Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Adaptive Obsolescence?"

This post is about the Yekkish community in Washington Heights, but it could be applied just as well to other issues.

I happened to be a casual observer to a discussion on Twitter this week in which one person wrote, "Among Yekkes,being called Rabbi-Doktor is the ultimate in respect!", to which somebody else responded, "That was back when Washington Heights was Yekkish rather than Charedi-lite".

This is how we're viewed on the outside?

Over the years, as the population and membership of KAJ declined, much back and forth discussion took place as how to revitalize the neighborhood. Was it housing issues that forced people out? That issue was considered.
Was it the minhogim that were too "strict" or "different"? Should we "adapt" to be more "like everybody else" - abandon our minhagim to an extent in order to boost our numbers? This doesn't seem to be necessary for Belzers or Satmars.

I find it a very interesting phenomenon that there is a segment of population that has moved out of the neighborhood and (largely) abandoned the minhagim on a personal level. But if they come back for a simcha, or for a visit, they will rail at the changes to the nusach and to the shul. Therefore, we can assume that there is a connection felt to the mesorah. But has it taken on a "museum" quality - to be visited on occasion but not worked for?

And here's my larger question: If we make ourselves just like everybody else (or a reasonable facsimile), at what point have we adapted ourselves into virtual obsolescence? At what point in our quest for broader acceptance do we lose our essential self?
What is the point then?
If everyone is apathetic, is there anything worth fighting for anyway?
Is there anybody who cares anymore, and if not, why not? Have we no pride in our heritage?
Is it perhaps better to just "die quietly" than to succumb to the religious vandalism of our traditions?

(I was hesitant to post this because I don't want the comments to get out of hand. Kindly attempt to address comments to my 'larger question' of Adaptive Obsolescence. I have turned comment moderation "on" for the time being. Thank you.)


Yekkishe Bekishe said...

I think you are focusing on the wrong facet of the problem. In pre-WWII USA, the most important Halacha Sefer for 99% of the Jewish populace was the Luach! I mean, you must say Kaddish for your parents on the right date if you are to set an example for your kids about what is important to a Jew. As the Modziter Rebbe Z"tl said about what he found in America, "Umekayem Emunoso Liysheinei Ofor - the American Jew's Emuno is directed at those in sleeping in the ground!"

The Yeshivos fought a very hard battle to combat this attitude.One method was to have the student body totally conform to the Minhogim of the Yeshiva. How many boys of Yekkishe background - whether from Washington Heights or other places - took off their Taleisim & stopped saying Piyutim in Yeshiva? How many resumed these Minhogim once they left Yeshiva?

Another method was to target the communal - non-Yeshiva - leaders & show them as incompetent charlatans.This may have been done with to broad a brush, to the point that when I was in high-school I had a Rebbi who taught that if you didn't follow the Mishno Berurah you aren't a Shomer Torah Umitzvos! The 2nd generation of these students are - to a great extent - our Manhigim today.

When Rav Breuer Z"tl took over KAJ, he synthesized a set of Minhogim that came from all over Germany. Two examples come to mind, individual Yizkor as an integral part of Matnas Yad & the Yehi Ratzon before Birchas Hachodesh were NOT said in FFaM. I am sure there are others.

If the Yekkishe community would view their Mesorah the way a Chassidic community views theirs - immutable & solid with no room for change - this problem wouldn't be happening.

Pardon my rambling, but I do have a chip on my shoulder.

efrex said...

I don't think that the comparison to the chassidic communities is quite appropriate: these communities define themselves as being separatist and unchanging, and provide an entire self-contained structure to ensure their survival. For all the wonderful communal systems that the Kehilla has instituted, it was never fully self-sufficient; in addition, it allows, and often encourages, external cultural and intellectual pursuits. Adaptation on some level is therefore a much more pressing concept.

The declining KAJ membership is almost certainly due to a variety of factors, many of which are well beyond the control of those concerned. The main one is what seems to me has always been the issue: the vast majority of frum people living in the Heights do not see urban life as being the ideal setting for their lifestyle. Suburban communities provide greater convenience (and now, significantly cheaper housing).

The question of "is it better to survive as something completely different or die out sticking to our principles?" requires a great deal of introspection and tough decision-making. What are the immutable core values of the community, and what should be allowed to change with cultural shifts? What changes can reasonably be expected to provide tangible benefits? Assuming that the kehilla no longer has a sustainable population within its own traditional ranks (a situation that, to my historical reading, has held true since its inception here), whom should it try to attract?

Not at all an easy task. I've seen this very process up close in the two Heights shuls that I call my own, and it remains a very difficult situation.

AJS said...

Why is it considered "religious vandalism of our traditions?"

Its not like on October 1, 1900 the entire Orthodox German-Jewish community had a meeting and adopted practices that weren't in existence. I imagine those practices emerged over time, sometimes slower and sometimes as punctuated equilibrium.

Those practices probably changed since they came to Washington Heights as well, though likely not by much (allowing any English in shiurim, etc).

Things change. That's not religious vandalism of traditions. It is tradition.

Gavi said...

While I am not a WH resident, I do daven in a shul with a strong yekkish representation. However, the unique yekkish minhagim seem to be going by the wayside with my (the younger) generation - for example, I am the only one of my contemporaries to have prepared wimpelach for my son to donate iy"h (to give a further clue as to my demographic, he is still too young to bring to shul).

And don't get me started about the complete loss of Tora uMaddah as a derech hachayim... (OK, if you really want my comments about the loss of Torah uMaddah as a current life and community philosophy in much of contemporary Jewry, e-mail me privately and judge whether my comments are appropriate for publication).

My personal explanation for the phenomenon that you describe is that the unique yekkish minhagim (and by extent the derech hachayim) have come to be viewed by the yekkish community as they are in most other branches of orthodox Judaism - something quaint, perhaps important to older generations, but not as something that must be preserved at all costs, especially if they conflict with the zeitgeist.

I think that one of the biggest problems in contemporary orthodox life is the homogenization of individual practices towards a common practice. The main causes for this dilution are, through no fault of his own, the average Jew's lack of in-depth scholarship (who then cannot explain the reasoning behind his unique minhagim, let alone a derech hachayim or hashkafa), coupled with the insistence of the yeshiva world on a uniform mode of practice and belief. Blame the post-WWII yeshivos for teaching Brisker-style sevaros instead of basic Torah, tefillah, and hashkafa. Look at the educational priorities Rav Hirsch laid out in Chorev – note that Talmud is last on his list, and is to be taught as a source book and basis for practical halacha!

The yeshiva uniformization (pun intended) of religious practice has become so pervasive that everyone has forgotten the original reasons why it has been adopted, remembering only that they must conform if they want to be:

a) accepted in the community;
b) educate their children according to "da'as torah" (quotes added specifically to emphasize the fabricated nature of the term);
c) make good shidduchim for their children
d) feel that they are living according to what is right;
and so on.

A scary article written by R' Chananya Weissmann a while ago comes to mind: his thesis was that in many instances, Jewish community behaviour is dictated from the street up, where the plebeians (aka askanim) decide what the direction will be, and the so-called "leaders" follow. I would venture to add that eventually, the leaders and educators that such a community appoints conforms to their desires and expectations of direction, and the vicious cycle continues.

