Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Monday, 6 April 2009

Guest Post by Dr Michael Schweitzer

Hat tip: Failed Messiah
One of the points I made in my article about Modern Orthodoxy which is posted at this blog is that the movement relies heavily on Chareidi/Agudah associated publishers for much of its material, including such basic things as siddurim and chumashim. As I noted:
Also, just as the Agudas Yisroel distributes books and materials emphasizing their points of views and insights through major publishers such as Artscroll and Feldheim, Modern Orthodoxy must retain a publisher and begin spreading books and materials relevant to its philosophy. Why is it that the current Orthodox Union siddur is published by Artscroll and not by a Modern Orthodox publisher? When searching the shelves of the local Jewish book stores, one can justifiably ask: where are the biographies of the Rav and other luminaries from the Modern Orthodox world? The importance of this aspect of the movement cannot be over-emphasized.
Although one of the feedbacks I received criticized the article, I nevertheless felt this point to be correct. The Agudah publishers are in an excellent position to define what Torah observance is and they do this from within their narrow perspective. While there are several excellent Modern Orthodox authorities who have commented on our holy works, only one ever seems to make the cut in the Agudah world, the Rav. But otherwise pious and well-learned authorities from outside the Agudah's circle seem not to exist when Artscroll and Feldheim come to present their sources.
Now this article from the JTA seems to be vindicating my position:
NEW YORK (JTA) -- For decades, Mesorah Publications has towered over the English-language Jewish publishing world like a Goliath.
The Orthodox publishing firm's siddur, produced under the ArtScroll imprint, is the most common prayer text in American Orthodox synagogues, and its myriad translations of religious books -- most notably its groundbreaking English version of the Babylonian Talmud -- have made a vast trove of Judaic literature available to English speakers.
But two new initiatives are posing a fresh challenge to the ArtScroll dominance.
In May, Koren Publishers Jerusalem will release the first English edition of its popular Hebrew siddur featuring a commentary and translation by the chief rabbi of England, Sir Jonathan Sacks. And the Orthodox Union has launched a new publishing arm, which its backers describe as filling a “niche” in the Orthodox world, principally through the publication of the writings of the late Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the leading thinker of Modern Orthodoxy.

Why is this so important? Aren't all siddurim the same? The answer, I would suggest, is no. A legitimate movement has both literature and leaders. Those leaders are known to their followers who, in turn, learn from them and their philosophies. Reading an Artscroll or Feldheim novel, one quickly gets the sense that the typical proper Orthodox Jew is the one who fills the streets of Boro Park. Knitted kippot, modern clothing, not wearing a black hat during davening (or ever) just don't figure into their view of how you should be if you're religious. Thus it is imperative for Modern Orthodoxy to show that they too have a direction and philosophy.
Hopefully this will be the start of a good initiative for the movement, perhaps with a commentary on the Chumash empahsizing the thinking of MO scholars to follow.
But I'm not sure I'll be buying the new siddur. I'm still a fan of the Birnbaum siddur and I don't see why I have to change.

3 comments:

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

Reading an Artscroll or Feldheim novel, one quickly gets the sense that the typical proper Orthodox Jew is the one who fills the streets of Boro Park. Knitted kippot, modern clothing, not wearing a black hat during davening (or ever) just don't figure into their view of how you should be if you're religious. Thus it is imperative for Modern Orthodoxy to show that they too have a direction and philosophy.


I'm convinced that the reason for the vacuum in non-hareidi frum novels and entertainment is that M.O. accepts secular literature and entertainment as a lechatchila.

It's only because of the tension built up in chareidi society's forbidding secular media and entertainment to we have frum people developing and devoting their literary and musical/ performing talents within a frum context.

Dr Mike said...

I think you're right about that. The bottom line for most MO's is that if they want to read a good book, they'll go and read a good book. But the Chareidim who want to read a good book are stuck: all they can get is the stuff Feldheim churns out which, from what I've seen of it, is really not good quality stuff.
But on the other hand, that applies to the entertainment side of things. I was referring more to the learning side.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

from what I've seen of it, is really not good quality stuff.

True, but from what I read I think its getting better and better as time goes on and frum secular education gets more professional.
If you check out the Mishpacha Magazine and Horizons I think you'll see that its very much on par with standard magazines.

But on the other hand, that applies to the entertainment side of things. I was referring more to the learning side.

Correct. North American M.O. are definitely lax in that regard. The RZ in Israel should be their role-models. That's why much of the religious talent in M.O. goes to and stays in Israel where the real religious contributions are made.