Wednesday, April 18, 2012

America: Lost In Exile - Where Are Our Leaders?

America! Why have you not produced even one Gadol from American soil? Think about it: It's True and rather disturbing - To not produce even one?!

The religious are often led and inspired by the words and deeds of the dead: Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ, Mohammed. Within the Jewish realm, the list of great, late leaders includes the sages of the Babylonian Talmud, the Geonim ("the geniuses," 7th- to 11th-century scholars), the Rishonim ("the first ones," 11th- to 16th-century rabbis), or the Achronim ("the last ones," rabbis from the 17th century and on). All were great scholars, admired by many; all were religious leaders of their respective places and times who continue to guide the faithful. Some of them were also admired communal rabbis, of the kind many American Jews will shortly meet on High Holidays services; for many attendees, this will be the annual encounter with their rabbi. But they were also much more. The Jewish world of the 21st century has very few, if any, rabbis and scholars universally accepted as "great" or "sagely" who are admired even by those outside the specific sect, stream, or group on which the rabbi in question presides. Jewish communities around the world have been unable to find suitable successors to those "last ones." The problem is particularly manifest within the American Jewish community. Advertisement This is a relatively new and perplexing phenomenon, and it's difficult to pinpoint why great American rabbis seem to be a thing of the past. Within Jewish tradition, the thesis of the "decline of the generations" (in Hebrew: Yeridat Ha'Dorot) is a very prevalent one, inversely related to the distance from Sinai. Is what we see in America today proof of this thesis (though not all great Jewish thinkers accept it)? Is it a problem with today's rabbis, students, and scholars? Are we in the early years of a drought in Jewish thought? Or maybe the problem is not the rabbis but rather the changing times and changing nature of Judaism, which makes it more difficult for anyone to acquire greatness. The crisis is widely evident, as those following the Hasidic communities in the United States can attest. The Lubavitcher Rebbe is gone for 16 years, but no successor of similar greatness was taking over the Chabad Hasidic community. The Satmar Hasidim weren't able to agree on one leader; the Bobov Hasidim had a similar problem that required court involvement. Instead of one great leader, each sect settled for a couple of "smaller" ones. No rabbi was great enough to occupy the place of Joseph Dov Soloveichik in the minds and hearts of modern-Orthodox Jews after his passing in the early '90s. No one was authoritative enough to be the agreed-upon heir to ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who passed away in the mid-'80s. And more progressive streams of Judaism have encountered this problem as well: Abraham Joshua Heschel has had no successor since his departure in the early '70s. Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, had fame that no contemporary rabbi can compete with. What these great men of the past had in common was a community that was more interested in group identity and much more attentive to the teachings of rabbis. (They all came to the New World from Europe, though Kaplan did so at a very early age.) Today, Jewish religious life is guided by organizational wizards—not men of spiritual wisdom. Newsweek's somewhat idiotic yearly list of "50 most influential rabbis" was topped in 2010 by Rabbi Yehuda Karinsky, the leader the of Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Following him were Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Reform Movement, and Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. I have many friends on this list and do not wish to offend them, but my assumption is that all three, and most of the other 47 picks, were selected for worldly, not spiritual, reasons: because of organizational significance (Yehiel Eckstein), political work (David Saperstein), celebrity (Shmuley Boteach), high-profile battles (Sara Hurwitz, "the first female Orthodox rabbi"), or leading unique communities (Sharon Braus, the award-winning rabbi of the innovative IKAR Synagogue). None has the sagely status of some rabbis of previous generations. The list includes some important scholars, but most of them are just, well, scholars. They have knowledge, they have gravitas, but most do not have "followers" in the traditional religious meaning. And those who do have followers are more often of a New Agey bent, like Rabbi Yehuda Berg of the Kabbalah Center, spiritual home of Madonna. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the founder of Jewish Renewal, might be one example of someone with both followers and new ideas and real long-term influence on American Jewish religious life. But guess what? He was born in Poland. If one will consider him "great," one must wonder why greatness is almost never homegrown American. Schachter-Shalomi is also the product of Orthodox Judaism, the more traditional and conservative of the Jewish streams. Another obstacle to the growing of a homemade great American rabbi is the fact that most American Jews belong to the more progressive streams (Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist)—and the more progressive the stream, the less likely it is to foster rabbinical "greatness." Those streams just find it harder to make students invest as many hours, days, and years in studying Judaism. The followers of these streams—not as zealous as the more conservative in their religious life—usually find total devotion to Judaic scholarly life less appealing. It was men of Europe and Orthodoxy, then, that swelled the ranks of American rabbinical greatness. And, of course, it was also the times. Can rabbis even aspire to greatness in a society in which rabbis are ranked on an annual basis? Perhaps more important, achieving sagely status becomes much trickier when potential leaders find themselves in an era when religion is more a matter of feel-good individualistic practices—when it is "increasingly personalistic, voluntaristic and non-judgmental," as one scholar put it. There's hardly any agreement between streams, congregations, and individuals as to what exactly makes a rabbi "sagely." The American Orthodox community used to provide great American rabbinical leaders respected by both the orthodox and more progressive Jewish traditions. Yet it, too, has failed to provide strong leaders for the 21st century. Why is that? Here another phenomenon plays a role in serving an obstacle to sageness. Progressive Judaism has never taken hold in Israel, leaving America the global center of that community. Orthodoxy thrived in both places, but in recent decades Israel is increasingly becoming the unrivaled center of the Orthodox world. In "The Future of American Orthodoxy," historian Jonathan Sarna identified a "significant brain drain" in the American Orthodox community: American Orthodoxy is sending its "best and brightest to Israel … and unsurprisingly many of them never return." With this shift, America might have lost its only chance to be the Petri dish for true rabbinical greatness. For those hoping that American Judaism will keep thriving and will be able to stand on its own feet, this might be a challenge that needs to be grappled with.

