Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Crisis of Connection

Heaven help us, I have a theme.

Normally I have no idea of what I’m going to write until the week I’m going to write it, and even when there are exceptions it’s usually only a week or two in advance. However, I was introduced to a piece of literature over the weekend that has given me ammo for at least the next year of posting. The story goes as follows:

Last weekend I was made aware of an online journal that launched its maiden issue last fall called Klal Perspectives. There have thus far been three issues, the third of which came out a week ago, ranging from 76 to 150 pages apiece. The journal’s mission statement, as stated on its website and in its first issue, is to provide a forum for discussion by both rabbinic and non-rabbinic leaders to address the greatest problems deemed to be plaguing the modern Torah community. The twist is that the contributors are asked not only to discuss the problems but also to provide possible solutions.

The procedure is simple: the editorial staff of the magazine comes up with three or four questions on a specific topic and sends them to the contributors along with a brief introduction. The contributors then write articles answering the questions to the best of their ability and then the responses are published one after the other. The introduction and questions that were sent to the contributors precede the articles, and a forward written by the editor briefly outlining the issue and introducing its contributors precedes that. The whole thing is capped off by a cover page sporting the title, the names of the contributors and their articles, and the tagline, “A Forum for Discussion of Challenges Facing the Torah Community.”

The first issue, titled "Challenges Facing Modern Orthodoxy: A Symposium,” is pretty brilliant in that the questions asked to the contributors all boil down into the basic query, “What do you think are the major challenges facing the modern Torah community?” The editors don’t presume to know what the problems are, and that modesty is endearing. It is far too often that people assume that they know why the Jewish community as a whole is going through a crisis of faith, and usually their suggestions are based on their personal biases. Rabbis that blame everything on the legalization of gay marriage, the internet, and secular education, I’m looking at you. However, as much as I despise that kind of behavior, those guys are at least a step ahead of those that refuse to acknowledge that we as a community have a problem to begin with. On that note, I give major credit to managing editor Rabbi Dovid Goldman and Co. for going right out there and basing this entire endeavor on such a controversial thought. The idea of Jews actually confronting their demons is such a novel idea as to make the concept of this publication exciting, which, come to think of it, is a pretty sad commentary on the state of Jewish introspection. However, all things considered, I'm thrilled that this thing even exists.

The second issue came out sometime during the winter (they organize these by season, so I have no idea when they actually came out) and is titled “The 21st-century Orthodox Jewish Family: The Role of Breadwinner.” Its overall theme is the changing role of women in the Orthodox Jewish family now that they want to work full-time jobs and are often required to due to financial problems, a situation totally unheard of as recently as the 1950s. That’s an extremely sensitive subject and I’m not going anywhere within 100 miles of it. I’m not even going to offer an opinion; you’ll just have to guess what I think.

With approximately 200 pages of rich, well thought out dialogue on interesting and oft ignored topics, I highly recommend you go look up issues #1 and #2 on the Klal Perspectives website, which I have linked to again for your convenience. I have not done so yet, but I plan to as soon as I have the time. However, first I want to tackle issue #3, the issue I discovered last week and the focus of the not-so-miniseries that this post serves as an introduction to. There are two reasons I’m skipping straight to #3. The first is pretty simple: it’s the issue that introduced me to the journal and I’m already halfway done reading it. Understanding the second reason takes an understanding of what those 150 pages are about. The title of issue #3 is a short and powerful “A Crisis of Connection?” and the issue explores the idea of whether we Jews are, as a global community, experiencing a crisis in the degree of our religious fulfillment and, if so, why that is and how to fix it. Anyone who knows me personally or reads this blog regularly knows that this is a subject very close to my heart and one that I’m very passionate about. Until as recently as 2 years ago, I lived in a crisis of connection, so it makes sense that of the three existing issues of Klal Perspectives, this would be the one I would first want to explore in detail.

I propose this: There are 20 “chapters” in the Spring 2012 Klal Perspectives issue if you include the foreword and the introduction, and I’m going to take Arbitribe through all of them; each time I post from now until I'm done, I’m going to opine on one of those chapters. Now, since that some articles are 15 pages and some are 5, I might not be able to work every single one into its own post, and I am leaving open the possibility that something could come up that I'll feel I’d rather post about in a given week, so I aim to have completed this series somewhere close to the end of the year. I think it would be a good running topic and it definitely could create some interesting conversations. Speaking of which, the way this is going to run means that it will be much more impactful and meaningful if there’s a back and forth generated. I see great potential for some amazing discussions in the comments, so if you have something constructive to say, say it. On that note, I’m off. In three weeks, I begin to tackle A Crisis of Connection by taking a look at the editor’s forward and introduction and some seriously loaded statements contained within. Till next time folks, GET EXCITED!!

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