Let's start with Eitan Kastner's article, "How Torah u'Madda Can Work."
It's a very nice article overall, except for the claim that Torah u'Madda is impossible to define and moreover, is an utterly subjective approach, different for each individual.
- These two lessons in particular struck me as exemplifying Torah u-Madda, but that does not mean I expect they would have the same affect on others. The onus is on each and every student striving for a more meaningful Jewish existence to try to find a way to synthesize, harmonize, and rationalize Torah and Madda in their lives. There is no one right way of achieving this, and methods and ideas will often differ from person to person. [emph. mine] The best way to teach Torah u-Madda is by offering traditional shiur and genuine liberal arts courses uncompromised by religious apprehensions while fostering an environment that encourages the fusion of these ideas.
Many who try to define Torah u-Madda often do so by saying what it is not. [emph. mine] It is not Haredi. It is not Conservative. It is not Torah u-Parnassah. But we do know that it is something different. And we do know that it makes Yeshiva unique. But because it is up to the individual to find meaning from its methods, it can be hard to peg down. I, for one, cannot define Torah u-Madda, [emph. mine] but I know it when I see it.
This is simply not so! See Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik's very clear speech/ essay on the subject in The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Volume 2, page 229. To wit:
- I have heard criticisms against the Yeshiva that we have not yet achieved the proper synthesis between Torah study and secular endeavor; between fear of God and worldliness. We have not achieved what the German Orthodox Jews called "Torah with derekh eretz [worldly occupation"] [Avot 2:2]. I claim that the true greatness of the Yeshiva is that it does not have this synthesis. The truth is that there is no real synthesis in the world. If there is a contradiction between Torah and secular endeavor, then synthesis is not possible. If there is a thesis and an anti-thesis, then no synthesis is possible. In general, a synthesis is very superficial. It is apologetic, it imitates others and the individual loses his uniqueness. In synthesis, no one succeeds. Even our great teacher Rabbi Moses ben Maimon [Maimonides] did not succeed in his attempts at synthesis. The greatness of the Yeshiva is that it is a real Yeshiva and on the second level a proper academic institution. Both divisions function without synthesis and compromise.
My students go from my shiur on the first floor of the Yeshiva building to their college classes on the third floor. In my class, they study in depth such talmudic topics as whether the signatures of the witnesses or the witnessing of the actual delivery make the get [divorce document] effective [Gittin 23a], or whether going over the writing on a get document can validate the get [Gittin 20a]. Then they go upstairs to their college classes, where they study theories in mathematics and physics. I am proud when my student is both a Torah scholar and a good college student. If there were a synthesis, both achievements would be weakened!
In this concept, our Yeshiva is unique. It is not like other yeshivot. [...] The Catholics also have religious universities. I do not like to imitate others! We have a Yeshiva, and because the times demand it, we also have a university. These two divisions will not be synthesized. They will remain two institutions. It may be like a man with two heads, but it is better to have two heads than not to have one. [Laughter]
The uniqueness of the Yeshiva is another reason why I am loyal to this institution. It is a reflection of my own thinking and commitment. (pages 229-231)
There! Torah u'Madda is a philosophy that advocates for the knowledge in both the secular and the Judaic in addition to an admission that there still remains a tension between the two, and an attempt to use the secular, wherever possible, to enhance and develop one's appreciation of the Judaic. It is not a synthesis or an amalgam.
Eitan's use of the words "synthesize, harmonize and rationalize" is incorrect, at least according to the Rav (who is perhaps the most significant figure when it comes to Modern Orthodoxy.) The statement that "there is no one right way to achieving this" also seems incorrect. It would have been better had Eitan taken established approaches and explained how he either agrees/ disagrees with them than advocate for these vainglorious, tolerant approaches towards all.
Secondly, let's deal with the very poorly-written "Made-Up" Goes Nowhere.
It's taking all my strength to refrain from writing a scathing critique of the author's English, so I'll suffice by pointing out one sentence:
- "Garrulous and directionless are the two verbs that occupied the stage opening night."
My dear, dear man. Occupied the stage that night? Yes, there were certainly two verbs (read: adjectives, you dolt) strolling around, taking a midnight lover's walk about the meadows and glades, the beautifully scenic stage of the Schottenstein Cultural Center. Certainly, most certainly.
But let's leave the wordy, contorted, ugly, highly-unintelligible writing aside and move on to the review itself.
