Sunday, April 4, 2010

Book 2 and The Eye of the Storm

Those of you who are familiar with my book (i.e., read the whole thing or have the misfortune of being related to me) are aware that it is a 2-part project.

To rehash:

Book 1 - the one that exists - is meant to present the hashkafos of the chareidi/Torah-oriented/One Above world to those who don't understand it (no small group).

Book 2 - not yet published - is meant to apply the hashkafos to the "raging" issues of observant Judaism to show how they play out in the field and why. These would include hot topics such as: State of Israel and army service, work vs. learning, technology and Internet, beis din and agunos, geirus (new addition), kanaos, mehadrin kashrus (and buses?), eruvim, chareidi miscreants and שאר ירקות. Incidentally, a chapter about chareidim who go off the derech (OTD) was included in Book 1.

It goes without saying that Book 2 stands to be the more juicier, confrontational and perhaps "mud-slinging" volume. As such, every so often somebody from my tiny group of fans asks me "When is Book 2 coming out?" to which I am forced to answer, "Currently, there is no scheduled release and, currently, there is no release to schedule."

Or, in other words, I have suspended the second half of the project for the time being.

And why?

There are a whole slew of reasons. Among them:


  • Resources - Books require a lot of time for writing and editing and a lot of money for typesetting and printing. For Book 1, I was blessed with adequate supplies of both. This is no longer the case.

  • Poor Yield - Although One Above and Seven Below has successfully made a name for itself and commands the respect it deserves, it is not as sought after as I would have hoped it to be. In other words, sales are fair but disappointing.

  • People don't read- An extention of the previous point is that people do not have the time or patience to read like they used to. The world of books is suffering terribly from competition from more stimulating media as well as from an over-abundance of books. All booksellers (and authors) that I have spoken to are complaining about this.

But I think the trump point is that the hashkafos of the chareidi world (Book 1) are steadfast and unchanging. As such, it is not much of a challenge to start writing a book in 2003 and publish it in 2007 and it can be just as relevant in 2017 and 2027.

Not so the issues. Our world is changing every day um hour um minute so that some issues may suddenly lose their relevance and others take their place in the spotlight. As an example, the issue of the chareidi's disdain for army service is not nearly as hot a topic after the universal disillusionment of the disengagement (2005), the surplus in manpower or the success of Nachal Chareidi. Conversely, I initially (in 2003) never thought to address the chareidi approach to conversion. Now, however, a work that overlooks geirus issues would be incomplete at best.

Writing a book on current issues is like trying to change a tire on a moving truck!

And for that reason I have opened this blog where I can present my message in a more popular forum (the Internet) in bite-size pieces and present the material for immediate consumption while the issues are current. I have shifted my limited time and energies in this direction.

In short, this blog is in effect a substitute for Book 2. As a side effect, it has held me back from working directly on Book 2. Nevertheless, I do not consider this delay to be detrimental for a number of reasons.

One is that I have learned so much about the world of the "Seven Below" - the scoffers, the cynics, the antagonists, and the "centrists" - over my 20 months of blogging that I am much more prepared to deal with issues on "their" terms than I would be if I had not delayed Book 2.

And a second reason is that, in the interim, another "spokesman" from the chareidi world, and one considerably older, more erudite, more articulate, and more venerable and acclaimed than I has taken the trouble of writing a version of Book 2 in my stead.

And, with this, I wish to pay tribute to HaRav Aharon Feldman, Shlita and his superb book: The Eye of the Storm.



And, from what I understand, this book is selling like hotcakes.

I first got wind of the book about 2 months ago when my son, Yaakov, who was working afternoons at Manny's in Meah Shearim told me told me that a book came out by Harav Aharon Feldman that was very similar to mine. He offered to get me a copy with his employee discount, but I had a better idea. I got the book at retailer's cost from Rav Feldman's son (Rav Eliyahu) who lives in the building next to mine.

I wanted to be one of the first people on the blogosphere to review the book (okay, it was way too late for Slifkin from last November) but I suffered from one handicap - I wanted to read it first. So it was hard to compete with some other reviewers eid-m'pi-eid commenters who didn't bother to read the book at all.

To generalize, the purpose of his book is identical to the purpose of mine, but he says it better: A calm view of raging issues. It is meant to present the perspective of the chareidi/Torah/One Above world on current issues in an effort to restore some calm.

Now, in my Book 1, my approach is to focus on the hashkafos and, through understanding them, to set the stage for dealing with the issues. His book approaches from the opposite direction - to deal with the issues and, through them, to present an understanding on the hashkafos.

I believe that this is a more effective approach (and the sales figures seem to bear it out) and it is the approach I had in mind for Book 2. So, to some extent, he has saved me the trouble of writing Book 2.

Now, of course, he doesn't nearly cover the full list of issues that I presented at the top of this post and, conversely, some of the topics that he does discuss, notably his discussions about homosexuality and Messianic Lubavitchers, are things that I did not want to touch in my book (though I posted a blog about homosexuality HERE).

The primary overlap issue is his discussion about secular Zionism which I planned to discuss as a preamble to the army issue (which he does not elaborate upon). Needless to say, I am in full agreement with him on the topic. Another overlap is his discussion on feminism which I did indeed deal with briefly in my Book 1 on pages 161-168. His main point is that women are not required to perform certain mitzvos and, thus, these mitzvos are not priority aspects of Avodas Hashem for a woman. As such, the drive for a woman to perform these mitzvos regardless is more born from self gratification than a longing for Avodas Hashem. This is the identical message that I present in my book.

