Strict­ly Kosher Read­ing: Pop­u­lar Lit­er­a­ture and the Con­di­tion of Con­tem­po­rary Orthodoxy

Yoel Finkel­man
  • Review
By – January 9, 2012

The premise under­ly­ing this inter­est­ing study is that the val­ues and assump­tions of a par­tic­u­lar group, in this case, the Hare­di right-wing Ortho­dox world, can be iden­ti­fied and ana­lyzed from the per­spec­tive of the lit­er­a­ture pro­duced for and con­sumed by mem­bers of the group in ques­tion. Rec­og­niz­ing that in addi­tion to the pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary works that com­prise Jew­ish tra­di­tion­al lit­er­a­ture, the Hare­di world has of late pro­duced mar­riage man­u­als, par­ent­ing guides, cook­books, nov­els, and peri­od­i­cals as well as ren­der­ings” and trans­la­tions” of Halachic and the­o­log­i­cal works for its mem­ber­ship, the author access­es a wide range of lit­er­a­ture in order to sub­stan­ti­ate his analy­ses. A recur­ring theme in the work is what the author presents as a dis­con­nect between, on the one hand, the expressed self-per­cep­tions of the Hare­di world that includes a delib­er­ate sense of set­ting one­self apart from the dan­gers asso­ci­at­ed with gen­er­al sec­u­lar soci­ety, a rigid, sac­ri­fi­cial adher­ence to Torah val­ues and lifestyle, and a total sub­mis­sion to the direc­tives of acknowl­edged Rab­binic author­i­ty, and on the oth­er, the intro­duc­tion by means of lit­er­a­ture of gen­res and even sec­u­lar approach­es pack­aged as legit­i­mate Torah under­stand­ings of the issues being addressed. In addi­tion to pro­vid­ing a help­ful per­spec­tive for read­ing this type of mate­r­i­al, Finkelman’s book demon­strates the chal­lenges faced by a tra­di­tion­al minor­i­ty group to liv­ing with­in a major­i­ty cul­ture, striv­ing not to be affect­ed by the host society’s val­ues and pro­gres­sive think­ing. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, end­notes, index.

Yaakov (Jack) Biel­er was the found­ing Rab­bi of the Kemp Mill Syn­a­gogue in Sil­ver Spring, MD until his retire­ment in 2015. He has been asso­ci­at­ed with Jew­ish day school edu­ca­tion for over thir­ty years. R. Biel­er served as a men­tor for the Bar Ilan Uni­ver­si­ty Look­stein Cen­ter Prin­ci­pals’ Sem­i­nar and he has pub­lished and lec­tured exten­sive­ly on the phi­los­o­phy of Mod­ern Ortho­dox education.

Discussion Questions