Friday, August 03, 2007

Noah Feldman-Gate

Now that Barry Bonds has tied Hank Aaron's home run record and everyone will be talking about what the reaction will be when he actually breaks the record, perhaps the debate over the Noah Feldman NY Times Magazine article will die down!

It's now been two weeks since Noah Feldman's "Orthodox Paradox" diatribe was published and just about every rabbi has given a response to it either in print or in speech. Every Jewish newspaper editor and blogger has sufficiently analyzed it. The Orthodox Union is even calling Noah Feldman "the Jewish Jayson Blair" and calling on the New York Times to apologize for publishing Feldman's article.

Noah Feldman - Orthodox ParadoxIt is somewhat humorous that what has made Noah Feldman a household name and the water cooler conversation is not any of his impressive career accomplishments, but rather his frank bashing of modern Orthodoxy.

Here are some interesting responses to Noah's article (pro, con, and everywhere in between) with some quotes or my comments (in italics):

Gary Rosenblatt, Editor of The Jewish Week - New York
"Poor Noah, one may think on first read. How primitive and unfair for his former yeshiva to refuse to publicly acknowledge his successes. But as one continues to read Feldman’s essay, we see he is the one being unfair in expecting to be lauded by a community whose values he has rejected and in crafting an intellectually dishonest case for himself. Still, the implicit and more lasting question raised by the essay is how should the Jewish community in general, and the Orthodox community in particular, deal with Jews who have married out?"

Not all intermarried Jews are snubbed by the Orthodox (The Jewish Week NY)
Wait a second here. Aren't there several Orthodox organizations out there that honor and glorify intermarried Jews? The answer is yes -- especially if they are celebrities and/or wealthy. This article explains that while institutions like Aish HaTorah and Chabad might be opposed to intermarriage, they have no qualms about honoring intermarried Jews like Kirk Douglas, Barbra Streisand, Henry Kissinger or Ari Fleischer. Weren't King Solomon and Queen Esther intermarried Jews? There are some very interesting quotes in this article by my teacher Rabbi Irwin Kula of CLAL who explains his organization's decision to appoint an intermarried lay-leader as its new chairman. And while most Conservative synagogues wouldn't publicly acknowledge an intermarriage, this article mentions a Modern Orthodox shul in NYC that invites the non-Jewish spouse to the bimah for life-cycle events.

Photo wasn't cropped after all (The Jewish Week - NY)
Uh oh. Turns out that the Maimonides School didn't actually crop or Photoshop Noah and his Korean gentile girlfriend (now his wife Jeannie Suk) from the group photo at the alumni event. In actuality, several people were left out of the published photo because there were too many faces to fit into one photo. But does it really matter? Noah still made his point.

Avi Shafran on Noah Feldman and Shmuley Boteach (Jerusalem Post)
"To my lights, it doesn't seem extreme in the least for a Jewish school to make clear to an intermarried alumnus that, despite his secular accomplishments, it feels no pride in him for his choice to intermarry. I wouldn't expect an American Cancer Society gathering to smile politely at a chain smoking attendee either. It is painful, no doubt, to be spurned by one's community. It is painful, too, for a community to feel compelled to express its censure. Sometimes, though, in personal and communal life no less than in weightlifting, only pain can offer - in the larger, longer picture - hope of gain. "

An Open Letter to Noah Feldman by Rabbi Norman Lamm of Yeshiva University (The Forward)
"True, we no longer 'sit shivah' for a relative who married out. But all of us experience poignant anguish when a brilliant and once fully committed son of our people, who earnestly believes he is not rejecting his upbringing, effectively does just that in justifying his transgression and holding us up to ridicule."

Rabbi Benjamin Blech (
"Responding with no condemnation, the Jewish world would in effect be condoning. If we cherish Jewish survival, in this instance, that is an impossible alternative."

"[Noah Feldman's] words bring to mind Solomon Schechter's pithy response to a plea for religious moderation: "It reminds me of the American juror who said 'I am willing to give up some, and if necessary all, of the Constitution to preserve the remainder."

Shira Dicker rips Noah Feldman ("Bungalow Babe in the Big City" blog)
Shira Dicker, married to Columbia University prof and author Ari Goldman, is a writer and publicist who handles the PR for the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly.

"By the end of the magazine piece, any sympathy I might have had for him had evaporated and in its place was sheer disgust. Reading postings on the blogosphere, I know that I am hardly alone.

Oh, Noah, you meander through childhood memories that are hardly unique to anyone who attended Orthodox Jewish day school. So the Maimonides School had to cloak their obligatory sex ed in the prohibitions of negiah, hauling out the philosophy of Feinstein in a multi-volume set to suppress your teenage hard-on. Big freaking deal. So you got reprimanded for holding hands with a girl? Been there, done that. So, your rebbes said stupid, parochial things about...goyim? Wow. I never heard of that happening.

There is a Talmudic debate about saving the life of a non-Jew on Shabbat? How fascinating that this took place so many centuries ago! Of course it is as dated as most of the discussions in the Talmud about women. Isn't the proof of the pudding in the fact that Jewish doctors are a worldwide institution, saving the lives of Jews and non-Jews without discrimination on Shabbat, on Yom Kippur, on every day of the week????

Do you hope to reveal some ugly, hidden face of Judaism to your shocked readers who previously had such a positive view of Jews? A pile of gentile corpses outside of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, all the unlucky goyim in Upper Manhattan who had the misfortune to get sick on Shabbos?

Which readership are you writing for, anyway? The subscribers to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion?" [Ouch!]

Andrew Silow Carrol, Editor of the New Jersey Jewish News (Jerusalem Post)
I once read an essay by a woman who said she "observes Shabbat." On Saturday mornings on the Upper West Side, she sat on a park bench with her newspaper and "observed" her friends and neighbors going to shul. Her joke came back to me as I read the now infamous essay on modern Orthodoxy by Harvard law professor Noah Feldman[...]. I'll leave it to others to debate the Jewish community's treatment of intermarriage. I was less intrigued by Feldman's relationship with his wife than I was by his relationship with Judaism.

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