Monday, 5 March 2012

Some Rabbis are really cool


. . . Rabbi Shmuley on Dr. Phil - not so much.

Last Friday, succumbing to the J-blogosphere buzz, I watched Dr. Phil's interview of Pearl Perry Reich who is running a very ambitious and public campaign to gain custody of her children.  Reich was on the show with her boyfriend, Shauly, and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (who had never before met Reich, and whose name Reich, tellingly, did not know).  Unlike the Oprah Hasidic show, which I enjoyed despite myself, I found the Dr. Phil show more . . .well . . . disturbing. I chocked it up to the show is meant to be sensationalist, they elicited emotion, mission accomplished. Moving on. I wasn't going to write about it, except today I read Rabbi Fink's analysis, and saw that it is possible to write an articulate response to the show. So, I'll give it a shot.

First, I don't know very much about Reich's case, and the show didn't help. The interview was sidetracked (at times derailed) by Rabbi Boteach as well as some hyper-dramatizing from the producers. Of the three guests, I found Shauly was the most interesting and well spoken. (On this point, I have to respectfully disagree with Rabbi Fink. Shauly or Reich's language didn't strike me as extraordinarily "bad English" - at least as compared to the typical day show guest. Their syntax was more or less okay. Shauly's unfamiliar accent, though, suggests English is not his native language. Of note, since he was presumably raised in the U.S.). Shauly's focus was describing Reich's context - the specific community from which she emerged. He pointed to the community's isolation both from mainstream society, and its fundamentalist nature relative to the rest of the Jewish community. He provided descriptions of the community to illustrate. (i.e. he spoke about the effects of an impoverished secular education, the pressure to get married and have children early etc.).  His points raised some questions that on a more nuanced show, would have been interesting to explore. Namely:
1. What are the distinguishing factors in what Boteach termed "normative" Orthodox Judaism  (I'm assuming he was referring to Modern Orthodox) from what Shmuley termed fundamentalist Orthodox Judaism (and here I assume he meant Ultra-Orthodox)?
2. Is arranged marriage an accurate description for the shidduch system?
3. What is the social impact of the education system that individuals  leaving fundamentalist societies have to overcome?
4. What bearing - if any - should a parent's change of religious observance have on custody rights?

Anyway, back to the show. Like Rabbi Fink, I was  frustrated by Rabbi Boteach's complete refusal to accept the impact of  Pearl Perry Reich's context -  a fundamentalist sect within the Jewish community - on her situation. Boteach insisted that Reich's was an isolated incident. A marriage like any other gone awry. He was reluctant to acknowledge that such an thing - a Jewish fundamentalist - could even exist. I'm not sure why it would be so difficult to admit that we too have fundamentalists. Doesn't every major religion? Maybe Boteach was worried that in admitting we have fundamentalists he would besmirch the entire community? Maybe he was worried about "fundamentalist" sounding like a dirty word lest he offend the potential customers for Kosher Jesus? Maybe he's on to something there. I have a theory that fundamentalist forms of religions are closer to each other than they are to the respective religions they represent. Fundamentalist communities share a commitment to preserve the insularity of their communities (usually through resisting of secular influences and modernism), a highly disproportionate  - by some accounts crippling  - ratio of secular/religious education, stringent emphasis on delineating male/female roles, and - to varying degrees - a penchant for uniform, and often antiquated fashion. In labeling Jewish fundamentalists as such, perhaps Boteach worries that we are implying that they are more fundamentalist than they are Jewish?

Though  it may not bode well for book sales, maybe it is possible to overdo Orthodox Judaism? In any case, denying that fundamentalism exists within the Jewish community does a disservice to both community as a whole, since this is not the kind of secret that's realistic to keep, and  - more importantly - those trapped within fundamentalist sects. Just because people like Reich do not paint a glowing picture of the cloistered Jewish life, does not mean their experiences should be silenced or denied.

