Thursday, February 25, 2016

Monopoly on "Religious"

It is accepted as a truism within the frum world that only frum Jews are really religious. Those Jews who belong to other (presumed illegitimate) streams of Judaism are, at best, fooling themselves. No one who isn't frum really has a connection to being Jewish. It might be possible to maintain this illusion when most frum people had little contact with non-frum Jews in a Jewish setting. With the internet, that has changed.

I came across this video while browsing through Youtube.

It's called My Mothers Sabbath Candles. It was written by Jack Yellen in 1951 and is sung here by the Barry Sisters, Yiddish theater stars who broke into mainstream recording. Neither Yellen nor the Barry Sisters were what we would now consider frum. Yet my first thought when I listened to it was that it wouldn't be out of place on a CD released by a frum singer today.

I scrolled through the video suggestions Youtube generates on the side of the page, and I found this version, sung by Avraham Freid. Not exactly part of an album, and it's part of a kiruv campaign, but I think it makes the point.

I also came across this, which for some reason I found funny.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Reasonable Doubt

I was curious, so I Googled the book from the ad in the previous post, "Emunah: A Refresher Course." I found a website for the "Ani Maamin Project," which, though not well-developed, led me to a couple of videos on Youtube of shiurim given by the book's author. I think that the author, Rabbi Dovid Sapirman, coincidentally is one of the people I was sent to talk to when I started asking awkward questions in high school.

 I spent a number of afternoons over the course of few months talking with him, and he gave me some of his tapes to listen to. I remember being impressed by some of what he said, like prophecies that had come true and his argument that we see an Oral Torah is necessary, because even the Kaarites, who reject TSBP, had to use TSBP's definition of tefillin because the Torah's description in inadequate.  They just wore their black leather boxes between their eyes, because they interpreted "between your eyes" literally. Ha ha, those silly Kaarites, not realizing how foolish they looked using TSPB's interpretation of what tefillin are, and then wearing them wrong. (It's too bad for his argument that Kaarites don't actually wear teffillin at all.) Other stuff I was less impressed with, like his insistence on an unbroken mesorah despite the incidents in Navi of the Torah being rediscovered, or his failure to address what was then my central question, the circularity of knowing that Hashem was good because the Torah said He was good, and trusting what the Torah said was reliable because it was written by Hashem, Who is good.

I watched a couple of his videos, and the arguments that I was impressed with almost twenty years ago don't hold up.

His shiur was an hour of empty rhetoric, stories to make the audience feel good about themselves, the never addressed assumption that traditional Jewish sources are authoritative, and subtle and not-so-subtle implications that we are right and everyone else is wrong. For instance, he spoke about various trends that were once popular but now (at least according to him) seem silly. He specifically spoke about idolatry (getting the way that the ancients thought of idols completely wrong), and  more or less outright said that the same way we think of idol worship as silly, in the future people will think that accepting what science has to say about evolution and the development of the world is silly. He also told a lovely story about a Charieidi man's encounter with a kibbutznik with long hair who Rabbi Sapirman described as "safik chaya safik beheima, safik ish safik isha."

Despite the painfulness of some parts of the shiur, it was interesting to be transported back into that world and mindset again.

Rabbi Sapirman's video led me to a shiur by someone from Aish on the same subject. His was better, in that he made actual arguments, albeit never explicitly and all in the context of stories about celebrities he'd met. They were all the bad arguments we've all heard before. Pascal's Wager, the Kuzari Argument, equating the claim of millions of people witnessing matan torah (which comes from the Torah, a single source) with the claim of millions of people witnessing WWII (which comes from millions of sources such as letters, diaries, newspaper and newsreel accounts, and official documents), and so on.

This got me thinking. I should write an anti-kiruv book. Not a book against kiruv, but a book that is the opposite of kiruv books (does anyone have a better way to say that than, "anti-kiruv?). A book that works in the opposite direction of most kiruv books, and systematically goes from Orthodox Judaism to Judaism to God/religion in general to pragmatic arguments for being religious, and shows at each level why it is reasonable to be skeptical. The point wouldn't be to convince people to not be frum, but to show people who were skeptical that they're not crazy, that they're  not just evil kofrim controlled by their taivos, and that what they've been thinking is reasonable and defensible.

Then I realized that a book like that could never get published. The potential audience is tiny. And even if it could get published, I'd have to publish under a pseudonym or risk my acceptance in my community. While no one in my community cares what anyone thinks, I suspect that they might object to someone writing a book that attacks their whole belief system. Using a pseudonym means no promoting the book, which again means that it could never get published.

I could do it as a blog, one where I would write the book and post it section by section as I go along. The question there is whether it's worth the effort. Would anyone read it? Maybe if it was publicized on Facebook, but there I run into the anonymity problem again.  


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Frum Newspapers

My parents are visiting for the weekend, and they brought with them some of the frum New York newspapers. I flipped through a few over Shabbos, and a few things jumped out at me. The first was this ad:
Which reminds me of this famous New Yorker cover:

Then there was this:

Notice anything? (Hint: I'd almost expect a mechitza in the third-to-last line.)

There was this ad for a book that's be a must-read if it lives up to it's claims:

It has me debating whether I should spend the twenty dollars to check it out. Can you imagine, incontrovertible evidence for Maamed Har Sinia, and a peek into "evolutionists'" krum thinking!

Lastly, there was a letter-to-the-editor from someone who had recently gotten a subscription thanking the paper for it's good work and saying how woderful it was to have a paper in his home "with the right hashkafa." Perhaps I'm reading too much into this person's wrod choice, but he didn't write, "With my hashkafa," or, "With the Yeshivish hashkafa," he wrote, "The right hashkafa." Implying that all other hashkafaos are the wrong hashkafa.

It's good to have a reminder every now and then of why I moved out of New York.