My solution: educate myself, and then my family, as much as possible, learning about the reasons why we do what we do... And I intend to give my children options besides the cradle-to-kollel conveyor belt by running intensive damage control on their schooling. Maybe with lots of siyyata dishmaya, people like me can change our communities for the better.

BLD - All passover items on sale said...

The answer is to merge with YU, the winners. Here, they put up a magnificent Bais Medrash in the neighborhood and KAJ didnt even mention it, much less send a rep. for a glorious Torah event. They just dont get it. It's the ninth inning and they still think the game is winnable. Rav Schwab zt'l had his kepaidas, fine. But its 30 years later...

efrex said...


While I share some of your concerns on the homogenization of contemporary orthodoxy, I don't quite agree with your root cause analysis. Cultural homogenization is a nation- and world- wide phenomenon, and the religious world is no less susceptible to it. Large cross-communal organizations are going to adopt a single standard, and people trade unique cultural practices for convenience. For example, try to find a national hechsher that will certify non-glatt kosher meat or peanut or corn products for pesach. By being yotze kol hade'ot, they increase their reliability, but create a "most machmir common denominator.

I'm not sure what you find terrifying about "Jewish community behaviour dictated from the street up." It was ever thus, and should be thus (see R' Hirsch's essays on community). If anything, the problem is the reverse: deification of "gedolim" results in communities completely apathetic to their own situation, and individuals scared of their own shadows.

Yekkishe Bekishe said...

BLD, the problems that Rav Breuer an Rav Schwab foresaw many years ago, are even more appropriate today in YU. When an Issur Skilo is treated as a disease, instead of an Issur Chamur, then I don't think a merge is worth anything at all.

efrex said...

YB: A complete slander against an institution. Whether or not one agrees with the appropriateness of the recent panel (and certainly many YU Roshei yeshiva did not), the seriousness of the issur itself was never debated or trivialized.

BLD: I defer to no one in my contention that YU and KAJ are much more compatible than many would let on, and I do think that there is room for mutually beneficial cooperation between the two institutions, but what exactly would a "merger" look like? I don't think that YU is interested in directly funding a shul or communal organization, and KAJ couldn't permanently attract large numbers of YU without significantly changing its character.

Yekkishe Bekishe said...

A Rov - whose father-in-law actually taught in YU - asked me to help him with a gay congregant & I asked Rav Schwab what to do & how to go about it. Rav Schwab quoted a Ramban - which I don't have in front of me at the moment - which says nothing involuntary is ever declared Assur, only actions which can be decided on ones own. I believe it is in Parshas Acharei Mos or Kedoshim.

Anonymous said...

To my mind, the decline of KAJ is due to the world becoming smaller and smaller. In Germany, nobody knew what was going on a few towns away, let alone in Poland and Russia. Every person had their local rabbi and that was that - his word was final. Today, my rabbi forbids raisins, but I know that practically every other rabbi permits them. What do I do with that information? I wouldn't have had that inner conflict 100 years ago.

In Germany, nobody went very far. Today, I go to this community for Shabbos and there for Shabbos and this minyan Friday night and that one for Mincha, etc. I have the opportunity to see different communities, minhagim and types of people. My great-grandparents knew the one single shul in their hometown and that was it. Everything else was strange and different.

And because the younger generations have the mobility and the opportunity to see other ways of life, they are intrigued by them and attracted to them. This was never an issue before. Everyone just grew up and lived their lives in a single town and they didn't know anything different.

In today's smaller world, combined with the prevailing desire for homogeneity and "Nusach Artscroll," KAJ is fighting a losing battle.

I'm not saying to give everything up. But perhaps the focus should be turned to preserving the hashkafic values and mesora of KAJ/FFM. The mesora lies in the hashkafa more so than in the nusach. That's something important to remember and that is a battle that can be won. The Hirschian values are timeless and nusach-neutral. They have staying power no matter where they are and what shul they are in.

G6 said...

Anonymous -

You bring up some very interesting points.
Thank you for joining the discussion.

Gavi -

Your "cradle-to-kollel conveyer belt" phrase is extraordinary!
Good luck with your efforts.

Mark said...

Adapting and changing. Everything changes. All the time. Unless it is dead. I don't think it is even possible to maintain all the minhagim over many generations, over many countries, and over many neighborhoods, etc. I can't even imagine how many minhagim from the Germany have already been lost in the mists of time. Even over a few short generations, minhagim change, my family in Washington Heights had somewhat different minhagim than my family in Nahariyya (Israel) even after only 2 generations.

Charedi-lite is my perception based on many comments I've heard (not based on any personal experience since I haven't spent much time in New York during the last 19 years) from people "in the know". The comments mostly revolve around chinuch, but also about plenty of other things as well. My grandparents and parents lived in the Heights, I was born there and spent my first few years there. And my parents who still live in NY (though not in the Heights) have a similar perception.

G6 - I happened to be a casual observer to a discussion on Twitter this week in which one person wrote, "Among Yekkes,being called Rabbi-Doktor is the ultimate in respect!", to which somebody else responded, "That was back when Washington Heights was Yekkish rather than Charedi-lite".

By the way, I made both of these comments as responses to other comments on twitter.

But please be aware that I didn't mean to offend anyone, nor did I mean to start a firestorm of any sort. All I was doing was pointing out that even that bastion of rational modern Orthodoxy, us Yekkes, has succumbed to the inexorable move rightward of Orthodox Judaism.

Yekkishe Bekishe - the problems that Rav Breuer an Rav Schwab foresaw many years ago, are even more appropriate today in YU. When an Issur Skilo is treated as a disease, instead of an Issur Chamur, then I don't think a merge is worth anything at all.

And here is another example of my perception ("Charedi Lite"), both in the chosen name of the commenter, and in the words chosen to express this opinion.


Anonymous said...

The WH community represents two things to me, a person who did not have the opportunity to grow up in such a Holy Community. First, transmission of the oldest known untainted messorah from Bayis Sheyne (Yemenite messorah - which may or may not be be from the first bayis is old, but they never had there own gedolim - they adopted the Rambam and others; it is therefore difficult to know how accurate and untainted their messorah is – the claim that it is pure without outside influence does not stand up to the facts of history). Second, the transmission of the great Weltanschauung of R’ Hirsch. It is unfortunate to me that the community has, for various reasons, moved away from both of these unique and important contributions to Klal Yisroel. The Minhagim have been watered down over time (even recently), and the R’ Hirsch ideal has been watered down both internally and externally. With the recent resurgence of Minhag Ashkenaz in Israel and the US, it pretty much proves that abandoning your Minhagim is not the answer. Rather, people respect you (yes even in Yeshivos) for sticking to your massorah. It is the same idea discussed under the Simchas Torah post (one of my favorites). As far as R’ Hirsch Zt”l is concerned – if not for the WH community following amass, who will? It is only anshei segulah – special individuals who are found all over the world who are pushing R’ Hirsch’s understanding of the world that is so desperately needed (and of course the R’ Yosef Breuer Zt”l foundation). Hopefully, I will be able to help change that :)

G6 said...

Mark -

I never once thought that you meant your comments in a disparaging way.
I was merely unhappy that this is what we are coming to, and to a large extent, I agree with you.
Please don't think of it as starting a firestorm. You provided me with a springboard for a topic that has been on my mind for quite some time.
Change can be a good thing. But if in the end we become just another "more of the same" congregation, then why bother? Hence my question about Adaptive Obsolescence.
And I echo the sentiments of many of the commenters here that keeping the Torah Im Derech Eretz philosophy alive should be the most paramount of goals with regard to maintaining the kehilla's integrity.

