Snatching a Smartphone From the Jaws of Defeat: In Tribute to Mishpacha and Others

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41 Responses

  1. tzippi says:

    I’m trying to find a way to formulate my thoughts that I would be comfortable having in the comments section. I still want to share my thoughts, and I will leave some reservations about Mishpacha – which I also greatly enjoy and appreciate – aside.

    Yes, it’s great that we have everything in-house. But we still have to edit. Not all the books out there are suitable, or for all ages. And music….do I have to elaborate? And is it anything to celebrate that we have what amounts to frum MTV?

    This would be great material for a follow-up essay.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding “frum MTV”, as Tzippi put it above, or frumified rock/pop music in general: If we feel we have to borrow, we should at least borrow the best available, not the most tuneless, predictable and boring.

    Also, our glossy magazines should avoid the urge to concentrate too much on the creature comforts of the rich and maybe famous.

  3. Steve Brizel says:

    Yasher Koach to R Adlerstein-yes a smartphone can lead anyone down the wrong rabbit hole-and Mishpacha, which we have subscribed to for years, is weekly a great read for us, regardless of whether we agree with everything in the issue.

  4. Izgad says:

    Have you read Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option? He essentially tells Christians to start behaving like Orthodox Jews in the sense of recognizing that they have lost the culture war and the name of the game now is simply to be able to pass on one’s values to your children, building arks to survive the flood.

  5. Joe Hill says:

    Bravo to the Chosid in the Mir!

  6. Alexandra Fleksher says:

    Curious your thoughts: it’s not just the MO who expose their kids to the entertainment industry any more. The “Orthodox” do as well (maybe blame Netflix). I have found in my experience that its mainly the very yeshivish, who shelter their kids from media today.

    • מים גנובים ימתקו will always be a reality. Our self-sufficiency is an aid to those who want to remain outside the circle of general pop culture, or at most, peering in from the perimeter. It can’t be a panacea for those who will insist on more.

  7. joel i rich says:

    , a very chassidish looking guy spotted us, and with urgency in his voice, asked if we had a phone. Without thinking of the implications, I handed him my Samsung. The fellow looked at it, and recoiled in horror. He thrust it back in my hand, and high-tailed it out of there.
    What are the rules set by the poskim at Mir for entrants drishot and chakirot(questioning) as far as who will be questioned and for which issues?
    What was the toelet (practical value) of the question given the chosid simply ran away?

    As far as the general low culture issue, can we at least agree that even the “frum” low culture does in fact represent some acculturation from the general society around us? Some would argue that conscious awareness of this acculturation allows us to better manage it.


    • We do indeed agree that understanding that much of our home-grown low culture does draw heavily on outside influences can be important. It can help to ensure that we don’t draw too much. OTOH, we’ve been borrowing outside influences for centuries, and disguising the sources pretty well. At times, that can amount to עמון ומואב שטהרו בסיחון and eliminate much of what otherwise might be objectionable.

      Afraid I don’t understand your first paragraph

  8. joel rich says:

    I meant why did the fellow come over to ask if you had a phone in the first place.

  9. Shasdaf says:

    Torah was not only a higher calling in its most serious applications, it served at times as the source of diversion and (may I say it?) even entertainment
    True. Good drashos were entertaining, and some came for the entertainment valuse even if they couldn’t understand. And chazzanus concerts – it is a part of Torah, and is entertainment.

  10. Marc Hess says:

    Better motzart and bach than “frum MTV”.

    • …and I thought I was the only one who thought that way! Still, the existence of Jewish music, however flawed, is one of the ingredients in the larger cholent that allows people to consciously withdraw from more dangerous types of entertainment, knowing that they are not denying themselves the entertainment they believe they need

  11. Raymond says:

    I guess the above article only goes to show just how far off I am from the Orthodox Jewish path. For me, the standard in weekly magazines and newspapers for sufficient Orthodox Judaism, would be the Jewish Press combined with Commentary Magazine, along with a daily dose of Arutz Sheva. And as for Mishpacha magzine, sorry, but for me personally, that magazine is just too Jewish.

    Now, as for exposure to the non-Jewish world, here’s the thing. If I lived in Israel, I might confine myself to only that which is Jewish since, after all, I would be only around Jews. There would be no need to know anything about, say, Mark Twain, other than that very heartwarming, quotable short essay he wrote (“Concerning the Jews”) in which he expressed his admiration for us Jews. However, the fact is that I live in America, and intend to continue to do so, for as long as I need to work for a living, which i estimate to be the case until I turn 86 years old. That being the case, we Jews make up only a real tiny minority here. I may try to socially interact only with religious Jews during my free time, but inevitably, both at work and when I have to do things like shop for food or clothing, to interact with the non-Jewish world. I have no television, but when I turn on talk radio to keep track of the news and maybe to feel a bit less lonely in my solitude, the talk show hosts talk very little about Israel. And why should it be any different, since they are, for the most part, not Jewish? And as long as I live in this country, I figure it is my duty to study what this country is all about, at least its beginnings, both politically and culturally. It is the least that I owe to a country that has not only been so good to us Jews, but whose Founders were great lovers of our Jewish people.

