Saturday, October 29, 2005

Slifkin Lost

GodolHadors fantastic blog conceived and born in the heady days of the Slifkin affair will of course be marking its first anniversary, and he starts off with a post entitled The Gedolim vs. Slifkin: Who Won? Read it. His conclusion seems to be that Slifkin won. Although I agree with possibly all the main points in his post I think his conclusion is wrong. The way I see it Slifkin lost big time. But then again he was always going to lose. It was inevitable. He had the massed ranks of the ortho-fundamentalists ranged against him. It would have been impossible for him to win. He lost with grace. He put up a courageous fight which is certainly not for naught. But he still lost.

To appreciate why he lost one must understand what the battle was about. It was very much a ' what it means to be chareidi ' battle. Slifkins books were published by Feldhiem, a publisher whom the charedi street understands as its own, and marketed to the chareidi community. Slifkin saw himself as charedi even yeshivish; he had gone to mainstream yeshivot, and would have seen himself as an alumnus of that world. He had not done army service, wore a regular charedi yarmulkah and sported a beard. (OK granted he wore grey trousers, bad, but not enough to put him beyond the pail!) Many in the charedi street found him quite exiting. He was interviewed several times by chareidi newspapers including the Yated. He took part in Artscrolls mammoth project to translate shas (the Talmud). My point - Slifkin and his book were chareidi.

The reaction of 'The Gedoilim' (lit. the great ones; leaders) was precisely because Slifkin and his publications were chareidi. 'The Gedoilim' were reacting to that, proclaiming that Slifkins approach was definitely not chareidi. Slifkins interpretation might not be a clear cut case of heresy but that was hardly the point. 'The Gedoilim's job is to guard chareidi theology and Slifkins ideas was threatening chareidi theology. 'The Gedoilim' were setting down markers on how far one can stray from the official line and remain chareidi. And thanks to their efforts we now know what the rules are. The entire universe was created in six literal days. The world is an odd 5756 years old - literally. The sages of the Talmud knew everything. Their comments on anything natural or scientific is always correct and must be understood literally. Anyone who thinks differently might be considered Jewish, they might not even be heretics, but they are not chareidi. And again, for that is the whole point, they are not chareidi.

So who won in the arena that counts i.e. the chareidi street? 'The Gedoilim' won hands down. Have they in the chareidi world silenced Slifkin and his wild interpretations ? Of course they have. Will Slifkin be getting any new interviews with the chareidi press? Of course not. Is Slifkin a byword for ridicule in chareidi circles? Absolutely. Can anyone suggest the world is more than just over half of ten thousand years old or that the Talmudic sages might have got some of their science in a bit of a tangle? Only if they are very very brave, and they are aware that they have simultaneously declared themselves to be not chareidi .

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Nuts about Nuts

I am going to go back to the subject that has exercised me of late, i.e Shtreimel, but I shall give it a chol hamoed break. Today I would like to post about nuts.

As a practicing Jew there are many things I do not eat such as caviar. As a culturally tuned-in Jew there are even more things that I do not eat; for example peas or beans on Pesach. Or almonds on the Jewish New Year. The Shulchan Aruch tells us that the accepted custom is not to eat nuts on Rosh Hashonah. Why not you may ask? Two reasons are given - a logical one and a er, well less logical one. The logical one is that nuts make people cough and since we spend most of our New Year in Shul in quiet prayer the coughing would disturb the concentration of those trying to daven (pray). The less logical one is that nuts in Hebrew have the same numeric aggregate as the Hebrew for sin.

I can accept all this. What I find terribly difficult to accept is that so many people I know refuse to eat nuts not only on Rosh Hashonah but all the way till the end of Succos (three and a half weeks later). Nor do they limit themselves to refraining from nuts per se, it seems that anything that contains nuts is also off the menu. So a nut cake is out. And so is ice cream sprinkled with nuts etc. Now to me this extrapolation of a New Year custom is just batty. Its plain nuts. I mean for heavens sake so you don't eat nuts for a month but nuts aint pork and I think you can allow yourself to eat something that contains nuts!!!

Some years ago I was spending Succos at my parents-in-law. A member of the family was in rehabilitation after suffering a serious mental illness. I saw her put all of her available energy into baking a relatively complicated recipe. It came out well and I could see that she got a feeling of satisfaction; something she needed in bucket fulls. But nobody ate it. It had nuts in. They stayed in the fridge till after YomTov. (I say nobody but that is not entirely true. I did eat some. How a custom could be so overblown to result in such plainly callous behavior was beyond me.) And don't think this sort of thing is all that unique. This year my wife was a lucky recipient of a nut cake her friend had inadvertently baked. Her husband would not eat so she gave it to us.

So dear reader how careful are you about keeping away from nuts during this period? How nuts are you about nuts? How many people are you prepared to upset in your quest to keep some obscure custom? Are you prepared to refuse a dish prepared by your wife because it might possibly have a nutty flavor or do you think sholam bayis might be a little more important?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

COMPETITION: 'Shtreimel 18 Months From Now'

pls read my previous two posts; thanks

Hello all.

