May 7, 2012

Ami Editorial Goes Off The Rails

A Guest Post by Menachem Lipkin


I’m happy to say that I’ve never spent a dime on either Ami or Mishpacha magazine. The attached editorial from this week’s issue of Ami just reinforces that feeling.
 
Ami’s CEO and Editor In Chief, Rabbi Yizchok Frankfurter, penned an editorial that was very troubling.  This screed represents much that is wrong with this type of publication today. Make no mistake, while Ami pretends to be an opened-minded publication, throwing out a few bones here and there to unsuspecting readers, at its core, as proven by this editorial and the fact that they won’t publish pictures of women among other things, they are solidly in the Chareidi camp. (Not there’s anything wrong with that, per se.)

The editorial starts off with a bald-faced factual error. Frankfurter states, “It [Yom Ha’atzmaut] was celebrated last week throughout the world by countless Jewish people, though not by many in the Orthodox Jewish community.” (Note: This analysis assumes, by the way, that all Chareidim are non or anti-Zionist, which, of course, is not the case.) Now Frankfurter may have a different definition of “many” than the rest of us. But, between the US, were a majority of orthodox Jews do not self-identify as Chareidim, and Israel, where the Religious Zionist community represents about 12% of the population, there were easily well over 1 million orthodox Jews celebrating the holiday.  Now, maybe that’s not “many” relative to the users of facebook, but relative to the number of Jews, and certainly orthodox Jews, in the world, that’s a hell of a lot.
 
In the very next sentence Frankfurter digs his hole of misinformation even deeper when he states, “Yom Ha’atzmaut is generally either ignored or treated with disdain by most Orthodox Jews”. Well, if it wasn’t clear from the information above let me spell it out for you.  The US has about 600,000 orthodox Jews, though the Chareidi population is increasing, non-Chareidim still remain the majority. But for argument’s sake, let’s say it’s close. Well, it’s not close in Israel where about 8% of the population is Chareidi and about 12-15% of the population is Religious Zionist. But that doesn’t even tell the whole story.  The term “orthodox” has a much less well defined meaning in Israel. Thus another, approximately 30%, of the population is “traditional” and many of them would definitely fall on a spectrum of orthodox observance. I think the point is clear now.

Frankfurter's outlook represents a certain arrogance that’s born of living in both a religious and psychological ghetto. When you look out your window and all you see are people who dress and think like you, you develop delusions of grandeur. It’s bad enough when this afflicts regular folk, but when an editor of a widely read periodical imbibes the Kool Aid, it’s much more menacing.
 
Another egregious error is Frankfurter’s misrepresentation of Rav Soloveitchik’s position on Zionism. First of all, the very idea that you can, in one sentence, represent the Rav’s complex thinking on such an intricate issue is simply absurd. But then, to attempt to utilize one small aspect of this complexity to somehow use the Rav to support an anti-Zionist essay is the height of absurdity and ignorance.  This goes right to the insidiousness of what Ami is doing as whole, ie misrepresenting itself as “mainstream”, by, for example, attempting to invoke the thinking of a Gadol Hador and beacon of modern orthodoxy, in the cause of a purely Chareidi agenda. (And on an issue on which, no less, that the Rav specifically parted ways from the Chareidi world.)
 
Frankfurter throws out another gem when he states that, “Most gedolei Yisrael have opposed the Zionist idea since its very inception.” Again, through black and white glasses, this may seem true to Frankerfurter, but anyone who has analyzed the breadth of opinions on this issue would never make such a simplistic statement. The continuum of thought on this issue is as deep as it is broad. And, of course, one can’t help but wonder if Frankfurter’s lenses would even permit him to see such giants as Rav Soloveichik, Rav Kook, Rav Lichtenstein, and countless Zionist Roshei Yeshiva in Israel as “Gedolim”.

I’ve merely scratched the surface of this “tour de farce”.  I suggest you read it for yourself.
 
