Thursday, July 01, 2010

Quick Takes

Does the internet make you dumber?
A few weeks ago, much was made of a new book which claims that technology makes people less able to think critically and concentrate. The hype did not impress me. What we're dealing with is an onslaught of information and people have to develop internal filters. You have to know when to turn everything off and, when it's on, how to find the good information while avoiding the bad. Even before the internet, many people procrastinated, had trouble focusing, and ignored their spouses and children. It's hard to blame that on the internet. I'm on computers most of my waking hours but I still regularly read long books. I found this NY Times Op-Ed particularly informative: link.

Is it right to criticize the Young Israel of Hewlett?
A rabbi published an Op-Ed in the Five Towns Jewish Times in which he thoughtfully explained why he felt it necessary to berate the Young Israel of Hewlett for hosting Rabba Sara Hurwitz as a scholar-in-residence. He was then criticized himself for being impolite in his words and over-stepping his bounds (link). Was he impolite? Somewhat, but not that bad considering the hysterical rhetoric we often read. He seemed to me to be trying hard to hold back, mostly successfully. Was he over-stepping his bounds? I don't think so. The shul needs to know if it crosses a line so important that it risks being shunned by the rest of the community. Should it have been done in an Op-Ed? I don't think so. It seems to me the kind of situation where one rabbi (or a few) calls up the rabbi of that shul, lets him explain the circumstances, and then explains to him the reaction of the rest of the community. From there, let the pressure go downhill to the shul's board and congregants.

Common language?
One of the benefits of being in a community is having a common language and common basic assumptions. I'm no longer sure what assumptions I share with those on the left wing of Orthodoxy. When I have conversations, I sometimes make assumptions about practice and belief that turn out to be wrong and I sometimes hear them making assumptions that I don't share. Consider the following summary by R. Dr. Israel Drazin of Dr. Marc Shapiro's contribution to a recent book on theology edited by (Conservative) Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove (link):
Shapiro, an Orthodox Jew, states that he feels comfortable in "removing God from almost everything that takes place in the world." The world functions according to the laws of nature; God is not "pulling the strings of the world." He sees nothing wrong with a person having their own understanding of what revelation is. This approach of an uninvolved God, he stresses, focuses on what people should do to improve themselves and society, and not on what God does for us.
Even if that is inaccurate (I haven't seen the book), I've already met self-described Orthodox Jews who believe those things. Are we really part of the same religious community if we don't have a shared language about revelation?

Where's the outrage over Rubashkin
I've seen a lot of outrage over Rubashkin's prosecution (or persecution), conviction and sentencing. Where's the outrage over his white collar crime? Remember the post-Spinka era, when we as a community were going to send a message that white collar crime isn't acceptable? Now we're turning a convicted criminal into a hero, with little kids walking around collecting money for him and community-wide gatherings that lionize him. Have they read about what he's admitted to doing?