Parashas Shemos -- A Fearful Community; Revelers Alert; Remembering Robert Bork
by Jonathan Rosenblum
January 11, 2013
A Fearful Community
One of the advantages of a weekly column is the opportunity to revisit past columns and add correctives as required by further reflection. So I'd like to return again to Rabbi Ilan Feldman's important essay in the new issue of Klal Perspectives. It is a measure of the power of Rabbi Feldman's essay that it can bear so much commentary.
Rabbi Feldman describes the Orthodox community as an often fearful community; in particular, many Orthodox Jews live in terror that one of their children will leave the fold. And he is right.
That fearfulness can make the feared the outcome more likely. Either parents are rendered incapable of setting limits by the deftly wielded threat, "If you don't let me do x, I'll go off the derech," or they end up imposing so many restrictions to "protect" their children that they make rebellion more likely.
Rabbi Feldman suggests that the fear of dangers lurking all around has rendered our communities less willing to engage in kiruv. That's plausible, but it's not borne out by the facts. (With respect to ever more selective criteria for entrance to our schools – i.e., intra-communal exclusion – he is probably right.)
Forty years ago, our communities were internally focused on rebuilding from the devastation of the War, not on attracting new recruits. Today, we have the luxury of looking outwards. Project Inspire, which encourages every adult Jew to look for kiruv opportunities, has caught on even in some of the most insular Chassidic communities. Thousands are involved in Partners in Torah. An acquaintance who was enthralled Rabbi Feldman's essay, nevertheless admits that there are many more families today to whom one can send those in the process of becoming religious than there were thirty years ago.
The honest among us acknowledge that the plague of off-the-derech kids is largely internally generated, not the result of "outside influences." The imposition of historically elite standards – both intellectual and spiritual – on a large, diverse population has resulted in many of our children sensing from an early age that they are being set up for failure.
When Rabbi Zecharya Greenwald wrote in the recent Mishpacha symposium that the greatest problem facing our community is our children's lack of self-esteem, I suspect that is much of what he was referring to – kids who have been made to feel by the "system" that they just don't make the grade.
If there are those who refrain from kiruv because they fear the adverse influences of admitting not-yet-observant Jews into their homes, they should reconsider. "Selling" our lives to outsiders provides some of the idealism many of our youth and their parents lack. More important, being forced to think about why we are privileged to be Torah Jews is good for all of us, and good for our children to hear explicitly from our mouths. Indeed the positive impact ofkiruv rechokim in strengthening the Torah community was stressed by numerous contributors to the Klal Perspectives issue.
This piece is only part of what was published in Mishpacha Magazine, some of which was incorporated into last week's piece on Rabbi Feldman's essay.
The annual battle between Israel's Chief Rabbinate and establishments who wish to host New Year's Eve festivities is a hardy perennial of the Israeli press. The latter inevitably poses the question: True, the night's revelry may not be Torahdig, but why should New Year's Eve be worse than any other night?
The answer was provided last week by Adam Garfinkle at his The American Interest blog. Julius Caesar first made January 1 the first day of the year in 45 or 46 BCE. (Prior to that, the Roman calendar had only 10 months and no January.)
The early Christians had a habit of appropriating pagan festivals for their own use, and they did so with respect to January 1. At the Council of Nicea (325 CE), the bishops gathered noted that January 1 would be the date of the bris of a Jewish male born on December 25, and instituted the Festival of Circumcision. Somehow the appropriation of a Jewish covenant for Christian purposes was supposed to "prove" the replacement of the Jews by Christians as G-d's Chosen People.
Thus Jews celebrating January 1 emulate the Jews of Shushan who joined in Achashverosh's feast to celebrate the failure of Daniel's prophecy that the Jews would return to Eretz Yisrael after seventy years to be fulfilled.
Sylvester, the Pope at the time of the Council of Nicea, convinced the Roman emperor Constantine to evict all the Jews from Jerusalem, for which achievement, he was declared a saint. The night of his "saints day," December 31, was thereafter celebrated in Europe with the traditional sports of synagogue and Hebrew book burning.
Pope Gregory, the initiator of the eponymously named Gregorian calendar in use by most of the world today, was also a pleasant chap. Under his reign, January 1 was a day on which the Jews of Rome were forced to listen to conversion sermons and a tax was imposed upon them to pay for a House of Conversion. He also used the day to order the confiscation of all Hebrew books, which resulted in the murder of many Jews who resisted the decree.
These associations with January 1 should be enough to keep any self-respecting Jew from turning the "new year" into a time of drunken celebration.
Remembering Robert Bork
Certain events have the power to remind us of the long and sometimes tortuous path we have traveled. The recent death of Robert Bork was such a landmark for me.
The so-called "Saturday Night Massacre" (October 20 1973) took place early in my first semester in law school. Attorney-General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney-General William Ruckelhaus resigned rather than execute President Richard Nixon's order to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. It was left to Solicitor-General Robert Bork, the number three person in the Justice Department, to fire Cox.
The days that followed were heady ones, as Yale law faculty and students gathered together to work on drafting articles of impeachment. We all were busy reading Harvard scholar Raoul Berger's works on impeachment. If any collegial regard was expressed for Bork, who had just months before left the Yale Law School faculty to become Solicitor General, I must have missed it.
Cut thirty years. I'm thrilled to join Judge Bork for lunch at Washington D.C.'s most elegant (and short-lived) kosher restaurant. Joining us is Tevi Troy, President George W. Bush's liason to the Jewish community. Bork is writing a book on judicial activism around the world, and I've been invited to share my insights on the Israeli Supreme Court. When Coercing Virtue: The Worldwide Rule of Judges appears, Bork is kind enough to cite my writings a number of times in the Acknowledgments and in the chapter on the Israeli Supreme Court.
After lunch, I spend over an hour in his office discussing religion – if I recall, his wife was a former nun; cultural decline – the subject of his Slouching Towards Gomorroh; and legal geography – my father was a law school classmate and the partner with whom I worked most closely when practicing law was another classmate and friend.
Robert Bork's passing was not only a reminder of how much I changed over thirty years, but, as Eytan Kobre has pointed out, of how much America has changed. Adam Garfinkle recently opined that if President Obama wants to appoint as Secretary Defense Chuck Hagel, a former senator best known for his lack of sympathy for Israel and fierce opposition to military action againt Iran's nuclear program, that's his right and the Senate should confirm.
How quaint that call for bi-partisan deference to any presidential appointment meeting minimal standards of competence after the Senate's 1987 rejection of Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court, despite his status as one of America's leading legal academics, whose work on anti-trust law led to a complete reversal of prior Supreme Court doctrine, and career as a highly respected Court of Appeals Judge.
Related Topics: American Jewry & Continuity, Chareidim and Their Critics, Personalities, Social Issues
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