to slipping tank-top straps, underage clubbing and kissing boys in camp cabins, end up considering covered elbows and knees a necessary virtue?

High school and university campuses have noticed this phenomenon for years: Their friends come back after school breaks from Orthodox outreach programs clutching Artscroll siddurs, imbued with a penchant for Zionism and an aversion to intermarriage.

"They've been Aish'd," is the commonly whispered comment, equivalent to "They've been brainwashed."…
…"They overload you with free stuff, and then you work because you want it. You'll do anything," says Sarah, a participant on two Israel programs and several long-term programs in Canada by Aish Hatorah and NCSY.

IS JUDAISM so compelling, so inherently true, that as soon as youths discover it, they cannot stay away?

In fact, Orthodox Jewish laws are exotic and offer a reverse way for youth to rebel. Drugs, drinking and sex are all passé rebellions by now. But how many young people actually refuse to touch the opposite sex? These organizations are offering an exciting way to be different and get attention.

Still, it's a tiresome lifestyle to maintain - and after the programs end, most participants don't. As valuable as the Orthodox lifestyle may be, the methods used by these organizations are eerily cultish and the results often short-lived.

The organizations present their Judaism as the uniquely accurate one, the Halacha that the non-Orthodox have merely forgotten but that all their ancestors invariably followed. Their assumption that all our great-great-grandparents grew up in an Eastern European shtetl contributes to divisiveness among Jews, for it fails to acknowledge that Halacha has had a variety of interpretations across different times and cultures.

A fellow participant on my trip was ignored by advisers when she remarked that for some Sephardim, the only halachic requirement was to be more modest than one's neighbors, and that the stringent laws that guide current frum fashion (good-bye collarbones, elbows and knees) were unnecessary. Outright dismissal of alternative views may drive sales of skirt manufacturers, but it is not beneficial to learning about the history of Judaism.

SOME PROGRAMS make participants adhere closely to Orthodoxy, and others just introduce them to it. But all are extremely effective at what they do by using rudimentary indoctrination techniques .

They remove participants from their normal environment and place them in a new, vulnerable context. Traveling is a mentally exhausting experience in any case. How much more so that is in Israel, where one suddenly finds oneself part of the majority - an intensely emotional experience that these programs capitalize on. Foreign ideas suddenly seem reasonable: Instead of lecturing someone with mostly secular friends to stop eating pork, it is easier to just stop serving it for a month in a completely Jewish environment.

Within such an environment, participants are made to feel guilty about a lack of observance. The organizations criticize the secular lifestyle as hollow so that young people, always in search of identity, undergo a crisis of confusion about which path to take.

A FALSE dilemma is presented: Be secular and remain in impurity, where life is merely a game played for fun - or move toward a purpose and filled with holiness.

When presented so simply, which road seems more attractive?…

But the teachings are superficial and the Orthodox world they present bears not a trace of dissatisfaction: Never did I ever hear a speaker or trip leader discuss any problems within the Orthodox world. Apparently, as long as they follow proper Halacha, everybody is happy and fulfilled, with neither depression nor repression, money nor domestic problems.…

…PARTICIPATION IN these programs is similar to a summer romance, which is removed from reality through a heady mix of sun and beach. It lacks imposing obligations. Everything moves fast and intensely, yet rarely lasts.…

Read all of Danielle Kubes' piece in the Jerusalem Post.

DK's take.

SJ on Aish propaganda.

Comments

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Let's just say I woke up in time, barely.

There are two ways of reaching a middle position. One is to never explore the exremes, to stay in whatever you might think the middle might be. The other is to study all positions, to take from each what makes sense, to reject what does not make sense, and develop an position that may not please anyone but yourself.
Th the extent that Aias and NCSY expose a teenager to halachic judaism, it is worthwhile, as relatively few teenagers are familiar with halachic judaism and it definitely has positive values that should be absorbed. But by presentin halachic judaism as a take it or leave it position, rather that as a ladder which should be climbed, by being simplistic, rather than acknowledging the complexity of Jewish thought, these approaches fail to attract many long term success stories, although they do attract a few, which they publicise for fundraising purposes.

Here is the crux of the problem, in my opinion:

"As valuable as the Orthodox lifestyle may be, the methods used by these organizations are eerily cultish and the results often short-lived."

People need to make an informed choice; not be emotionally blackmailed. That was my main problem with Lanner-NCSY. (I also didn't like the mistreatment of boys. I only found out about harassment of girls later). I was Orthodox, and in some ways I still am. Many of my friends are, even my shul is. But this "Hare Kosher" stuff is creepy and counterproductive.

