Half-Shabbos Again

When I posted the Half-Shabbos post, my point was solely to show a generation gap and a technology gap.

My point was correctly understood in a recent tweet linking to my blog.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg said: Asking kids not to text on shabbos may be like taking a taanis dibbur

The tweet was followed by another a tweet that the average adolescent sends almost 3400 text messages a month. (Since I don’t use Twitter, I don’t know how to find the original follow-up tweet.) Adolescents are identifying themselves with text messaging. Self-definition through FB and texting is stronger than traditional patterns. I had noticed the phenomena in a broad range of Orthodoxy, not limited to any one segment.

What is interesting is the diverse range of reactions to the post, none of which was my intention. People emailed me and spoke to me during Sukkot with their theories.

What does half-shabbos show?

1] It shows how repressed they are. They don’t want to be frum and when in private they violate shabbos. They want the change to break it.
2] It shows how comfortable they are. They want to be frum but are comfortable to observe it on their own terms. And it shows a community comfortable enough to accept them.
3] They are the failures of modern Orthodoxy or they are the failures of Orthodoxy-lite. They show how kids are going bad.
4] They need shabbatons to help make them frum. We need to help make shabbos meaningful. This is probably the tip of an iceberg of many other non-frum activities and they need to find shabbos meaningful. Only ruah can help.

From the simple quirk of our era of a practice called “half-shabbos,” I am not sure there is enough evidence for any of these.

As a side note- many of the discussion are confusing several separate and unrelated phenomena.

Laity will always bend rules. A major desideratum is a history of the laity within Judaism. The responsa literature show many communities that had to deal adolescent transgressions including with mixed dancing, bunding, swimming on shabbos, brothel use, not wearing tefillin, and theft. And adults who violate Shabbat, create problematic slaughter houses, drink regular wine, and have affairs. In all of these cases they remain in the community, and it is acknowledged that they are deviants within the social norm.

This is not to be confused with leaving the community. We are witnessing the start of a new cycle of retreat from religion in which people are leaving Orthodoxy.

There is a further confusion of those leaving with liberal positions. Those who are leaving are not those keeping half-shabbos nor are the ones leaving on the left wing side of orthodoxy. Do not think of it as a spectrum in which one keeps moving to the left and then one falls off a cliff into non-observance. Those fleeing will come from all parts of the community. Kids in KGH, Passaic,or Brooklyn turn 16 or 17 and then decide this is not for them and them just stop keeping kosher and stop keeping shabbos. Then they move away. They don’t care about anything liberal in thought or practice. Others wake up in their 20’s and say this is not for them. Others will leave after a divorce. When the US reached a peak of divorce and dissolution in 1969-1972, it was the marriages of conservative and early-married 1958-1962 that were breaking up. Now, it is the gen x who married young and were all frum that is getting divorced and many are not returning. (One of the local rabbis devoted his Rosh Hashanah sermon to this epidemic). They were not liberal, just waking up to life’s options at 30.

Many jumped to assume that Half-Shabbos was automatically in category two of leaving Orthodoxy and not category one of transgressions of the laity.

Some activates are deviant and other activities write one out of the community. In interwar Poland, playing cards on shabbos, brothel use, and eating in a restaurant that served meat and milk was deviant. Eating ham meant one was outside the community. In Western Europe, carrying on Shabbat, going to the symphony on shabbos, treating all dairy as kosher and even eating shellfish may have been seen by some of the laity as only deviant. The criteria is not based on halakhah but folk categories. As Rav Aharon Lichtenstein noted 25 years ago when religious Zionist kids did not worry about teudot on fruit “terumah is a greater prohibition than traifah, but people do not treat it that way. ”

In America, the cycle of religion reverses every 30-35 years since the 1730’s. We are now at the start of another downward turn. Jews are now on an American cycle.

In Eastern Europe most Jews gave up observance after 1881. It was 90% in new lands like Odessa, 70-80% in most other place. The yeshiva and Chassidic systems were seen as rotten to the core. Moving to the cities, not America, was considered as detrimental to faith. However, the cities provided new religious organization This was followed by new inter-bellum loss of faith. The Jewish cycle was similar to many of the European peasants who gave up religion as they because 20th century citizens.

But separate than this is the fact that the laity, especially adolescents, will always have transgressions. There were lay transgressions in 1995, but the triumphalist rhetoric assumed that a greater commitment to a totalizing halakhic ideal and practice was around the corner.

There was an equally divergent spectrum of how to “solve” half shabbos. But since they are in the fold already, you cannot convert them to Orthodoxy. Some of these issues relate to my post from Saturday night on “Christian Rock and Kiruv,” which did not get discussed and relates to these issues. If i dont get discussion of the Christian Rock post, then I will repost it.

11 responses to “Half-Shabbos Again

  1. “We are witnessing the start of a new cycle of retreat from religion in which people are leaving Orthodoxy.”

