How American Orthodoxy Turned against Social Dancing

June 20 2016

Until the 1960s, it was quite common for Orthodox synagogues in the U.S. to hold regular social events featuring mixed dancing, often with tacit approval from their clergymen. By the 1980s, such gatherings had disappeared even from Modern Orthodox synagogues as rabbis reasserted the halakhic prohibitions on social dancing and on public physical contact between the sexes in general. Zev Eleff seeks to explain this transformation:

Some point out that the generation [of congregants] that halted social dancing [comprised] the first graduates of Orthodox day schools. These women and men were more Jewishly literate than their parents and helped “slide” their community to the “right” [to use one sociologist’s memorable formulation]. Others maintain that [the shift in attitudes] was the result of the influence of a more rigid crop of rabbis who had immigrated to the United States directly before and after the Holocaust.

Both points are valid and contributed to the transformation of Orthodox youth culture. But another explanation should also be added, one that takes into consideration the broader scene of American religion. In the heat of the so-called sexual revolution of the 1960s, a number of conservative religious communities redrew their red lines. Consider the situation at faith-based colleges. In this turbulent decade, for example, Gordon College in Boston banned social dancing. . . . In another instance, one suitor wrote to his girlfriend at the Presbyterian-affiliated Hanover College in Indiana that he was “sorry to hear that your mother frowns on the hop.”

The same was true of the leading Orthodox college in New York. In 1960, the Yeshiva College student newspaper polled undergraduates on their religious punctiliousness. Sixty percent . . . . admitted, despite Jewish law’s proscription against it, to having regular “physical contact with girls.” In response to the startling figure, the editors lamented that a “majority of the Yeshiva boys apparently have not the slightest appreciation of what Orthodox Judaism fully entails.”

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Read more at University of Nebraska Press Blog

More about: American Judaism, Halakhah, History & Ideas, Modern Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy, Sexual revolution, Yeshiva University

What Israel Can Offer Africa

Last week, the Israeli analyst Yechiel Leiter addressed a group of scholars and diplomats gathered in Addis Ababa to discuss security issues facing the Horn of Africa. Herewith, some excerpts from his speech:

Since the advent of Zionism and the birth of modern Israel, there has been a strong ideological connection between Israel and the African continent. . . . For decades, [however], the notion that the absence of peace in the Middle East was due the absence of Palestinian statehood prevented a full and strategic partnership with African countries. . . . The visits to Africa by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—in 2016 to East Africa and in 2017 to West Africa—reenergized the natural partnership that was initiated by Israel’s Foreign Minister Golda Meir in the 1960s.

There is much we share, many places where our interests converge. And I don’t mean another military base in Djibouti. . . . One such area involves the safety of waterways in and around the Red Sea. Curtailing contraband, drugs, arms smuggling, and other forms of serious corruption are all vital for us. . . . But the one critical area of cooperation I’d like to put the spotlight on is in the realm of food security, or rather food insecurity.

Imagine Ethiopia’s cows producing 30 or 40 liters of milk a day instead of the two or three that they produce today. Imagine an exponential rise in (organic) meat exports to Middle Eastern and even European countries, the result of increased processing, storage, and transportation possibilities. Cows today can have a microscopic chip behind their ears that sends messages to the farmer’s computer or mobile phone that tracks what the cow ate, what its temperature is, and what care it might need. Imagine a dramatic expansion of the wheat yield that can make Ethiopia a net exporter of wheat—to Egypt, perhaps in the context of negotiations over the waters of the Nile.

Israel has proven technology in all of these agricultural areas and we’re here; we’re neighbors. We are linked to Africa, particularly the Horn of Africa, in so many ways.

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Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Africa, Ethiopia, Israel diplomacy, Israeli agriculture, Israeli technology