In other points of "collusion" Harav Feldman, Shlita, has an essay about Daas Torah where he clarifies that Daas Torah does not mean overruling the opinions of experts on civil or medical matters but rather it means adding Torah based considerations into the cholent of secular or scientific considerations as an integral part of the process of formulating a course of action. I do not discuss this form of Daas Torah but I do have a chapter about Rabbinic Authority in Book 1 (Cops and Rabbis).

In his book, there is one chapter that is more an overview on chareidi hashkafa than a position on a "raging" issue titled: Credo of Credence. Likewise, in my Book 1, I present my deepest, most scholarly discussion on chareidi hashkafa in a chapter titled: Getting to the Heart of the Matter. The highlight of his chapter is a commentary from the Vilna Gaon in Shir HaShirim which declares that there are only 2 actual mitzvos: Anochi Hashem and Lo Yihiye Lecha and all positive mitvos are manifestations of Anochi Hashem and all negative mitzvos are manifestations of Lo Yihiye Lecha. The highlight of my chapter is a commentary from the Maharsha in Maseches Makkos which declares that there are only 2 actual mitzvos: Anochi Hashem and Lo Yihiye Lecha and all positive mitvos are manifestations of Anochi Hashem and all negative mitzvos are manifestations of Lo Yihiye Lecha.

So as Harav Feldman zeros in on The Eye of the Storm, he presents the hashkafos that are universally upheld in the chareidi world. It is natural that we see the storm "eye-to-eye". That said, there was one essay in which I am not in complete agreement. Most of you can probably guess - it is his overview on the Slifkin affair. I may want to elaborate on where I disagree and why, but if so, it will have to wait for a separate post. Likewise, I did see the review penned by Harav Aharon Lichtenstein and I have much to comment on it. This, too, will have to command its own post.

All in all, I certainly agree with my son Yaakov that Harav Feldman's book is both a compliment and a complement to mine. His book is much more practical and much less theoretical than mine is. Also it is a bit shorter with larger print and, of course, it has the eloquence and succinct delivery that Harav Feldman is known for. So it adds up to a more comfortable and less tedious read.

I highly recommend it and, more so, I strongly urge anybody who has read my book or who rejected my book to experience Harav Feldman's approach.

Because our mission in life is to outlast the storm.

8 comments:

Harry Maryles said...

Gag me! You say I reviewed his book? That is a lie! I did not such thing and never claimed to. What I did do is comment on a review of his book by one of the Gedolei HaDor whose Hashkafos I agree with.

You constantly do that Yechezkel. You misread or misinterpret what I write - creating a straw man and then proceed to ‘triumphantly’ knock it down.

I am frankly very tired of your hateful comments disguised as humor. It doesn’t fool anyone. Maybe that’s why your book didn’t sell so well!

Try telling the truth about me for a change.

Yechezkel said...

I am truly sorry for calling it a "review". Please forgive me.

Still in general, when somebody writes an opinion on an author and his book, it is called a "review". Here is the concluding paragraph of your post:

>>Rabbi Feldman has somehow bought into the rejectionist rhetoric of the extreme right, walks in lockstep with them and chooses to promote those views with an anger and a rancor that inspires hatred – all while proclaiming his love of all Jews! With the publication of this book he is truly a disappointment.

So for a change, I will tell the truth about you:

Here you have published an opinion about a man and his book without reading his book and judging for yourself.

This seems to be your style. You do the same about me.

Perhaps your followers can respect this approach but I cannot.

And, frankly, I am far from convinced that Rav Aharon Lichtenstein would agree with this paragraph and want this to be the message that the readers of his review come away with.

And, if it is, it's very sad.

Yechezkel said...

>>I am frankly very tired of your hateful comments disguised as humor. It doesn’t fool anyone.

Rabbi Maryles, my comments are in response to things that you (Y-O-U, Rabbi Harry Maryles) have written, and almost all of it is in defense of a person or institution that you have antagonized (which is the main mission of my writing). Though my comments may be "sharp and biting", your characterization of what I write to address your antagonism as "hateful" says a lot about you.

My dear friend, if you do not want the criticism that you write in public to be challenged, DO NOT WRITE IT. And if it makes you "tired", you do not belong in the blogosphere.

Harry Maryles said...

You can criticize me all you want. It doesn't really matter that much since your readership is rather small. It is astounding to me that you think your insults disguised as humor does anything other than anger me. Do you think my impression of Charedim is ehnaced by this type of writing?

There are two kinds of Charedi responses to my writing: Those who 'get it' and those who think I bash Charedim. You, my friend, are of the latter. Get a clue!

Harry Maryles said...

Here you have published an opinion about a man and his book without reading his book and judging for yourself.

That is not what I did. I read what RAL said about it and commented on that.

Why is that so difficult for you to understand?!

Yechezkel said...

>> I read what RAL said about it and commented on that.

Which means that you passed judgment on a book without reading it. And you most certainly passed judgment on Rav Feldman, Shlita without reading his material.

As I said: Perhaps your followers can respect this approach but I cannot.

In any case, I am certain you will be pleased to note that I edited my post to be more "truthful".

>>There are two kinds of Charedi responses to my writing: Those who 'get it' and those who think I bash Charedim. You, my friend, are of the latter.

And I am in good company!

Anonymous said...

Reb Yechezkel, you write:

"...the hashkafos of the chareidi world (Book 1) are stagnant and unchanging..."

Is that really the correct word to use? "Stagnant" implies dullness and lifelessness, whereas our role is that "bechol yom yihyu be'einecha kachadashim," and indeed "chadashim" without the comparative particle!

Yechezkel said...

I never really liked that word. I thought a few times about changing it but haven't bothered to do it. I did it now.

Thanks for your comment.