I was sorry to see that Out of Step Jew has decided to call it a day. His posts have been consistently interesting (and provocative). His voice will be missed here on the Israeli side of the MO Blogosphere.
Appropriately, his last post is both very telling and very important. Reacting to a renewed encounter with American Orthodoxy, he writes:
For all its vibrancy (and there is no denying that it is a vibrant community) the one thing that caught my eye more than any other in the three Jewish communities in which I was a guest (two in the NY area, one in the DC area) was the preponderance of Jewish books translated into English. American-Jewry is becoming the first Jewish community in history to learn its Judaism in a language other than Hebrew or Aramaic (few true works of Torah were written in Yiddish). If there are things that are lost in translation – then what will be lost to American Jewry due to its Hebrew illiteracy?
I agree that North American Orthodoxy is vibrant, and fabulously successful materially. (OTOH, OOSJ’s identification of Orthodoxy with the Jewish Community, generally, is highly questionable. Or perhaps it isn’t. At the rate that the rest of American Jewry is committing national suicide, the two may well become co-terminous in my lifetime.) I, too, am deeply distressed at the fundamental Hebrew illiteracy of Diaspora Jews (this includes, tragically, far too many Orthodox rabbis and teachers).
Contrary, however, to OOSJ’s observation, this is not the first time that this has happened. Alexandrian Jewry, in the period of the Second Temple and later, produced a highly sophisticated, culturally rich, religious Jewish community. It, too, was illiterate in Hebrew. Even its proudest son, the philosopher Philo, was unable to read the Torah in the original. (He read it in, Artscroll, er… Greek). There is, however, no question as to the fate of Alexandrian Jewry and its contribution to Torah. It disappeared and it made no contribution to Torah. (Philo’s works were preserved by the Church, but that’s another discussion.)
There is no reason to think that unless American Orthodoxy makes the effort to master לשון קודש, that its fate will be any different.