Gavi said...

G6: to give credit where credit is due (Chullin 104b), the phrase "cradle-to-kollel conveyor belt" is originally from a R' Jonathan Rosenblum article...

Efrex: when I refer to the plebeian street, I am trying to echo, albeit unsuccessfully the sentiments of your comment - who, precisely, encouraged the deification of these "gedolim"?


Full disclosure: while my wife still needs some convincing, I am seriously considering moving to WH, depending on where I get into school for the next phase of my training... Who knows??? I believe that individuals can make a difference...

Gavi said...

A post-scriptum to my last comment:

Rav Yosef Breuer zatza"l wrote that his father told him the day before he passed away that "I am firmly convinced that the way shown by Rav Hirsch zatza"l will be mekarev hage'ulah."

If those aren't marching orders, then what is?

efrex said...

To get to the nub of the matter, then, what is ikkar and what is tafel?

From my perspective, KAJ officially espouses four major values:

1) Preservation of Minhag Ashkenaz/ Frankfurt - style of davening, piyutim, choir, wimples, taleisim, etc.

2) Full "cradle-to-grave" service kehilla structure: Mikva, chesed society, chevra kadisha, mikvah, kashrut, shiurim, school system

3) Independence/ Austritt: Rabbinate not beholden to any outside halachic/ hashkafic decisors, absolutely no association with any organization that allows non-Orthodox participants/members, neutral-to-negative stance on Zionism.

4) Torah im Derech Eretz (TIDE): Combined religious/secular educational system, publication of R' Hirsch's works, encouragement of involvement with general society

From what I can see as an involved outsider, this sequence in decreasing value of importance represents the current kehilla mindset (2 & 3 are possibly interchangeable).

If I'm missing any, feel free to add them. The question then becomes: which value takes precedence? What can be sacrificed?

efrex said...

Oh, and (in best Columbo voice) there's just one more thing:

What does "keeping the Torah Im Derech Eretz philosophy alive" entail? Publishing R' Hirsch's works? Studying them? Encouraging students to get menial jobs straight out of yeshiva so that they can make a parnassah? Encouring them to go to YU or Touro to earn a degree? Encouraging them to go to fully secular colleges? Encouraging them to take part in secular culture and society?

Do you need a kehilla to do this, or is this goal better attained nowadays through other organizational structures? Does it even require an organizational structure, or can TIDE be maintained by individuals within every community?

Is TIDE really dead/dying? After all, there are probably dozens of different labels to describe Orthodox Jews with varying levels of secular interaction. Is the Yeshiva student who, after 10 years of kollel learning, takes a few actuarial or accounting courses emblematic of TIDE? How about the YU grad who works on Wall Street, lives in Teaneck, goes to a daf yomi shiur every morning, and says hallel on yom ha'atzmaut? Is TIDE about reading Hamodia, the New York Times, or something entirely different?

My apologies for the length of these posts. This is an issue that strikes very near to my heart, and I tend to pontificate when agitated (also, apparently, to use polysyllabic words... :) )

ProfK said...

KAJ's problem is not unique to it. Unless a community can find a way to lock itself down, so that no one leaves and no one comes in who is different from the rest of the community, there will be attrition as younger, and even some older, members head out to other places. And for the most part, those leaving one community for another are not doing so to establish a branch of their "home" community in new surroundings; they adapt to those around them in the new community. In strictly individual observance or in their homes they may adhere to all/some of what they brought with them but not in the outside world.

We have friends that were WH born and raised. Their sons wore taleisim even though the minhag in the shul where they davened was different. But these sons' sons don't wear taleisim. Some of the in-home minhagim have been passed on; some haven't. It seems that the home community's influence wanes the more generations removed from it you are.

Anonymous said...

Austritt and "cradle to grave" kehilloh service is just a part of TIDE. He who understands TIDE will understand this as well. CW VI introduction, page xiii, "...Thus, Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer Zt"l, himself a leading proponent of TIDE in our time, said, "He who understands TIDE understands 'Austritt;' the principles are the same." Hence I stay with my previous two, all inclusive comments 1. Minhagim/massorah, 2. TIDE.

Yehudah said...

I agree that TIDE is KAJ's main treasure, but I also think a crucial part of the mesorah is the respect for the beis hakneses and davening.

A KAJ with kids running around in the aisles, for example, would be disasterous. KAJ is also not "sloppy." "Heimish" belongs among the chassidim. The beit hamikdash was not "heimish" and neither is KAJ.

Anonymous said...

YB-With all due respect, there is something very valuable about having panels that address issues that are significant in our greater community (both Jewish-Orthodox and otherwise-and non-Jewish). There are many issues today that were not discussed in the past and that people really didn't think about or know about. As a result, addressing all aspects of the issues are important, if for no other reason than because knowledge is power.
However, having said this, I would still assert that this particular train of comments is not the appropriate place for this conversation to be discussed. Regardless of whether or not we agree with every course or conversation that takes place somewhere else, in my mind, it is not appropriate to immediately dismiss them. AND, as Efrex pointed out, the seriousness of the subject was not dismissed and many significant voices at YU expressed their disapproval of the panel.
Efrex--I think that the #3 that you present in one of your later comments is one of the things that have contributed to a decrease in the numbers of people who I would call "modern centrist orthodox" who affiliate with and participate in the KAJ community. In today's American Orthodox world, there are many baalei tshuva and even converts who might find themselves feeling uncomfortable in a community that describes itself as being committed to "absolutely no association with any organization that allows non-Orthodox participants/members". If they don't feel welcome until they are religiously at a point where they are the same as everyone around them, they are unlikely to push to become a member of a community.
This is NOT to say that the members of the kehilla are not generous in their hospitality, welcoming and supportive of members of the community, but it isn't necessarily conducive to bringing people into the kehilla that will follow the minchagim of the community. Is it more important that the minchagim are followed by yekkishe Jews or that they are continued, whether by yekkishe Jews or others who will take them on as their own?

Anonymous said...

The change at KAJ is not unique. Go to Munk's in London or IRG in Zurich and you will notice the same phenomenon: What used to be a congregation which welcomed anyone who hewed to the German mesorah one way or another (wear a hat, wear a kippah, it's all good .... but all your sons wore a tallis, just as an example) has now become all black-hat, very Charedi (in Zurich you even see some Shtraimels davening at IRG). My take is that when you leave the education of the young to the "imported" manpower (at KAJ: Rebbis from Brooklyn, at IRG: Rebbis from Agudas Achim, the Polish/Chasidisch congregation), your mesorah does not get transmitted. Couple that with the fact that all the old "mixers" where the youngsters of the Kehilla could meet and mingle (and thus get married to each other...) have been done away with (anyone remember the mixed tables for the youngsters at the Simchat Torah party at IRG?), to be replaced by Shadchanim who think the boy from Flatbush (via Lakewood) is the ultimate partner for the girl from WH .... you get my drift.

I weep for the loss.