Please understand, this is not an attack on Chareidi Judaism or even the validity of their position visa vis the state. There is much room for a fair treatment of this issue. This, however, was not example such a work.  This editorial should act as a wake up call for everyone who brings this magazine into their home.  It’s not my place to tell you not to read it. Like most periodicals both Jewish and secular, there is good and bad.  However, as with having the internet in your home, carefully monitor what and how your family reads such a publication and make sure they understand the hidden messages and dangers buried therein.


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34 comments:

  1. I agree it's a fairly insipid editorial. However, I think you're getting hung up on terminology. The beginning of the editorial refers to several groups:

    1. Secular Zionists;
    2. Religious Zionists (indirectly, but he refers to "[Secular Zionists] religious counterparts";
    3. Modern Orthodox; and
    4. Orthodox.

    It's not clear if groups 2 and 3 are the same, but it's clear that the "Orthodox" are distinct from the rest. For good measure, Frankfurter identifies (in the fourth and third paragraphs from the end) the "Orthodox" with Chareidi Jewry. (It would have been nice if he would have used consistent terminology throughout, but that's what you get with low-quality writing.)

    Frankfurter's use of the term "Orthodox" to refer to chareidim is pretty innocuous. They can call themselves whatever they want, and the fact that we use the same term to refer to ourselves shouldn't bother us. Getting bogged down into a semantics argument (especially if Ami's readership understands what Frankfurter means by "Orthodox", "Religious Zionist", "Modern Orthodox", etc.) is a waste of energy, especially when there are real issues at hand.

    As a great man once said, "If a man wants to be called Muhammad Ali, godammit this is a free country, you should respect his wishes, and call the man Muhammad Ali"

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    1. yoni r., by Frankfurter excluding all Orthodox groups that are not Chareidi from his definition of Orthodoxy, he's entering some very dangerous territory. Whether he likes it or not, Orthodoxy has a definition that's much broader than Chareidi Judaism. He didn't just call himself and those like him Orthodox, he excluded all Jews that don't fit his exact ideology. Had he built the article around the fact that he believes that most CHAREIDI Jews/Gedolim don't acknowledge Yom Haatzmaut that would have been a different story, and probably pretty accurate.

      Like my father said in his post, for the average Joe to believe he is practicing THE ultimate path in Judaism is one thing (and, unfortunately, way too common), but for a man who's in a position to spread his thoughts to the masses to use his position perpetuate that divisiveness, while claiming to be the new, open minded, frum magazine is downright dangerous.

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    2. What's so dangerous about that?

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    3. Putting completely false ideas in the heads of a whole new generation isn't dangerous? Subtly (or not so subtly) getting the Chareidi world to believe that non-chareidi Frum jews aren't ORTHODOX? That's ludicrous. It's quite obvious that Chareidim already dismiss non-chareidut as not as "real", however I still (maybe naively?) believe that they consider us Orthodox... that will change if articles like the one in last week's Ami continue and aren't contested.

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    4. Etana,

      I think you're missing my point. About half of your father's post was about terminology. Who cares what they call themselves? What we call Orthodox, Frankfurter calls either "Modern Orthodox" or "Religious Zionism". Calling himself "Orthodox" in this context doesn't seem to be particularly exclusionary.

      If you really want to get yourself in a tizzy about names, I would suggest starting with יהדות התורה המאוחדת‎ (UTJ). It's an exclusively chareidi party, whose name suggests that they have a lock on Torah Judaism. There also Conservative Judaism. If they are conservative, then Orthodox Jews must be completely reactionary.

      Of course, we all realize that a name is basically an agreed-upon (often descriptive) convention which refers to a particular object or group. Frankfurter simply subscribes to a different set of conventions than you and I. What we call Chareidi, he calls Orthodox; what we call Orthodox, he calls something else (not entirely clear from the article). That's nothing to get upset about, and the message of the article would not change one iota had it been written using the terminology that you and I, personally, are used to.