    And then there is the phenomenon of non-American, European culture, such as Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Bach, and Mozart. Is it really so terrible to familiarize oneself with the foundations of Western Civilization which we not only live in but has produced such a great country like America, developed science, allowed for democracies, and is at least half-way based on its Jewish contributions? Can it ever be wrong to listen to the incomparably sublime music of Mozart?

    Please don’t get me wrong. I realize that no book on Earth is nearly as important, nor has been even close to being as influential, as our own Torah. Plus, being a Jew, it is my responsibility to do what I can to have more than a passing understanding of our holy Jewish works as well as of Jewish history. I will even go as far as to say that the older I get, the more I find myself being drawn toward such teachings, especially our beloved Chumash. After all, let’s be honest. Which Jew doesn’t dream of being a true Torah scholar? I know I certainly do. Maybe my point here, though, is that the study and exposure to the non-Jewish world is not only unavoidable, but needs to be actively pursued at least enough to know what makes it tick, so as to help ensure our survival in this largely non-Jewish society.

    • I think you just outed yourself, Raymond, as a Hirschian. Or at least a neo-Hirschian. Which is a fine thing to be. Do realize, however, that this topic has been debated for centuries.There are legitimate positions that are more conservative than yours concerning the degree that Torah Jews ought to be exposed to anything outside of Torah sources. Advocates of those position can point to the very real risks and pitfalls of the approach that you and I are comfortable with – just as we can point to the risks that attend to a greater amount of isolation

  12. Shades of Gray says:

    “In a world in which so much entertainment requires sensationalism, schadenfreude, and visiting the darker side of life…”

    The Chofetz Chaim is said to have been a good conversationalist without lashon hara; similarly, there are many human interest stories or topics that can appeal to a wide audience in the frum media as well(a relative of mine who is a a retired college professor and a baal teshuvah once told me he likes to read one of the frum children’s magazines after his children).

    “If I be am allowed to speculate, I would argue that for centuries, Torah served as a kind of low culture as well.”

    In an Inyan Magazine(Hamodia) interview this March, Rabbi J. David Bleich discussed a middle category called “leichte lomdus” as a way for the majority of day school students to appreciate the intellectual complexity of Torah texts( thereby also inoculating against heresy, the question which he was responding to):

    “In the yeshivah there was a phrase for the type of insight that can be imparted to everyone. It was called “leichte lomdus.” Many of the comments of the Meshech Chochmah, the Beis HaLevi, and the Brisker Rav are ideally suited for this purpose. Students should be taught to distinguish between “vertlach” or bon mots and intellectual analysis”(Inyan article is linked in “Open Orthodoxy Update, Parshas Tazria-Metzora”, April 2018).

    • As someone who has sat for decades in the dust of the feet of R Bleich, I am happy to discover any overlap whatsoever. Truth be told, however, it was the vertlach, not the leichte lomdus that I was referring to as having served in place of entertainment. If I am correct, it kinda shines a different light on
      לוּלֵ֣י ת֭וֹרָתְךָ שַׁעֲשֻׁעָ֑י אָ֗ז אָבַ֥דְתִּי בְעָנְיִֽי

  13. Bob Miller says:

    It’s all well and good to think of carefully imported low culture as an inoculation against the really bad stuff, but there’s another possibly analogy…to drugs! Some people get pulled into harder and harder drugs after that first little experiment.

  14. Bob Miller says:

    That is, “possible”

  15. lacosta says:

    Interesting that until a decade ago there was only the aguda’s monthly house organ/opinion setter Jewish Observer. then seemingly out of nowhere there appeared at least 3 *weeklies* .[mishpacha,ami,binah ]. what were people doing until then /how did they live with out this haredimedia ?

  16. Raymond says:

    Actually, I can very quickly see some of the pitfalls to my Hirschean view of the world. For one thing, secular studies can be extremely seductive. There is a strong part of me that is so much in admiration of President Lincoln, for example, that I can easily see myself spending a lifetime reading nothing but endless biographies of that great man. That means no or too little Torah study. Much worse from a halachic point of view, I confess to enjoying and even feeling uplifted by the music associated with December 25th. Giving up such a pleasure is not easy.

