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Emanuel Feldman: On Being a Jewish Writer

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SUMMARY

In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we talk to Rabbi Emanuel Feldman about writing styles. 

Rabbi Feldman has the unique gift to write in multiple voices for multiple audiences. He mixes his pitches so his readers never quite know what to expect. Rabbi Feldman joins us today to talk about the unique styles of Jewish writing. 

  • What motivates a rabbi to begin a parallel career as a writer?
  • Why is criticism something to love? 
  • Has Jewish writing gotten better over time? 

Tune in to hear a conversation about Yinglish, thumb-driven computers, and Mrs. Cooperman.  

Interview begins at 22:49 

Rabbi Emanuel Feldman is the rabbi emeritus of Beth Jacob synagogue in Atlanta, Georgia. He previously served as editor-in-chief of Tradition Magazine and has authored 11 books. Additionally, he was editor of the Ariel Rashi Translation Project for 17 years.

References:

Tractate Sukkah

Mishpacha Magazine

Top Five List of Jewish Character and Characters by Dovid Bashevkin

David the Divided Heart by David Wolpe

Tradition Magazine

The Shul Without a Clock by Emanuel Feldman

Tefillin in a A Brown Paper Bagby Emanuel Feldman

An Imagined Symposiumby Emanuel Feldman

Tales Out of Shul by Emanuel Feldman

Yaakov and Jay: A Tale of Two Worldsby Emanuel Feldman

Tablet Magazine on the Talmud” by Dovid Bashevkin

On His Blindnessby John Milton

God and Mrs. Coopermanby Emanuel Feldman

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

Reconciling Opposites: Uncommon Connections in the Halakha of Mourning” by Emanuel Feldman

Sin-a-gogue: Sin, and Failure in Jewish Thought by David Bashevkin

David Bashevkin:
Hello, and welcome to the 18Forty podcast, where each month we explore a different topic, balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities, to give you new approaches to timeless Jewish ideas. I’m your host, David Bashevkin, and this month we’re exploring books, books, books.

This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big, juicy, Jewish ideas, so be sure to check out 18Forty.org, where you can also find videos, articles, recommended readings and weekly emails. There is a strange part of, I think, particularly in the Orthodox world, I don’t think this exists in other denominations, but it definitely exists in the Orthodox world and it’s almost not spoken about, someone should definitely write an article about it, it would be absolutely fascinating.

But what I call the draft year in Israel, sweepstakes, where all of the yeshivas and seminaries come to American high schools to recruit kids, particularly, obviously in 12th grade to figure out and supposedly draft how they are going to spend their gap year. And this has become almost like the draft combine that you find in the NBA.

You literally find something quite similar in a lot of modern Orthodox high schools. This doesn’t really exist in the yeshiva world because in the yeshiva world, students take their gap year, the male students take their gap year, I believe after two or three years of learning in America and then they go to Israel. The women, I do believe go after 12th grade to seminary, but in the modern Orthodox high schools, every single yeshivaand seminary comes into America and there are these weeks at a time, where students are taken out of class and they have these interviews with the yeshivas and seminaries.

And similar to the draft combine on these interviews, sometimes is the student trying to plead their case of why they should be drafted, why I should get into this seminary, into this yeshiva and sometimes it is the yeshiva trying to draft the student. You always have these high profile draft picks of like, “Oh, this is an amazing 12th grader in,” I don’t know, “… SKA, DRS, TABC, Shalhevet,” Whatever it is, “… and we got to get them to our yeshiva or seminary.” And you kind of plead the case.

Now, I absolutely love this when I was in 12th grade and I was, when I was in 12th grade, I try to describe myself properly, I was a mess, obviously I was religiously schizophrenic and part of the game for me was almost like playing all the yeshivas against each other and trying to make myself as if I was this amazing draft pick, which I wasn’t, I was a total mess in 12th grade but I enjoyed learning Torah. I was pretty good at learning Torah and I got a lot of great… And I interviewed with all the major places and I paid a lot of attention to what was said on the interview.

And there was an interview that I had, I’m happy to say because it’s really, it was the most fascinating interview that I had. And it was my interview that I had with Yeshivas Har Etzion Gush. What’s known as Gush, it’s I believe it’s in Gush Etzion, they call it colloquially Gush, but it’s Yeshivas Har Etzion.