      I'm not sure why you think that the term "Orthodox" implies a monopoly on religious propriety, even if it wouldn't be in a context where "Modern Orthodox" and "Religious Zionism" are used. Frankfurter seems to believe that the chareidi path is the only correct one in Judasim (BTW, this phenomena is in no way limited to chareidim; I've heard of people putting down chareidi Judaism simply because of the way they dress, if you could imagine). This much would have been clear from the article even if he would not even once have mentioned the word "Orthodox".

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  2. Yoni, nice try, but that's a real stretch. If nothing else, the fact that he tries (fails, but tries) to use the Rav to bolster his point disproves your thesis. Also, the fact that he puts "Charedi" in italics later on makes it totally clear that, at that point, he's distinguishing Chareidism.

    But even, for argument's sake, were I to agree, your thinking is much worse. First, you'd be subscribing to a bigotry of low expectations, ie "what else can you expect from the editor of a Chareidi magazine, he can't even get his terminology straight". Second, in my scenario he's merely ignorant of basic facts, in yours he's a narrow-minded fool. And most importantly, such thinking goes to the core of what's wrong with major parts of Chareidi ideology. As Etana implied, such thinking leaves no room for any other way of thinking. The danger, Dovid Yosef, is that people who think that they have the one and only truth and that truth comes directly from God spit at women who aren't dressed properly, throw rocks on Shabbos, beat up innocent teenage girls, and eventually, if not checked, go on to do much worse. (See radical Islam.)

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    1. Menachem,

      I'm not sure what you think I said. My entire point was that you seem to be overly upset about his use of terminology. We tend to equate "Orthodox" with "observant" or "frum". Frankfurter obviously subscribes to a different convention wherein the term "Orthodox" means "chareidi". Once you understand his terminology (and it's his editorial, so he's free to use whatever terms he wants), the factual errors largely fade away. (That's my entire thesis; it's entirely unclear to me how the Rav's views are relevant).

      I'm also not sure what bothers you about the italicization of "Chareidi". He also puts "Yom Ha'Aztmaut", "Yom HaShoah", and "gedolei Yisrael" in italics. It's a common convention when printing foreign words in an otherwise English article.

      And thanks for putting words in my mouth, but let me straighten out a few things. Firstly, I never set low expectations as you wrote, all I said was that the writing was poor, as evidenced, e.g., by the inconsistent, and ultimately confusing, use of terminology. And I certainly never said that the writing was poor because it's a chareidi publication. But I appreciate being called a bigot; it's a nice way to start the week. Secondly, I never called Frankfurter a narrow-minded fool. My first post was entirely about terminology, and the only point in my second post which was not about terminology was that Frankfurter obviously believes his path to be the only correct one (which isn't to say that he's a fool), a point, BTW, which both you and Etana make.

      And for God's sake can I please get a props for the "Coming to America" reference?

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    2. Yoni, I understood you perfectly and I responded to that. Let me try to be a little clearer for you.

      There's nothing to indicate that "orthodox" does not mean "orthodox". If one were using "orthodox" to mean "Chareidi" then there would be no point in invoking one of the leaders of modern Orthodoxy, to support your position.

      I am not "bothered" by the fact that he italicized "Charedi". However, that fact, or just the fact that at that point used the word, just bolsters the idea that when he earlier used the word "orthodox" he did not mean "Charedi".

      I did not "put words in your mouth". However, the implications that reasonable people can draw from your thesis are as I stated, whether you intended it or not. (Personally, I don't think that your a bigot, you seem like a decent fellow.)

      The bottom line is this. Whether he was clear in his terminology as I suspect, or muddled as you suspect, the net effect is, as you stated, an "insipid" editorial. And he's either guilty of being grossly ignorant of facts or really poor at expressing himself. Either way not something you'd expect from the CEO and Editor in Chief of any publication.