I live in a NJ suburb, and of my sons, the oldest wants to fit in, does not wear a tallis; the next one does wear a tallis, but only because he has 2 more classmates who do as well (one is Sephardi, the other of Yekke background as well). Come High School, I am afraid he too will fall off the cultural wagon. At least the one thing I managed to instill is the importance of TIDE: all my kids are bound for professional degrees (the oldest went to Seminary, then college, the next one hopefully will go to Yeshiva for a year or two, and the others are too young to have an opinion based on conviction).

I concur with some of the previous posters who pointed out that YU has more in common with KAJ than is commonly acknowledged. I actually believe that the YU of today hews (Torah u'Maddah etc etc) hews much closer to Hirsch's ideals than KAJ, Munk's or IRG do themselves.

Finally: those exterior "tokens" so much valued (wearing of a tallis, waiting 3 hours after Fleishig, to name a few examples) are just empty shells not worth propagating unless the philosophical core (TIDE)is transmitted. The neutral-to-negative stance on Zionism, in hindsight, was a huge mistake. But not all Yekkes were like that: While Hirsch was rather negative, Hildesheimer was VERY positive. And the revival in Israel, of all places, of Minhag Ashkenaz (founding of a Yekkish shul in Rehavia a few short years ago being the most manifest sign of this) is proof that at least some Yekkes are following Hildesheimer on that score.

Naftali said...

Shlomo -

I think you hit the nail on the head. I fully agree that the problems at KAJ began with the "foreign" education that was thrust upon their young men and women especially post high-school. Unfortunately the guidelines set down by Rav Breuer zt"l (see the new volume of his essays "A Unique Perspective" under the topic Education especially the articles "Vocation and Calling" p. 496 and "Education: Our Way" p. 528)were completely ignored. Instead, the sons and daughters of the kehilla were sent away to yeshivas and seminaries with completely different hashkofos and outlooks on life. If, at least, after one or two years away the parents and rabbonim of the kehilla had insisted that the children return home, as Rav Breuer suggested, then there might have been some hope. But this was not the case and the youth of the kehilla were encouraged instead to stay away being told that the education that they were receiving elsewhere and the outlook on life there was far superior to what they would find back home. Any wonder, then, that they never settled down in Washington Heights after getting married? Any wonder that the number of inter-Washington Heights shidduchim was kept to a handful? It's easy to blame the lack of young families living in the community on housing or city living. There may be some truth to that. But the main problem lies in the fact that they basically sent their youth away long before they got married and told them not to come back.
A very intelligent elderly lady of Hungarian background who lived in Washington Heights once told me that when the Yekkes are proud of their heritage there's no one who can convince them otherwise. Unfortunately, though, many Yekkes have tremendous inferiority complexes and then they become their own worst enemies.
Today, as everyone knows, the kehilla is just a shell of its former self. It may maintain its minhogim, nigunim and familiar way of davening. But the yeshiva is shrinking and the kashrus network is disappearing. And , of course, the hashkofoh, the weltanschauung, of TIDE that was the foundation upon which it was built is all but gone with the rav himself denying its existence as it was taught by his predecessors. Unfortunately KAJ is now a very shaky edifice. Unless there will be some major changes in its leadership in the very near future its chances for survival are slim.

As for the sister kehillos in London and Zurich, I'm not that familiar with them but from what I understand the situation is pretty much the same.

Yekkishe Bekishe said...

I make my annual visit to KAJ on Hoshannoh Rabboh - ask Avrom, he met me this past year.

As part of the Hoshannoh Rabbo ritual, I'd give my father O"bm a call afterwords. He'd take attendance of his friends, who got which Kibbudim & which Niggunim were used at what point in the Tefiloh. The year before his ptiroh, he ended the conversation with a "thank you." I asked him for what was he thanking me. He replied, "at least your children will know what they are throwing away!"

Litvak said...

Quite an interesting discussion here. Quite a few good points made.

Shlomo: "And the revival in Israel, of all places, of Minhag Ashkenaz (founding of a Yekkish shul in Rehavia a few short years ago being the most manifest sign of this)....."

Rehavia? Please elaborate. Or did you mean Khal Adas Yeshurun of Yerusholayim in Ramot?

I think that KAJ WH (I guess ditto for the sister kehillos mentioned above) should get closer to the forces of Ashkenaz revival led be"H by Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz in Bnei Berak, headed by Rav Hamburger shlit"a. Just to make vague/general/blanket statements like 'our minhogim are ancient', etc., does not suffice nowadays when there is so much competition out there from Litvaks, Chassidim, Modern Orthodox, etc. You have to show in depth, with Torah sources, the roots, beauty, and correctness of the minhogim in detail, as Rav Hamburger does in his works.

Perhaps we could say that just like a world-class godol like Rav Hirsch z"l was needed to save Yiddishkeit in a FFDM dominated by Reform, so too, lihavdil, a world class godol is needed to save Yekkishkeit in a frum velt dominated by derochim different than our's.

P.S. I am not a Yekke in the common definition (though Rav Hamburger says that all Ashkenazic Jews are 'Yekkes', since they are descended from Ashkenaz if you go far back enough, so if you define it that way I could qualify), but have come to feel a kinship of sorts with them through learning Toras Ashkenaz, learning of our common roots, etc.

Benjamin said...

Litvak -

The work being done by Rabbi Hamburger is very important as far as preserving and studying the Mingogei Ashkenaz. But to say that KAJ in Washington Heights needs his work to perpetuate their minhogim is insulting to their rabbonim and members who have been doing this long before Rabbi Hamburger was born. Rabbi Hamburger seems to think that he has the monopoly on this topic and he is the only "genuine" authority. Further, Rabbi Hamburger seems to feel that only the original minhogim as they were practiced hundreds of years ago are genuine and any modifications made by the rabbonim in each generation since are not valid. This would mean that many of the minhogim followed in KAJ are wrong as they were instituted or modified by Rav Hirsch and his successors.
What is most disconcerting is the emphasis put on minhogim as opposed to hashkofoh. Rav Hirsch did not
save Western Jewry in his time by perpetuating ancient mihogim. Instead he showed the world a way of Torah life by expounding his philosophy of Torah Im Derech Eretz. This rescued our people then and continues to sustain us today, not whether one davens one way or the other. I don't mean to minimize the minhogim. I am the first one to fight for their perpetuation. But we are emphasizing the secondary and disregarding the primary. Lets get our priorities straight and then we can all accomplish our goals.

efrex said...

First off, if "Naftali" and "Benjamin" chose their pseudonyms deliberately, then bravo (for the two people reading this thread who don't get it: Benjamin & Naftali were the protagonists of R' Hirsch's "Nineteen Letters" and a subsequent essay or two).

While I very much agree with many of the points made here, I think there's a certain amount of historical blindness/revisionism/naivete being espoused:

1) Non-TIDE influence in KAJ predates the current administration; indeed, it predates KAJ in WH. The Frankfurt community was already in significant transition, and I would argue that the current hashkafa shift towards a more "generic yeshivish" is actually a continuation of what was already happening in Germany, with R' Breuer Ztl being a powerful, but ultimately temporary, throwback towards the TIDE model. You can find Dayan Grunfeld bemoaning the degradation of college education in the German community in "Three Generations" over 50 years ago. Pretending that there was some relatively recent sea change in the kehilla's attitude towards TIDE minimizes the actual entrenchment of non-TIDE influence.

