R. Bernard Lander, Officer Krupke, and Rav Moshe Feinstein

Rabbi Bernie Lander A”H died last week. He was from the G.I Generation also called the Greatest Generation. They lived through the depression, WWII, and the rise from the tenements of NY to middle class. They tended to seek solutions in social sciences and thought of law as social realism. He came of age in the Judaism of the 1930’s atheistic and Communist fleeing from religion. His writings followed the Chicago school of social science, which looked at society based on class, caste, and place of immigrant settlement.

Lander’s Phd and book was on what to do with juvenile delinquents. The short films Dead End Kids and Bowery Boys were intended to portray what downtown Jews were like. The Chicago school considered that juvenile delinquency portrayed in these films was due to the breakdown of the social fabric of family, school, religion, and community. Think of the song “Gee, Officer Krupke” from West Side Story where the kids are blamed by judge, social worker, psychologist, and police. Lander in his Towards an Understanding of Juvenile Delinquency blamed the breakdown on inter-group conflicts, like between the Sharks and the Jets. Bear in mind that West Side story was originally to be Jews and Irish in a rumble. Lander always thought in terms of class and social structure. He advocated education for the lower classes. In the 1960’s, he followed the ideas of alienation. “My conclusion,” he said, “was that the rioting was a reflection of how students were being treated as automatons. There was no relationship between students and university anymore. They were rioting against the depersonalization of American education.

Lander had been working on social issues since he worked for Mayor La Guardia to serve on a Civil Rights commission in 1941 and “from 1961 to 1969, Rabbi Dr. Lander researched poverty at Notre Dame, a Catholic University” He researched the juvenile delinquents and poverty of Spanish Harlem. His answer was education [and the Church]. He wrote a report on the need for government funding for education and housing for the Lavanburg Corner House for delinquents. “Dr. Lander pioneered no-frills education when adult education for the working class was in its infancy.”

So when he created Touro, he was thinking in terms of class and caste and creating a school for urban ethnic lower class Jews. “Touro, which was created in part on the model of more than a dozen small Catholic colleges interspersed throughout New York, was Lander’s way of enabling tradition-minded Jews to acquire a college education without having to go through the secularizing and depersonalized university machine.” Currently, Jews have forgotten about the class issues and see everything as religious ideology.

Lander as a member of the Greatest Generation saw things in terms of class, while the silent generation who were the major leaders of Modern Orthodoxy saw things in terms of the stable suburbia of the 1950’s. The Silent Generation catered to the middle class, spoke of liberal arts, and avoided getting their hands dirty with [gentiles or] social problems. By the 1980’s, modern Orthodoxy was already catering to a predominately second generation college, while Lander, still aiming at first generation college, understood that in social terms without an education then you don’t have social stability. If one is not thinking about religious ideology but about class, then there was little difference between his schools in 123st and Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blv in Harlem and his Brooklyn campuses.(If anyone from Touro is reading this and wants to commission a full 20 page article, then let me know).

Rabbi Lander dealt with more American social issues, had more exposure to gentiles, and had a more dynamic vision than the younger YU products who assumed the 1950’s would last forever. Most of the thinkers of the 1950’s Conservative movement were forged in the Greatest Generation, while modern Orthodoxy was more of a Silent generation movement (except for the older rabbis such as Rackman and Israel Miller).

The last time I saw Rabbi Lander was March 2009 was when the Catholic Cardinals came for their annual visit and were hosted by Touro. The topic was to “train young believers in modernity, to train young believers in tradition.” There was a tour of the Holocaust museum and a plan to work together on Holocaust education, a discussion of current issues, and then speeches over dinner of fellowship and working together. It was a far cry from the responsa of Rav Moshe Feinstein from over 40 years prior. (I have the teshuvah at hand, as well as Aleksandrov and the Dali Lama in Hebrew, as part of my forthcoming BOOK TWO)

19 Adar I, 5727 – March 1, 1967 To my honored friend, Rabbi Dov Ber Lander
Regarding the matter that you promised to attend the meeting on the 23rd of Adar I where Catholics and Protestants together with Jews from the Synagogue Council of America and Rabbis from the Rabbinical Council of America will meet. Even though you will only speak general words, it is obvious and clear that this is a severe prohibition of appurtenances of idolatry.