    Well that’s kind of depressing.

  2. can you identify what the difference is this time around(if any) or is the amplitude in this cycle greater than previous cycles.

    • We just started. Ask me as we wind down in 2030. I cannot predict the future. From a quick look, it seems this one will be mystical-spiritual like the 1840’s cycle of the Transcendentalists. I dont think this cycle will have the language of “Secular City” of the 1960’s. Amplitude will be determined by steps that people take right now.

  3. Thank you Alan, for another sane and evidence-based analysis.

  4. How would you compare the European example to non-Ashkenazi populations? Do we observe similar moves? In the 70s and 80s in Israel, I always had a sense that my non-Ashkenazi friends had a greater, flexible comfort with Judaism. It was pretty common to see someone in the synagogue Shabbat morning, engaged and participating; but after Shabbat lunch head off to the soccer pitch. No one (among the Sefardim) said ‘they’ve left the fold’. It didn’t have to be an either-or, all-or-nothing understanding.

    • my non-Ashkenazi friends

      Different Edot had different patterns of religiosity and should not be lumped together. In practice, many of the old-time Ashkenazim were the same way. If you visited a cousin in Givatayim or Haifa, they kept kosher and some form of shabbat, and they also went to the soccer game. The Menachem Begins types were not much different. I acknowledge that many of those of Moroccan background seemed more laissez-faire and some of the Sefardic leadership like Rav Ovadiah was cool with it. But we need a good definition of what was, and is, the unique quality of the sefardi societies. Meir Buzaglo of Hebrew U has several nice essays on the mesorati mentality (Maybe I should blog them.) and there was recently a volume on the topic. American literature of the time saw them as proto-Conservative Jews who would naturally support the Conservative movement. To compare to Europe, there was widespread giving up of observance in places like Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, – and Rav Ovadiah was as sharp as any Ashkenazi Rabbi with them when he was Rabbi in Egypt. He liked those who transgressed in simplicity more than those who modernized and became secular. Syria and Iraq had diverse reactions to modernity. See Benny Brown’s Response to Zvi Zohar for some of the less accepting positions among Sefardim; also see A Pikard’s work on Rav Ovadiah for his not tolerating his assimilationists.

      Reb Yudel- those who kept people into Judaism included NCSY, Reb Shlomo, Rabbis Lichtenstein and Greenberg, AJ Heschel, Meir Kahane and Art Waskow, Riskin and Kushner, the rise of the havurot, chabad sending its first shilichim to college campuses, some dedicated Hillel directors, The Jewish Catalog, and many other people who stopped speaking of the assumed need to be committed to a boring synagogue and stopped addressing the 1950’s suburbia. All but Heschel who died young, already had structures in place when people returned in the 1980’s. How many of today’s day school graduates who walk into McDonalds and then never return to Jewish life as opposed to those who stay involved will be based on today’s leadership.

  5. Pingback: שומרי (חצי)שבת « MINIM

  6. Perhaps, the real issue that we are all missing is that one must be inspired to live a life committed to Torah and Mitzvos before one is educated and socialized to do so. We must remember that Yetizas Mitzrayim led to Kabalas HaTorah and not the reverse. When teens text on Shabbos, I think that one can argue that they lack the hashkafic fundamentals on why a Jew observes Shabbos. Merely doing so because that is the custom of one’s parents or one’s community cannot be considered a solid fundamental basis in the absence of knowledge of why Shabbos plays such a central role in Maaseh Breishis and Kabalas HaTorah.

    I am sure that all of us know of someone either our own age or a child’s age who has gone OTD. I think that the problem begins with parents who lack a certain passion for being a Shomer Torah UMitzvos. When one combines a lack of passion with an equal dose of cynicism, then one should not be surprised if a kid becomes a Mchallel Shabbos and worse after 12 years of Jewish education-Charedi or MO.

  7. Steve, as nice as your analysis is as a piece of rhetoric it does not explain why this has been going on since emancipation. In a world where people see themselves as individuals with the possibility of making choices that they can comfortably live with there is no simple reason why some people leave and some stay. A given religious community will never speak to everyone who grows up within its ranks. The question for those interested in a pragmatic response is how do we retain 75 -90 percent of those who grow up in religious households, not what are parents clearly doing wrong when one of their kids decides to text his friend on shabbos. I have never seen a productive suggestion in response to the latter.

    I think that your response comes from a particular time and place where people thought that sending all kids to day schools would solve their problems. So you look at the fact that it did not and then lay the blame back on parents. Give people, both parents and children, a little more credit for being complex individuals whose paths in life are not overdetermined by any sets of necessary and sufficient criteria for lifelong religious affiliation that you could possibly enumerate.

  8. AS-I am by no means placing the exclusive blame on parents, but the role of parents in having a passionate , apathetic or cynical view towards Torah and Mitzvos cannnot be underestimated.

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