I did not end up going there, but as an interview, it was one of my most absolutely fascinating interviews, and there was a specific question that still stands out at me. I was interviewing, I believe it was with Rabbi Moshe Taragin who still gives a stellar class there, the shiur that he gives class in English, shiur in Hebrew and he’s a major, major figure in Yeshivas Har Etzion. I have a wonderful, very nice relationship with him, we’re not like buddy, buddy, but we have a very, very nice warm relationship, and he asked me just an absolutely fascinating question that I still think about to this day.

Now, normally the questions you get on these interviews are… I’m trying to remember, they ask you if… For the yeshivas, for sure ask you a read a piece of Talmud and depending on the level of yeshiva, they’ll ask follow up questions and it’ll be really intense. I remember my interview with Yeshivas Kerem B’Yavneh with Rabbi Mendel Blachman was known as this tour de force, a two and a half hour interview.

He interviewed two of us at a time. I was with my best friend Yoni Statman, and our 12th grade rebbe at the time, Rabbi Dovid Willig still reminds me of how epic this interview was. We were there fighting it out, talking about, the second and third perek of tractate Sukkah. I remember some of the topics we spoke about, kasuze mechsei shiura about the halachic implications of certain things that maybe don’t have a measurement in Jewish law.

We sat there, we were 12th grade, I was, I think I was 16. I wasn’t, I didn’t even turn 17 yet and a two and a half hour interview, but there was one question and one interview that I still think about, and it was the question that Rabbi Moshe Taragin asked me on my interview with Yeshivas Har Etzion, it was the following question, which was an absolutely hardball question.

He was talking about some of the, what are known as the rishonim, the medieval commentaries on the Talmud that appear in the back of most standard Talmuds. And he said, “Can you describe to me the difference between the style, the writing style, the questions, the line of questions of some of these different commentaries?” And he said, “What is the difference?” And I’ll phrase it the same way he did it. “What is the difference between the Rif, Rav Yitzchak Alfasi early, one of the very early, rishonim, early medieval commentaries, the Rif, the Ram, and the Rosh, all of these are acronyms, how we refer to them we don’t have to get into their lives and the specifics but what are the differences between what they’re trying to do, how these commentaries are structured? The writing style, tell me the differences between them.”

And I remember I was in 12th grade and I was like, “Wow, that is a, it’s an impossible question. I hope you don’t ask this of anybody or no one is going to be able to come to your yeshiva except literally the superstars.” And they do get, obviously a great deal of superstars but I remember thinking like, “Wow, I don’t pay attention to that.”

I don’t pay attention to that because so much of Jewish learning particularly, nowadays is off source sheets and when you’re on a source sheet, you are really just thinking topically, you have a photocopy of this source and the next source, and you might remember the question, you might remember the answer, but you’re not building a relationship with a specific style of writing, you just kind of have a source sheet on a topic and you remember the big questions that come up in the big answers, and it’s all kind of a mishkababelfor you, what is known colloquially as likkut.

It is a collection, a gathering likkut  is a Hebrew word of, for a gathering, and you have kind of this collection of all these answers to these major questions, but very infrequently, particularly nowadays, where so much of our information is consumed online on the internet. Very often we don’t build relationships with specific thinkers, with specific writers, and sometimes it can be hard unless you’re really paying attention to what you’re reading and what you’re consuming. You’re not just opening up the New York Times, you’re not just flipping to the back of the Gemara and before I get letters, I am not comparing the New York Times to the Talmud.

Hold off on your letters, find a better issue to fight with me on. There’s plenty of other controversial things that I say. That’s not worth it, so save your time, don’t send the email, the voicemail for that one, but what I do believe is that very often the specific style of specific writers and thinkers get lost, and this happens in our religious lives we forget the differences between different opinions.

You flipped… I don’t know it was on the source sheet. It was in the back of the Talmud you don’t get the nuances of the different approaches of what is the kind of question that a, the Ritva would ask versus the Rashba. What is the difference between different Jewish thinkers in the way they approach specific problems?

The sets of problems are different and we sometimes build relationships with topics, rather than building relationships with individual speakers, with individual writers, with individual thinkers and that’s why I loved that question so much. It remind me of in many ways of another test, not to get into yeshiva, but a test that was given at a yeshiva.

