Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Throwing the Flag

Yesterday evening, while my first post was still nothing but a draft, I took a brief break for afternoon and evening services. Following services, and my brief announcements, I attended a short shiur (class) on this weeks Parsha (Torah portion). Sidenote: when I say "brief announcements" in this blog, it's kind of like when a character in a movie says its title during a pivotal scene. Sean Connery in "Entrapment" does this best. I SWEAR he pauses and looks at the camera before he says "entrapment". Pure comedy. Anyways, I try to make it to the shiur every week. Surely I am motivated by the free pizza, which allows me to save my defrosting salmon for a mid-night snack, but I am also interested in what God has to say. Usually, I regret to say, I leave the shiur disappointed. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised because the Hebrew word "shiur" comes from the same root as the word for "painful eye gauging". OK, that's a lie. In any case, this week was different. Why? Because the Rabbi did something that I rarely see. And I'm not referring to the fact that he shook a woman's hand, though that was a refreshing surprise. What struck me about this Shiur and this Rabbi was not the actual content. Rather, it was his approach that surprised me. Most shiurs or sermons I have listened to recently, and for most of my life, have consisted of the same basic formula: brief reading of some lines from the Parsha, then discussing what various Rishonim ("early Rabbis") have to say on the matter, most notably the man made famous by Shlock Rock, Rashi. Lather, rinse, repeat. In the end, everyone is left without any real conclusions and with many different answers to a single question, and somehow everyone is happy. Rather than follow this flawless model, this Rabbi talked about No Rishonim. He did bring a source from the Talmud, but it was not to provide direct commentary on the verses quoted. I know he's not the only rabbi who says new things. I know there are many Rabbis out there who do this, but that doesn't mean that it's not rare. Well, maybe it's not rare, but I am focusing really only on my personal experiences. This is my blog, I can do that.
I think what I am trying to say is this: being a Rabbi just isn't what it used to be. Nowadays, no one has anything NEW to say. No one is giving me a chidush. And I mean no disrespect. But the problem is not just within the Rabbinic world. We, the global congregation, have lowered our collective expectations. People are fine going to shul every week, listening to/sleeping through the sermon, picking up on a few obvious points that the Rabbi made, and going home to lunch with the family..."v'ein kol hadash tahat hashemesh" (Ecclesiastes 1:9. Look it up. I'm doing my first book review on Ecclesiastes one day. I'm half kidding.).
In today's society, no one is out there challenging authority. Except on the football field where coaches have the ability to throw the red flag (or my ridiculous group of friends who adopted the same custom, carrying around red flags in order to challenge every day situations. I'm not lying. These exist.). But that's a whole different kind of challenging. People have become so apathetic in their opinions towards everything from the War in Iraq to local elections to religion as a whole. These are the facts. We don't challenge our Rabbis to make their shiurs worthwhile, and they, in turn, don't challenge anything from past generations.
I'm not calling for rampant disrespect. Please, I'm a gentleman. But a little conversation never hurt anyone. So before they bring in the kicking unit for the extra point, throw the flag.
It doesn't help when it's stuck in your sock.


Talia said...

If they're not gonna give a hidush,
then let's skip it and go straight to kiddush.
(i just couldn't resist...)

Dov L said...

I totally agree. It's just shiur boredom

That's sheer boredom, in case the pun wasn't obvious enough.

But seriously, make the Torah your own. Don't waste my time telling me a fluffy chassidic story that never happened. Don't repeat the same things that everyone repeats every parsha. If the Torah is infinite, then take it deeper. I will follow.

Yonah said...

omg u r such a gentleman and i love the free publicity for the challenge flag, which will now go on sale for $1.99 each

sam said...

this post coming from the same guy who was appalled at the notion that Sir Isaac may have been different than we once we once were taught....very different

DP said...

The Bill Simmons influence is overwhelming...

el ocho said...

Why do you pretend there are people reading this blog who need you to translate shiur?
Speaking of which, where do you stand on the whole translating tefillin debate? Phyllacteries or masochistic leather straps?
You confuse me.

AlanLaz said...

I agree with the general state of apathy. But, I don't think a Rabbi who's giving a shiur with traditional sources is acting apathetically.

A rabbi's job should be, to a large extent, to cater to his crowd. Now, if a rabbi knows or should know that the crowd he's speaking in front of isn't going to be down with a traditional shiur, by doing so, he is doing a poor job. But, maybe there were others in the crowd who prefer a traditional shiur and were turned off by this rabbi's shiur. Perhaps unlikely, although possible.

Call me "Gadi" said...

wow. you know i made it big if AlanLaz is commenting. not even kidding.
i agree that a rabbis job is to cater to his crowd. and im pretty sure thats what i was trying to say. the crowd doesnt demand anything all that intense, and therefore the rabbis dont give it to them. the preference for the "traditional shiur" is quite prevalent and im not sure that this a good thing. but definitely a rabbis job is to cater to the crowd.

AlanLaz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.