Everyone I know is talking about this article in the New York Times Magazine.
I am not the person to write a rebuttal to this piece, but I would like to point out the author's subtle manipulation of his readers. I suggest you read the article first to understand what I am referring to:
I didn’t want to seem paranoid, especially in front of my girlfriend, to whom I was by that time engaged. So I called my oldest school friend, who appeared in the photo, and asked for her explanation. “You’re kidding, right?” she said. My fiancée was Korean-American. Her presence implied the prospect of something that from the standpoint of Orthodox Jewish law could not be recognized: marriage to someone who was not Jewish. That hint was reason enough to keep us out.
This paragraph is very unclear. Look how he's phrased it. This woman's presence "implied the prospect" of marriage to someone who was not Jewish. That hint was reason enough to keep us out.
Do you notice that he has not stated whether this was actually the case, i.e. that the woman actually is non-Jewish? He has instead insinuated that Orthodox Judaism is racist. Korean-American people cannot possibly be Jewish. Therefore whoever chose to edit this magazine and/or this photograph cropped her out of the picture.
As a result, I have not felt myself to have rejected my upbringing, even when some others imagine me to have done so by virtue of my marriage.
Here is the first place where he does in fact demonstrate that he did intermarry, "by virtue of my marriage." Secondly, note his defense. The school is supposed to accept him and include him in their publications due to the fact that he has "not felt himself" reject his upbringing. Why is this their job, to take into account his standard and feelings with relation to religion? The school has a standard; they advertise those students that fulfill that standard. Do I necessarily agree with this approach? Perhaps not. But since when can I decide that I do "not feel myself" to have rejected the religion, therefore it's not fair when I'm not included?
Lieberman’s overt normalcy really is remarkable.
You can read the rest of that paragraph; the insinuation is that none of that (wearing tzitzis, tefillin and keeping kosher) is normal. In whose opinion? The author's, of course.
Morning prayers are accompanied by the daily donning of phylacteries, which, though painless, resemble in their leather-strappy way the cinched cilice worn by the initiates of Opus Dei and so lasciviously depicted in “The Da Vinci Code.”
Explain to me why the comparison between phylacteries and the cinched cilice is necessary. Although Feldman covers himself and writes that tefillin are "painless," he knows that the immediate image that will occur to everyone as soon as he mentions the words cilice and Da Vinci Code in conjunction is the mad albino monk, his thigh dripping with blood. Is this really the image he wants to associate with Modern Orthodoxy? Apparently yes! Feldman is deliberately weaving these evocative images into his piece; he wants us to identify Modern Orthodoxy with extremism in all its ugly forms.
The category of the unkosher comes unconsciously to apply not only to foods that fall outside the rules but also to the people who eat that food — which is to say, almost everyone in the world, whether Jewish or not. You cannot easily break bread with them, but that is not all. You cannot, in a deeper sense, participate with them in the common human activity of restoring the body through food.
"But also to the people who eat that food"- The category of unkosher comes to apply to non-Jews as well? Delightful insinuation. Well, my dear friend, what can I say. You're unkosher. I am unable to participate in the "common human activity" (note how he used the word "human" here for effect) of eating with you. By not eating with non-Jews at an unkosher restaurant, I am forgoing some aspect of common humanity. I am intolerant. How lovely!
Among other things, this meant that when I encountered the writings of the Puritans who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony, I felt immediate kinship. They read those same exact texts again and again — often in Hebrew — searching for clues about their own errand into the American wilderness.
This is subtle, but he felt immediate kinship with the Puritans? The majority of us have learned that section in history. Hardly any of us feel immediate kinship with these oppressive people who forbade dancing, singing and other forms of entertainment, who imposed harsh punishments for the smallest crimes and who strictly believed in work and an authoritarian, tyrannical God. By suggesting that he feels kinship with these people, despite the fact that he ostensibly limits it to the fact that they "read the same exact texts again and again" he implies that our faith structures are similar.
Because honestly, if the only similarity is that they "read the same exact texts again and again," why not feel kinship to Christians? Protestants? Any other relatively normal accepted group? No, but Puritans was used here purposely...
Even among the rabbis there was a smattering of Ph.D.’s and near-doctorates to give us a taste of a critical-academic approach to knowledge, not just a religious one
Insinuation here is that the majority of rabbis don't have Ph.D's and near-doctorates (note the phrasing: even among the rabbis...a smattering) which suggests that they don't value higher education as much as they should/ they are uneducated. (Whether or not that is true is moot; I simply want to note the implication.)
And the teachers of the secular subjects were fantastic. One of the best taught me eighth-grade English when he was barely out of college himself, before he became a poet, a professor and an important queer theorist. Given Orthodoxy’s condemnation of homosexuality, he must have made it onto the faculty through the sheer cluelessness of the administration. Lord only knows what teachers like him, visitors from the real world, made of our quirky ways.
The implication is that they would not have hired this teacher had they known he was homosexual (I believe that is illegal, so he is stating that Jewish administrators would illegally discriminate based on sexual orientation, something which is patently false. In addition to being an extremely serious charge.) When he references"visitors from the real world," there is the obvious implication that the religious world and/or Orthodox Jewish world does not constitute the real world. Then we have the mention of our "quirky ways." He's now characterized us; we are all officially strange.
One time at Maimonides a local physician — a well-known figure in the community who later died tragically young — addressed a school assembly on the topic of the challenges that a modern Orthodox professional may face. The doctor addressed the Talmudic dictum that the saving of a life trumps the Sabbath. He explained that in its purest form, this principle applies only to the life of a Jew.