There is a rosh yeshiva, a senior rabbi named Rabbi Michael Rosensweig who teaches at Yeshiva University. I was never in his class. I was never in his shiur though. I’ve listened to a lot of stuff, I have a wonderful relationship with his son Itamar. We teach together in the Sy Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University and Rabbi Rosensweig, I believe would ask questions on his test, what were known as a bechina in Hebrew, where he would show you a source and I don’t think he would give you context, or he might not even tell you who wrote the source and you’d have to figure out what is this talking about? Where would you place this in the larger topic, to kind of build that intuition for specific writers for specific thinkers.

And that is something for myself as I have begun to invest more and more into specific writers, I pay closer and closer attention to the style, the approach, what are the types of questions that different kinds of writers spend their times thinking about? And I mean, both contemporary writers and older, the classical writers, Maimonides, Rambam, or contemporary writers, Rabbi Sacks of blessed memory.

And I’m thinking of how do they approach questions? What are the questions that bother them and how do they approach them? And I think that whenever I approach writing, I’m thinking about this, not just the topic, but the rhythm, the style, the tone, in which my writing is going to be framed and how I kind of piece those pieces together.

I remember the first meeting I ever had with what was going to be a longtime editor was with Mishpacha Magazine, where I was invited by Mishpacha Magazine to start writing a humor column, which were later collected into a book that I’ve mentioned before, Top Five List of Jewish Character and Characters, a real medium seller, not a best seller but a medium seller, no doubt about that but it was a very popular column.

My first meeting with the editors was talking about writing style and they asked me what’s the style that you want to go for? Not in the humor column, we were actually talking about a different kind of column that I discontinued much earlier and I told them, I said, there are two writers I have in mind in doing this. One writer I mentioned to them, which was actually fascinating, was Rabbi David Wolpe who’s also a friend.

He’s a conservative rabbi who just, I believe retired from his shul, his synagogue in California. And he used to write these really short columns in the inside of the Jewish Week. They were a hundred words, but they were so insightful and inspirational, and I really began to love his Jewish writing. If you’ve never read his writing, it’s absolutely stellar. He’s written a full book on David, Dovid HaMelech published by Yale University.

I don’t think I ever got around to reading it, but his columns in the Jewish Week on parsha, on jewish thought, I always adored, I always love them and I told Mishpacha Magazine, which was a fairly right wing yeshiva magazine I said, “David Wolpe was the first one and I loved it and it shows you don’t stereotype people’s what they know, what’s going on in the world.” They nod, they knew right away, his writing style, his column, but they knew exactly the way he approaches things, kind of a very accessible, but still substantive way in which he frames ideas.

And the other writer, which they obviously knew, because he wrote at the time a column for Mishpacha Magazine, which I still believe maybe published was Rabbi Emanuel Feldman. Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, who is our guest today was really the first writer that opened me up to the world of not just understanding and reading a topic, but reading a specific writer.

I think very often, our relationship with writing in general with reading in general is we are topic driven. I want to read about, I don’t know, pick a topic, psychology business, Jewish history, biographies, and you pick up based on a topic. Less frequently is we develop a relationship with a specific writer and we could almost, without even, let’s say they erase their name from the column, from the cover of the book, we would know who it was.

The first writer I ever developed a specific relationship with their style of writing was Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, and I know exactly what those columns were, were of course at the end of the week in the email our favorites of his columns, but there were two columns that stood out. They were originally published by our friends at Tradition, the Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought, where he serves as editor for many, many years.

He was the editor following, I believe my rabbi growing up, Rabbi Walter Wurzburger, Rabbi Emmanuel Feldman took over and he used to write these notes that were later collected into a book called, The Shul without a Clock, which was named after one of his earlier columns itself that was named after an earlier column.

But there were two columns that made me fall in love with his writings. One of which I’ve mentioned before on this, on 18Forty and the other one, I don’t believe I’ve mentioned before, but absolutely bears mentioning and I think it’s time for an update. The first column, which I mention, which I think is an absolute classic, I use it every time I teach or discuss writing and that is the article that he wrote called, Tefillin in a Brown Paper Bag.

Tefillin in a Brown Paper Bag, such a beautiful imagery. And this article, which originally was published in Tradition in the fall of 1991, discusses the sorry state of Jewish writing, where he basically describes being on an airplane and opening up a secular periodical, I believe was The Economist and being so moved by their syntax, their sentences, their grammar, and then opening up a Jewish periodical and being crestfall.