Furthermore, it used to be OK if you became Modern Orthodox. A girl could wear pants (a la Rabbi JB Soloveitchik), and a t-shirt (as long as it was not too tight or low cut, and had some sort of sleeve). A boy could wear jeans and a smallish kippa sruga. Now, ultra-Orthodoxy is presented as the ONLY Orthodoxy. That is intellectually dishonest, and makes life harder than it halachically has to be.

Jews today have a spiritual need that is not being met. That's why many turn to Buddhism, Christianity, or authoritarian cults. It is certainly okay to ask the spritual seekers to please consider Orthodox Judaism. Or offer to educate those from other backgrounds who know next to nothing about Orthodoxy about its good points. It is not okay (and ultimately counterproductive) to add the woo-woo mumbo-jumbo stuff.

As for Zionism, kol hakovod. But there are other forms of Zionism than the "Chardal" variety. In an age when many Jews no longer even know of the concept of Jewish peoplehood, let alone identify with it, I am all for Zionist hasbarah. Certainly Israel needs a supportive diaspora and can no longer take it for granted. But again, not in a cultlike atomosphere. And many BT programs are in fact somewhat anti-Zionist, but don't let on that until you're lured in.

Amazing how these bitter failures, formerly products of kiruv, try to project their misery on everyone else.

Every single philosophy, including Democracy & Capitalism, has former adherents - a bunch of losers - who pen all kinds of ridiculous screeds after they became disillusioned and left the fold.

Archie: True as far as it goes, but sometimes dissidents are useful. Look at former Communist Whittaker Chambers.

Rabbi DW, your above statement runs counter to Torah philosophy as outlined by the Rambam & Gra. There is no such thing as always holding a middle ground which is a mistake that some in the modern orthodox crowd believe they can abide by.

The Rambam actually advises going to extremes to come back to a more moderate position.

Yochanan is making a good point because Lanner and his abuses represented anything but Torah true Judaism. It is understandable that people were turned off by Lanner's abuses which is completely independent story from the nonesense that Shmarya is attempting to glorify.

I have no problem with Aish, I think they do a good job. In order to bring people closer to Judaism, you need to teach halacha straight up without dilution. At the same time, you need to show patience, tolerance and compassion and not make the person feel inferior if he/she does not become observant immediately. I agree with rabbidw that spiritual growth is a ladder process. However, the education process must be to the point without any equivocations. When you teach Judaism as some wishy-washy religion where "some do that-but you don't really have to" or "this is not for you, only for the 'ultra-ultra'", then you are doomed to failure.

A number of points. First of all, in NO WAY am I a BT. I was raised as a modern orthodox jew. My father would come running home on Friday afternoon, just in time to drop off his wallet and run to shul. He was an active member of our community, a YU alumnnus.
Second, the rambam has one approach to Judaism. The Rambam'a philosophy owes much, for better or worse, to Aristotle. There are those who disagree with his philosophy. The Kuzari, and others, have developed alternative approaches to Judaism. What I am saying is that there are quite a number of approaches one can take, some simple, some complex. IMHO everyone is free to develop his own approach, perhaps, borrowing some ideas from Yeshayahu Leibowitz, perhaps some from the Rashdal, perhaps some from Meir Kahane, and some from Shlomo Carlebach, and develop an individual approach, rather than follow any one in particular. This is fine as long as one keeps the halacha.
But what is the halacha? Even the Mishne Brura, who says that one should wear a hat when dacening, does not say it must be black and does not say that you must wear it in the street and does not say it must be a Borsalino.
What he does say is that one should approach God in prayer with the same respect that you would show an earthly king. No one wears a hat to see the king or the President any more so what does the halacha require.
Does the halacha require a convert to commit to send his children to Yeshiva for 12 years? Where is that found in the Shulchan Aruch? Does the halache require a community to support able bodied married men who claim to learn? Or even if they do learn? The Rambam was furious at that idea, citing all the Tanaim and amoraim that had jobs. The rambam himself supported himself as a physician.
Who says that pants are not fitting for women? Three-four hundred years ago men wore shorts, or skirts (the scots still wear kilts) There are pant suits made for women that no man could fit into.
So while halacha must reign supreme, and recognizing that a summer course does not allow for full exploration of every issue, the oversimplification of Judaism is dishonest and I think, counterproductive.

First of all, I should say there's nothing wrong with Israel tours that teach Judaism. Young Israel did it for years, NCSY does it (I admit, I led one for them many years ago), there's Birthright, etc., and its not just the Orthos that have these trips. Torah should be taught, Israel should be experienced, nothing wrong with that. Not every Jewish function is either brainwashing or Lanner.
Secondly, college is a time for all sorts of experimentation, spiritual, social, and sexual (ever hear that phrase, LUG? Might want to ask your daughters...). It would be nice if experimenting with Judaism was as acceptable as hanging out at an ashram in India.
However, that being said, Aish is a funny Judaism. Its a strange combo of Litvak dress and a bizarre ideology relating to Torah codes and such things (Mr Bunker here seems to be a Litvak apologist, which is fine, but I wonder if he's actually read the Aish program). So I'm not sure if the way this discussion turned is relevant, since I'm not sure what Aish sells is what everyone would be comfortable with as "orthodox judaism". Of course, that whole concept may no longer apply with the current "orthodoxy" being built around English translations through artscroll, so perhaps we have a form of Anglican neo-Orthodoxy (english books with yeshivish black hats).