                              


18 comments:

  1. One problem is that the Deborah Feldman legacy - her book is turning out to be more fiction than fact - will haunt Reich. After all, if Pearlman was willing to invent terrible stories to slag her former community just to sell a few books then why wouldn't Reich, a far more photogenic woman who's already enjoying the talk show circuit, do the same? Why should I believe anything she says? She wants custody of her kids. Women have falsely alleged sexual abuse by their ex-husbands in order to do that. Some might say that slagging chasidim is a lot less harmful.
    Second, if you invite a self-centered glory hound, you get a self-centered glory hound. That's what Boteach is. He was just playing true to form.

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  2. >her book is turning out to be more fiction than fact

    Feldman's book is a memoir, not a textbook, and people seem to have a hard time understanding that distinction.

    Also, your statement is debatable. Here's a review that addresses that:
    http://undercoverkofer.blogspot.com/2012/03/unorthodox.html#comment-form

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  3. > Feldman's book is a memoir, not a textbook, and people seem to have a hard time understanding that distinction.

    Yet as FailedMessiah has pointed out over and over her facts are wrong or lies. It's one thing to say "And this is how I remember it", quite another to say "And mom left when I was a baby" when there's photos of the two of them together much later than that.

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  4. > Rabbi Shmuley on Dr. Phil - not so much.

    I also watched it, even though I normally never watch daytime TV. He was lying through his teeth. His goal seemed to be to do damage control for the frum community.

    It was odd in that there were a lot of things they talked about without any context. For instance, she mentioned a get and wanting to be “unchained” without any explanation of what a get is or what an agunah is. It was also odd in that I never, ever see people like myself on TV. I’m not an OTD chossid, but I’m a lot closer to being like her boyfriend than anyone else I’ve ever seen on TV.

    I think they could have heightened the impact for the viewers by pointing out that their heavily-accented guests lived their whole lives in NYC.

    > What are the factors that distinguish mainstream Orthodox Judaism from fundamentalist Orthodox Judaism?

    There is no such thing as “mainstream Orthodox Judaism.”Every faction, none numbering more than a few hundred thousand people, thinks that it is the definition of a frum Yid. Besides, Orthodoxy is the fundamentalist Judaism. Sure, there’s a wide range between LWMO and RW Chareidi, but it’s a difference of degree, not kind.

    > Is arranged marriage an accurate description for the shidduch system?

    No, not even for the Chassidim. But it’s not far off. In the Yeshivish world, it’s more high-pressure blind dating than arranged marriage, and the MO world tend to date just like the rest of society.

    > I have a theory that fundamentalist forms of religions are closer to each other than they are to the respective religions they represent.

    I’ve found that, too. The same goes for liberal sects of different religions.

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    1. > Sure, there’s a wide range between LWMO and RW Chareidi, but it’s a difference of degree, not kind.

      I guess I think of Modern Orthodoxy (particularly LW) as more mainstream, since it is much more integrated/engaged in secular culture (as exhibited by the degree of secular education, modern clothing, movements to redefine female roles etc). It's not fundamentalist in the same way as the deliberately isolated UO streams.

      Do you think it would be inaccurate to say that for UO streams the difference is actually in *kind*, but MO people tend to see it as a difference of degree?
      I get that impression from comments such as the one you made in the post on denominations: "In the UO world, though, anything to the left of RWMO is thought of as secular."; and from R. Slifkin's observations in his recent post, "The One Way Street" http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2012/02/one-way-street.html

      >The same goes for liberal sects of different religions.

      Very good point. I think you are correct.

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    2. > I think they could have heightened the impact for the viewers by pointing out that their heavily-accented guests lived their whole lives in NYC.

      Agreed - thanks for pointing it out. I added a note on that in the post.

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    3. LWMO may indeed appear mainstream, but when it gets down to fundamentals like homosexuality and Jewish divorce, there is still strong opposition to change. There appear to be some nonnegotiables with regard to remaining Orthodox. (The mechitza is another, even though it's not in the same league, as far as dogma goes, as the other two).

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    4. >may indeed appear mainstream but when it gets down to fundamentals . . . there is still strong opposition to change.