The writing was garbled, it was poor grammar, poor writing and he says as follows, “It is hard to imagine, that any thinking individual can be persuaded of the depths of Torah when quite beyond grading misusages, such as “being that” instead of “since”, “comes to tell us” instead of “informs us”, “brings down” instead of “cites”. The ideas of Torah are presented as jejune,” I don’t know if I’m pronouncing that correctly, “… and puerile language.” I don’t know if I’m pronouncing that word correctly, either.

“This is a pity,” now this is the punchline, “… for Torah is precious enough to deserve elegance, grace, sophistication, and precision. After all, we don’t wrap our tefillin in brown paper bags or bind our sifrei Torah with coarse, ugly ropes. A world-view which is inadequately articulated not only fails to communicate, but repels those whom it would reach.” And he points a finger at the level and quality of writing that is coming out, particularly the Orthodox community to be quite specific, but the quality of Jewish writing.

Now, obviously there are some fantastic Jewish writers, but when I read this, the imagery, the point, it was so accessible. I was a teenager at the time when I read this, it was a back issue. I was six years old when it was published, but when I read it, I was probably a young teenager and I was like, “Wow, what an incredible point.” Why is writing so important? Why the expression, the casing, the framing with which we present ideas needs to be just as beautiful, if not more beautiful, if we’re going to inspire, to persuade, because when we case our ideas in ugly course, writing with improper grammar, et cetera, et cetera, it does have an effect on the ideas themselves and I believe this is an epidemic in the Jewish world and the way that we express our thought in English and we need more high quality writers.

Now, the second article that he wrote is also an article, it’s about writing, but it is even more brilliant and it is probably the most brilliant piece of Jewish writing I have ever read because it shows his command of the different styles of Jewish writing. He did something absolutely genius, and I am begging our listeners, somebody needs to update this and that is his article, An Imagined Symposium, where Rabbi Emanuel Feldman presents, poses an imagined symposium to all of the major Jewish publishers, on the following question.

What is the role of Messianism in contemporary Orthodoxy? And the genius of this article, again An Imagined Symposium and we’ll send that a link of course, on the email list originally published in Tradition 1992, the genius of this article is then Rabbi Emanuel Feldman responds to this question. What is the role of Messianism in contemporary Orthodoxy? In the voice of every publication and it is just so brilliant. I’ll give you just some snippets from a few and you’ll see it.

His first response is the ArtScroll overview, listen to what he writes in the voice of ArtScroll. Again, this is fake and he even typesets it on the page, like ArtScroll would have typeset it. It’s so hilarious and so brilliant, he writes his follows in the voice of ArtScroll. “It is the challenge of our contemporary, confused, frightened, baffled generation to strip away the veils that obscure our vision of HASHEM.” Of course, in all caps as ArtScroll always does.

“Better still, it is the very veils which are given existence by the One Above,” and in parentheses he writes, “… (see overview to ArtScroll God).” Which is not a real volume, but an imagined one and if you’re familiar with the way ArtScroll references their interviews, it is just brilliant. This is his response in the voice of the Jewish Observer, the now defunct magazine that was published by Agudas Yisroel. This is the opening, this is how they respond to the role of Messianism in contemporary Orthodoxy.

“The yeshiva world, the world of pure unadulterated Torah takes every aspect of emunah seriously and unlike others among us, does not pick and choose beliefs and principles, which are currently fashionable or convenient.” Right out of the gate, he captures their voice and kind of the slights that they low-key would put in there on other movements. It really brilliant, I grew up reading the Jewish Observer also, and he really nails it.

The next one he does is the Yated Ne’eman, which is also really great. He writes despite this is the voice of the Yated Ne’eman, “Despite the attempts of certain elements of the Jewish world, to say that the Moshiach belongs to them exclusively, it is clear that this is only the voice of the yetzer hara speaking.” This is when Yated Ne’eman was really strong. The next one he does is the Algemeiner, I’ll skip that one and then the next two, again, it’s so brilliant, it’s so great especially if you immerse themselves and you have to read the whole article to appreciate it.

