The Ironic Orthodox generation

June 10, 2010 14:58

Across the pond, there seems to be an emerging consensus that something is changing in Orthodoxy, particularly on its left wing. The problem is that no one is exactly sure what. Over the past year, there have been several attempts to define this new breed of Orthodox Jew, loosely labelled - thanks to Hirhurim - 'post-Orthodox'. To me this definition has always seemed a libel, a malicious attempt to push those on the left of Orthodoxy out of the movement, and I reject it entirely.

Now, courtesy of the great ADDeRabbi, comes 'Ironic Orthodoxy' (a group of which he generally approves, and to which he says he partially belongs):

The Ironic Orthodox generation is the generation that comes after the Great Post-1967 Orthodox Awakening. The Ironic Orthodox are largely day-school and yeshiva educated. With their grandparents they share a certain comfort in their own Orthodox skin; to them, Orthodoxy is familiar, natural, and organizes their lives. With their parents they share a familiarity with the world of Jewish learning and are even able to access that learning to a large degree.

The Ironic Orthodox generation does not buy into the apologetics: not about the status of women, not about the integrity of the transmission of the Oral Law, not about the "timelessness" of obviously time-bound religious laws, customs, and ideas, etc. This generation is hard to inspire; its demeanor is skeptical and ironic, somewhat aloof and dispassionate. Their irony is not a dramatic irony - like Statler and Waldorf observing the and criticizing the show yet remaining very much a part of it - but a jocular or sarcastic attitude or perhaps even a post-irony that simultaneously adheres to and mocks traditional religious structures. Yet it's not a bitter or angry mocking. It seems to be more of a taking-for-granted of life's absurdities and of the failure of ideology to explain or animate the full gamut of practice. It does not necessarily advocate or seek change.

The acclaimed Israeli TV show "Srugim" is an example of Ironic Orthodoxy - from the camera lens's perspective, even if it does not necessarily describe any character in particular. The lens captures both the familiarity and the absurdity of contemporary Orthodox living. In an odd way, despite the fact that, as Shai points out, the only "normal" character in the show is hiloni, its portrait of contemporary Orthodox life is far from unsympathetic. Blogs, especially those that combine deep literacy, adherence, and irreverence - are examples as well.

What he is describing here is not limited to the left-wing Orthodox, but those who do belong to this group have two characteristics in common: they have a good secular education, and a good Jewish education. A good secular education, because this gives them the 'ironic' attitude; and a good Jewish education, because what they are engaging in is a sophisticated critique of the system (indeed, it takes a certain level of education to understand that it is a 'system' in the first place). The majority of ADDeRabbi's commentators, who seem to assume that the 'ironic Orthodox' are ignorant, at least Jewishly, have it the wrong way round.

June 10, 2010 14:58

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