    On the other hand, I think of food. In my endless attempts to come up with the perfect diet, it has become only too clear that eating nothing but one type of food, no matter how healthy that particular food might be, is neither practical nor even healthy for us. We need have a wide variety of foods, to make sure we get all of our needed nutrition. Perhaps in a similar way, while Torah studies trumps all else, we as mere mortals may need to study other things as well. At the very least, we need to acquire whatever knowledge it takes to maximize our state of health, as well as to make an adequate living. As for the more intellectual secular studies, perhaps one can confine oneself to Top 10 lists, such as the top ten works of Plato, the top ten works of Shakespeare, and so on, with the rest of one’s free time being devoted to all things Jewish.

  17. Raymond says:

    I am sorry for writing a third time on this same subject, but it is one that has occupied my mind quite consistently over seemingly my entire adult life. And so what I want to say here, is that I was thinking further about the matter, finding myself gravitating more and more toward a more exclusively Torah-focused approach to life. See, aside from considerations of health and income, which I think just about all of us mere mortal Jews (all of us, that is, except for Shimon bar Yochai) would concede having to know about, I seem to recall somewhere in our Jewish teachings that for every non-kosher temptation out there, is a kosher one. If my memory serves me correctly, the example given by such teachings is that there is some kind of kosher fish out there that apparently tastes just like pork.

    Well, i personally am disgusted with the mere idea of eating pig, but I am tempted to read classic secular literature and, well, there are the stories of Nobel Prize winning Shmuel Agnon as well as a bit more controversial ones like Shalom Aleichem and Isaac Singer, to fill such a desire. Abraham Lincoln? I know of at least two fairly thick books that specifically address his life in the context of our Jewish people, since he was probably the best friend we ever had in the White House. And even if he was probably not Jewish, we Jews do have our own great political leaders, whether it be Menachem Begin in the modern world, or King David in more ancient times.

    More importantly, though, in thinking about it, the fact that we Jews are such a tiny minority, as well as the world’s most hated group, should and does motivate me to want to identify with my Jewishness more strongly than ever. Hillel told us almost two thousand years ago that if we are not for ourselves, then who will be for us? Well, if we do not build up our Jewishness within ourselves as much as we possibly can, then how can we later lament the antisemites of this world doing what they can to destroy us? Besides, as enjoyable as it may be to explore other cultures, certainly ours must come first. I can only see the world through Jewish eyes, if I first work on strengthening my Jewish vision. And as for what the non-Jews might think of us, I get the feeling that they respect us more if we are unapologetic about our own Jewish heritage. I am reminded of something that I once heard from Rabbi Cardozo. At some interfaith conference he was attending, he boldly asked a Catholic nun what she thinks of religious Jews, to which she replied, “I have to be honest with you. I think that you religious Jews are kind of strange.” Rabbi Cardozo then asked her, “And what do you think of non-religious Jews?” to which she quickly replied, “They are even stranger.”

    One more thing before I go for now. I remember years back, how the radio announcer for the local professional basketball team, commented that even when our team (the Los Angeles Lakers) are winning a game handily with just minutes to play, that they nevertheless keep on playing at their very best, so that they don’t get into any self-destructive habits. Well, similarly, if we as Jews devote ourselves exclusively to Torah study and all things traditionally Jewish, then when even in those instances where we are too tired or forgetful to sound like a Rabbi, still, even in such moments, we may still manage to think and talk like Jews. There just may be nothing in life more valuable than that.

  18. Lawrence King says:

    I, too, thought of Dreher’s “Benedict Option” when I read R. Adlerstein’s post. In Christian circles, his book was widely understood as advocating a “run for the hills” strategy, as if he were asking religious people to leave civilization. But in fact, Dreher is trying to figure out how Christian parents can live in modern American civilization and yet raise their children in a way that makes it more likely they won’t reject the traditions of their parents. Izgad summed it up in a perfect way: “start behaving like Orthodox Jews.” (I write this as a Christian who regularly reads the CC website and Dreher’s website as well.)

    • Rod has actually gone on record as saying some pretty nice things about Orthodox Jews (blush). And I volunteered to take him to some of the more insular outposts. He apparently got there without my help! I am hoping to put together an alternative list of items that I think are most crucial for Christians trying to keep their heads above water. Should be writing about that soon….

  19. Steve Brizel says:

    I have always had interests in politics and history and have been a voluminous reader of well written books by real scholars and historians for many years. Yet, I do think that working my way through Shas at my own speed and the classical commentaries on Parshas HaShavua and learning BiYun at a weekly chaburah and learrning Nach with Rashi and Mtzudos takes pecedence.

  20. Bob Miller says:

    Any sincere religious person in America has to have noticed how thoroughly enemies of religion now dominate its general culture and general institutions. These enemies are now into Phase Two, which is the liquidation of religious institutions and communities that stand outside this foul consensus. We shouldn’t overestimate our political clout.