      Yes, I agree that they're not *actually* mainstream, but relatively so. (I wrote my "Get" post afer being struck by the contrast on the Groggers Music Video, of how modern the men were dressed vs. and the lyrics they were singing.)

      I wasn't going to go there, but you said the "c" word in another comment - do you think Reich was right in referring to Orthodoxy (and I think she specifically meant the Hasidic/Yeshivish/Haredi crowds) as a cult?

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    5. Well, it depends what you mean by cult, but I think the only reason religion gets a pass is because it's been around a really, really long time. Mormonism hasn't been around as long, and there are some who question its status, but then again, it has a really big following. Scientology is considered a cult, but it's even newer than Mormonism. Check back in a century or two to see if Scientology is a bona fide religion.

      It seems like endurance and number of followers are what distinguish a religion from a cult, in common parlance.

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    6. tesyaa & G*3 . . I've removed the word "mainstream" from the original question - it wasn't quite capturing what I was trying to say.

      For me it is appalling to hear - as Shauly explained was his experience - that someone would have to learn math from scratch as an adult. NONE* of my Orthodox friends/relatives/acquaintances were short-changed in terms of education . . granted many are BTs, but those who are FFB MO also place a huge degree of importance on both secular and religious education.

      So, clearly Shauly is not MO. What I'm interested in understanding is how reflective is his lack of secular education of the UO community? Is he from a particularly small secular-education-shunning group, or are most UO Jews secularly-illiterate to that degree?

      The reason that I'm interested in somehow finding language/ a term to describe the distinction between Orthodox Jews who value secular education vs. those who shun it (fundamentalist/cult whatever) is that it seems to me that it would really behoove those who value secular education to give those who don't a different name. Something that says . . "whoa - oh no, now you've gone too far. This turning away from learning has stopped reflecting Jewish values".

      *except one previously UO person I recently met

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    7. MO schools tend to have good secular studies programs. The better ones are prep schools that at least nominally expect their students to go to Ivy League schools.

      Yeshivish schools run the gamut from those that have secular studies programs that are as good or better than the public schools to those that treat them as a government-mandated waste of time.

      Many Chassidishe schools have poor secular studies programs, with kids for whom English is more or less a second language and who perform below grade level. Many Chassidishe high schools don’t have any secular studies. This varies though by sect and place.

      Does Toronto have much of a MO community? The Yeshivish community there is pretty right-wing.

      > This turning away from learning has stopped reflecting Jewish values".

      Learning as a Jewish value historically applied only to Torah study. The Chareidim would rightly respond that they are in fact upholding traditional Jewish values by emphasizing Torah study and ignoring superfluous secular subjects.

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    8. Thanks for the run down of the education systems. That's very helpful.

      >Does Toronto have much of a MO community? The Yeshivish community there is pretty right-wing.

      I'm not a great person to ask since I'm really not directly part of the MO community, but I'll do my best! Toronto has a quite a large Jewish community in general, and within it in there is a substantial proportion who are MO . . sizable enough that I presume you could find large varied groups within the MO community. (I ran this impression by my MO S-IL and she concurred though also qualified that she doesn't have much comparative experience with other MO communities).

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  5. As you know, Toronto is divided into "up north" and "down south". I've never lived "down south", which doesn't include downtown.

    For starters, the Conservative community in Toronto is largely equivalent to the MO community elsewhere, since a good chunk still rejects egalitarianism. I also find that the Reform community can be like the American Conservative community.

    I'm MO, but have never belonged to an "official" MO shul. The Minsker in Kensington Market was very open to anyone who stumbled in, and my current Chabad shul is also very open, but in neither one was the rabbi identifying as ideologically MO in the narrow sense.

    I know that Shaarei Shomayim is Modern Orthodox, and relatively liberal.

    The BAYT, which is the largest shul, has several minyans within it and its share of rabbi politics. The new rabbi, Rabbi Korobkin, seems to be MO.

    The groups NISHMA (nishma.org) and Torah in Motion are both MO and have a Toronto-based presence.