      And I'm sorry, I'm not a buky in "Coming to America". Please enlighten me.

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  3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZywE0AT1qY
    (Caution: Four letter words are contained in clip)

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    1. Oh, that's a great scene! Nice reference Yoni.(Even though you're wrong. :)

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. Given how many, both Rabbinic and lay, have written off both the Chareidi derech (drachim, really) in both Hashkafa and Halacha as not be authentic in terms of either conclusions or even methodology, I'm not really sure we can be upset (if we're intellectually honest) when they do it to others (although I do commend and appreciate the poster for raising awareness in this case)

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  6. Yossi the SabraMay 08, 2012 3:48 AM

    Just one comment. I think the main thrust of Rabbi Frankfurter's editorial is a lot less antagonistic to Yom Ha'atzmaut than R' Lipkin and the commenters here believe. He merely pointed out that not taking the establishment of the State of Israel as a sign of heavenly assistance/consolation required a great deal of backbone by those who took that tack at the time. He pointedly doesn't actually declare his own opinion on the subject. I think the dithering about the facts or non-facts that he sets out at the beginning ignores the main idea he has promoted. So what about a response to that?

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    1. Yossi the sabra hit the nail on the head. I think Rabbi frankfurter is more influenced by Professor Yeshayahu Liebowitz than by chredi dogmatists, he therefoire plays it fast and loose.In other words, there is a method to his madness.

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    2. Yossi, it's difficult to respond to that without clearing away the misinformation and/or the poor use of language. By so poorly representing the underlying factual information R. Frankfurter loses credibility in his assessment of, what you believe, is the "main idea".

      Most people can respect the basic concept of standing up for what you believe in, even if you're just a lone voice. He could have voiced that in a clear and meaningful way without disparaging the majority of orthodox Jews.

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  7. Frankfurter is Satmar. Living in America. Enough said.

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    1. assuming this is true, than it explains everythng, especially the revisionist history. the gedolim in the 40s and 50s, chareidi gedolim included, were thrilled with the advent of the state.

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    2. Source and names for that, please? I haven't heard of any "chareidi" gedolim (not that chareidi was a term in use at the time) who were thrilled by the establishment of the state. I have heard of many who were devastated, upset or just quietly acceping of a fait accompli.

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    3. http://tinyurl.com/bulx57g
      here you go

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  8. This blog is rediculous. Why is everyone piling up on an editor who simply said that there was no relationship between redemption and Israeli statehood??? I too read Ami weekly. It is the most broad minded and inclusive Jewish weekly. Shame on you for trying to silence an inteligent voice in Orthodox media. Just because you don't agree with its point of view.

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    1. If he made that point inteligently, fairly, and with correct factual information then it would not have been offensive. In fact I clearly stated that, "There is much room for a fair treatment of this issue." So how, exactly, was my critique and attempt to "silence" Frankfurter?

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  9. There is merit in this thread after all - it elicited Rabbi Adlerstein's insightful response: http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2012/05/09/how-ami-magazine-convinced-me-to-celebrate-yom-ha-atzmaut/
    (I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but I believe his point of 'let's stop fighting yesterday's battles and realize that we agree!' must be adapted as a universal theme of all ORTHODOX Jewry. read this: http://www.ou.org/index.php/jewish_action/article/66959/)

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    1. I didn't think Adlerstein did the topic justice. The issue isn't the State of Israel but the ideal of Zionism. The Ami editorial dealt with the latter not the former.

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    2. actually, I see the issue as being that of Yom Haatzmaut. You can either connect that to Israel and the miracle of being here, or you can connect it to Zionism. Frankfurter connected it to [secular] Zionism while Adlerstein connected it to Israel.

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    3. The ideal of achdus is not to agree. wrong, wrong, wrong. the ideal of achdus is to learn how to disagree. the ou is a zionoist organization and charedim are not. do they have to be at war, or forfeit their ideals??? this is soo outrageous. Achdus means to not to attack someone for his hashkafah like Lipkin has done in his badly written post.

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    4. Anonymous, if you are referring to my comment above, I want to clarify:
      I did not mean that we 'agree' on all issues or that we have to in order to get along. What I meant was that our similarities outweigh our differences - by far, and we should be focusing on this in dealing with one another. I believe that Rabbi Adlerstein personifies this approach.

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  10. Rabbi Adlerstein is a welcome voice, welcome in that i always (repeat always) appreciate someone who challenges his own camp. witness what he wrote back when beit shemesh was in the news for their spitting contests.

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  11. As Yoni pointed out, there is more heat here than light. The important points are glossed over, and minor silly utterances are siezed upon for the sensation. Lipkin, admit it.

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  12. Yair: I was referring to Lipkin. He is on the attack because Ami wrote an editorial that contradicts his point of view. My point of view is that if we don't become more tolerant to another's perspective we will destroy ourselves as a people. Jewish history is replete with civil wars. (Though I'm not convinced that Adlerstein is such a goody goody either).

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    1. False. Clearly you didn't read till the end where I specifically said that, "There is much room for a fair treatment of this issue." There were major figures who held point of views other than mine and those that I choose to follow. That is undeniable.

      My issue here is that the editor of a Magazine that has positioned itself to be more mainstream has taken a very non-mainstream position in a way that is factually incorrect and thus offensive and misleading. His errors were more than semantic. Co-opting the Rav to support a position he did not, is far more serious than a "silly utterances".

      Again, even we tale Yoni's thesis at face value, do you really have such a low expectation of the Editor in Chief of a magazine as to not expect him to be able convey basic ideas and concepts? That alone would have been worth my "attack", but of course some seem be glossing over my main points as well.

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  13. At various times in Jewish History, HaShem provides for the ascendancy of different groups or ideas giving us the refuah when we need it whether we realize it or not.
    The rise of Chassidus when the Lithuanian Yeshiva world was experiencing a crisis of faith , the rebirth of the Lithuanian Yeshiva world in America to preserve and reinvigorate the depth of Jewish knowledge for the Shairis Haplaita after the Shoah, The ascendancy of Hungarian Jewry and Chabad in post war America to reinvigorate the Ruach of a wounded, dispirited, self-conscious American Jewry.

    Sometimes after the need passes, we forget that we need to modify our refuah regimen and reevaluate our priorities which is to say, not to confuse them with Torah and truth. It is so hard not to confuse power structures and institutions with Torah and Truth.

    It is easy to become cynical or even waver in ones faith by confusing human striving with Ratzon HaShem. Rav Adlerstein piece set a tone for courage and respectfully provide a model for how we may change the bath water, ever careful not to throw out the baby.

    B'Kovod

    Rafi Guber

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    1. Rafi: In all due respect, Rabbi Adlerstein is a blogger, certainly not a deep thinkier or major talmid chacham. His article which lacks deptrh, proves his deep wisdom. He is also quite antagnositic to the charedi mperspective and its gedolim. Ceratainly,"most" of the charedi gedolim were not and are not Zionist. Those gedolim were and are quite big people. For you or me to take Adlerstein seriously is ridiculous.

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  14. Rafi G here (not Guber)..

    Rabbi A is far more than a blogger. He is a rav and an educator. Perhaps he is not amng the class of the gedolei ha'dor, but dont take away his accomplishments and his abilities just because you disagree with his opinion. I also dont consider him antagonistic. He is mostly in line with the Agudah opinion, while being a little more thoughtful. I enjoy his articles, even the ones I disagree with.

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  15. "between the US, were a majority of orthodox Jews do not self-identify as Chareidim"

    Actually 2/3 of American Orthodox do self-identify as Chareidi. The Pew Research 2013 study bore this number out, though it should have long been obvious that Chareidim became an overwhelming majority of the American Orthodox long-ago.

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