How the Growth of Jewish Education in Postwar America Brought Polarization

March 23 2018

Today, Orthodox Jewry is divided, if not always cleanly, between the Modern Orthodox, who embrace secular education and some openness to the non-Jewish world, and the ultra-Orthodox, who pursue greater cultural isolation and a more stringent understanding of religious requirements. Moshe Koppel notes that these categories did not apply to the many Jews he knew in his youth who had come to the U.S. from Eastern Europe after World War II. He seeks to explain how the schism came about:

[A] generation of yeshiva-educated baby boomers growing up after the war moved comfortably along the spectrum running from frum [i.e., strictly observant] and segregated to modern and assimilating. On the one hand, they inherited deep feelings of alienation and resentment toward acculturated American Jews and their establishment. On the other hand, as is common with children of immigrants, they rushed headlong into professional achievement and American culture, often including the 1960s counterculture. The resulting tension played out in many interesting ways, including various singular combinations that are fast becoming extinct.

The success of Orthodox institutions in America, especially beginning in the 1960s and 70s, has had some unintended consequences. Large educational institutions are not artisanal studios; they are instruments of mass production. Even if graduates inevitably choose their own divergent paths, these institutions define a standard against which one must self-define. Furthermore, since such institutions compete for students, they inevitably cluster around certain standard forms. . . .

Eventually, such institutions are around long enough to produce their own teachers, creating a feedback loop that narrows and hardens institutional identity. Graduates of the various standard educational types then sort themselves out to different neighborhoods, like [Modern Orthodox] Teaneck and [ḥasidic] Borough Park, where they don’t need to interact and where there is intense pressure to conform to the right stereotype.

One consequence of this is that a certain type of crossover character is disappearing. There are no more celebrated Lithuanian talmudic sages who play chess and go the opera. There are no more wives of ḥasidic rebbes studying in Hunter College. . . . [This] division of a messy continuum into distinct segregated sub-communities is merely the preliminary phase of a process in which segregation leads to polarization.

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Read more at Judaism without Apologies

More about: American Judaism, History & Ideas, Jewish education, Judaism, Modern Orthodoxy, Ultra-Orthodox


The Evidence of BDS Anti-Semitism Speaks for Itself

Oct. 18 2019

Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs recently released a lengthy report titled Behind the Mask, documenting the varieties of naked anti-Semitic rhetoric and imagery employed by the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction the Jewish state (BDS). Drawn largely but not exclusively from Internet sources, its examples range from a tweet by a member of Students for Justice in Palestine (the “world would be soooo much better without jews man”), to an enormous inflated pig bearing a star of David and floating behind the stage as the rock musician Roger Waters performs, to accusations by an influential anti-Israel blogger that Israel is poisoning Palestinian wells. Cary Nelson sums up the report’s conclusions and their implications, all of which give the lie to the disingenuous claim that critics of BDS are trying to brand “legitimate criticism of Israel” as anti-Semitic.

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Read more at Fathom

More about: Anti-Semitism, BDS, Roger Waters, Social media