Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Avoiding Confusion: "Don't let anybody mess with your swing."

The modern world mixes together cultures. Mass immigration started it. Technology completed it. When I was a kid in the 1970s one could still live in an Italian neighborhood or even a Polish one. Today, it's all mixed together. One can get confused. You have to know that it's dangerous to mix together religious styles. This is not to say that you can't study them all, get tips from them all. But you generally have to pick one or create a new one that has a consistent style.

As an example, take the mix of Chassidus and Yeshivishness. In my view, it has been problematic. For Chassidim to be conformist is not so terrible since their essence is community and emotion. Conformity can help in the formation of communities. If you are having a Western square dance, it helps if everyone shows up in cowboy boots. A disco shirt confuses people. But when people who try to make intellect their essence - eg. the Yeshiva world - become conformist, the result is dogma. That doesn't happen with Chassidim because they historically didn't take their intellect as seriously. They are actually less dogmatic than yeshiva people can be. With intellect, you need a certain freedom. Not surprisingly, Litvachs historically thought for themselves. There are many stories that demonstrate this. Consider this one with Rav Ruderman as told by one of his grandchildren:

"I sat down to learn with my grandfather zt”l, and continue from where we had ended the previous day. He had left me with a long list of questions that he wanted me to answer. “Zaidy, I’m sorry, but I looked all over numerous Sefarim and couldn’t find an answer,” I shamefully admitted.
“Did you daven today?”
“Of course!”
“You said the blessings of Shema?” he asked.
“Of course!”
“Did you believe what you said?” he asked.
“Of course,” I answered, despite knowing that I was about to receive a spiritual beating.
“In His goodness renews daily, perpetually, the work of creation.” “Why,” asked my grandfather, “does God renew each second of existence?”
I was too cowardly to respond.
“Because He wants His power of Chiddush, renewal, to permeate each detail and each second of creation. He wants you to connect to Chiddush, and not run to the books already printed to find answers, but to be Mechadesh your own answers! Use the blessings of Shema to connect to the power of Chiddush in your learning and in your Middos! We’ll learn when you find your own answer.” He closed his Gemara.
I was back in less than half an hour with my own answer, which he, of course, cherished, then ripped apart, and then reconstructed as a masterpiece.
I continue, more than forty years later, to keep a list of unanswered questions to review before I connect through the blessings of Shema to God as the Mechadesh, empowering my own power of Chiddush."

See what I mean, thinking for oneself is Litvish. The blend of chassidish comformity and Yeshivish Torah centrality has created an intense almost unlivable pressure on people.

Take Religious Zionism and Yeshivishness. Also a bad result. It puts way too much pressure on a person. It's hard enough to make aliyah, now you have to do it in kollel. It used to be that making aliyah and settling the land was the goal. That was hard enough. Today you have to do the impossible of making aliyah and somehow not work at the same time. Families get ruined like this. It's too much. It crushes the parents. It does something worse to the kids. They start to look at the religion like it's impossible to keep.

Same with Carlebachism and Yeshivishness. If you want to be musical and emotional, go for it. But to attach intellectual significance to the whole thing, you can become quite odd this way and that is bad for children. True hippies were easy going. Many Carlebach types try to be intellectually intense about emotion and song. They wind up being really strange and the children don't get a solid foundation. Quite to the contrary, abnormal behavior becomes a kind of norm.

So pick one. If you are Hirschian, you can read up on kabbalah, but when you put the book down go back to your German Orthodoxy. Don't let all the heebee geebee people affect your day. You go about your life with meticulousness, if you try that with concepts of tuma and tahara you'll go bonkers. Kabbalists are not so meticulous so when they talk about the universe, it's loose talk. If you are a precision kind of person, you'll wind up trying to fix the cosmos if you take the kabbalistic talk into your regular day.

As baseball legend Ted Williams often said, "Don't let anybody mess with your swing." He also said, "Bat according to your style and wait for the right pitch." R' Breuer was very good at this. He kept true to the Hirschian vision while maintaining relationships with the Yeshiva world. R' Leo Jung was the same. After all, what is a German Orthodox person if not self-disciplined? Today it's easy for the TIDE person to get drawn into Haredism or Modern Orthodoxy since they are the dominant paths. Don't get drawn in. Switch over if you like, but pick one.

Kids raised TIDE may go and switch some day. That's fine. At least they know what it means to go by one path. They'll have normal minds and will be successful in whatever they do.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post - I think there are many people out there in every camp who could benefit from this wisdom - TIDE adherents and everyone else.