Tuesday, June 24, 2008

An All Male Seder Evening

Apparently a growing number of non-Orthodox Jewish communities in the US are noticing a draining way of their menfolk. Whether this is a lot of coincidence or the beginning of a trend no-one can yet say, but someone has already written a whole book about it. And someone else has "published a men's Passover Haggadah intended for use at all-male Seders" (I kid you not). And they've got other ideas, too, such as
improving athletics programs at its camps and is encouraging synagogues and camps to explore programming for men, including father-son events
Given that the single most central Jewish activity of Jewish men, these past 2,000 years or so, often done with their sons, has been to learn Jewish books, it's interesting that this possibility is never mentioned in the article.

What can I say. Even at the risk of aggravating some of those of you whom I usually don't try to aggravate, I must reluctantly admit that so far as I can see, the best one can say about the long-term survival chances of non-Orthodox Jews as Jews, outside of Israel of course, is that the jury is still out. If it's still out, and I'm not convinced even of that. You want to assure the Jewishness of your descendants? Either be Orthodox, or in Israel, and preferably both.


Anonymous said...

To me, at least, there is more than one acceptable definition of "Jewishness" (i.e., of what "being a Jew" means/requires).

But if you limit the criteria to "strictly following Orthodox tradition", then, yes, the only way to preserve Jewishness is to be Orthodox.

Yaacov said...

I fully agree about the variety. My point was not about that but rather about cultural staying power: something some Jews managed to maintain for millenia even as others fell out and disappeared. And I stand by my statement, that the varieties that are neither orthodox nor Israeli (either or) may well not have the necessary staying power not to fall out.

And I expected you to be peeved, Rattling, which is why I apologized in advance :~).

Anonymous said...


Change happens. Whether you participate. Or not.

Here's an example. Chaucer was born around 1350. And, the English language undergoes great change. By the time Chaucer writes Canterbury Tales (and this remains in print. Allowing you to see the need for a dictionary, these days, if you want to understand what you're reading) ...

You'd see how profound changes affected the very language we not only speak, but are familiar with its ways; as an English speaker. To think all of this has been written down in stone.

No. It has not.

By the time Guttenberg's printing press comes along; 1450's, English began transposing a "F" where there used to be a "V." And, the "germanic influences; of putting verbs at the ends of sentences; gave way.

Test this out. A fox, as a baby, is a vixen.

And, the word for "egg" at one time was closer to the Hebrew word for "eye." Which gave it its first pronounciations.

To make a joke, Chaucer told of a "rich man" who was able to travel about. Seven miles, by the way, were considered great journeys. And, most people never even went into the forests that surrounded their villages. Living and dying in their places of birth.

Anyway, the traveler got hungry. So he knocked on a farmhouse door. And, out comes the farmer's wife. He tells her he wants an "egg." And, since he didn't say "ay-niyim" she replied "sorry but I don't speak french."

How far has tradition(s) dropped?

Well, the ease with which New York Jews spoke to each other in Yiddish is gone, now. Along with the Yiddish Theater. Which also had Kosher Diary restaurants, like Ratner's, nearby. Because? People not only went to the theater, they went out to eat. And, this food was as familiar as the meals they'd eat at home.

Gone now.

My own feeling is that Yiddish reminded too many Jews of German. So it flew away during the 1940's. Kids at play, who heard Yiddish at home, didn't use it in the streets, when they were playing with each other.

This means I remember a generation of elders who were immigrants. And, their American children. WHo got to be middle-class; and who then moved away from their old neighborhoods.

In some cases? Those older parents pushed their sons to go to Harvard. So my dad pointed out, a lot of these men were now ashamed of their parents (or at least their accents). And, hence, didn't invite their parents to their homes when they had friends over.

Believe it or not, Seders changed. And, to make up for the slump? You could attend a Seder at any Jewish temple. Jewish temples were looking to provide new approaches to "that old time religion." Including Bingo Nites. Because it paid the overhead.