The man has no specifics! He speaks completely in generalizations. The ridiculous thing is, some of his points are actually valid! However, I would have written my review in a significantly different manner. One can slam a production, critique it, and so on and so forth, but for God's sake have the decency to do so by pointing out particular flaws as opposed to obsessively painting all with the same brush. He also does not put forward any kind of plot summary, so those who did not attend have absolutely no idea what the play was about.
As an aside, I also resent his depiction of the typical Stern student.
Here's how I would rewrite his review (using his own points):
- "Made-Up" Goes Nowhere
"Made-Up," an original play written by YCDS senior Chai Hecht and directed by former _____, Reuven Russell, premiered on March 18-20 at the Geraldine Schottenstein Cultural Center. This is the first play Stern students have performed since _____, when they starred in an adaptation of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. In a Cinderella-esque twist, the play stars a passive, meek make-up-artist-turned-Messiah (Nattie, played by Stern junior Sarah Medved) in her journey towards confidence, self-respect and decisive action in a moment of crisis. The cast also includes her compelling aide and sidekick, Melanie (Gila Kanal), two saccharinely sweet talk-show hosts, Nattie's former employers (Adina Schwartz and Aviva Ginsburg), the previous Messiah (Michal Simpser), a pompous newscaster (Olivia Wiznitzer), an unhappy drug addict (Michal Schick) and a booking agent-turned-killer (Deanna Frazin).
Unfortunately, the play falls far short of its grand scheme. Seemingly unconnected voiceovers, guns appearing at every moment and a directionless cast who could not seem to face the audience and were at times inaudible served to detract from the play's overall meaning. However, that meaning was itself unclear. What does "Made-Up" imply? Was Hecht attempting to make a particularly savage jab at society's use of cosmetics to make people appear beautiful rather than facing reality? Or was he attempting to vividly demonstrate in the denouement of the play that violence is never the answer? The confusing interplay of various themes allowed the viewer no clear message; the play was in and of itself incomprehensible.
More frustrating for audience-members was a technique Hecht employed where characters did not finish their sentences but left them hanging, dangling participles that were particularly annoying. This would have been excusable had Hecht characterized a particular character in this way, but when almost everyone in the cast resorts to stuttering, the audience is left in chaos. This reviewer believes that an editor or director ought to have guided Hecht rather than allowing him free-reign with this particular stylistic choice.
The script on a whole seems to be a satirical take on Chabad Lubavitch's Messianist sect. In the play, the seventh leader of Desperate Children, a peaceful cult, comes to power, and tradition has it that she will be the real messiah. The Messiah must be a woman because the cult believes that the redeemer must be someone who can experience the power of creation. Although Nattie denies her divinity, a fringe group breaks off insisting that she is indeed the messiah. Sound familiar? I thought so, too.
Perhaps the most successful part of the production was its set-design. The first set featured a wall of mirrors and decadent furniture, quite in keeping with the idea of its being a beautiful dressing room. The second set, a hotel room, featured white wall molding on a chocolate brown background, a successful attempt at a "modern" look. A lovely rug, tall vases and a beautiful sofa completed the effect.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for sound and lighting. The poorly chosen and irrelevant sound track seemed to have been taken from Pirates of the Caribbean, and the lighting/sound effects were off and ill-timed. This was more problematic with sound, as the gunshot sounded a full five seconds after the on-stage character had pulled the trigger. These technical travesties might have been excusable if something more interesting was occurring on stage. Instead, I watched as the backstage cast vainly tried to close the curtain in order to divert attention back to the show.
Stern College should be congratulated for putting on a complete if not successful show, a feat not attempted since their production of Little Women little over a year ago. It was obvious that the cast had raw talent that could have been better utilized with a no-nonsense stage manager and director. As it was, the director's biography was sparse, which suggests that some of the flaws in the production stemmed from his inexperience. While it is thrilling to witness the resurrection of the Stern College Dramatics Society, I hope that in the future the society is more selective in its choice of material and more demanding of its cast and crew.
I don't agree with all of this, but I do think it's a) more fair and b) much clearer! Although if I had really been writing this, I would have included references to the individual's performances as well...
I expect much better from "The Commentator." I think that the poorly-written nature of this review and Kastner's neglect to cite actual definitions from other sources are simply a function of laziness and an attempt to churn out ideas without properly researching them first. There are more articles of this nature, of course, but these were the two that were particularly frustrating. Come on, "Commentator," you're better than this!