Monday, July 23, 2007

MO Schooling MO Problems

There's been much discussion about Noah Feldman's article in the New York Times over the weekend. Feeling vaguely left out, Annie and I joined in the fray (nothing will make you concise when blogging when you have lots and lots of deadlines breathing down your neck.):

Annie: You don't send your kids to Jewish day school to make them marry Jews, you send them to day school to teach them Jewish content: Talmud, Bible, Hebrew, maybe even some Aramaic. By any metric, Noah is a success: he is a well-respected academic, clearly not lost to the Jewish community and knowledgeable about Jewish texts. There are other aspects to sending your kids to a day school: different ideas about how to study texts often correlate to different practices (such as for modesty, kashrut, etc), but the straight up goal of sending your kid to day school is for the education. You send them to certain schools because they fit with your beliefs and lifestyle, but it is your responsibility as a parent to reinforce them at home.
Harley: [Playing devil’s advocate] Does Jewish education begin and end with Jewish texts? Wouldn't many argue that it's also as much about what happens between classes? You did mention, when we discussed this article earlier, that a private school has a right to make whatever policies it deems appropriate.
Annie: Vis a vis admission and during the school year
Harley: Surely, an Orthodox school, then, has a right to make policy that affects how it portrays alumni.
Annie: It just seems silly and bitter to cut him out of the picture
Harley: But consonant with their goals. Edogamy is a central Jewish value to them
Annie: Would they have done so if she'd been white and non-Jewish?
Harley: That's an extremely important question that we discussed earlier when I asked if they knew she wasn’t Jewish or assumed it because of her ethnicity.
Annie: [I think the fact] that it's all about appearances is silly. They don't actually reach out to him to encourage his wife to convert. They just pretend he never went to school there. That is an absurd policy. They can do what they want, but it isn't in their best interests. Are they going to cut out gay kids too? How about kids that don't keep strictly kosher? We are none of us done with our lives. It seems silly to cut someone off at this point
Harley: To be fair to everyone [ha! Irony!], they'll have to cut out anyone who doesn't overtly jive with their ideals. You know that it's more about what you appear to be doing than what you do (e.g., lined stockings to demonstrate that you are wearing stockings). I don't mean that it's about hypocrisy, but from their vantage point, it's about community solidarity. He's overtly transgressing with someone who can't pass, which goes back to the first part of our discussion and makes the racism overt.
Annie: I think that they still wouldn't have announced the marriage in their bulletins
Harley: : I wasn't suggesting they would. Would this be an issue if she had been dressed in a traditional orthodox manner?
Annie: The picture clearly has a race element, but yes, I think that if they were married, and she was wearing a sheitel or scarf,then she'd be in.
Harley: They were dating, though, so it's beside the point.
Annie: That is why this is so silly. what about couples that are touching (pre-marriage) are they in the picture? That's a clear transgression. The responses [on other blogs] clearly assume that by marrying a non-Jew he is totally and completely abandoning his Jewish heritage. I disagree. We each have our own lines in the sand of what we observe, don't observe, feel, believe, etc.
Harley: As you know, I agree with you about whether or not he's abandoning his Jewish heritage, but you cannot argue that the school isn't making a slew of determinations about what's appropriate within their walls that fall within the realm of family/personal observance choices, such as shomer negiah and sniut. Th alumni newsletter is another facet of something being in their school;it's an extension. I don't think they were right, but I also think exogamy is wrong and I don't agree with the tenets of orthodoxy, so...
Annie: M point isn't that it was incompatible with their beliefs, but with the responses. I think that Maimo can print whatever they want. I think that it is silly, and actually counterproductive, but their right. I'm instead disagreeing with the responses of people who say that he "failed" as a product of an Modern Orthodox school, either by outmarrying, or by not keeping kosher or abandoning Judaism, or whatever.
Harley: Ah, I got it. Then I'm playing devil's advocate past you. It it goes back to the question of what the purpose of Jewish day school is: is it having Jewish knowledge? Jewish content? Both? Is Jewish knowledge meaningful without the content. I say yes, of course, but I'm guessing these people would disagree and say that a successful pupil is one that knows and practices
Annie: But he might practice. Maybe they keep taharat ha mishpacha*. In the era of concubinage, marrying a non-Jew was less problematic, as long as she doesn't worship idols in their home. Maybe he keeps kosher and Shabbat and davens three times a day. Judaism can still provide the backbone of your life
Harley: The Autodidact (who also sent me a link to this article) had a really good comment on Noah’s article. He said (paraphrasing here) that most of the point of the article rings true, even if some of his arguments are sloppy (re: fundamentalism and how he connects Modern Orthodoxy to Baruch Goldstein), but what angered him the most was “this total disregard for liberal religion." In reference to the Emes Ve-Emunah blog, it's absurd to talk about a Jew "lost to Judaism," but that thinking is endemic to the endogamy discussion, which is a huge factor in Jews disengaging in Jewish life
Annie: Yeah, you can say that he's no longer Modern Orthodox, so if the school exists to indoctrinate kids into Modern Orthodoxy, then yeah, it failed. But if it exists to teach kids the Modern Orthodox hashkafa* so that they then have the tools to live in the modern world, it did fine. CJ and I hold hands, and I have a belly ring, and my Rav still talks to me on a regular basis. CJ even spent a summer trying unkosher meat, to see what it was like. We're still in the fold. If I got a tattoo, would I be "out?"
Harley: Think of the discussion that I've been having with Prettyboy about conversion. It would make sense in terms of raising our kids with Jewish ritual, if I chose that. I like the idea of him learning Judaism and being conversant in it, so if we do have a kid, he can help pass what I think are some good traditions and interesting history on to our kid (if we have one), but I'm totally uncomfortable with the idea that he has to convert for us to be acceptable and for our kids not to be mamzerim, apparently. That's huge and disturbing and enough to turn me off of the idea entirely, not to mention the community. As I said to my mom earlier today, the reasons for [Prettyboy] not to convert are mostly that I'm really uncomfortable with the idea of him taking on this identity when I don't think it should be necessary for us to marry and raise Jewish children (if we decide to have them).
Annie: I'd accept you. I'd even let my kids marry your kids if they wanted to, but that's because I'm pretty liberal and accept other types of Judaism as not only viable, but authentic; but I think that I'm actually not Modern Orthodox. I'm my own denomination. Let's call it "Jewish" and leave it there