Then, not long ago, I read that the tradition of lighting Sabbath candles wasn't a "Friday Night thing," anymore.

You also can't have divorce; and changes in how sexuality became acceptable; without knowing you were going to strain relationships. And, change patterns.

Christians, too, can look back and see changes. Changes where parents at one time had "more kids." Before 1971. When the Pill became legal.

The Jury "isn't out." In America, more people are Jews because they say they are! In many cases? Their moms are 2nd wives. And, definitely not Jewish. But certainly willing to marry a Jew. Since, by and large, Jews were known to be better husbands, and less likely to get drunk.

The fabric that used to rip? It wasn't just Jewish. There where goyim who refused to give their daughters the time of day, after they married a Jew.

So, you can glimpse how the modern world changed the dynamics. Like it or not.

Also, what's in our hands, versus the bigger picture. Because way back when the First Temple was destroyed, Jews were supposed to be left without the "house" for which "the book" was written.

And, the changes, then, incorporated two-thousand years away, dancing around the globe. In the Diaspora. Turns out, it was good for the Jews. And, turns out not all Jews kept to their own books; but actually began reading others. Began looking for credentials outside the rabbinate.

And, in Israel? If you think the orthodox are the majority, no. They are not.

All democracies are a large business. All monarchies and despots, are small, by comparison. In that whole countries fall under the thumbs of a few guys with the guns.

And, democracies work like trading posts. Self-interests dominate. But then? You need to form into some sort of a group, to gain "trading rights." And, trading goes on all of the time.

I should point out one other observation. Because when I moved out to California, in 1979, all the supermarkets were bigger than any I had seen back east. And, ALL of them had a row for KOSHER FOODS. Today? Supplanting the foods on those shelves are Asian foods. In a world where you don't have to be Chinese, to buy their noodles.

The Holocaust was a huge change! It's not going to disappear from view ... no matter how much time passes! And, it will also mark a space where other things changed in the 20th Century as well.

Heck, FDR had 4 terms! Kids went through school, (if they were born before 1932), not knowing a republican president, until 1952. That's a hunk of change, believe it. Or not.

We're seeing other changes, as well.

The religious right in America thought they owned government! (That's how Anthony Kennedy got to sit on the Supreme's. The religious lunatics were looking to stop Roe.) Seems they didn't hold "the center" at all. And, what they got when Reagan came to power has dissapated out of their hands.

Now? McCain is NOT from the religious-right. It seems if you can get the voters motivated to "pick your dog" ... you're out. (In the American system. It's winner takes all.)

And, both Bush's have been calamities in terms of politics.

Like hollywood. There just are no stars out there, anymore. No John Wayne's. And, Reagan's ride was somewhat bumpy.

I point this out because as people bargain and trade; you can see the market place. And, sometimes? It doesn't produce the things you want.

And, temper tantrums change nothing.

While, sure. There's room for nostalgia. I nice Jewish man, born around 1900, wrote the songs that the goyim sing: "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas."

Ya know what? They sing it here! In LA, too. As if it's not a requirement to be in a small village with snow keeping you indoors. Why is that?

There are some things that remain in the hands of the "Master of the Universe."

And, the only clue you have ... (including the choices that nobody flew heavenwards to claim paternity) ... is that we're still here. Through thick and thin.

Through periods that saw the demise of others. Ancient Greek and Latin are dead languages, folks.

People who once held the keys to credentialing, lost them. As to be expected.

And, you no longer have to "come to America" traveling in wooden boats.

Religion ahead? You'd be surprised how you'd see changes ... where the pedophile priests once had a field day of blaming the victims.

Oh, the other thing to notice?

Well, on the Internet, there's something called GODWIN'S LAW. (It means strangers are leaving comments, until one jerk shows up and says "hitler." And, this cancels the thread.)