    • Realistic appraisals of our political clout should bear in mind 1) the virtual disappearance of a bloc vote of Jews as Jews 2) the expected Muslim overtake of Jewish population strength in the next few decades, and 3) that the process has already begun. It would have been unthinkable a short while ago for Senators in the strongholds of Jewish strength to vote against legislation seen as important to Jews. But it happened in NY (Gillibrand; the BDS bill) and NJ (Booker; the Taylor Force bill)

  21. Steve Brizel says:

    R Adlerstein has correctly noted that the Democratic Party is moving to the far left and that the culture around us is toxic. Living in an environment that contains the worst elements of Praha Noach requires a distinct and diffferent response than the world of the 1950s and 1960s

  22. mb says:

    Yes and no. If those bills would have been brought by Dems, they would have voted for it.
    Same with moving the embassy, why they virtually all supported until Trump moved it.

  23. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding mb October 23, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    And if my grandmother had wheels, she’d have been a bicycle. The Democratic “support” always lacked an action plan.

  24. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding Rav Adlerstein’s comment of October 23, 2018 at 12:42 am:

    There are several identifiable sub -blocs:
    1. Socialists seeking to transform the US according to their model
    2. Orthodox Jews seeking to protect religious expression in all ways
    3. Jews seeking to increase government aid to Jews and Jewish projects
    There is some overlap between 2. and 3.

  25. Chava Rubin says:

    Raymond s third post was very inspiring and beautiful . His main theme, eloquently stated, about a person thinking like a Jew and seeing the world as a Jew as a result of focusing one’s time on Torah study is very meaningful and important for all of us to keep in mind.

  26. mycroft says:

    “Realistic appraisals of our political clout should bear in mind 1) the virtual disappearance of a bloc vote of Jews as Jews 2) the expected Muslim overtake of Jewish population strength in the next few decades, and 3) that the process has already begun. It would have been unthinkable a short while ago for Senators in the strongholds of Jewish strength to vote against legislation seen as important to Jews. But it happened in NY (Gillibrand; the BDS bill) and NJ (Booker; the Taylor Force bill)”
    Agreed, most notably was at one time head of L’Chaim society.
    IMO it is dangerous for a group to become identified with one political party or the other. Different streams of Judaism have at least left the impression that they are in the pocket of a political party. Not good for either.

  27. Steve Brizel says:

    The key issue is which party is more attuned to our needs as individuals and a religious community in an increasingly secularized political, cultural and social environment. I think that it is a fair prediction with the emerging majority on the SCOTUS we may see major changes to our liking on the free exercise clause ( a case challenging the minimalist reasonable accomodation standard is before the Court) with a view of expandingprotection under the 14th Amendment and civil rights laws to provide more protection for Sabbath observers and a serious review of the some excessive emphasis on the Establishment Clause and the view that it bars all assistance or prevents clergy from raising money for political causes ( the Johnson Amendment) may be expected to be on the agenda of the court as well.

  28. Steve Brizel says:

    The key issue remains which political party, in an age of secular cultural and political sensibilities , will seek to protect our right of free exercise of religion. . The current SCOTUS will hear a case that will seek to overrule the “reasonable accomodation” test that offers insufficient protection for Sabbath observers and will also look at cases involving Establishment Clause issues in a manner that will look at the intended meaning of that clause as opppposed to the judically created wall of separation of church and state.

  29. mycroft says:

    IIRC Hardison was decided on statutory interpretation grounds what is “reasonable accommodation” under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Thus, it has not been a Supreme Court constitutional decision which has been the problem, the problem could have been fixed by a simple amendment to the Civil Rights Act. It has been more than forty years. We have had various parties in control of the Congress and Presidency. So far no combination has moved to amend the act to cure the problem.

  30. Steve Brizel says:

    The case presently on appeal seeks the overruling of Hardison as an improper exercise in statutory interpretation which the new conservative majority can clearly revisit and decided as wrongly decided without any constitutional implications or take a broader view and put constitutional teeth into that will protect the free exercise of religion in this country

  31. Steve Brizel says:

    Mycroft courts revisit reinterpret and revise what had been settled statutory interpretation for many many years when it is apparent that a prior reading of the statute was incorrect.Hardison has long been viewed as such and the current case may provide not just for revisiting Hardison but strengthening the constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion

  32. Steve Brizel says:

    Separate but equal was also the law of the land from 1896 until 1954 when it was overruled by the SCOTUS which in Brown v Board did not wait for the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Numerous decisions involving civil liberties were decided and even created by SCOTUS without any statutory or at best a problematic constitutional basis. Simply stated bad decisions can always and should be revisited and even overruled if not substantially modified as to have no application to future cases. That is an inherent part of the judicial process

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