*Taharat ha Mishpacha are the laws of family purity and refer to the laws governing sexual relations between two married people.

*Hashkafa are your personal beliefs and observances


sarah said...

One thing that I found fascinating, and as far as I can tell hasn't been mentioned, is the idea that, even if Maimonides failed with Fedlman (which I think isn't true, but let's forget that for a minute), it's one kid. They didn't fail overall. He even mentions that most of his classmates are still squarely MO.

The fact that the school can't accept when one kid goes off the derekh that they set out says something about their educational philosphy. Would Stuy cut out a picture of a kid who lacked critical thinking skills? Would Automotive High cut out a picture of a kid who hit another kid with a wrench? I know that choice of life partner is a larger issue than either of these examples, but really.

My impression is that Maimonides is one of only a handful of MO schools in the Greater Boston area (it's the only one I can think of, actually), and as such, often exhibits that phenomenon of MO schools having really frum teachers and admin, which may or may not have played a part here. That might be an issue for another day.

The Pedant said...

So how come the "Shalom in the Home" guy's article that I sent Annie didn't get included in this debate?

Annie said...

Harley- I'd like to address a few things that you put in the post, and didn't state during our conversation:

1) Your example for "it's all about appearances" doesn't hold water. Women who wear stockings with lines do it because they are worried that even with nude stockings (which one can usually differentiate from skin) that there might be some confusion that someone is seeing their legs. Hence the seam. Just so that no one is confused.

2)Prettyboy has to convert because Judaism doesn't recognize a marriage between a Jewish woman and a non-Jewish man. It just isn't one of the permutations that was expected/acceptable. When you make inflammatory (if true) statements that your kids would be mamzerim, you have to clear up that it is because there is no (in Orthodoxy and Conservative Judaism) Jew to non-Jew marriage. So any children would technically be illegitimate.

Ezzie said...

2)Prettyboy has to convert because Judaism doesn't recognize a marriage between a Jewish woman and a non-Jewish man. It just isn't one of the permutations that was expected/acceptable. When you make inflammatory (if true) statements that your kids would be mamzerim, you have to clear up that it is because there is no (in Orthodoxy and Conservative Judaism) Jew to non-Jew marriage. So any children would technically be illegitimate.