Although I respect Archie, I tend to agree with RDW and Maven. As a former BT I have come to learn that there are many hashkafot that are consistent with halacha (which itself is open at times to interpretation). The problem with BT mills that they give you one approach (usually ultra-Orthodox), sugarcoat it with mystical mumbo jumbo, add psychological manipulation and stir. Sure, you can ask any question you want, as long as you accept their pat answers. This is not the way to go; it will lead to either thoughtless zombies or disillusioned dropouts. I have seen plenty of both.

BS"D

In some ways this sounds remarkably similar to the criticism Jews for Judaism and other Jewish countermissionary organizations, largely staffed by Orthodox Jews, give of "messianic synagogues"; the main difference being that charedism requires a lot more conformity in terms of ritual behavior and not just a suspension in critical thinking as fundamentalist Christianity does.

B"H

Most of us haven't been "Aish'd," we've been "Chabaded." Then we saw what else they were selling besides Jewishness (A Messiah? Really? . . .uh . . . are you sure about that?) and we moved on to some form of Jewish identity that didn't include praying to an empty chair.

I read the original Aish program on codes while it was a draft. At least at that point there was nothing wrong with it.

There are some legitimate problems with Aish such as their association with Matis Weinberg. Shmarya is pretending to be concerned with where they are acting inappropriately instead of admitting that he is trying to defeat any good they do as well.

Maven is on to something with Artscroll. It is a corrupt institution which should be dismantled or revamped ans several of their books should be recalled.

Yochanan refers to some kiruv marketing tactics. While some organizations may not be perfect I think it's better to attract lost souls with hype & mysticism than have them dabbling in Eastern religions, drugs or other contemporary forms of "idolatry".

The Rambam was furious at that idea, citing all the Tanaim and amoraim that had jobs.

I'm reminded of the Tomer Devorah's take men learning instead of working. Men would learn during the week and stay in the Beis Medrash away from their families all week. They would only go home for Shabbos.

Now, that's real sacrifice, IMHO.

That's a great gig. Where do I go to sign up?

Archie,

I disagree with you on Artscroll. Although they should recall the works of Leib Pinter and Moshe Eisemann, I don't think they should be dismantled. They have done tremendous work in making learning Torah accessible to the average Jew, who otherwise would not be learning because he doesn't understand hebrew or aramaic. Their zechus of spreading Torah to all of klal yisroel far outweighs their lack of discretion in publishing the works of these two criminals.

Archie: Yes, it's the marketing tactics, but also the preaching, IMO. Torah codes, although fascinating, are highly controversial. I heard that "messianic" (Hebrew-Christian) Jews use them to "prove" Jesus is all over the torah.

Also, at least in Lannerian NCSY, we were encouraged to ask questions only if we meekly accepted scripted answers. Real critical thinking was surpressed. Mysticism often (but not always, in fairness) is used to obfuscate and deflect critical thinking.

But I concede, Archie, that different approaches work for different people. And different organizations can cater to different populations. Aish is obviously not my cup of tea.

As for Arthur Scroll, I like his siddurim/machzorim and his mishna and gemara series. Those are things he does very well. But Rabbi Scroll's other output is as bad as Archie says it is, in my opinion.

Regarding Artscroll ...

There are other improper authors and editors.

They have improper arrangements of paying salaries to relatives of criminals who "donate" large sums of money to their foundation.

The finances of both Artscroll and the foundation should be investigated.

I have heard that several gedolim have a problem with the Artscroll Shas and some other works. There is violation of "maggid devarav leYaakov" as well as precluding iyun / horvanyeh. Some rabbonim asked to retract their signatures of recommendation but Artscroll ignored them.

There is nothing wrong with codes per se and some earlier works deal with them exclusively. It is always a problem when anything is sensationalized as an all-encompassing substitute for Judaism. I don't know that Aish is doing that with codes as Berg has done with Kabbalah.

Lannerian NCSY employed many abuses beyond the physical, the learning methods described included. I have seen other kiruv orgs in action that tolerate or even encourage all kinds of questioning as long as it is sincere.

Give credit where credit is due. The Artscroll Shas has brought Torah learning to Jews that never opened a sefer before. It is also an invaluable reference tool for advanced learners and even rabbonim. Rabbi Svei did have a problem with it when it first came out, but he later gave his blessing.

From the information I had, Rav Schach, Rav S. Berenbaum & others were against the Artscroll Shas since it's inception and never backed down. Rav Gifter was among those requesting that his signature be removed.

I certainly trust their opinion more than the Mickey Mouse lineup from the Agudah who signed on with Scherman & Zlotowitz. Scherman by the way was at the center of the Kolko scandal.

I have seen other kiruv orgs in action that tolerate or even encourage all kinds of questioning as long as it is sincere.

I have no problem at all with that. That's as it should be. So I think we agree more than we disagree.

Scherman was at the center of the Kolko scandal? Where, what, when and how?

Those rabbis that were against the Artscroll Shas did not realize at the time its long term benefits and they underestimated how many Jews would be using it. My rabbi who knows shas inside and out admits to using the hebrew Artscroll on occasion for reference. Maybe you, Archie, are so well-versed that you never need any help in understanding pshat in the gemora, or you know all the various mefarshim by heart throughout shas that you don't need it. However, thousands upon thousands of Jews find it invaluable and they have become better learners because of it.

Miriam Shaviv has a slightly-confusing piece about Aish outreach at a Modern Orthodox school in England. Other than interviewed persons, it's hard to differenciate between Masorti/non-Masorti parents & students over who's complaining and why;

http://www.miriamshaviv.com/jfs.php

Might explain why Eyaht is something like 85% British. I would be more impressed if the Masorti SpecOps response unit was Mayim HATORAH...the issue for them seems more about some 'Masorti' identity than Torah-from-Masorti-perspective identity. they're also mentioned here;

http://www.e-sams.org/pdf%20files/Microsoft%20Word%20-%20AMS%20Newsletter%2023rd%20Feb%202007.pdf

Steve-

Never in Jewish History were translations this widespread and central. If you use a regular Shas or a Kol Yakov siddur you are an apikorus. Never in Jewish history was there a centralized "imprimatur" as in Catholic history until now here with artscroll. If you want to be taken for a frumme yid today you need to walk around with an artscroll.
Archie: you seem to be a learned person. Show me any mar'eh mekomos utilizing anything remotely like Bible codes (I davka use the greek term). Everything that has now become normative frumkeit is explained away, like steve's comment, as good for kiruv, etc, etc. Like he pointed out, in the yeshiva world in which I grew up, english translations were at best a "crutch" and usually felt to be posul to bring into the yeshiva, because they recognized correctly that the English Judaism would replace Torah yiddishkeit, with all the changes that implies. So it has transpired. Aish would have seemed just like Berg in the 70s and 80s or before, with these non-traditional arguments and the glossy productions.Anyone who thinks that the Torah world post ArtScroll (or Arthur Scroll, as per Yochanan) in some way will resemble that pre-art scroll probably doesn't own a shita mikubetzes...

The late Prof. Rudoff, a"h, wrote that English has become more central to Torah Judaism than Hebrew or Yiddish, and the impact that has is not negligible.

And that summarizes my Aish and Art Scroll complaints :)

The question is whether Art Scroll encourages LERNIN, or davening up a Gemara. I think the latter. There is nothing that requires someone who cannot understan Aramaic to go to a daf yomi shiur. Let him spend the time gaining basic skills so he can eventually learn a gemara, rashi and Tosfos. If he is going to continue to daven the gemara, all he will accomplish is get experience in reading the English. He will continue to eat baby food and never graduate to the adult table.

"the Halacha that the non-Orthodox have merely forgotten "

Uh, no they don't. They say it honestly: That the non-Orthodox merely "don't keep" or choose not to keep. I've never heard anyone, anywhere in the world, make the claim that non-orthodox Jews somehow "forgot" halacha along the way and that's why they don't keep Jewish law.

The good outweighs the bad by far with the Artscroll Shas. And yes, rabbidw, it does encourage learning. The "purists" among us need to look at the whole picture before passing judgment. I've seen it firsthand with several members of my congregation. Men that used to read newspapers on their way to work are now studying gemara and attending shiurim instead of staying at home and watching television. If they succeeded in bringing one Jew closer to Torah and helped him advance in his learning, then all the negativity is worth it.

Remember that this daf yomi business as a mark of frumkeit is also a very recent innovation from the 1920s.

I mean I haven't been to aish, but it doesn't take a genius to figure that one out....

Never in Jewish History were translations this widespread and central.

That could be the result of one of two things, or both: a)the level of Torah education is at an all-time low, or b)the demand for Torah learning by the uneducated masses is at an all-time high.

Remember that this daf yomi business as a mark of frumkeit is also a very recent innovation from the 1920s.

I am not a daf yomi fan at all. I believe in learning b'iyun and fully understanding a gemara before claiming to "finish" shas. Quality is more important than quantity. Nevertheless, if it gives some people an incentive to learn by providing a specific goal to reach, then good luck to them.

Never in Jewish History were translations this widespread and central.

Actually, in the Greek speaking city of Alexandria, Egypt (and even in some towns of Israel) there were Jews who relied solely upon the Septuigint. And there was an extensive Greco-Jewish literature, the most famous author of which was Philo.

Eventually, the grecophone Jews either merged with liturgically Hebrew Jews after the Churban when the exiles took over diaspora communities, or converted on to Christianity (and later Islam). Their rich literature has only recently been rediscovered.

Scherman was both a rebbe in Torah Temimah and the menahel of Stolin. (Stolin terminated Kolko long before Scherman arrived from YTT.) He has been trumpeting around that he put up a "big fight" to stop Kolko which is questionable. UOJ believes he is a fraud in this respect. Attorney Jeff Herman who has interviewed Scherman won't comment on his findings. Zev Brenner (who was in Scherman's class in Torah Vodaath) tried to corner Herman on this but he dodged the question.

I will comment more on the codes and Artscroll when I have time.

If he happened to be a rebbe at Torah Temimah, that puts him at the center of the scandal? Kolko was there for some 35 years. In that period, there were hundreds of other rebbes. Margulies is at the center of that scandal and was the one responsible for the coverup. Get your facts straight. Maybe Scherman did not put up a fight against Kolko/Margulies, but neither did most other rabbis. That is far from being at the "center of the scandal".

Before they were reading the newaspaper, now they are reading Art Scroll. They are not LEARNING, because Art Scroll does not teach them to LEARN, it allows them to read. Yes, it can be a tool, like the Jastrow dictionary (does anyone remember that) but the object is to learn enough that you can keep the useage of the Jastrow to a minimum.
The best analogy I can think of is an opera singer who learns to sing a role in Russian. She might learn to sing her part but that does not mean she is learning Russian. Learning means working through the material, seeing the way the text develops, seein the questions, struggling through the answers, not reading theough the cliff notes.

It does teach them how to learn. I have seen many people that started out with the Artscroll that can now learn and even teach a sugya of gemara on their own, without having to depend on it. Simple phrases like "In Hachi Namei" or "Ka Salka Daatin" which were once foreign to them, they now can understand and apply them properly in their learning. Again, with all the negativity, the good surely outweighs it.

"A fellow participant on my trip was ignored by advisers when she remarked that for some Sephardim, the only halachic requirement was to be more modest than one's neighbors, and that the stringent laws that guide current frum fashion (good-bye collarbones, elbows and knees) were unnecessary."

Does anyone know about this?

Anonymous 2:43- not only is that a Sephardic norm, but it was the rule for Modern Orthodoxy that I remember. Of course, now people are saying "twas ever thus," as history is rewritten. BTW: Artie Scroll is very good at rewriting history. Maybe they'll come out with a new edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia.

What if your neighbors cover their elbows and have skirts down to ankles? How can one be "more modest" than that?

Reader: Remember the burqa rebbetzin?

Steve, make no mistake about Nosson Scherman. There were several staff meetings over the years where maybe one or two rebbeim at most made vociferous demands that Margulies get rid of Kolko. Scherman claims to be one of the dissident voices, which is disputed.

Anyhow, as Rabbi Blau has rightly pointed out, any Rabbi or parent who remained associated with YTT is an enabler of the crimes of Margulies & Kolko.

I don't see how the YTT staff who remained silent at meetings dealing with Kolko are any different than the enablers at Agudath Israel who covered up the same crimes in secret meetings of their own.

Shmarya, You are barking the wrong tree , Eish and ohr graduate are normal when you compare them to other local outfits like Leib Tropper and Leor energy’s Kol Eisav yeshiva.

Talmidim of Trooper and Tom Kaplan are walking all over Monsey spouting hate toward Modern Orthodox of whom they they call shkatzim, they call Jews who support the state of Israel Idolatry worshippers and people who hold by OU hasgacha nevelos eaters. noach weinberg whom they call imposter. Shlomo Carlebach the cousin of Leib Tropper whom they call a tzadik

http://theawarenesscenter.org/carlebach_shlomo.html

Rumor has it that one of Kol Yaakov Torah Center (horizons.edu) Talmidim raped a 15 years old girl and Leib Tropper prevented the family from pressing charges.


Every single philosophy, including Democracy & Capitalism, has former adherents - a bunch of losers - who pen all kinds of ridiculous screeds after they became disillusioned and left the fold.
--------------\
Like Scott.

"Reader: Remember the burqa rebbetzin? "

LOL... oy....