    There is a strong Bnai Akiva presence, with an elementary school, boys and girls high schools and a youth group.

    In addition, I find that there is a large "traditional" community. This includes the South Africans, the Montrealers, the former Conservative Jews who migrated northward, some of the Israelis and the Sephardic Jews.

    Re Rabbi Shmuley:

    I'm pretty sure that HE must have learned math - he wasn't raised Lubavitch. I've actually met his mother, who lives in a building near me.

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    1. Thanks so much for the rundown!! A much better job than I could have done! Do you know where the Forrest Hill Village Shul fits in? (Not that we live anywhere near there *sigh*). I saw the billboard for their new building, and went to their web-site: http://jaslo.ca/synagogue. I found it a little strange that - unlike the other MO shuls you talked about - the word "Orthodox" is nowhere to be found.

      >his mother, who lives in a building near me.
      Oh - is Boteach from here?

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  6. I haven't been to the Forrest Hill shul.

    Boteach isn't from Toronto, but his mother now lives here.

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  7. Toronto,i would say, has a pretty large MO contingent.there are 600 kids in the MO day school (tagline: Torah. Israel. Derech Eretz.), which i think is a good indication of the size. The presence of Torah In Motion, a fantastic MO organization that puts on conferences and lectures (available online mp3s), is certainly strengthening.
    On the other hand, Toronto has many schools where kids skip out on their secular afternoons, or treat secular teachers with much less respect, with cultural tolerance. I have no idea how many students those schools represent. But nobody here, so far as I've met, has a foreign accent unless that were born abroad.

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  8. You wrote:
    "I'm not sure why it would be so difficult to admit that we too have fundamentalists. Doesn't every major religion? Maybe Boteach was worried that in admitting we have fundamentalists he would besmirch the entire community?"

    Boteach was afraid he would besmirch himself as an orthodox Jew with a beard and chassidic leanings -- when he is trying to garner national approval for both his books AND BOTEACH RUNNING FOR CONGRESS. Congress is key here, for many see Boteach as a fundamentalist as well...

    Key was how Boteach refused to answer the direct question on whether kissing before marriage is permissible. But then again, his immediate family arent too religious. His own mother shares a bedroom w a man she isnt married to... with a brother who is openly gay and accepted by his family, he has a very different background than Pearl Perry Reich who was ostracized by her family only bc she was getting a divorce. Shanda!

    Boteach wasnt the proper one to come on the Dr Phil show to defend the orthodox when he isnt all that familiar with the orthodox chassidic world Reich and boyfriend came from. He clearly isnt from that world even if he has a long beard (and remember how the chabadniks kicked Boteach out of lubavitch in 199[?] as well when he didnt tow their line?) Too bad Reich didnt know Boteach's history and be able to take control of the interview and put him in the hot seat.

    Fact of the matter is: Perry isnt well educated and doesnt have command of language as Boteach and was no matc for him. I dont think she meant to "malign" anyone but just wanted to expose, even if it was the ugly warts.

    Rather than focusing on garnering attention, it would be wise for her to follow on her dream to be a criminal lawyer and get her education. But it seems easier to sell her body. And as far as Luzer Twersky- what a loser!!!!

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    1. I was following until you threw in your last two sentences. "sell her body" implies she is a prostitute, which is a ridiculous thing to say about someone who want to go into acting or modelling. Do you consider all female models and actresses akin to prostitutes? And, I'm not sure I get the Luzer comment. What does he have to do with anything?

      >Rather than focusing on garnering attention, it would be wise for her to follow on her dream to be a criminal lawyer and get her education. . . .

      I'm not sure about that. It's MUCH easier said than done especially in light of - as you pointed out - her disadvantaged education and command of language. If I looked like her, and I was facing years of catch up to get to the educational place where I'd be on equal footing with others in order to get into law school, then to do the degree etc., while raising four kids, I'd also probably cut my losses and try make a go for it in show biz. Maybe if she had been raised with a normal education she'd have been a lawyer by now.

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