Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Chink in the Armor

So anybody who reads any portion of the posts here knows of my adoration for German Orthodoxy whether it be for the minhagim, the rabbanim - Hirsch in particular but others as well, the people, and the Washington Heights comprehensive community. However, everything in this world has its flaws. One of the big challenges with practicing German Orthodoxy is its weak position in the world today. We just don't see that much of it. A few shuls worldwide, each of them struggling in various ways.

One can hypothesize as to the causes - the Holocaust, assimilation in Germany, being flooded by Eastern Orthodox Judaism and its masses of people and its inspiring rabbanim that draw people into other derechim, and the state of the world, ie. the lack of order, propriety, self-discipline - hallmarks of German Orthodoxy that leave it looking a little oddball.

But there's another cause, a minor one, but one worth noting, which is that the German communities today are not great at community building. Yes, they historically have been terrific at building structure around their people, but at least lately they haven't been good at reaching out to get new people.

It's not that the Germans are cold. In fact, I have received far greater warmth at German shuls than anywhere else. Friendliness is a German quality. You see this in the American Midwest where people are more friendly than in the East and West of the US.

But while friendly, the Germans don't think to invite you into their world. Maybe this comes down to insecurity. The whole Jewish world has gone Eastern European, even the Sephardim in many cases. The Germans who are loyal to their traditions are being loyal to their traditions. It doesn't occur to them that other people might want to join them.

These other people could include children of Eastern Europeans who grew up in Western countries, as most of them are Germanic - a point I have made many times. These children of Eastern Europeans are Ashkenazim. Let us not forget that. Germans sometimes ask me why I keep Minhag Ashkenaz if my immediate ancestors were not from Germany. The answer is, aside from my attraction to it, is that the ancestors of my ancestors were from Germany. They lived there likely for 100s of years more than they lived in the Ukraine. So the German traditions, which trace back to the times of Beis Shaini, are mine too.

There's a lot of people in my category and they could help fill the German shuls. But the Germans just don't think of this. Their minds can be a little rigid and this idea doesn't seem to be making sense to them.

Chabad grew so massively in part due to Russian personal warmth, which the Germans have, but also Russian aggressiveness and the ability of Russians to think out of the box. Chabad was looking for Jews. The Germans should do the same. One's großvater needn't be from Frankfurt. Any Jew will do as long as he sticks to the German traditions. And if he is an Ashkenazi Jew, then the German traditions are his traditions.

Modern Orthodox communities are the best at embarking on new member campaigns. They take out ads. They organize fairs. They are ready to host for Shabbos but in such a way as to give you a feeling for the community. They give a tour. They say please join us and look disappointed if you don't.

The German communities just don't do this. Perhaps their flaw comes from their strength. They look backward, they look to their history. MO communities do the opposite. They look forward but not so much backward, relatively speaking, which is arguably their flaw as practitioners of a tradition based religion. I know many people who would be more comfortable in a German Orthodox community who move to Modern ones, in part, because the Modern ones seek them out and make them feel wanted.

The German communities need to do this if they are to survive. Will they? I withhold my prediction.


  1. Predicting the future is not simple.

    Change is a constant in life. Things which are popular become old, and old things sometimes have a renaissance.

    Sixty years ago people thought Hasidism was finished, had no future. But things changed. The same could happen with what you are discussing now.

    1. Thanks for the reminder. It's very encouraging. I wonder what we can do now to put GO in a position to be part of a revival.

    2. Publicize this website more for one!

      Also, maybe get members of each German Orthodox community world wide to create a post about their particular community. For example, this week's featured GO community is such and such in Zurich, Switzerland. The next week a Shul in Jerusalem, etc., along with contact info for anyone interested in coming to visit the community.

  2. Great post. It reminds me of a conversation with Rav Hamburger shlit"a in discussing the small number of Yekke communities. He remarked how Rabbi Nachman of Breslov during his lifetime had a small number of followers, but today there are thousands of people associated with Breslov hasidism (either by traveling to Uman, learning sefarim, considering themselves Breslov hasidim, etc.). So we should strive and pray that Ashkenaz mesorah will also spread and continue to grow.

    1. Hmmm good point. Also encouraging. Good that the Rav is putting so many books out there. They become the basis for a movement.

      Anybody interested in an online meeting where we can all chat for a half hour and talk about TIDE and MA?

  3. I would suggest just making a time and arranging a conference call number and then if people prefer a different time, you can reschedule.