2) The bulk of the Washington Heights community has never been interested in staying in the same neighborhood as its parents. KAJ would not have survived until now were it not for the influx of Jews from Morningside Heights and eastern Washington Heights in the 60s and 70s. There was never a self-sufficient mass of KAJ-loyal members committed to raising future generations in the Heights. This is not to denigrate the magnificent families who did so, but they were always the minority.

3) The overwhelming majority of people who left the Heights did not do so primarily out of philosophical disagreements with KAJ (either from the right or left). No matter how you slice it or try to influence things, raising a family in an apartment (or even two or three apartments) is much more confining than doing so in a suburban community with an undisputed eruv and reserved parking. The contemporary housing bubble has only escalated a long-standing process.

That being the case, I don't have many great solutions. Let's put it bluntly: I'm a third-generation Heights resident who spent 10 years in YRSRH, a devoted reader of R' Hirsch and R' Breuer, a parent of a child in YRSRH, and the kehilla can't get me to join. Indeed, even if I did, I couldn't promise that I'd be able to stay in the neighborhood for long: if three-bedroom apartments in Teaneck continue to cost less than two bedroom apartments on Bennett Avenue, then I'd be irresponsible to stay.

There's no massive pool of people just chalishing to join KAJ but feeling held back because of just one thing: if the shul becomes a "generic yeshivish" minyan, it's still not going to realistically compete with Lakewood or Monsey (I use those cities as metaphors, of course :) ) or attract the Mt. Sinai/ YU crowd.

efrex said...

(but wait! There's more!)

IMHO, there are a few things that can be done, but I'm not sure they'll be enough, or that there's any real will to do them:

1) Drop the hashgacha. It's an added expense, and it's not at all necessary anymore. The KAJ symbol is no longer one of confidence, it's merely one more symbol on over-hashgacha'ed packaging.

2) Lose the all-out opposition to the Washington Heights eruvin. You don't have to accept them, but posting 50-year-old kol korehs both undermines your own rabbinate (since when were R' Moshe Feinstein ztl and R' Aharon Kotler ztl the official poskim of KAJ?) and offends those who rely on legitimate poskim for their point of view. Why should I support an institution that calls me a mechallel shabbat?

3) Keep the minhagim.. Even if it's taken on a bit of a museum-like quality, the choir, piyutim, trop, etc. are integral to the character of the shul. Losing them will gain you no adherents.

4) Celebrate TIDE ideals in non-KAJ settings. Support the Tav Hayosher or similar program, which are inspired by R' Breuer's work 60 years ago. Congratulate R' Jonathan Sacks on his wonderful acceptance speech for the Norman Lamm Prize, which was almost certainly inspired by (indeed, in some cases cribbed directly from) R' Hirsch's legendary essay on secular studies.

5) Allow serious intellectual discussion and debate on TIDE/Austritt and the kehilla's philosophy. Host an academic (Marc Shapiro, Alan Brill, Aharon Rakeffet, Lawrence Kaplan) as a scholar-in-residence, or publish an article by one of them.

6) Formally open up to YU. The most respected Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS regularly davens at KAJ. Two of KAJ's most distinguished members have taught torah at YU for over half a century each. Countless YU rebbeim have sent their children to YRSRH. Every Sunday, KAJ people go to the Kollel Yom Rishon program at YU. Genug with pretending that the two institutions are horribly incompatible! I'm not suggesting that you start saying hallel on Yom Ha'atzmaut, but hire YU musmachim for the yeshiva, and as rabbinic interns. Let some of them give shiurim in the Beis Medrash during your chol hamo'ed programming.

7) Make sure that everybody who moves to the Heights gets an invite to G6's for dinner :)

deer said...

Efrex, you have great ideas. But one tiny problem - at KAJ we cannot endorse anything said, written or espoused by somebody else until it is properly vetted by our rabbi first.

For the last few years, the Rav and a guest speaker spoke at the weekly Seudah Shlishis. This year: only the Rav. Why? Because we cannot be sure what the guest speaker will say and he might say something that "we" (read: the Rav and whoever his right-hand people are, if any) do not agree with.

So if KAJ does not allow its own members to speak at its own functions, how do you expect it to allow YU rebbeim, scholars-in-residence, etc. to lecture at KAJ-sanctioned events?

This astonishing and sad development is characteristic of the problem at KAJ. We need to get over ourselves a little bit. What other shul has such ridiculous policies?

(P.S. If you're a KAJ member and you agree with me on this and other issues, please show up to the General Meeting on May 16 and say something. Or at least approach your local board member and say something. Apathy is our second-biggest problem.)

Litvak said...

Benjamin -

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I would like to reassure you that Rav Hamburger has great respect for KAJ, and I do too. He is a humble man and doesn't claim to know everything, nor to have a monopoly on the subject, nor to be the only genuine authority on it. I suspect that you have never had any substantive interaction with him and have only a superficial acquaintance with his works, if you feel that way. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Furthermore, he got the enthusiastic backing of Rav Schwab z"l of KAJ for his work (see e.g. Rav Schwab's haskomo to Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz I). It was Rav Schwab as well who counseled Rav Hamburger to follow the minhogim with roots in the Rishonim.

Re TIDE - when I first met Rav Hamburger shlit"a, when he appeared at the KAJ hall in WH, I believe it was circa 8 1/2 years ago, he was asked why he doesn't promote TIDE. I believe his response was along the following lines -

Do you want me to get thrown out of Bnei Berak (said partly in jest)?

There were/are different shitos of Rabbonim, even in Ashkenaz, so he doesn't get involved in it.

He concentrates on the area of minhogim.

He does not tell KAJ WH what to do. Maybe I do, but I haven't seen him commenting here. ;-)

Is it all or nothing? Is all his great work meaningless since he doesn't promote TIDE? He is not from WH, not American, he comes from a different background, born in Switzerland, grew up in Eretz Yisroel, etc. You cannot expect him to be exactly the same as a KAJ WH native.

Unknown said...








Yekkishe Bekishe said...

My family is Bavarian & Prussian, NOT Hessian (for all who don't know, Frankfurt am Main was in the province of Hesse). My father was made to feel like a second class citizen in the FFaM Yeshiva because he wasn't a Frankfurter.

The treatment of the OstJuden in Germany was notorious. My great uncle was born in Breslau & moved with his parents to FFam as a boy. He got an Aliyo for his Bar-Mitzvo - but not for his Aufruf, his Sheva Brochaus, his son's birth & Bris or when he got up from Shiva for his parents. Is it a wonder his descendants are all Lubavitchers?

The first time I came to KAJ on Hoshano Rabbo with my Bekishe, one of the more important people of the Kehillo greeted me with "there are too few of us left for me to poke fun at your OstJudische garb!" I rest my case.

The goodness of the Yekkishe Mesorah has been dropped by many, but the insularity & arrogance hasn't. As Rachel Weiss implied so accurately, that what goes around comes around.

efrex said...

Rachel: I have very fond memories of your father and brother zichronam livracha, and I personally consider the 50-year calendars that your father made to be symbolic of the best in Yekkish communal spirit on many levels - useful, precise, unostentatious, and with an eye towards continuous tradition. (Is the original preserved someplace?)

