Thursday, August 9, 2007

Hurricane Noah Sighted in Israel

Noah Feldman's "Orthodox Paradox" article in the NY Times Magazine a few weeks ago came before this blog was active, and I saw no particular need to enter the fray - especially as it didn't occur to me that the fray would be so protracted. Well, I was certainly wrong about that one, wasn't I! For a re-cap of the whole story, see Yair Sheleg's article in Haaretz today. (And, by the way, thanks to digg for circumventing the NYT's archive fee for us - but that's a subject for another day).

A synopsis of the re-cap of the story: Professor Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School, ueber-polemist, published an article slamming the Modern Orthodox community in which he was raised for its paradoxes as it strives to combine tradition and modernity; he muddied the water or spiced the feast, depending on your perspective, by intertwining his own personal saga into his article: he's married to a non-Jew, and is having problems with the tensions this causes with some of his previous world-mates. The article launched a hurricane of responses. Here is the particularly eloquent response of Rabbi Norman Lamm. My impression is that this is THE STORY of the summer in the world of American Jewry.

And that is an interesting illustration of the real, and perhaps widening, gap between the Jews of Israel and America. Until Sheleg's article this morning there was no public awareness of any of this in Israel - nor will there now be any excitement. Sheleg, one of the more interesting and serious journalists at Haaretz, picked up on the story partially because he was in the States recently. He reported, some people read, and life goes on as usual. You could say this is a sign of Israeli insularity (or some harsher word), but I think it's deeper than that. Being actively Jewish in America is much more a decision (or a never-ending series of decisions) than it is in Israel, and therefore Feldman's discussion of the tension between personal decisions and communal cohesion is so potent (radioactive?) there, but not here.

When I first read his article, back when it was published and before the hurricane, my response was warmly to recommend it to my wife because of the compelling way he described the importance of Jewish learning as a formative influence in his life. Now that's an issue that's relevant to the Israeli scene, where broad sections of the society may be willing literally to die for their Jewish state, but are abysmally ignorant of the wealth of their culture. Feldman could easily teach them.


Lydia McGrew said...

Is there really some Talmudic text or some other official Orthodox source according to which one isn't supposed to violate the Sabbath to save a non-Jew's life, except perhaps for "community relations"? That's a new one on me, but my ignorance in this area is vast.

Yaacov said...

In some 2,400 years of uninterrupted and very wide-ranging discussion, you're going to find all sorts of statements, including some unsavory ones. I recommend the letter by Norman Lamm, linked further down in this post. He deals rather well with your question, I think.