The next one is the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society. And this is, it’s just brilliant, this is the response, “Meiri in his comment to Bava Kama 51a, reacting to the Tosafos in Bava Kama, 51a (location cited),” In parentheses “… in which Tosafos take issue with Rashi’s comment on Devarim 14:7 in which the Rambam takes strong issue with Rashi citing Onkelos in Bereshis 24:9, as a support.” And it goes on, on it’s one long run on sentences of sources, citations, and footnotes. And it is just absolutely beautiful.

Finally, of course, any great humorist and satire, he makes fun of himself and he writes his follows, this is how he ends in the voice of Tradition, “Eschatologically, teleologically and axiologically the Messiah’s coming is the consummation of world history devoutly to be wished. We can only hope that our hope is not a fond one because, as John Milton put it, he also serves who only stands and waits.”

And that’s how he concludes this amazing satire article in the voice of each of the major Jewish publications and periodicals at the time, from everything, from Yated Ne’eman, Jewish Observer, ArtScroll, it’s really brilliant. And to me, it opened me up to the question we began with, of beginning to appreciate the different writing styles of different writers, different periodicals, and the way they approach and address questions.

And that is why I am so excited to introduce my conversation with somebody who really opens me up to the world, the beauty, and what can be accomplished in writing, not just for the intellectual elites, but somebody who was able to write with a wink in an accessible way, and really present a Judaism, a yiddishkeit that is both open and accessible, but deeply substantive and also with a very friendly, wink and smile.

It is my deep pleasure to introduce a mentor through writing, the great Rabbi Emanuel Feldman. You really had a prolific writing career, you were the editor of Tradition, you wrote two books out more, but the ones that really have had a major influence on me, your collection of essays, The Shul without a Clock, as well as Tales Out of Shul and now you write your columnist for Mishpacha Magazine, you’ve written for them for many years.

I’m wondering, you were I believe a student in Yeshivas Ner Yisroel. And why did you start writing? You were a rav in Atlanta, you were a rabbi, why would a rabbi begin writing for a popular audience? Was this something your rebbi encouraged you to do? Did you ask them? What motivated you to begin a career, almost a parallel career as a writer?

Emanuel Feldman:
Actually, I started writing as a kid, long before I came to Ner Yisroel, long before I had any rebbi to approve or disapprove. I remember at the age of 12, I was writing poetry and writing short stories and things like that, and submitting them to my English teacher in high school.

So there’s something has been in my kishkes, in my genes for very, very long. My mother, aleiha hashalom used to write poetry in Yiddish and she’s from Europe, then she came to America and of course raised her children here, but maybe it’s in the genes, but writing has always been part of my life.

David Bashevkin:
Wow. So when you began, you were a rav in Atlanta and you have such beautiful stories that you collected from those early years, and Tales Out of Shul. I have almost a basic question when you started writing in Atlanta, where did you like to write? When would you do your writing? What you would… The life of a rav is very busy.

Emanuel Feldman:
Yeah. Very, the rav is crazily busy. I used to do it late at night or early in the morning, sometimes Sunday afternoon was a quiet time in Atlanta because everybody was busy with their things, they used that and not only that, but book like Tales out of Shul, I didn’t really write it while I was a rav. I wrote it after I retired.

In other words, the 39 years I was in Atlanta, I was just writing down on index cards, abbreviations of what happened and threw them in a box. When I retired, I moved to Yerushalayim, I took the box with me. It was hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of index cards and my job was to put them all together in some semblance of order and to write them, so I wrote them after I left the rabbanus, not during rabbanus.

David Bashevkin:
Wow. Okay. That’s actually quite beautiful. What I am curious about is I don’t know that I’m the world’s expert in kisvei Rav Emanuel Feldman, but I may be one of them. I am definitely up there and I know that you are writing in Tradition very often got a lot of feedback.

You had an article once called Yaakov and Jay’s Bar Mitzvah, which described a bar mitzvah celebration of two bar mitzvah boys, one from a more modern secularized household and one from a more yeshivishe chareidi  household and you compared the two, and I remember a lot of the writer, a lot of the readers, of Tradition wrote in and were kind of upset that why did you pick somebody from the yeshiva world? You should have picked somebody from the dati leumi world, that they were very worked up.

And I’m curious, not about that article, but about the feedback you get from your writing, both when you write for Tradition and when you now write in more let’s call yeshiva outlets like a Mishpacha Magazine, is there one audience you enjoy writing for over another?