For a plague is now spreading in many places because of the new pope (Pope Paul VI) whose only intention is to move all Jews away from their holy and pure faith to accept the Christian Faith. For it is easier to accomplish this through these methods than through hate and murder that previous popes have used. Therefore any dealing with them even on general matters and all [the more so] actual coming close for a meeting is forbidden with the severe prohibition of “coming close to idolatry.” There is also a prohibition of enticing and leading astray.”
Even if you and the other rabbis who go there will be careful with your words and you will also not flatter the priests and their faith as do the Reform and Conservative rabbis, who entice and lead others to go astray, many people will learn from them that it is permitted to go to the events such as the lectures of the missionaries.

Furthermore, you should not even send a letter there expressing what you planned on saying for any interaction with them further assists their evil plans. It is also forbidden to participate in any manner in meetings like these for I heard that they want to have in Boston and Rome. Anyone who joins with them will be considered one who entices and leads astray the Jewish people. For this that the Catholic missionaries tried so hard for all these years and had very little success, but through these rabbis who lack knowledge who want to join with them, it is possible that many will apostate. We cannot justify the one who entices by saying this was not his intention; he is guilty of a capital offense in this act and all that consequences. .

Therefore, do not be concerned with not keeping your promise to attend and speak. For on the contrary, perhaps through this that you do not go on account of the prohibition, perhaps others will not go and you will bring merit to the community. Your Friend, Moshe Feinstein.

Based on David Ellenson, “Two Responsa of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.” Chronicle of Hebrew Union College, Volume LII, Nos. 1 and 2, Fall 2000-2001.

When reading Rav Moshe, did you agree with his visceral reactions? Do you think that Rabbi Bernard Lander who had been working for Notre Dame thought that all Catholic clergy were out to convert the Jews? Do you think that he thought that in 2009 when hosting the Cardinals

When the septuagenarian Orthodox Rabbis who proudly proclaim that they follow Rav Soloveitchik, were busy flattering the Cardinals and discussing how they have been good friends for decades and how much they trust the Cardinals- were they still in the apprehensiveness of the 1960’s? Were these senior Orthodox rabbis, for whom the Catholic clergy are old and trusted friends, still viewing the meetings as a hidden missionary agenda? When those Jews who work in community organizing are continuously working with Catholic clergy in social projects, are they still waiting for the conversionary speech? What about when Orthodox rabbis or Orthodox organizations state that Catholic social theology and Halakhah are the same on marriage and that they should work with their Catholic friends in banning same-sex marriage? Are they still expecting missionary activity after the joint worldview statement? How about when Orthodox rabbis eagerly listen, and then applaud wildly, when Pastor Hagee tells them that God will bring the Jews to Israel where they will even convert after the wars of Gog and Magog?
Is the change just due to the Culture Wars and new found Islamophobia or is there something more?

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

2 responses to “R. Bernard Lander, Officer Krupke, and Rav Moshe Feinstein

  1. Some random observations:

    It is interesting that Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, Rav Schach, and the Steipler all signed a letter condeminng the opening of a branch of Touro for women in Israel.

    BTE, speaking of class, the college tuition for Touro is considerably less than that of YU. Still, as I have heard from a very reliable source, Touro for women has not been able to make a dent in the group of modern Orthodox women High School graduates who choose to go on to Stern.

    It is also ironic that Touro in Israel runs a Graduate Program for Jewish Studies, while YU has no such program.

  2. Did Rabbi Lander ever offer a critque of Modern Orthodoxy (based on the ideas mentioned) it is a a shame that people like him did not help shape Modern Orthodoxy ,I know people who chose to live in the Yeshiva world(although they philosphically identify as Modern Orthodox ) since they feel economically intimidated by Modern Orthodoxy emphasis of a suburban lifestyle

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