Monday, January 25, 2010

Awakening the Sleeping Giant of Orthodoxy

Guest Post by Baruch C. Cohen

This is the latest contribution from the Orthodox silent majority.

They are no longer so silent. I think that has a lot to do with the Frum blogs like this one that promote and spread our Hashkafos, ideas, and critiques to many thousands of observant Jewish readers who would ordinarily not come in contact with these thoughts. And they do so quickly! And get immediate feedback from supporters and detractors alike. They are getting an education they could not get anywhere else.

The internet has enabled Orthodox Jews to join together in a new world of virtual Orthodoxy. It has enabled people from widely differeing Hashkafos to see what other Orthodox Jews think. Perhaps this is what the Rabbinic establishment fears most about the internet: a challenge to their authority. This new virtual Orthodox community has precipitated an accelerated awakening of a ‘sleeping giant’.

This post is but one more step in the direction of the common sense attitude missing in much of the Yeshiva world. The pendulum is swinging back. And with each passing moment, it seems to be swinging a little bit faster.

The following are Baruch Cohen’s thoughts.

This is an observation that's long overdue.

Rather than being relegated to the rank and status of an "askan" (a frum baal habos who assists in community endeavors), I believe that frum Baal Habatim have a far greater potential to contribute to Klal Yisroel.

There's a sea of frum professionals in their 40's 50's and 60's who've been Koveah Itim - committed to learning every day before or after work - since we were learning in Bais Medrash in the 60's 70's and 80's.

We come from all of the major yeshivos in the Tri-State area and in Israel and have been consistently growing in our learning as well as in our given professions. Some of us were chavrusas with many of the popular Rabbis of today. We share in the same Mesorah that they do. We had the same Rabbeim as they did.

Many of us have daily Chavrusas and have been going to Shiurim for years. We are frum professionals: doctors, lawyers, judges, accountants, CEO's, and owners of businesses. We are financial supporters of Torah. Many of us have completed at least 2-3 cycles of Daf Hayomi and have been learning consistently and in depth for years.

We have successfully fused two worlds together: the world of Torah and the world of a professional career.

It seems that the only time we are seen or heard from publically is at a Sheva Berachos, or at a Yahrtzeit seudah, or at a Siyum, or MC'ing a banquet or our son's Bar Mitzvah. We will be seen learning to ourselves or with our sons in shul. For the most part, we are invisible to the general public when it comes to dissemination of Torah to others. We have been relatively passive or quiet, storing all that Torah knowledge for ourselves.

Perhaps the time has come to reshuffle and shake things up a bit and perhaps we need to start sharing what we know.

If we were to begin to flex our muscles and share our Torah knowledge with others by giving Shiurim, we could have a major impact on Klal Yisroel. Just think what American Jewry would look like in a year, if everyone of these frum professionals starting giving shiurim. Hundreds of new opportunities would unfold within our own community.

It could detonate the biggest wave of Harbotzas Torah ever. It could literally transform and revolutionize our kehilah. Our numbers are many and the ripple effect of this effort could be great and powerful.

As an aside, in every shul, there are guys who appear to be stragglers who don't seem to be inspired enough to learn Torah on their own. What if we would initiate learning with those disenchanted Mispallelim? Torah learning would increase substantially from within our ranks. Our internal core would become more solidified making us stronger.

While people generally need to hear from their Rabbonim on all matters of life, it is my experience as a civil trial attorney, that there are time when audiences are sometimes more receptive to hear from someone like myself. The trial attorney who gives the shiur carries a different punch as the shiur contains a different dynamic. People don't expect shtark hashkafah from such an unlikely source.

There is also a recognition that this guy is committed to learning and didn't forsake it to pursue his professional career. People place a high premium on such balancing. To me, it's a great kiddush hashem when that happens. It sets a great example.

Further, when I present a Torah shiur with the same passion, professionalism, persuasive style and story-telling technique that I employ at trial: with powerful opening and closing arguments and powerpoint presentations, the results are incredibly positive and moving. I see the effects this has on juries, judges and on Shiur goers.

And we don't necessarily need to be experts in giving powerful presentations or shiurim. I have merely read aloud popular Jewish books (ie Praying with Fire or Gateway to Happiness) together with others and the Chavrusas were successful in and of itself.

I firmly believe that we frum Baal Habatim make exceptional role models for the hundreds if not thousands of high school and college-level students who were told that if they do not dedicate themselves to full-time kollel for life that they will be demoted to 2nd class citizenry in Klal Yisroel.

They struggle with the notion that it's all or nothing, and the frum Baal Habas paves his footprints in the snow for them and gives them hope that all is not lost if they decide to not become a Rosh Yeshivah. That their contribution to Klal Yisroel can still be very meaningful and substantial.

Our successes in both disciplines disproves the myth and sets concrete examples of how we can accomplish and not forsake our heritage. That we can work for a living and maintain a very active learning schedule. More of our kids need to see and hear that message.

Finally, when one of our own group steps up to the plate to share our Torah with others, it will have a contagious effect on others as they will hopefully be equally inspired and motivated to do the same ("if he could do it, perhaps I could do it too.")

So rather than sit back and listen to the next shiur, consider shifting gears and offer to give the next shiur, create a new chaburah, start a new mussar vaad, lead a hashkafah discussion group; anything to be Marbitz Torah from our perspective. Instead of sitting and receiving, let's consider standing in front of the shul and transmitting next time around. Instead of reading the next Torah article, write it. The time has come for the sleeping giant of Klal Yisroel to awaken and start sharing its Torah knowledge with others.

I would be interested in hearing your response.

Baruch C. Cohen, attended Yeshivas Chafetz Chaim and is a practicing trial attorney in Los Angeles, California.