Hope your Succas are all up, decorated and you have purchased your 'Arabah Minim' . If you are organized enough to have it all sorted you might want to have a go at the competition I have just launched.


1) In as many words as you want, tell us what you think Shterimels position will be in 18 months from today. What do you think his religious, secular, mental states etc will be?

2) Try to be logical. Use that part of your brain. (I know it can be hard, but that's the challenge!). Entries that are judged to be merely an emotional rant will unfortunately be rejected.

3) Use whatever language you need to make your point. Do not be insulting, rude or crude just for the sake of being insulting rude or crude.

4) Entries that have something interesting to say will be put up on the main part of the blog in a format still being formulized by the organizers.

I am looking forward to read what you have to say.

Chag Someiach & I hope the weather holds.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

More On Shtreimel

continued from my previous post

For the life of me I can't understand why the vast of majority of the commentators on Shtreimels blog are patting him on the back and telling him what a good boy he is. Don't they realize that at the the moment he is off his rockers. Yes I agree with you that he is under immense pressure but that in itself does not make his current position any less crazy. Do you all really believe that overnight he can become a fundamentalist again after having spent the last two year being an arch skeptic? Do you think that one can switch these things on and off? Do you not realize that his approach can only lead to serious mental illness?

A blogger called ConArtistic has commented on my last post and he has also responded to me on Shtreimels blog. It is there that he is clearer in what he is trying to say so I
quote him from there;

'Mr. Schreiber, there is nothing “irrational” with someone who makes a decision to fake allegiance to religion for his own benefit.'

My response to that is it does not sound to me that Shtreimel is 'faking allegiance to religion for his own benefit'. Yes if that whats he is doing that would be fine. But that's not what he is doing.
In fact that's exactly what he has been doing till now. He is trying to get away from 'faking religion'. He hates living a double life. He wants the real thing. He wants to to believe in it. Shtreimel is forcing himself to believe something in order to run away from the problems that he has. That I am afraid is a sure way to a complete breakdown. It will not solve any problems. His children once again won't have a real father, although I admit that his children will not be
discouraged to keep in contact with him.

Shtreimel is proving to us that he belongs to a cult (Chasidei Satmer). He is living proof that the system that that particular cult has put in place to ensure members keep within the fold works. It works only too well. Shtreimel has tried to break away but the cult is too strong for him. Shtreimel has been defeated by forces far stronger then he can withstand.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Shtreimel Disappoints

If you want to an illustration of the sheer power of the cult-like stranglehold that ultra-orthodox communities have over their members take a minute or two to hear about Shtreimel.

Shtreimel is the name of a blogger that until Monday of this week had a fascinating blog called A Hasid & A Heretic. Don't bother navigating there now, as he has removed the vast majority of his posts.

So who is Shtreimel? After reading his blog for over a year I feel safe to say the following. Shtreimal is a Satmarer chossid who had become very disillusioned with his life in the ghetto. Although externally he was very much a member of the community he had big problems with the whole thing.

Over the last one and a half years one could see how Shtreimel was developing. His writing got progressively better, he was getting out and exploring how life was lived on the other side. The thing that I liked best about him was his libertarian like attitude. He had realized that essentially all peoples are similar and just because one is born a chassidic Jew does not mean that one is better than the rest of mankind. He realized that men and women of no religious persuasion can also be moral. He realized that people can be left alone to decide how they want to behave and should not be forced to listen to the dictates of a Rabbi or any clergy.

He wrote entertainingly about his nominally big misdemeanors. Of eating kosher food on Yom Kippur and being frightened his neighbor in shul might find out; of his first go at eating non-kosher food; of meeting and enjoying the company of woman something that would have been a complete no-no in his 'real' life. He told us about his disgust at the less than good things that go on behind the ghetto boundaries. The fact that they make a religion out of scrounging, the little real respect for women or womens rights and the way kids are schooled to be racist.

But Shtriemel had a big big big problem. His wife whom, he might not love but has nothing against, knows nought about his wayward thoughts and actions and possibly a bigger problem is that his children go to establishment schools. He himself is part and parcel of the community he grew up in. Can he tell her? - oh no. All hell will break loose. He would lose his wife and kids. He would have to move from the community and try to start again. Who knows if he would be allowed to keep contact with his children. Lately Shtreimel blogged primarily about his big dilemma. He did not want to live a double life and so he would have to make a decision either way. A clean break from his current frum ultra-ortho situ or - em well I didn't quite know what he meant.

Well now we know. And it isn't pretty. Compared to his old self its nutty and fundamentalist. Crazy in fact. It sounds very much as if he is on the verge of a breakdown which isn't funny at all. Yes maybe you should read his last post here. Do you see what I mean? Its a ramble, not coherent -its nuts. Exactly as one would expect from a member of a cult that's cracking up.

Well unfourtunately that's what it is.