Thursday, October 18, 2007

Our Noah Feldman

It's now official. The Religious-Zionist community in Israel has its own Noah Feldman. His name is Hanoch Daum, one of the more gifted young journalists. (As he lives in nearby Alon Shvut, he's also something of a neighbor.) He recently published a gut-wrenching, personal expose ('אלקים לא מרשה' or 'God Does Not Allow') in which he laid bare the dirty laundry of the world in which he was raised, and the process that led to to living as a 'reverse Marrano;' i.e. Religious on the Outside, secular in private.

As opposed to Feldman, Daum's excruciatingly frank apologia pro vita sua is not an arrogant, self-serving manifesto, though he does present the reader with a demand for validation, on his terms. As one reviewer summed it up:

What Daum seeks is to observe religious commandments out of love, not fear. He wants to put on tefillin when he feels like it, to have Shabbat dinner but sit down at the computer afterward. Many secular readers may not understand what the fuss is about. All this pathos for a swig of Coke on Yom Kippur? Many of them would prefer a clear-cut message at the end of the book. They would like to see the author tossing away his skullcap and leaving Gush Etzion. But Daum wants to have his cake and eat it, too. He has learned to write trendy Hebrew with no trace of a "religious accent." His imagery stems from secular culture. "I am a loaded gun of doubt and longing," he writes on two different occasions.

Like Feldman, Daum does present his community with some serious questions. In Feldman's case, he forced the Modern Orthodox Community to question its priorities, especially regarding the relationship between Torah and General Culture and Society.

Daum, on the other hand, highlights the unbending and absolute identification of Judaism with 'the question of Eretz Yisrael' (עניין ארץ ישראל). He points out the unforgivingly high standards of religiousity that are set by the religious leadership of the Religious Zionist Community, and its educational institutions. His own experience, as one afflicted by OCD, sheds light upon the obtuseness of religious educators to the personal needs of their students.

As he himself writes:

"Maybe everything is fine in our sector. The social and political Jewish and religious codes - all perfect. But we will never know for sure unless we start out from the very opposite assumption: that we are settlers by inertia, religious by inertia, and above all, suffer from a huge, almost existential, superiority complex. We live with a sense of self-righteousness, harboring the insufferable belief that we know something others don't, and should the day ever come when everyone will think the way we do, we will all be better off. We think that everyone should keep the laws we keep, observe the commandments we observe, and have a political agenda with the same priorities we have."

Obviously, while I am truly sorry to see Daum's pain, I do not accept his solutions. However, I sincerely hope that the members of the 'sector' (as it styles itself) will not dismiss his story, and undertake the appropriate חשבון הנפש.


Anonymous said...

good to see you up and blogging again.

i dont think daum comes even close to feldman for intelligence, accomplishment, influence, or arrogance.
daums writing comes from the heart [where feldmans comes from his bile], and should be respected as such.

in any case, what would you have had him do?

Ben Bayit said...

Daum spent years "cultivating" himself amongst the branja. Remaining in Alon Shvut is just part of his "gig" for them.
I read the review in Makor Rishon that said we should look past the specifics of his personality and understand the critique. I say have someone else write the book - someone who is intellectually honest and hasn't spent the last decade putting on a performance for Maariv stepping on our backs.

That being said, dorming in Yeshiva HS is disasterous and should be abolished as much as possible. I can be grateful to my parents for it is for resisting my 9th grade entreaties to join my friends in their new yeshiva dorm school

Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg said...

Methinks we have another Avrum Burg in the making.... It's actually getting quite fashionable to bite the hand that has fed you for so many years.

Now I am just waiting for the hiloni breast-beater who will write a book decrying his vacuous secular upbringing and environment.

heshy g.

daat y said...

If he suffers from OCD then his seeing the desire for perfection everywhere could come from his own internal desires.

Anschel said...

"His own experience, as one afflicted by OCD, sheds light upon the obtuseness of religious educators to the personal needs of their students." I suspect it only sheds light upon the obtuseness of 1970's educators to the personal needs of their students. Before crediting the statement in the blog I would like to see evidence that secular schools of the same era had a better handle on this disorder.