Anonymous said...

wow, this keeps on going. All of us who grew up "the right way" and moved out seem to be having a crying-in here. Since everyone is on full disclosure: My background is 5th generation Swiss (fathers side), would that make me "the peasant version of Hessian"? And from Mom's side ... Ostjude. A Mutt. I never had any "discrimination" problem when I grew up at IRG in Zurich, and when visiting there, people do come up and greet me properly. But ....

The value of a professional education, coupled with continued learning, is not being propagated. The pride of actually working for a living and supporting your family through work, that is not being propagated. Where do they teach about the absolute halachic obligation to support one's family (by your work, not by sending your wife to work while you are warming the bench in the Bet Midrash)?

I agree with previous comments: living off collections, Section 8, handouts etc etc will stop at the point when no one is left to provide that support. 10, may be 20 years at most. And then what?

KAJ, from my point of view, is doomed in the long run. Munk's and IRG will hold on a little bit longer, for one reason only: in the U.K. and in Switzerland there are certain professions which are being taught by the apprenticeship system, while in the U.S. one would need a college degree for the same. So the percentage of uncultured, uneducated people is just as high, but the percentage of people working for a living is somewhat better. But the difference is marginal: I spoke with a close friend of mine, who happens to be a board member at IRG, and he says their financial situation is going down, since membership moneys are dwindling: membership fees there are based on income levels, and the old-timers who went to university and have high-paying professions are dying off. The lower-income brackets contribute less, while taking more in services (higher birthrate, as compared to previous generations). No way out.

We are the last Mohicans ....

Unknown said...

Ms. Weis,

I'm sorry that you feel the way you do. Unfortunately much of what you wrote is true. But not all of it. Perhaps it is not on par with what you feel it should be but hachnosas orchim and gemilus chesed is still practiced in WH in the widespread and special manner that we have always taken in pride in and I believe still can. There is always room for improvement but we still can be very proud.

I have heard and sense that you feel that your late father z"l has been forgotten in WH. Let me assure you that I for one, and I know there are quite a lot of others, have certainly not forgotten him. Every time I daven in front of the omud, whether it is during the week, on Shabbos, Yomim Tovim or even on the Yomim Noroim (at the Ft. Tryon Nursing Home minyan) I think of the example he set for us in general and the personal ways that he taught me. I still refer to the tapes that I was privileged to receive from him. Although he did teach me to lein for my bar mitzvah I never was a very good baal korei. However, my son Michael was zocheh to learn his leining from your unforgettable brother, Leo z"l. Michael has B"H developed into a rather talented baal korei in his own right and I know that he credits Leo's teaching for this. I know that he his very particular to keep up the various nuances that he was taught and still reviews the leining of Megillas Esther every year with the tape that Leo made for him. I am sure that there are many others who could tell you the same thing. Your parents were both very special "kehilla / yeshiva people", the kind which, unfortunately, just don't exist anymore. Those of us who were lucky enough to grow up knowing them will never forget them and will always try to emulate in some small way the wonderful example they set for us.

WAdsworth23 said...

I too agree with much of what has already been said. Those who remember the pamphlet of "Five Essays" published and distributed by a (former?) member of KAJ a few years ago will remember the author's humorous treatment of the "yeshiva boy who said ow", the "exomagy" of KAJ's children, and those who "forever march towards Lakewood while singing Japhet's Shir Hama'alos."

We can debate which piece of our jekke mesorah is more valuable: TIDE, minhagim/nigunim, or perhaps neatness of dress and character. I would argue that those valuing TIDE have happily assimilated into the broader YU/Modern Orthodox world where TIDE/TuM is valued and practiced. (Incidentally, that world excels in neatness in dress and character much more than the yeshivish world does.) Those who value the nigunim and minhagim can take pride in KAJ, KAJMo, KAYJ, Munks, etc. Alas, those of us who value both must make tough choices.

Those who say that KAJ in WH is necessarily doomed to demise because people generally prefer the suburbs, and that urban shuls do not establish suburuban branches are wrong. Putting aside KAJMo and the failed Paramus experiment, most of the shuls in Montgomery County Maryland, for example, are direct descendants of inner city DC shuls. People do take their shuls with them. Also, looking to Mt. Sinai, the Upper West Side, and the Upper East Side, we see plenty of frum Jews who want to live in our urban setting. Unfortunately, in its march to the right, KAJ has scared away those folks. Moreover, many of the UES & UWS shuls are of the more formal (and originally jekke) variety. I'm not suggesting that KAJ should become KJ, but that many KJ type people would appreciate KAJ as it was.

Where do we go from here? Ultimately, if KAJ can again make itself appealing to the Modern Orthodox/yuppie/city dwelling crowd, it can thrive. Some suggestions (some copied from above): Stop harping on the evils of eruvs. (Alternatively, actually read the Igros Moshe before repeating a blanket "Assur".) Stop keeping alive a hashgacha whose sole contribution these days is the apparent discovery of bugs in raisins. Stop venerating Lakewood sons-in-law as the jewels of the Kehilla. Stop disqualifying men whose wives don't generally cover their hair. Continue allowing unmarried men to participate (ie Leo Weiss ztzl). Do be welcoming to people of different religious philosophies. Do politely welcome new people into the shul. Don't insist on total separation of the sexes (ie at kidushes and the like).

At risk of further boring any readers --

Shabbat Shalom

Avram said...


I agree with many of your points. There is only one thing where you are totally off base. The question of married women covering their hair, completely and at all times is not and can never be an issue that can be compromised. This is a halochoh which our late Rav spoke and wrote about numerous times and made it crystal clear that this is not something where one can be lenient. It should be noted, though, that a married woman's hair covering is NOT a qualification for membership in KAJ.

If you are interested in reading articles by Rav Breuer zt"l on this topic please refer to the new book of his essays which was recently published.

Good Shabbos

YDL said...

If many of these suggestions (from yourself and others) are put into action, KAJ wont be KAJ! Uncovering hair?? Differing religious philosophies...say goodbye to TIDE for good. You can call it the YIWH (if that does not yet exist). Then you can say goodbye to Austritt...

efrex said...


I believe we have the problem right here. Nobody is suggesting that KAJ change its religious philosophy. What they are suggesting is that KAJ open up to people with slightly different religious philosophies. "Circling the wagons" and becoming more and more insular is not a viable solution.

Now, you might argue that it is better for KAJ in WH to die proudly than to live humbly. So be it. I find that attitude to be extremely depressing, and would rather see a vibrant independent urban kehilla that is simultaneously proud of its heritage and relevant to the larger Jewish community.

As for saying goodbye to Austritt: ken yirbu, at least as far as Austritt's been interpreted in the current environment. Austritt was supposed to mean "independence," but somehow it mutated into "insularity."

25 years ago, KAJ wasn't so paranoid about having "outsiders" in its institutions. I remember Rabbi Avi Weiss (yes, THAT one) addressing the students (granted, his speech did not quite go over so well, but that's another story). My third grade teacher was the wife of the chazan at the local Conservative synagogue, and was hired after teaching for many years at the local Religious Zionist school. My grandmother did not generally cover her hair in the accepted KAJ fashion, but was nonetheless welcomed and admired as a communal figure. There was a clear understanding that accepting people did not automatically entail accepting all of their philosophical views.