I am not the person to rebut this argument, because I don't know the halakha well enough. However, note that the man begins by stating "one time at Maimonides a local physician" came to speak to us and ends up asserting that this is the absolute law. On whose word? On the word of one person who once came to speak to you? And who says their understanding of the law is correct? Have you checked into this? Oughtn't you to do that before asserting that Jews are all horrible people who can't save other non-Jews without having certain reasons in mind?
The entire section about shomer negiah, sex and the rest of it is told over from a mocking viewpoint. The same exact story could have been told factually (without the snipes and slurs) and would not have the same effect. The facts tell one story; the words chosen tell another. Simply keep that in mind.
My Talmud teacher — the one who took the physician to task — handed me four tightly packed columns of closely reasoned rabbinic Hebrew, a responsum by the pre-eminent Orthodox decisor, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, “in the matter of a young man whose heart lures him to enter into bonds of affection with a young woman not for purposes of marriage.
Something like that seems utterly absurd when not presented properly; everyone will immediately wonder why a teenager is being given reams of "closely reasoned rabbinic Hebrew" to tell him not to have premarital sex. You can all appreciate how absurd it seems, due to its presentation. The relationship between Jews and texts within the school is not explained to begin with, so everything else becomes confused.
Perhaps I feel sympathy because I can recall the agonies suffered by my head of school when he stopped by our biology class to discuss the problem of creation
Agonies is extreme given what the principal actually said, namely, "despite what I have just told you, I still have a hard time believing that man could be descended from monkeys.” Assuming you don't like this, fine, so the principal prefers to believe in a fairy tale over scientific fact. But that is preference, not sign of an incapability to resolve the two if he so choose. More importantly, agonies? Where?
Gay Orthodox Jews find themselves marginalized not only because of their forbidden sexual orientation but also because within the tradition they cannot marry the partners whom they might otherwise choose.
Note the firm statement, not an opinion but a fact: Gay Orthodox Jews find themselves marginalized...so now Orthodox Judaism is not only racist, but also intolerant toward the LGBT community. Great.
In a few cases, modern Orthodoxy’s line-drawing has been implicated in some truly horrifying events.
Unforgivable sentence in terms of what he says next. He talks about Yigal Amir and Baruch Goldstein and insinuates that their thinking and reasoning was perfectly logical according to the tenets of Modern Orthodoxy. So we are all would-be murderers? Excellent. As should be obvious to any fool, the problem with Yigal Amir's and Baruch Goldstein's action has nothing to do with "modern-Orthodoxy's line drawing" but with the warped thinking of particular individuals operating alone.
Like a Puritan seeking the contemporary type of the biblical archetype, he applied Deuteronomy and Samuel to the world before him. Commanded to settle the land, he settled it.
And we've come back to Puritans. Feldman has a bit of a fascination with Puritans, doesn't he? Apparently he identified with them; now it seems that Baruch Goldstein must have identified with them, too. Projection, anyone?
It would be a mistake to blame messianic modern Orthodoxy for ultranationalist terror. But when the evil comes from within your own midst, the soul searching needs to be especially intense.
This is so lovely. After doing just that (blaming supposedly "messianic modern Orthodoxy" for ultranationalist terror) he covers himself by suggesting that's not what he's doing. He then uses value-laden terms to complete his sentences. When the evil comes from your own midst, then we have to engage in soul-searching. Ah ha. Because we are all responsible for the actions of a Baruch Goldstein; our religion apparently respects, honors and applauds his actions. That's how we train up our children, yessir. Go out and kill today; "messianic modern Orthodoxy" mandates that you do so!
Anyone involved in this religion reading this article (and reading it carefully, unlike I did the first time, when I merely skimmed it) should step back, blink, and think "What the?"
When you look back on this piece, you will note that it is only a collection of unsupported personal experiences at a particular high school which the author has taken to be universal and characteristic of an entire affiliation, Modern Orthodoxy. He subsequently engages in grand posturing and oscillates between trying to "defend" the poor, uneducated but well-meaning followers of this sect and trying to condemn them. Having awarded himself victim status, he is the sad onlooker trying to understand the cruelty behind these good people's actions. He uses language to accomplish his ends, trying to win the reader's sympathy by introducing words that connote extremes, words like "agonies" or "Puritan." Is this an honest article? Not at all. This is an extremely dishonest piece. If he limited his accusations to those in his own particular high school, that would be one thing. It is his assumption that everything he dislikes must of necessity be utterly absurd, false and untrue, and furthermore, representative of Modern Orthodoxy (a term he uses but does not mean, incidentally, as it is obvious the entire article refers to Orthodoxy on a whole, hence the title, "Orthodox Paradox," though the uninformed reader will almost certainly read it as Judaism on a whole) that is completely unforgivable.
If this seems incredibly hypocritical to you in light of my recent Templars post, I will remind you that I had far more to deal with than merely being cut out of a magazine photograph, and more importantly, I objected to the specific methods of emotional abuse utilized at my high school much more than the ideology on a whole (which I have subsequently learned I cannot blame.) I appreciate how difficult it must be for Noah Feldman to separate the actions of those at his particular school from Modern Orthodox ideology on a whole, but it is hardly fair to suggest that everyone would react in the same way and every school would choose to cut him out of the magazine. Other assertions he makes without support, and worse, the insinuations that the casual reader will not catch, are simply unprofessional. Within the one article, he has insinuated that Modern Orthodoxy is outdated, outmoded, racist, intolerant, unappreciative of science and greedy (quick to latch on to the achievements of others and claim them for their own, per his last section, "Lives of Contradiction.") It's amazing that the New York Times published this piece of uninformed crap. Since when is the NYT a venue for airing the grievances of those with personal agendas?