Oddly enough, you know the newspapers are dying. Shrinking in size. Losing ad revenues. And, also losing clout. Because their customers "have left the building."

So what's going on?

Let me give you the FBI clue. Because it used to drive me crazy.

We had an "incident" at LAX, on July 4th, a few years ago; where an Eygptian man went to the EL AL counter and killed a rather beautiful Jewish girl, working behind the desk.

Yes. Immediately, he was killed. (Israelis carry concealed weapons.)

But the FBI spokesman came out and said, "NO TERRORISM." Which is similar to the GODWIN LAW. When its said, and printed in print, the story meets its end.

So stick with the Internet.

It's not just religion that's changing practices.

Anonymous said...


Ya know, even the "Last Supper," as painted, has the Da Vinci code imbedded, that Mary was at the table.

For the longest time the Catholic Church "forgot" to mention to parishioners that Jesus was Jewish.

So there was a "little detail" that had escaped my attention all these years. Until my son spilled the beans.

My son asked me if I knew about Jesus' last Seder meal. And, I gave him a funny look. So, he added: Well, Jesus used the Massiah's cup!

Gee. I didn't know that!

As to the past, again, where I am very familiar; Jewish households spent days, if not weeks, preparing for Seders. (And, my dad could race through the Hagadah, very quickly.)

The gefilte fish was homemade. So was the soup. And, the kneidelach. No mixes. And, no bottles of fish product.

Now, that was an old-fashioned Seder!

But times change. And, what came after? As I said, if you wanted to attend a Seder, you sign up at the local temple. It's not the best way.

And, this has caused more drop-off in this holiday than just about anything else.

Gosh, I remember New York City literally closing down for BOTH Seder nights!

Well? I also remember the lines around the Chinese Restaurant right after the shofar blew on Yom Kippur, sending everyone out to "break the fast."

And, you think I'm kidding, huh?

All I can tell ya is that "change is not overnight."

It's only when we look back, that we see changes in "the old familiar" neighborhood. Like you wouldn't believe.

Ya know? Trips to Israel also increase during Passover. Now, I no longer wonder why. Because catering is an entire industry devoted to "making less work for Mother." And, leaves more time for shopping. So you can buy the "perfect dress."

Styles change. Habits, on the other hand, grow wings.

Lydia McGrew said...

In Chaim Potok's _The Promise_ (the sequel to his absolutely brilliant _The Chosen_), there is a non-orthodox seminary professor who is trying to find ways for Jews to remain Jews while not believing in God. There is also a rather ultra-orthodox Yeshiva rabbi who is sort of his mirror image. The main character, Reuven Malter, prefers the former fellow the latter, and this is no surprise, as Potok takes pains to make the non-Orthodox professor attractive and the ultra-Orthodox rabbi unattractive. (I apologize if you know the novel very well and this is all old hat to you.) Anyway, as so often happens to me when reading Potok's novels, I find myself agreeing more than I'm meant to with the ultra-Orthodox characters he means you to dislike. There is one scene where Reuven tries to explain things to the ultra-Orthodox rabbi, who is a Maidanek survivor. Reuven says something like, "He's trying to find something for Jews who no longer can believe." (Words to that effect; I'm doing this by memory.) And the rabbi says, "I know what he found. He found an _idea_. When millions of Jews went to death to glorify the Name, they died for an _idea_?"

It's a line that seems to me fairly unanswerable, and it's a sign of Potok's genius as a novelist that he put it in there even though he is trying to portray the character unsympathetically.

Anonymous said...

A new addition to their education should be the Summer Issue of Carrie Leigh's Nude Magazine in which Chanon
Finley, who grew up as a female Orthodox Jew bares all both in body and mind. Let the boys learn what it is about first hand from one of their own from the opposite sex

Anonymous said...



One book can make a door stop, before it gets to speak for an entire generation.

Most religions are running into "changes." Will some mature and keep on dispensing "hope to the faithful?"

It's also possible that the roles religions have played in the past; get to reflect a world where, languages, themselves are dying.

John McWorter, a noted linguist, has postulated that about 40 languages are all that's left of the multiple thousands that once encompassed this globe.

Technology marched on. And, in today's world, news you read in English, is also available in English ... in outposts far and wide. Comprehension is there. Or, a suitable translation is found.

As I said. You only need 40 languages; and you've got everything covered. No longer the "tower of babel." Now, shrunk.

And, with the changing habits ... including the smaller sizes to families when families choose "smaller families" ... You don't see those Sunday parades.

Again. Because I was born in 1939. I know that there were "Blue Laws" in many cities. Not just New York's cities. Where the Catholic Church had imposed a "shut down." Bars couldn't be opened on Sundays! And, retail stores got ticketed, if they opened, on Sundays, for business.

For Jewish storekeepers this was a double-whammy. Since they were closed, by tradition, on the Sabbath.

And, do you know what changed the landscape?

Believe it or not: Wal-Marts.

Here's how.

Sam Walton opened huge stores, not in cities ... but at the forks in the road between cities.

And, he stayed open on Sundays. Because he could. There was no local jurisdiction forcing him closed.

That's what gave a lot of people "more choices."

Choice #1 was to roll over and go back to sleep.

Choice #2 was to take the family, in the station wagon, and go shopping at Wal-Marts. WHich catered to an assortment of goods; bound to keep all the shoppers happy.

WHen city stores (like Macy's), started to bleed customers; there were pressures put on politicians to "fix the codes" so that the bigger fish could also keep their doors open.

If you think there haven't been changes in the past fifty years, you'd be mistaken.

Including even how we keep ourselves entertained.

Back in the 1950's? Hugh Hefner, of all people, became the forward thrust of a man willing to risk jail to print a magazine with a nude woman for inspection, in the center-fold display.

And, when more customers go to your magazine; you're gonna start a trend.

Then along came jeans. And, even rich people bought pants that fell off your body, and climbed into the washing machine, all by themselves.

Ah. And, then. In 1971 came the Pill.

You think women asked their husbands?

HA! Women knew their husbands eschewed condoms; so what's to ask? Instead, they asked their gynecologists. And, then they hid the pills.

And, until schools made the pills available to students, a lot of girls kept the pills hidden away from "daddy's nose." Heck, he didn't even know when his "little girl" began to menstruate. Sometimes, the very ways people deal with life, becomes the ways in which our children learn "the truth."

And, "the truth" isn't available to families anymore, by a bunch of priests who never marry!

You thought things would stay the same?

Why? Because you think when you jump into water, you're stepping back to where you were, before? It's water. And, it travels. Hither, and Yon. And, under the bridge.

Meanwhile, I'm going to guess that Judaism ADAPTS! For the past 3,000 years, that's been our strength. A faith that is easy to carry with you. That brings you into contact with others, even if only for card games.

And, a sense that it really matters, what happens to Israelis. Where I'm betting the secular universe holds. Just like it does in America.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Orthodoxy in a nutshell:

"A Jew who killed a non-Jew is exempt from human judgment and has not violated the [religious] prohibition of murder." --Rabbi Israel Ariel, based on the Mechilta and Maimonides.

Orthodoxy in another nutshell:

"It is very important that these toys [i.e. dolls and stuffed animals] do not remain intact so as to remove the element of idolatry. A leg or and arm should be dismembered from dolls; an eye or an ear should be cut off from teddy-bears." --A fatwa, er, rabbinical ruling, from Mordechai Eliyahu, former Sephardi grand rabbi of Israel.

Anonymous said...

Hey folks, it's so simple. No one denounces the right to be a liberal Jew.

But who are the liberals of tomorrow? The kids of today's liberals? Nope.
Answer: the rebel kids of the Orthodox.

The stream flows as long as there is the spring.