Magid’s Review of ‘Flipping Out’

I’m not sure what Shaul Magid is trying to do in his new review of Flipping Out, but it does not seem like he’s trying to actually review the book. He rather wants to locate it within a broader social context of American Orthodoxy, as part of an attempt by what he (and probably Samuel Heilman and a bunch of YCT donors) believes to be the evidence that some sort of idealized version of American Modern Orthodoxy (the Rabbi Joseph Lookstein version, not the RYBS version) is “fighting back”.

I think his paradigm is off kilter. American Orthodoxy, including the Modern version of it, has evolved throughout its short history based on the battles that it had to fight in each generation. A century ago, Modern Orthodox Jews in America struggled with the decision of whether to work on Shabbat. By the 1950s, that was not the battle any longer. The community was constituted by those who did not work on Shabbat. The struggles were about things like sending kids to Jewish days schools, or especially high schools. And that’s no longer a battle, either.

In other words, 100 years ago, sending a kid to a “Modern Orthodox Day School” wasn’t even an option. 50 years ago, very few Modern Orthodox American Jews struggled with the now ubiquitous issues of being “shomer negiah”, women’s hair covering, or “eating milchigs out”. These are obviously just examples of a whole host of issues that arise in each generation, depending on so many factors. Who knows what the issues will be in 50 years?

The point is, part of the Modern Orthodox experience in America has been the ongoing effort to integrate the fullness of the Jewish experience with the fullness of the American experience. Each generation tried to edge a bit closer than the last one, and, yes, that means admitting that the American Modern Orthodox experience of the 1950s era did not have the potential to be as rich as the contemporary one. At the same time, Orthodox Judaism was never as integrated into the fabric of American life as it is today. Thus, both of American Modern Orthodoxy’s chief aims are slowly being realized. Freezing “American Modern Orthodoxy” in some kind of imagined heyday runs against the grain of the entire American Orthodox endeavor.

My readers know that I do not minimize the chareidization of the rabbinate and its hegemony of the “Who is a Jew” question. I just find it silly that ostensibly serious scholars cannot distinguish between an essentially internal process (the Israel gap yeat experience and its ramifications) and a wholly external one (increasing Haredi hegemony).

A final, and in my opinion hilarious, aspect of the review is that it refers to the Rabbis Kotler of Lakewood, in footnote 7, as the ideological heirs of “Rabbi Eleanor Wasserman”. Yeah, that’s a good one.

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