....admits to using the hebrew Artscroll on occasion for reference.

I like using the Hebrew version because I find the English translation to be too unwieldy for my tastes. Since the Hebrew language has a greater economy of expression than English, I have an easier time getter the meaning of the harder passages.

What are peoples' take on the Steinsaltz Talmud?

Once again I'm a non-conformist as I use the Hebrew Steinsaltz. Frankly I find the English Artscroll to be almost as hard to follow as the English Soncino.

Yochanan, for the most part R' Steinsaltz' perush follows Rashi. I find the material in the margins (drawings of flora, fauna and physical items mentioned, etymologies, etc.) to bring the subjects alive. A drawing of a divan illustrated beautifully why we lean to the left at the seder and the origins of the k'arah.

R' Yitzchak Feigenbaum's Understanding The Talmud is a nice introduction to the logical structure of the Talmud and to technical terms and questions.

What I like about Steinsaltz is that he goes into the Greek, Latin, and Persian etymologies of the words. He doesn't pretend everything is really Hebrew/Aramaic. That, plus the fact that many sages have Greek names shows me that yesterday's sages were far less isolated than today's k'tanim. And yes, the pictures and marginalia do bring the talmud to life.

Yochanan,
Do you honestly believe that wearing big yarmulkes and proper jewish attire to be "imposibly hard"?
Time and again it has been proven that only those who adhere to strict judaism remain "jewish" all others intermarried etc.
I know you will disagree.
Good for you.
But please live and let live.

Nachman: What does that have to do with the Steinsaltz Talmud, or the price of tea in China for that matter? If you want to wear a big yarmulke and be machmer, gei gezunte heit. It's when chareidim wield political power to the detrement of non-Chareidim, including other Orthodox, that I get riled up. Glatt kosher shouldn't be the only kosher; chareidi conversions shouldn't be the only conversions recognized in Israel.

rabbidw-
I'm with you on the artscroll issue.
Chazak V'ematz!

maven: Never in Jewish History were translations this widespread and central.

Oh, really? Ever hear of Targum Onkelos, Targum Yerushalmi, Targum Yonatan, and all the various and sundry other Aramaic translations of the Torah and Nakh? What do you think they were for, huh? They were for the benefit of the masses of Jews, who understood Aramaic -- which was their vernacular -- but not Hebrew. This was the reason why the rabbis went so far as to institute the verse-by-verse translation of the Torah into Aramaic during kriyat haTorah in shul. This used to be the norm (the Shulhan Arukh has an entire chapter on hilkhot meturgaman), but has been abandoned by nearly all communties other than the Yemenites.

Lurker:

I stand by my comment. First of all, only Onkelos had that status, the other targumim were considered in the realm of midrash, as were, the midrashim themselves, of course. In part, Onkelos stands as the anti-targum, it is the most literal, least midrashic of the targumim, even "translating away" anthropomorphisms. Why stop there? After all, the Bavli is also in Aramaic, which was the semi-Hebrew spoken language of the time. But that was at the formative time of what we now call Judaism (and there are texts that proclaim the Yerushalmi holier because it in fact is in Hebrew vs Aramaic). But obviously what I mean is that since that time, since the eighth century (so of course Yochanan's reference to Philo is included here, since his work was entirely neglected by what becomes Judaism), since the redaction of the Talmud, knowledge of the actual texts was critical, and not read in "translation". This is the beauty of our tradition, continued attempts of textual readings built one upon the other, midrash leads to Rashi, the Rishonim, the systematizers such as Rambam, Tur, Shulchan Aruch, the birth of pilpul, its transformation by R. Haim, the birth of the yeshiva world, on and on all based on readings, rereadings, different opinions, a beautiful "labyrinth" of textual analysis.
What is new about our contemporary Judaism, going back to the original thread, is that now all commentary is centralized, the Artscroll bears the imprimatur, it is "more religious" to simply read and agree with artscroll (which frequently states that the subject is too difficult for you the reader and you should defer to "the accepted Rabbis". So if you carry an actual sefer, you are suspect of being an apikoris, but if you have the artscroll translation or their various english hagiographies, stories of Gedolim (show me an antecedent for this type of literature in Jewish history) then it means you are politically within the "accepted" world of "daas Torah" and you are "ok".
This never was the case in Jewish life, ever. Once, we were leading thinkers because of universal literacy and textual skills, now, we are retreating into a medieval imprimatur concept where reading and knowledge is suspicious.
We have indeed become true Americans in this regard, learning well from our neighbours. Interestingly, this phenomenon does not exist with regards to text in Isreal (where they have their own mishegas, but at least they can read).

Onkelos is really my Uncle Lewis.

