On the Arts
I read with dismay “Confessions of a Hollywood Dropout” by Rick Magder (winter 2006).
The Chareidi world regularly and proudly showcases new acolytes whose stories all follow the same arc as Magder’s: I was a rock star/TV actor/movie producer, in which capacity I helped to corrupt the general culture, until I saw the light and became frum, and now, of course, I have nothing at all to do with the culture I helped corrupt.
Was it really necessary for Jewish Action to add its contribution to this sub-genre?
Magder’s article contains this deplorable sentence: “Movies? Entertainment? Art? How could there be any value in that?”
Does Magder mean to suggest that because he encountered a few loutish personalities at his father’s movie studio, this negates all of Western art? Because Magder was making schlock, not art, does that mean that Ingmar Bergman—and Shakespeare, da Vinci and Beethoven, for that matter—are set to naught?
Artists may not always be the nicest people, but the best of them in all media (and Orson Welles is certainly on the list) are today’s prophets, holding a mirror up to society and creating indelible works of beauty that enable us to reach spiritual heights, just as religion does.
Disdain for the arts (some might call it philistinism) is unfortunately common among Orthodox Jews. The sad consequence of this attitude is that many Jewish children with artistic inclinations feel compelled to reject Judaism in order to pursue their life’s calling. Meanwhile, a true Jewish art struggles to emerge.
Unless we can overcome our cultural phobias, the net gain to the Jewish people of the influx of ba’alei teshuvah will always be offset by the loss of some of our most talented, creative and spiritual youngsters.
We, as Modern Orthodox Jews should encourage the making of art in our community and foster an appreciation of what is good, even sublime, in Western culture.
George D. Frankel
New York, New York
Rick Magder Responds
Thank you, Mr. Frankel, for your letter. You obviously didn’t read my article to the end. I didn’t imply in any way that art is meaningless or insignificant. To the contrary, I agree with your point of view entirely. In fact, I spend a significant amount of time counseling artists, filmmakers and others who feel a deep connection to the arts and have a difficult time bridging their artistic passion with their love for Yiddishkeit. My goal is to get them to understand how important their art must be in their lives. God gave us a gift for a reason. We are obligated not to suppress that gift. Art has a meaningful place in our world and our religion.
My daughters have been reading YALDAH magazine for the past year, and I concur with Toby Bulman Katz that the quarterly is an appropriate and engaging magazine for young frum girls (“What is Your Daughter Reading These Days?”, winter 2006). However, I found the author’s global censure of the feminist movement (“What struck me as I looked at these publications was what a colossal failure the feminist movement has been … ”) somewhat curious. Betty Friedan, the only source of feminist scholarship cited in this piece, is but a single source. Perhaps the author would benefit from attending to the work of Sara Ruddick (1989) on maternal knowledge, of Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberber, & Tarule (1986) on women’s ways of knowing and of Nel Noddings (1984, 2003) on the ethic of care. There may be a branch of feminist scholarship which espouses values remarkably close to the author’s own.
Dr. Miriam Hirsch
Assistant Professor of Education
Stern College for Women
Passaic, New Jersey
Toby Bulman Katz Responds
Dr. Hirsch is correct that there are many different types of feminism, and that some are more compatible with Torah than others. However, the themes that engage the feminist scholars she cites—“maternal knowledge,” “women’s ways of knowing,” and “the ethic of care”—are nowhere to be found in popular glossy teen mags like Seventeen.
No branch of feminism would welcome the narcissistic and shallow obsession with fashion, makeup and celebrities so typical of the teen scene today. Teen mags make no mention of parents, siblings, education, career goals or volunteer activities. Yet these magazines are far more popular among teenaged girls than are all the feminist books put together, of whatever school of feminist thought.
Baruch Hashem, we have such wholesome and worthwhile reading for our own girls as the Jewish magazines I reviewed, as well as others that have come on the market more recently.
Learning from Addicts
The column that Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski wrote entitled “Faith: The Antidote to Anxiety” (winter 2006) was so inspiring and spoke to my heart, as do all of his writings, … until I got to the last paragraph.
“I felt remiss that I had to take a lesson in bitachon from a recovering addict, but the Talmud says ‘Who is wise? Someone who can learn from everyone.’”
I kept reading the passage over and over, but I still didn’t get it. Why is Rabbi Twerski apologetic about learning from a recovering addict? According to twelve-step thinking, addiction is a disease. From whom else should we learn profound lessons about faith and clarity about this world than from those who have been tested and have worked so hard to overcome their addictions by finding the depths of their souls and their connection to God?
As a member of Overeaters’ Anonymous, I don’t find that people look down at me because of my struggles with food. As a matter of fact, they celebrate my success. When I tell people that at the core of my program is my connection with God, they always nod in agreement.
Rabbi Twerski Responds:
If, since first grade, you had been taught that “two plus two equals four” and c-a-t spells cat, and you didn’t get it into your head until you were seventy-six, what would you feel like?
I have been attending a variety of twelve-step meetings since 1961. In my book From Pulpit to Couch, I described a number of things that I have learned from addicts. I began learning Torah at age six, and have been an avid student of Talmud, musar and Chassidic works throughout my entire life. I have read reams about bitachon. Thus, I was taken aback that someone with a bit less erudition in Torah could teach me something about bitachon so effectively.
Waiting Between Meat and Milk
Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer’s article entitled “The Halachot of Waiting Between Meals” (fall 2006) is very informative. When serving patients who are in need of additional nutrient supplements such as Ensure and Boost, which are both dairy, most Jewish nursing homes will serve them before or after, but not with, a meat meal.
Even though individuals may be so ill that they are not aware of what is being served, sensitivity and respect must always be shown to those to whom kashrut is a way of life.
Rabbi Tsvi G. Schur
Jewish Family Services