I'm not so sure that's true. Annie's being more "frum" than halacha, I believe...! :)

As for the rest... I've pretty much written all the reasons why I disagree (particularly with Annie) in my own post, but I think the primary problem is that everyone here is making the same mistake Feldman did: Looking at it only from your own point of view, from a very left/liberal standpoint. Did Maimonides do a wonderful job of preparing Feldman for the world of academia? Sure. Is that what's important to them? Only as a secondary notion to actually following the religion!

The key to Jewish education is not the texts - I think that's the biggest mistake. It's not just to know some Jewish history, some Judaic law, and to appreciate some basic rituals. It's to actually LIVE that way. The texts are supposed to be a guide to how we're supposed to be living our lives, not just some interesting intellectual endeavor to discuss. It would be like opening up a manual on how to (say) fly a plane, say "Oh, that's nice!", then proceed to try and fly it however the heck you want. When Feldman rejects - for himself and his progeny - this life, it's quite possibly the biggest slap to an Orthodox institution one could give, particularly when he has all the skills he does and no "problems" to speak of.

Last couple points: It seems clear that they knew she wasn't Jewish, and Orthodoxy does NOT ask or try and convince people to convert. The racism-type claims are completely unfounded; they seemed perfectly happy to have them at the alumni event, but merely cut them out of a picture that was to be sent to all alumni and presumably people who support the school. It's ridiculous that a school should not be allowed to present itself as it wishes, and show pride in the alumni which best stand for their ideals.

G said...


I will ask you the same thing I asked on a diff blog about this.

What COULD someone do that would warrant their exclusion from such a photo and such enmity from the general community? Does anything meet this standard, in your opinion?

The Autodidact said...

Thanks Harley for including me. Let me more fully explain why I was bothered.

Feldman's article, as with many recent such pieces dealing with religion, almost entirely ignores liberal religion. Most religious Americans are involved with liberal religion of one denomination or another, and yet our Fundamentalist brethren are given the imprimatur of legitimacy and authenticity when religion is discussed in the public sphere.

For millions of religious Americans, Christianity is not about hating gays or killing muslims, but about the power of God's love and the good that human beings do on Earth. Most Jewish organizations and synagogues in this country would handle Feldman and his family quite differently from Maimonides, but instead we get the unresolvable clash between Orthodox Judaism and American society.

Towards the end of the article, Feldman writes that he was "In synagogue on Purim with my children reading the Book of Esther." Does anyone actually think that synagogue was Orthodox?!

The silent partner is Noah Feldman's life is the liberal Jewish community he now is a part of with his family.

Harley said...

Annie- You said our kids would be mamzerim. That's why I included it in the discussion. Not to be inflammatory.

sarah said...

I'm curious if anyone knows whether they were cut out by someone making an executive decision (like an editor of the mag), or whether this was discussed/is a policy.

I also wonder Maimonides has an explicit no out-dating policy. A lot of youth groups do (for their leaders, at least).

Annie said...

G- I'm not really sure. I'd have to think about it, but the only things that come to mind are conversion. That's really the only way that someone is "lost" to the Jewish community.

Harley- I don't take issue with the comment, just that it was out of the context of our discussion (I had said it as an aside) and didn't give me a chance to respond, as the issue of mamzerim was not one that we discussed.

Sarah- I have a few friends who are Maimo grads, I can ask for you, but my feeling is that the cutting out was not policy, but no inter-dating might be.

G said...

Annie said...
G- I'm not really sure. I'd have to think about it, but the only things that come to mind are conversion. That's really the only way that someone is "lost" to the Jewish community.
Why does conversion constitute "lost"?

Annie said...

G- I think that while someone who has converted can always choose to return to Judaism, as far as schooling goes, it is the one step that repudiates an entire school's teaching. The person isn't just rejecting a movement, but Judaism as a whole.

And NO school wants to have to publicize that it might have turned kids off to Judaism.

G said...

"(Conversion) the one step that repudiates an entire school's teaching. The person isn't just rejecting a movement, but Judaism as a whole."

How so? If one can return...