I'm impressed by the number of Talmudic scholars that post on this blog. They are so well versed that they never have to refer to an English translation Shas. Halevai that all Jews were as learned as all of you here, including rabbidw and nachman. Unfortunately, many are not and they need help in understanding pshat. Without Artscroll, Soncino, or any other English translation, they will be lost. They will open the gemara, get stuck on one word in the first sentence, and frustratedly close the sefer.

Steve: Sometimes I find FFB's to be elitists. (Not all of them, of course). It's very offputting. People should gain linguistic skills, but not everyone has the time and inclination to become a scholar. Decent linguistic skills, with occasionally glancing at the translation is better than not learning at all. A few months ago someone said I have no right to opine on this blog because I asked about mussar seferim in English (or better yet, bilingual) the implication being that only learned males over 40 (2 out of 3 ain't bad, for me) should participate in the Jewish conversion in which we are all stakeholders. If the sages came back today, they would be disdained because most of them actually worked for a living.

YL,

It's the old "all or nothing" approach that these "purists" subscribe to. Better not learn at all, and be a total ignoramus, than learn with Artscroll.

Steve:
That's not the problem. Translations can be very helpful. The issue with artscroll is that suddenly the translations are holier and frummer than the actual texts, so that if you carry an artscroll text, its frequently more a political statement than an educational aid. And the artscrolls were like that from the beginning, hence the attacks on Steinsaltz' acceptability just prior to their appearance.

Yochanan:

Regarding your Uncle Lewis: That is the oldest (and worst joke) in all of Jewish history :)

Oh, wait, this one's worse:

Q:Who are the three cowboys in Adon Olam?
A: Billy Reishit, Billy Tachlit, and... wait for it... Kid Ruchi

or for you academic types: What did the medieval church use for toothpaste? Vulgate!

Thank you, thank you, you've been a great audience.

Maven: I never heard that one. It's hysterical! (See my John Wesley Harding post if you like Westerns).

Steve: Orthodox Judaism has been replaced by a new religion called All-or-nothingism. No wonder many Jews choose nothing.

YL:

Those jokes are what I have to show for all those years of yeshiva, graduate work, etc. I figure after 64 postings we have this space for ourselves :)

There is also an extreme in secular culture which many critics don't address. In order to combat that extreme, sometimes you need the other extreme and then they find the middle ground! Even if Aish does employ "tactics", much of the philosophy and values they present are good values such as: honor your father and mother, respect your neighbors, etc. We're very brainwashed by secular culture so many people need that! Some people don't need that and grow resentful. Not everything is right for everyone!

And the "tactics" that Aish might employ to get people to want to be observant are not cult tactics. They use Dale Carnegie, just like people out there in the business world or in any school system use to try to get people to see our point of view. And why shouldn't we want people to see our point of view? Most people want that. It doesn't make that bad or cultish. I've read the Aish kiruv handbook and it's not cult-like! If anything, it's more Dale Carnegie. I've also attended Aish in Israel and really enjoyed it! I'm observant but many orthodox wouldn't consider me by looking at me, orthodox as I wear pants and my skirts aren't down to my ankles! I know a lot of people like that who went to aish. Sometimes you get Obsessive compulsive's who adopt everything in the time span of a man or just people who do that because they want to try it and trust their teachers fully, but many people aren't that. You can attend Aish without becoming 100% like them, even 5% like them. You can be yourself and not be kicked out providing you are respectful, which proves that it is not a cult!

Thanks Miriam for your insightful thoughts. I agree that they do some good work at Aish and that they are not cultish.

