Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Doing It For the Attention

There is an essential rule in the entertainment business: those who have lots of talent succeed on that talent.  Those who have a middling amount succeed on being controversial.
The prime examples of those are Metallica and Madonna.  The former, a great hard rock group, have talent and if one follows their career ones sees a band that works hard and plays hard with great success.  One does not hear stories about over-the-top shenanigans or stunts, just one album after another, one arena after another.
Madonna, on the other hand, is an example of success with middling talent.  Her success has come from constant reinvention, outrageous public displays and a willingness to be controversial because the attention it brings sells records. 
I am reminded of this rule every time Rabbi Avi Weiss and friends pop into the Jewish news.  Rabbi Weiss, by all accounts a decent fellow, is not a talmid chachami that will be remembers in centuries hence for his scholarship, incisive teshuvos or copious literature spanning the breadth of Torah.  He is, in other words, average.
Now there's nothing wrong with that.  Many people are average.  These people are what run the society we live in.  They live full lives, they accomplish many if not all of their goals.  They are good children, spouses, and parents.  It's just that when the history texts are written in a century or two, they won't be mentioned because nothing they did stood out in a spectacular manner.
However, Rabbi Weiss seems to be determined to break this average label.  Again, one can hardly blame him for trying.  If you were to take a newly minted rabbi, or doctor or accountant for that matter, and announce "You'll do a great job, your kids will turn out fine but in 100 years no one will remember you existed and everything you did will be forgotten" you'd hardly inspire them to want to get out of bed the next morning.
Once again there are two ways to succeed.  One can do it through talent.  Great rabbonim like the Rambam, Rav Yosef Karo, and many, many more are virtual members of Jewish society today because of their huge talent and their willingness to work that talent to its maximum potential.
And one can do it through being flashy.  Everyone knows who Mordechai Kaplan is because of his willingness to break away from everything that Judaism stands for, not because of any Torah scholarship.  Similarily, Solomon Schechter has established a legacy for himself but when one things of him it isn't because of any commentary on the Talmud.
And now Rabbi Weiss seeks to enter history and be remembered for decades, if not centuries down the road.  Like those in the middling talent category he too seeks to break out from the ranks of the average by being controversial.
Which, when you strip away the supposed egalitarianism crisis in Orthodoxy and all the politicial correctness it is cloaked in, is why he is doing all this.
After all, one needs only to look at the pattern and the premise becomes clear.  First, there was his invention of the Maharat.  Groundbreaking!  Astonishing!  And eventually the furor faded away.  There was Sara Hurwitz and no one else.  Within the halls of HIR she was a de facto rabbi but outside she was just another woman with some learning behind her.
So then came Yeshivat Maharat which has been such a resounding success that it has about 5 or 6 women enrolled.  It's facilities are a rented room in a building somewhere.  Doesn't sound terribly inspiring.
Then came the Rabbah controversy which did succeed in pushing Rabbi Weiss and HIR into the spotlight for a while and had the singular effect of causing the RCA to actually set limits on what Modern Orthodoxy will accept.  That was a momentous event, and then it too faded when Rabbi Weiss backed down at the thought of no longer being able to call himself Orthodox.
And this here we are, after another period of quiet and Rabbi Weiss has once again found a way to get his name into the newspapers.  He'll have a woman lead Kabbahlos Shabbos.  That'll get him attention!
The resultant attention has been what he seems to crave.  From Cross Currents to Failed Messiah, the story has been in the news.
In the end, Rabbi Weiss will achieve his dream.  He will be remembered by Jewish historians albeit not for those reasons which have been traditionally considered the best ones, but like Kaplan and Schechter, for creating another Jewish movement which pretends to be Torah observant but which improvises whenever the Torah says no.

6 comments:

Bartley Kulp said...

His attempts to "moderate mainstream orthodoxy" is going to have about the same impact as a bug on a windshield. Appropriately it should be thus.

All of the attainments that frum Jewish women have attained in the past 150 years were achieved without the likes or influemce of Gloria Steinmen.

David said...

Help me out, Garnel-- where, exactly, does the Torah say "no?" on this issue? I've heard a bunch of self-appointed representatives of the Torah say "no" (and, occasionally even "chas v'shalom"), but, with their usual depth of learning, they can't seem to justify their opinions with anything beyond a sort of rank traditionalism. Orthodoxy can keep faith with the dead without insisting on keeping alive dead faith. If a woman passes the bechinos, bfd, let her be a rabbi. I know lots of rabbis, and I know lots of women, and lots of the women I know are smarter than most of the rabbis I know.

SJ said...

Garnel, how do you like the way I caught Sham-O lying? XD

E-Man said...

David, if you are really interested in the whole woman Rabbi thing here is an article that lays out almost all the views for it and against it http://text.rcarabbis.org/?p=931 enjoy! (It is long)

Y. Ben-David said...

Although living in Israel, I am not well-informed abouth the people and organizations involved in these supposedly “Orthodox” innovations, but, looking from the outside, what I see is an attempt to create a new form of Conservative Judaism. The currently existing Conservative Movement is fizzling out and has pretty much lost its identity, which at one time was based on a strong attachment to Jewish tradition with some flexibility in how the synagogue was run and not too many demands made on congregants in order for them to remain in good standing with the community. However, with the C Movement’s leadership seeming under endless pressure to conform to the latest “progressive” values, this “conservatism” which used to characterize the movement has vanished and it is now pretty much indistinguishable from Reform and Reconstructionism.

This, however is leaving a vacuum. For reasons that I don’t really understand, today it is very IN for people who in the past didn’t identify strongly with the Jewish people to now claim they are Jews, that they are Religious and that they are Zionists, even if they really are none of these things.
Thus, President Obama has an annual Pesach Seder, his Jewish advisors have a weekly Shabbat Kiddush and meal accompanyied by Shabbat Zemirot and Niggunim, Chelsea Clinton’s new Groom insists on having a Rabbi preside (along with a Christian minister) at his intermarriage and he even wears a tallit, and many Israel bashers such as those affiliated with J-Street will claim they are Zionists while they call for Israel to be boycotted and attacked in international forums.

Given this, there is no doubt people who in the past may have identified with the existing Conservative movement but who have been turned off by its anemic current state, and want a more “religious” or “traditional” type of synagogue service and rituals (what others may call “mitzvot”) but who do NOT accept what we consider to be Orthodox “doctrine” or traditionally understood and accepted.

Thus, I feel that innovations of these type will continue, they will attract new people, just as the Reform and Conservative movements did in the 19th and 20th centuries, they will seem to thrive for a while, and then they will fade out. Nothing to get excited about, this is the way modern Jewish history works. Those of us who oppose these innovations should not get hysterical about it , we should just stand firm and allow history to take its course. The traditional halachic system will stand up to the challenge and will come out on top in the end, as it always has in the past (as was the case in the conflicts with the Sadducees, the Essenes, the Karaites, the Judeo-Christians, and the old-line Reform and Conservative movements).

YGB said...

http://groups.google.com/group/bring-the-jo-back

Please join us to discuss how we can convince the Agudath Israel of America to bring The Jewish Observer back into print. Even if you don't have any ideas to share, your joining the group is tantamount to signing a petition to see the JO brought back to life!