I find it a source of either amusement or despair when I go into one of the classrooms in the Beis Medrash and see pictures of R' Baruch Ber Lebovitch, the Netziv, R' Elchonon Wasserman, and R' Chaim Soloveichik next to pictures of R' Hirsch. Every single one of those figures was highly opposed to TIDE and/or Austritt, and yet they are part of the canon. If, however, I were to put up a picture of R' Moshe Soloveichik, R' Aharon Soloveichik, R' Yosef Soloveitchik, R' Herschel Schachter, R' Aharon Lichtenstein or R' Avraham Kook alongside them, do you think they would last long? (Actually, they might: the odds of yeshiva talmidim actually recognizing or appreciating historical figures are pretty long, but that's a rant for another day...)

Anonymous said...

I am not, despite many things I have done, the man I married, or the country I live in, qualified to speak AT ALL on the question of "real" Jekkishe tradition, nor am I fully equipped to understand what KAJ was or even what it has become. My knowledge of the Jewish world is simply too small to make broader judgements of the historical place of my beloved adopted community. But I would like to address one point: the point that has been made here and in other places about "Torah U'Madda" and its equivalence to Torah im Derekh Eretz - this point is then used to argue that it would be better if KAJ assimilated into the YU world entirely. I would like to note that to me, more or less an outsider, this is not really the main point. I do not know what Torah U'Madda means - I do know a bit more about Torah im Derekh Eretz because it is already written about in Pirkei Avos. This is not meant to be snarky - it's the truth. I have no studied Rav Soloveichik's writings in depth - I understand he was a Jewish leader who did a lot of good for our people. But I also know that there is no place in my Judaism for Zionism as a religious imperative. And for me, in New York, KAJ was a shul I could go to where I was respected as a person, where the women in general valued their own learning and their own intellectual development, where I could find role models for myself in the families around me, families in which the parents did things to support themselves and their children, in whatever manner the work was divided - and in which I was not subjected to an Israeli flag posted up on the bima as if it were a religious artifact, in which I could trust that an event in Israel would receive the response good Jews should give it - prayer, teshuva, and economic support for the individual Jews suffering, without an ounce of sympathy for the larger Zionist project of replacing the Torah's idea of social justice with a modern nation-state. I am sorry to speak so bluntly, but this is a point of view I have not yet seen written anywhere in the whole "YU-KAJ" debate. I will admit that when I first arrived at KAJ, I was intimidated - just as intimidated as I would have been in any charedi community. In the end, I came to realize that the cultural reserve which I interpreted as diffidence is honestly just that - cultural reserve. I live in Germany now, and I see the source of that reserve first-hand. When I met my mother-in-law I thought she hated me - she has turned out to be like a second mother. I have heard many different anecdotes about KAJ experiences, both good and bad, but I think most of them can be dismissed as anecdotal, one way or the other. The idea that the community would have merged with the YU world, however, would have erased a point of view, a Torah point of view, and would have left me with no choice but to go someplace further to the right, in a world where that can sometimes unfortunately mean prioritizing Torah learning at the expense of economic self-sufficiency. In the end, I would have still chosen that over religious Zionism, but it would have been a terrible choice to have to make.

efrex said...


I am glad that you found a welcome home in KAJ. You are not the only one, and I can speak from personal experience as to the remarkable warmth, selflessness, and kindness of many members of the KAJ community.

As I noted above, I have zero desire to see KAJ assimilate into YU: it would benefit nobody. The issue, as I've said once or twice before, is not about similarity of TuM and TIDE, but rather about compatibility.

The one thing that I must take some offense at, though, is your depiction of religious Zionism. I can understand being uncomfortable with having a political flag next to the aron hakodesh, but the idea that religious Zionists have an interest in "replacing the Torah's idea of social justice with a modern nation-state" is purely false, regardless of what flavor of religious Zionist one is. I do not believe you will find any such concept in the writings of R' Yitzchak Reines, R' Avraham Kook, R' Chayim Hirschenson, R' Yosef Soloveitchik, R' Aharon Soloveichik, R' Meir Kahane, R' Herschel Schachter, R' Aharon Lichtenstein, or R' Yuval Cherlow.

My argument is that there is a valuable unique worldview that KAJ brings to the contemporary Jewish world, but that some major practical action has to be taken to preserve it.

Yekkishe Bekishe said...

Efrex wrote:
"My argument is that there is a valuable unique worldview that KAJ brings to the contemporary Jewish world, but that some major practical action has to be taken to preserve it." The only major practical action possible is not to be embarrassed of ones ancestors & their Mesora.

By compromising on standards, one doesn't preserve a standard but rather one destroys it. Rav Breuer Z"tl had the Kehilo leave the Agudah because the Agudah became part of the Israeli government. How can you even suggest that the spiritual role models of a movement that tries to make religion out of politics - which Rav Breuer was very much against - use them as the role models in the Yeshiva which he set up?

Regarding covering the hair, Rav Breuer held that there was no room for compromise. Rav Breuer could have taught at YU, but he didn't - for the same reason.

There is nothing wrong with Kanous when it has a basis. There is everything wrong with looking around at other Mesoros & saying that ones own is lacking.

WAdsworth3 said...

YB: Our views of the mesorah and proper standards differ, which inevitably raises the all-important question of what exactly they, as relates to KAJ as a shul.

(If the standards/mesorah are somewhere between Lakewood and the Eidah Chareidis, ie-constant full hair covering, constant full obedience to the gedolim, finding bugs under every leaf, etc., and the Agudah is too Zionist, - then my earlier comments are fully out of line. Of course, that all sounds to me more descriptive of Hungarian Chassidim than of any other frum group.)

Avram said...

WAdsworth23 -

Why do you include covering the hair under "standards / mesorah"? Do you put Shemiras Shabbos and Bris Milah, for example, in the same category?
For a married woman to cover her care completely and at all times is not just a nice thing to do or perhaps "just" a minhag. It is a halochoh. All be it one that some women do not adhere to, but a halochoh never the less. This is not in the same category as one's hashkofoh or political outlook.

Perhaps you would do well to read the article by Rav Breuer titled "Covering of the Hair" page 247 of the new book of his essays before making such statements.

Anonymous said...

Isn't KAJ already "obsolete"? I believe it is. There are many reasons for its obsolesence, too many to detail here -- but the combination of a shrinking population and un-inspired (dare I say 'poor') leadership has left KAJ almost completely irrelevant. KAJ is mostly irrelevant both in the Yeshiva (Charedi) world as well as in the Modern Orthodox (YU) world. And it is struggling to remain influential within Washington Heights itself.

It wasn't Minhag Ashkenaz, TIDE or even Austritt that caused this decline. Rather, demographic changes are mainly to blame. Washington Heights was full of thousands of German Jewish refugees when KAJ was at its peak. And KAJ was far from the only shul. But, time brings change -- the children of the refugees grew up and moved away. High crime in the 70's helped fuel that exodus - but it was not the only cause.

This is all in the past. What about the present and future? In my humble opinion - KAJ can never truly return to height of its influence during the 50' and 60's. That time was extraordinary because of the refugees and survivors who flourished here and drove KAJ's strength - alas that generation is all but gone.

For KAJ to grow strong again it needs people to fill the seats. For that to happen KAJ needs dynamic leadership, and, a welcoming and non-judgmental attitude toward visitors and new comers, and of course, programming to attract these visitors.

There is no need to change KAJ's nussach or minhag. In fact - those are strengths to be relied upon. It is OK to be a living museum. The Spanish & Portuguese have done it for 350 years - there is no reason KAJ can not continue its unique traditions and also be a strong and vibrant community.