Grave of Joshua found near "Givat Pinchas"

...May we be zoche to the offspring of Joshua - Moshiach ben Efraim, a true leader of Israel that will lead the exiles over the Jordan River - this time for eternity!

May it be so in '72-3
[and allow the Zohar predictions to be found True much sooner than later]


Anonymous said...

how about rav nosson tzvi finkel and hrav scheinberg both american?

shimonmatisyahu said...

It is true that the former Bostoner Rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Horowitz, ZT"L, who passed away not long ago, was born on American soil in Boston, and was raised as well in the States.

TidbitsofTorah said...

"Today, Jewish religious life is guided by organizational wizards—not men of spiritual wisdom."


If one will consider him "great," one must wonder why greatness is almost never homegrown American.

My son Yosef was born in America - 2 years and 2 months old now. He knows all the Alef Beis by heart and by sight (you can hear him on my blog ~smile~) He washes netilas yadayim four times each hand by himself. He says all his brachos. And he now can say kamatz alef "ow" kamatz beis "bow" all the alef beis with the kamatz. So in the next couple of weeks he will know by heart and sight how to pronounce all the nikudos. PRAYING EVERY DAY - for his learning and that he will be one of the hidden tzadkim (thought my husband says I would not keep it a secret! - just look how I put him on my blog to share my nachas!) I hope to have him reading by 3 years. AND to have him know all of SHAS by his bar mitzvah - tall order but this Yosef is very special (you read my name, Zahava the convert son Yosef)

In "The Future of American Orthodoxy," historian Jonathan Sarna identified a "significant brain drain" in the American Orthodox community: American Orthodoxy is sending its "best and brightest to Israel … and unsurprisingly many of them never return."

YES, I am wishing this to take place for my family NOW! And never to return to America.

Tidbits of Torah said...

The Lubavitcher Rebbe is gone for 16 years, but no successor of similar greatness was taking over the Chabad Hasidic community.

I don't believe there is a need to have a successor - (even though this reply is lengthy, I do hope you will allow on your site, Rabbi Katz)

In our generation, the ability to complete the Avodah is in the hands of every Jew.   
The Rebbe announced on numerous occasions that the overall Avodas Habirurim has
been completed. This is the practical implication of our being, in the Rebbe’s words,the final generation of golus and the first generation of Geulah, the last generation that will ever be required to inhabit the “skin of the snake” in order to refine and
elevate the sparks.  At this point in history every single Jew has the potential to complete his remaining personal Avodah and go directly to eternal life without the interruption of death and another incarnation in this world!

The Rebbe mentions numerous times that in our generation every single Jew will
achieve eternal life without interruption.   One example is the sicha of parshas Bo,
5752, where the Rebbe states that there is something new in our generation, the
9th generation from the Baal Shem Tov: previously there was “the Histalkus of the soul from the body...which is not the case in our generation, the last generation of golus and the first generation of Geulah....”   The Rebbe is openly speaking about the generation as a whole, explaining that each Jew in this generation can experience a Hillula—the peaceful transition of tzaddikim who have finished their Avodah—instead of death, where the soul must return to the dust of klipos to finish its Avodah.

