Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Ten Years Later: The State of American Judaism

I just came across this perceptive comparison of the 1966 and 1996 Commentary Symposia on the State of Jewish Belief. Many people will find the comment banal. I was most taken by the fact that where rabbis predominated in the 1966, in 1996 there were more academics (even among the Orthodox). Is a new leadership model developing?

The Fragmented Faith of American Jews, by Clifford E. Librach, Copyright (c) 1997 First Things 70 (February 1997): 19-21.


Out of Step in Kfar Saba said...

or are American rabbis commenting less on the state of Jewry.
Orthodox because they are withdrawing into their own (YU or other) world.
Conservative because they have lost their self-confidence
Reform, because they are not knowledgeable enough about Judaism as Judaism
The academics are now more knowledgeable and in touch than the rabbis!!
not to insult the academics, but that is a sorry state.

Jeffrey said...

OTOH, I think that the model of the Orthodox academic, the Rabbi Dr. as it were, (of which there are many), is a very important development. Halevai that the average Israeli rav had a portion of the secular education that the most right wing YU musmach possesses.

Anonymous said...

actually, speaking for the american scene, rabbis are largely irrelevant (though, in my experince, which this whole comment is based on, they do havea largely inflated sense of their own importance). often, most of the constituents -- even if we only include males -- see the rabbi only on shabbos.
the rabbi makes a speech shabbos morning which people dissect until the next event comes up, and then go about their business.

as leaders (a word which very often lacks definition), they are often lacking, for a number of reasons, which i will enumerate as i write:
1. their distance from the members of the community. how are they involved in the daily lives of their congregants? do they take an active interest in how their kids are doing in school, their parnassa, etc.?
2. relatedly -- as i expect much of this list to be -- their lifestyle is out of touch with the (male) shul member. in fact, in many ways, it is the opposite. the member will more often than not work in a non-jewish environment with all the nisyonos that entails. the rabbis one real, formal, on-the-line day of work is shabbos. the one day when the poor member gets to relax. oftentimes expenses like tuition, brisim, etc., are marked down significantly for the member and the rabbi gets a deal.
because of things of this nature, it can strike a member as hollow when a rabbi encourages him or her to do more in the way of yiddishkeit.
3. what is the rabbi really offering the constituent? marriage counseling/social work? id rather go to a professional. halakhic guidance? perhaps, if the member does not have a 'rabbi' elsewhere; remember, with communications today [see myobiters cognitive dissonance post] you dont usually *need* a local posek unless its for the really big stuff, in which case you need to go to the big guns in any case.
if s/he bothers asking shailos in the first place, that is.
3. to conduct services? oftentimes there is some old crusty curmudgeon who knows what to do and the paticulars of that shuls minhagim better than the rabbi.
4. lifecycle events such as marriage and the laws pertaining to it? perhaps that. perhaps.
speaking at engagements, like funerals? i guess.
5. teach torah? yeah, i guess. but more often than not a learned member, or a learned someone from the community can and often does do this. for no pay, as it was intended.

a large part of the problem is that the role of the modern pulpit rabbi is undefined.

do you really need to hire a full-time rabbi?

per haym soloveitchik and who knows how many others, there are more learned out there, and more influential out there, than the rabbi. i mean the rosh yeshiva/yeshiva mann.

[at this point, a slight digression: in the rw world there is something more like leadership, because torah and attendant careers are valued and have status.]

perhaps also, there is the sense that where a professor offers her/his point of view, it is backed up with 'real' sources, but a rabbi just sermonizes from a religious perspective.
also, a professor is not in a position to tell you what to do; with a rabbi there is a certain sense of obligation which the american may have a cultural instinct to recoil from.