It is a complete fallacy that any of the things that make KAJ unique are causing it to be "obsolete". Rather its obsolescence was caused by demographic changes too large for any synagogue to control.

However, its current state of stagnation (or decline) is self imposed. There will be no growth as long as the KAJ shul-goers exude a 'holier than thou' - 'stand off-ish' attitude. Change must come in the form of a non-judgmental attitude toward others. Inspired leadership would help too.

Acceptance does not mean giving up our traditions. It means not worrying (or caring) about someone else's observances - and simply getting along with people as they are. When and where a woman covers her hair is an important halachic issue. It was certainly important to Rabbi Breuer. However, it is not as important as making sure that this woman feels comfortable coming to shul and being a part of the KAJ community - even if she does not cover her hair at all times.

The creation of eruvin in large cities is complicated halachically, and the issue relates to a biblical prohibition. Nevertheless, someone carrying under an eruv which KAJ does not endorse does not mean that they are openly transgressing the Sabbath - Chas v'Shalom.

It is remarkable how divisive this issue can be. And yet - there really is nothing new under the sun - as this debate about an urban eruv was held in Frankfurt too - with Friedberger Anlage (Breuer) taking the same position as today's KAJ and the Borneplatz (Nobel) constructing an eruv.

A little less judging and a little more socializing with 'the others' -- might bring in people to the Shul. Ultimately, it is people (new members) that are needed for KAJ to grow and be strong.

If we make ourselves "like everybody else" whatever that means - we lose everything. But, if we keep people away - we die a slow, painful and lonely death.

Yekkishe Bekishe said...

Anonymous said:
"If we make ourselves 'like everybody else' whatever that means - we lose everything. But, if we keep people away - we die a slow, painful and lonely death."

If a Chumro was kept in Europe, we must keep it here. Please see the fourth Perek of Psachim. Furthermore, read Maayon Bais hashoevo - by Rav Simon Schwab O"bm at the beginning of Parshas Vayakhel. There is much more to an Eiruv than its actual construction.

Keeping the proper decorum in Shul - including not wearing a Tallis over the head & wearing a full hat - is all based in Halocho. You'd have to have very broad shoulders & immense Torah knowledge to change these things.

Many of the "American" minhogim were actually money making innovations of Klei Kodesh who felt they could milk the ignorant. Immediate examples are the Molei Machers & unveiling Rabbis in cemetaries, the Kaddish saying & Mi Shebeirach making of the Gabboim /Shamoshim.

efrex said...


Neither I nor "anonymous" are advocating for abandonment by KAJ of a single halacha, minhag, or chumra, nor are we trying to change the decorum of the davening. I am befuddled as to where you got that idea, unless you believe that an essential part of the Yekke mesorah is the absolute shunning of anybody who does not completely toe the party line.

Regarding eruvin: I don't have Ma'ayan Beit Hashoeva at hand, but I believe the article you refer to is a reprint of R' Schwab's letter to Hapardes, available here. If so, then it truly makes zero sense to be up in arms about those who are mekil. R' Schwab does not appear address any direct halachic issues whatsoever, and I don't think it's at all disrespectful to suggest that his hashkafic concerns are no longer applicable. (e.g., The general population of those who consider themselves shomrei shabbat are knowledgeable about the concepts of muktza and of eruvin having borders). Again, I do not advocate that KAJ changes its stance on the halachic issue one iota. The deligitemization of the individuals who follow a different route, however, needs to be reversed if it is to survive in the Heights.

The kehilla is not a self-sufficient enclave: like it or not, all of its sons and daughters will get significant exposure to foreign influence. Like it or not, many will marry non-kehilla members, and the vast majority will not choose to stay in the Heights. Survival requires attracting new members from the outside, and the current image of the kehilla is one that is geared to do nothing of the kind.

Anonymous said...

YB -
If a chumro was kept in Europe we must keep it here? Is that a joke?

Jews have lived in Europe for nearly two millenia. Over the course of that time - many chumros and kulos were adopted in different places at different times and for different reasons.

What about the Kulos? Are they of any lesser importance than the Chumros?

Of course I am off topic here -- So I won't continue the thought except to say "Glatt Kosher - Glatt Yosher" v'hamevin yavin.

Yekkishe Bekishe said...

Please tell me any Chumro kept by Mesores Ashkenaz that doesn't have a basis in Halocha (I'm talking about an easily available source). Regarding the not eating chicken on Pesach, which many people don't keep anymore, the same logic that applies to dropping this Chumra applies to Kitniyos yet Kitniyos has not been dropped.

Whoever feels that they can drop the Chumros - and Kulos - have extremely good eyesight. Either he's found a source that is as acceptable not to keep the Hanhogo as the Talmid Chochom who started the Hanhogo. Or else he's busy looking at what everybody else is doing!

Anonymous said...

With all due respect and appreciation to KAJ without which there would not now be a hebrew school,mikvah, or kosher meat in WaHi, I must point out that Washington Heights had a large and thriving Jewish population long before KAJ-NY was a gleam in anyone's eye. Yeshiva U. moved there in the late 1920s and it did not move to an area that was Judenrein. There were shuls, kosher butchers, bakeries,and so on,and with YU's move there was a boys' yeshiva HS, all established by Litvaks with a few Hungarians and Peilishers thrown in. No Hebrew elementary school, 'tis true, but there weren't all that many hebrew day schools in America at all, even in NY.

All this in response to "Washington Heights was Yekkish not Charedi Lite." Sorry, but I have had it up to here with the old and continuing myth--perpetrated and perpetuated by KAJ--that KAJ was the sole bastion of Torah Judaism in Northern Manhattan. It ain't so.

Sign me,
Staunch Litvak, third generation Heights resident, and proud graduate of YRMS and YU.

Naphtali said...

Anonymous -

No one will argue that there were shuls in Washington Heights pre-KAJ. There were quite a number of them. I would appreciate it, though, if you could name a few of the butchers and bakers that were in WH pre-1939 KAJ. Oh, and where was the neighborhood mikveh located before KAJ established theirs?

You admit in passing that there was no Hebrew elementary school. But perhaps it just because of the Yeshiva, which was established within five years of KAJ's founding, that KAJ is still around today. All the other neighborhood shuls were simply shuls. And once their membership died out or moved away, there was nothing left nor anything to keep the next generation there. Granted, KAJ is not exactly flourishing today and the Yeshiva is struggling as well. But, as I am told Rav Breuer z"tl used to say, without the Kehilla there can be no Yeshiva and without the Yeshiva there can be no Kehilla. These two go hand in hand, something the other shuls never did.

Just to point out a well known fact, after establishing KAJ the first thing Rav Breuer built was the KAJ Mikveh, before building a shul or even establishing the school. Something all those other well established shuls never did.

Yes, YU established Torah learning in Washington Heights long before KAJ and there were other shuls, too. But an all encompassing Kehilla (shul, yeshiva, kashrus, mikveh, chevra kadisha, gemillus chessed, etc.)did not come to WH until the founding of KAJ.

That is why when you mention today the name Washington Heights to someone outside of the neighborhood nine out of ten times they will say "That's where KAJ (or Breuers) is" and not "That's where YU is".

Sorry, it's not a myth.