Perhaps in all the generations there has never been a chiddush greater than this—
that we are the generation that will experience the fulfillment of the prophecy that  death will be swallowed up forever!

Our destiny is to actually see G‐dliness—the essence of everything—with our very
own eyes, our own natural vision.   What can we do to make this happen sooner?  
The Mitteler Rebbe explains that we achieve the ability to see G‐dliness by learning
Torah with depth and intensity.

The Rebbe emphasizes “The Torah is the ‘direct way’ to the revelation and the bringing of Moshiach,“ particularly “the study of the Torah on the subject of the King Moshiach and the subject of the redemption...and particularly the discourses and Likutei Sichos of the leader of our generation”
The Baal Shem Tov was told that the Moshiach comes when his wellsprings are
spread outward.  The Rebbe said the wellsprings have been spread far and wide, and what remains is for us to greet Moshiach, to actually reveal Moshiach. 

How do we do this?  The Rebbe tells us explicitly:  “An increase in the study of the Torah on the subjects of Moshiach and Geulah is the ‘direct path’ to bring about the revelation and coming of Moshiach and the Geulah in actuality mamash.”

rabbi david katz said...

rav nosson tzvi finkel = great in israel; my point is that 100% american doesnt produce gedolim. the idea is that everything about the person should take place in america in his being great, not going off to israel.

hrav scheinberg=not born in america; also became great in israel

rabbi david katz said...

perhaps great...but not a gadol. this is my point: there is a leap from great to gadol. america has yet to produce a gadol.

Moshe said...

There will be a time when Efraim will not envy Yehuda, and Yehuda's enemies will disappear.(the last Haftara 8th day of Pesah, in Diaspora; Yeshaya 10:32-12:6).
My question is who is Bnei Efraim and who is Bnei Yehuda?

Moshe said...

Another question Rav Dovid what do you think of New Squere Rebbe who is Dynasty lineage of Baal Shem Tov. My Rabbi told me that he is one of the closest people to Hakadosh Baruhu, what do you think of that?

Moshe said...

May we be zoche to greet our redeemers: Moshe Rabeinu, Eliayhu HaGil'adi, Moshiah Ben Yosef and Moshiah Ben David a true leaders of Israel in this wonderful year 5772!

rabbi david katz said...

ramchal: 10 lost tribes and the other 2 of ben. and yehuda

rabbi david katz said...

could be very holy...but politics get in the way (mordechai in purim) plus too much controversy coming out of that camp, let alone, still not a gadol. lots of holy men in this dor, yet not gedolim..look at rav kook in tiveria..very holy, but not a gadol.[granted in his case he doesnt want to be a gadol]

rabbi david katz said...

dont forget the 4th craftsman -shem! (sukkah 52b)

Anonymous said...

yes but by same virtue lubavitcher rebbe=gadol on american soil

Moshe said...

if you say that they not gadol, who are we -- hamorim?

Moshe said...

interesting, I always taught that the name of city speaks for it self. Rebbe lived in Brooklyn (another name is Kings), what do you think of possibility of tribe Yehuda will come from Brooklyn, NY?

Moshe said...

the 4th craftsman is David(alludes to Malhut, the 4th leg after Avraham, Itsah, Yakov).

Moshe said...

One good example: Rebbe of Chernobl(Ukraine) said to Jews that they should live the city. After some time it was Chernoble Nuclear Disaster. When other rabbis asked him how he knew, he said: Chernobl has two words Cherniy -- black and obl - the earth. He has a Hohma to say that.

rabbi david katz said...

moshe -4 craftsman - look to sukkah 52b
anonymous - the rebbe wasnt groomed in america

Moshe said...

I meant Rebbe said to leave the city...

Moshe said...

I wish you Rav Dovid that you reach the highest possible level in this world and your HUPPA be at very high in Olam Haba.

rabbi david katz said...

the idea is a 100% gadol, much the way it was until this current matzav. why hasnt there been a 100% american gadol - from start to finish, a totalt product and innovator of the system that was basically created post ww2. (not to mention they have had since practically 1700 to get the job done, so time is not an issue)

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes |