Sunday, July 27, 2008

Chana's Song - Music to my Ears

An articulate young blogster seems to be commanding lots of attention. At least she caught mine. Her name is Chana, she is from Chicago, she was 19 when she last updated her profile. And she is very curious.

Now, I happen to be partial to the name Chana. Both my own grandmother (the one who stood in front of the Aron Kodesh just before she was deported to Auschwitz) and my wife’s grandmother were named Chana. That is why our youngest daughter is named Chana. But I digress…

Chana, who considers herself to be Modern Orthodox has taken upon herself to introduce us to Haredi philosophy. I really don't mind the competition. If somebody can do a better job than me -- kol hakavod! I just wanted to critique her work a bit and see how it compares with mine. And my overall assessment is… our perspectives have much in common.

Let's have a look:

In Part 1, Chana brings out 5 aspects of chareidi philosophy:

  1. There should be no labels and no distinction between chareidi and MO.
  2. To the chareidim, the Torah is our primary guide and is the end-all and be-all of what defines us.
  3. For the chareidi, Halacha is respected as an inviolate body of knowledge and instruction.
  4. We choose insularity to help us obtain and maintain our goals.
  5. We promote and derive vitality from learning Torah for learning’s sake.

    I think she is absolutely on target with all 5 points. I have expressed (almost) all of them myself thusly:
  • Her point #1 is the main summation of my entire Book 1 and is the theme of the epilog chapter – Chapter 9. She makes this point first and I make it last but it is my central point and actually, I advise my readers to skip to Chapter 9 after Chapters 1 and 2.
  • Her point #2 is the theme of Chapters 1 and 2.
  • Her point #3 is the theme of Chapter 8. In that chapter, I focus on the teachings of the Rabbis but it applies to Halacha in general just the same.
  • Her point #4 I do not discuss much, but I agree with it fully.
  • Her point #5 is the logical extension of point #2 and is likewise covered in Chapters 1 and 2 and expanded on in Chapter 3.

    We move on to her Part 2. In Part 2 she opens with reiterating our approach to learning and how it is based on Mesorah. I dealt with this briefly in Chapter 7 –Lesson 4. She carries on with a lengthy soliloquy about the preeminence of Chazal. I voice this sentiment in a much different fashion in Chapter 8 and it is also subliminally one of the concepts that I am trying to market in Chapter 4.

    To sum up – I applaud Chana for hitting the nail on the head. Furthermore, even I was not qualified to write such passionate prose when I was 19 (of course, the Jewish world may have been a bit different then). I might also add that she is a bit braver than I. She takes it upon herself to analyze the difference between Chareidi and MO. I suppose she can do that because she knows what an MO is. She says she is one (I have my doubts).

    In my book (one), I don’t define any differences between Chareidi and MO - only between Chareidim and NCOJs. With one notable exception, the term MO isn’t even in my book. It’s partly because I have no idea what a MO is. Heck, lots of my readers think I don’t know what a chareidi is. At least I know what a NCOJ is. It is somebody who doesn't meet my definition of chareidi (pretty simple, no?).

    Actually, the main difference between what she wrote and what I wrote is –she said it much briefer and you don’t need to spend 20 bucks to read it.

    That said, I would expect that Chana would consider my book as a suitable source for further elaboration owing that there is so much overlap, but it doesn't look that way.
    Two of the commenters on her Blog referred to my book (in Part 1), and Chana commented that she wouldn't recommend it. She said it was poorly edited, which I can accept (truth be told, I did not give the editor a lot of leeway to make changes) but she also said "if anything, it will confuse people further".

    I sense a diversion here. I have received complaints about the editing in terms of it being "wordy" and "slow to get to the point" but, so far, no one who read it through said that it was confusing. I have received more compliments of "well written" than "poorly written". What is probably more accurate is that there is no debate that the book carries the "potential to rub people the wrong way" (as I clearly state in a disclaimer). It does project a sense of chareidi elitism, which is unavoidable, by the way. And I may come across like the salesman I am trying to be. But in terms of Chana, I really think that she has no problem with what the book says – as I noted, it’s very similar - so much as she has with who is saying it. An MO may analyze the "chareidi", but for a chareidi to toot his own horn is pretentious.

    Of course, there is a vast difference in temperament which may have something to do with it. Chana is a very sensitive person and a superb prosaic writer and is definitely an NF on a Myers-Briggs scale. I am a mediocre technical writer - less sensitive and more cynical and a high NT.

    Now, she hasn’t given my book any credit (she actually discredited it) but one thing is certain – she read it before she wrote her posts. Can she truly say that it did not influence her?

    In any case, I wonder what’s in store for Part 3 or, at least, what's the main show after the Introduction. I can hardly wait. That’s because I’m a curious Jew!


anon said...

An interesting summation. Chana is not really MO. If she is ,then she is on the very Right of it.

Baruch said...

See to understand more of the nuance to Chana's position.

Also, Yechezkel's summary of Chana's comment didn't catch all the nuances. Yechezkel's summary:
"Chana commented that she wouldn't recommend it. She said it was poorly edited, which I can accept (truth be told, I did not give the editor a lot of leeway to make changes) but she also said 'if anything, it will confuse people further'."

Chana's actual comment:
"That book will not help people understand Haredi Judaism. I know because I read it/ own it, an it was put together in a haphazard fashion, poorly edited and otherwise poorly written. If anything, it will confuse people further."

Baruch said...

ps see my response to Yechezkel's book at