visit a great site www.torahmyth.com

1) How the times of Philo can be considered the formative period of Judaism is beyond me. 2) I am surprised that no one mentioned the yiddish-teich, tze'enah ur'enah or me'am loez. 3) Those who are complaining here about holding an Artscroll gemara to appear more frum seem to be describing difficult experiences that they or their friends have had; this can hardly be considered a universal problem with an entire company printing millions of books of Jewish literature.
Maven wrote "Once, we were leading thinkers because of universal literacy and textual skills." Textual skills? The majority of cheder boys in the Old World could be considered to have textual skills?? Additionally, translations are so prevalent today because today we have the time and means to do them, and there are enough resources and consumers to support them. The profusion of books today in our literature is a blessing, for Heaven's sake. Who is an apikorus for davening with a none-translated siddur? How about no siddur at all? By the way, picking up any book is a process of learning. Furthermore, as the Rambam says in his Hakdamah l'Mishneh Torah, the method of the gemarah is extremely difficult. And only a kvetcher would say that Artscroll is no better than Soncino. In my shul, we used to have Vilna Shas printed 1880/1890 and Soncino. Now we have the Artscrolls, and so the ba'alei ba'atim have a chance to understand the rav. My father is quite an academic. He is presently learning through the A. mishnayot, and thinks they are excellent. Perhaps many of the contributors here had a modern orthodox (by the way, the term reminds me of the "Religion Allied with Progress" that Rabbi Hirsch had to deal with) background and therefore feel inferior, but my father was raised Reform/Labor Zionist where he learned nothing; he and those of his background are the ones who can give an objective critique of the Artscroll series.
As to stories about gedolim: Does not the gemara emphasis shimush talmidei chachamim? Today, these books help fill this need which is quite difficult to accomplish in the dispersed modern world. Anyone can admit that a ma'aseh can illustrate a point more memorably and vividly than a formal code of law.
As to wearing a hat: A hat and suit coat were considered respectable dress back in the 50's. People don't wear respectable clothing today because of 60's+ philosophy, not because of a natural development of dress. And even if it weren't coat and hat, how can it be that Jews would advocate prayer without donning a special garment of some sort? No wonder prayer in more weakened circles of Real Judaism is so shvach. Also, there is a distinction here between talmidei chachamim and those who are not, as the Rambam writes, "It is a great disgrace for Torah students to daven when they are not atuphim (wrapped in an outer garment)."
As we all know, women were all completely covered in the times of Chazal. Yehudah could not recognize Tamar because she always covered her face when she was in his household. One of the women of the gemara (perhaps it was Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi's wife) would never let her hair be uncovered; even when bathing, she would have her maidservants cover her hair. That was back when men and women thought more about tzeniut (Divine parallel: the modesty of the Shchinah itself) and holy Jewish children than what is comfortable, what is debatably permissible, and "meaningful relationships." And the difference can be seen in the progeny of today.
Just like Steve, my rav has incredible knowledge and occasionally requests an Artscroll brought out to translate a phrase or give an explanation. He was born in Europe, went to Nvordak, spent the war in Siberia,... and yet he would not be bothered by this controversy in the slightest. He reads stories of g'dolim in Hebrew seforim and gets a lot out of them. I read the gemara in Chagigah (14?) about acher (when he saw Matatron; this story is not commonly known, it is how he finally went away; it also tells the source of the name acher; take a look). Without the notes in the Artscroll gathered from diverse seforim, some of which I had never heard of, I could not understand it.
The fact that certain things were done at the times of Rav Soloveitchik does not mean they are optimal, that he thought them so. He was a pioneer in developing Judaism in the "treife medinah", but if Judaism is today what it always was for him as a youth, we are to complain? A rebbe of mine was a talmid of his, and as I recall he said he would only have his daughter wear pants in the privacy of the home. The Rav started Maimonides co-ed but that isn't optimum, of course; my school, Rambam (Baltimore), started co-ed, but always with the plan it would split, which it has. and so on.
As to the Rambam's position in Avot perek 4 concerning work: I used to be a big believer in it until, a) I learned that the Ramban argues down every one of his sources. b) I started to really study gemara and realized how incredibly difficult it is. c) The Rambam was originally supported by his brother, R' David, until the latter drowned in the Indian Ocean and he was forced to rely on the pitiable sums he received from his poverty-stricken patients (the sultan gave him nothing because it was such a great honor to spend half the day servicing him and his harem in far-off Cairo) d) Considering how difficult it is to breath today as a Jew, between assimilation, secularity, "modernity," chilonim, "reform", "conservative," "modern" orthodoxy...if not for as many adults studying the Torah as possible for as long as possible, we couldn't survive. The gemara in Kiddushin third perek tells how King Yannai went kofer. When a Sadducee told him to persecute the Rabbanan, he asked, what will become of the Torah? The response, it's in the keren zavit / the corner of the public domain - whoever wants can come and take it. The gemara says that he should have said that suffices for the Written, but what of the Oral? Nowadays, kvetchers about the kollelim etc. (by the way, Chazal say that no one hates a talmid chacham more than an am haaretz) say the same thing: the whole torah, even the oral, is all recorded; whoever wants to learn can enter the shul and pick up one of those books in the library! Or ask his question of the all-knowledgeable shul rav, who suffices for serious torah-study. And as if learning isn't work!! By the way, the mishnah in Avot perek 5 about the ages of man (5 for mikra, 10 for mishnah, 13 for mitzvot,...) has gemara at fifteen and parnassa only later (Rav Yitzchak Sheilat of Birkat Moshe Ma'aleh Adumim, one of the b'ki'im in Rambam today, notes that seemingly the Rambam did not have this mishnah before him). I still don't understand this approach though, due to what a rav I know mentioned - how can a husband write his kallah a k'tubah wherein he says that he will support her, and then have her do it?
I am also a big believer in Shteinsaltz and its factual tidbits. Sorry for the length, but these are issues I have agonized over for years and I've never discussed them in full.

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