Emanuel Feldman:
Actually, there’s one major difference between my writings for Tradition and my writings for Mishpacha. That is first of all, in Tradition, I only had to write a column as an editor four times a year, because it was a quarterly, Mishpacha is a weekly, I write every other week for Mishpacha but the major differences that as editor of Tradition, I had unlimited amount of words. I could go two, three, thousand words.

In Mishpacha I’m limited to a measly 800 words, so that’s hard for me to do but it’s a great discipline for me to do as well, because the words, you got to make every word count, no fooling around and no puffery.

So the secondly, the audience definitely was different for Tradition than it is for Mishpacha but I don’t keep my eye on that so much, or I’m hoping that whatever I write will strike a bell with the most chareidi and even with the modern Orthodox, and even with people who are not frum so I don’t have any particular audience in mind when I write.

David Bashevkin:
How do you deal with that kind of criticism? I can imagine, particularly when you were writing for Tradition, there were people who I am sure I’ve read the letters myself, who accused you of being, let’s say too right wing for the Tradition audience, your predecessor, who was the rabbi of my shul growing up, was Rabbi Walter Wurzburger who had a very different pedigree and style than what you brought to Tradition.

And a lot of the readers were not from necessarily the yeshiva world, and at the same time you had your own teachers who were, and of course, most notably, I hope it’s okay I’m mentioning your brother who also contributed to Tradition. Your brother was rosh yeshiva in Ner Yisroel when I was there and is considerably a pretty strong right wing viewpoint.

And I could imagine that many of your rebbeim and family members said, “Why are you writing to this audience?” or “How could you have published this article or let this in?” How did you deal with the criticism assuming it was there, maybe I’m wrong when you were editor?

Emanuel Feldman:
I loved the criticism. Why? Because it showed that they couldn’t figure me out and one of my, I shouldn’t say techniques but one of the things in my rabbinate was, that the congregation could never figure me out. Is he too frum? Is he’s too frum, how come he’s such a good tennis player? And if he’s not frum how come he, you know, davens with a tallis over his head?  They were, the idea was to confuse people and then to, and to get your message across, so I never bothered too much with criticism.

If my right, if my articles, you know, receive negative reviews, okay, I would take it seriously and try to improve whatever it did but as far as the ideology was concerned, this is who I am, this is what I was and if they didn’t like it they could fire me as editor, that was it.

So I never concern myself and Mishpacha too, not everything I write is accepted wholeheartedly, there are people in Monsey and in Lakewood and the Boro Park who think I’m not frum enough, which is fine and so that doesn’t bother me at all. I try to do it the best I can with the tools that I have.

David Bashevkin:
Is criticism different for writing an ideas when it comes from your teachers? I know for myself, I write in different outlets. I’ve written also for Mishpacha. I’ve published once in Tradition. I write now mostly for Tablet Magazine on the Talmud.

I write a thematic essay at the end of each tractate, and I think the criticism that I sometimes find, and it’s never heavy, and I don’t have a ton of examples, but it’s from mentors and teachers, because you want to give them nachas so to speak. Did you ever get criticism from a mentor or a teacher? And how did you respond to that?

Emanuel Feldman:
I’ll tell you just the reverse. One of the great roshei yeshiva who shall be nameless, because I don’t think he would want to be quoted, but he was a rosh yeshiva that everyone would know.

David Bashevkin:
Don’t say his name, but maybe could you tell us what yeshiva he was the rosh yeshiva of? Too much information.

Emanuel Feldman:
It was in Yerushalayim. Okay.

David Bashevkin:
Okay.

Emanuel Feldman:
So, and it wasn’t Rav Moshe Feinstein or like that, but it was a very, very famous rosh yeshiva, very famous rebbi and teacher. When I became editor of Tradition, he said to me the following, “I’m happy that you’re editor.” he knew me quite well. “I’m happy that you’re editor, because you’ll keep them from going off the deep edge on the left.”

So, and he said, “Don’t try to be too frum, don’t try to make it into a right wing journal, just do your job, keep it from becoming to left wing.” So, that’s what I did and I never had any criticism from rebbeim or from any right wing figures that I wasn’t frum and I’m not frum. Not from the responsible people. I did have letters from individuals here and there, but they’re entitled to their opinion, I’m entitled to mine.

David Bashevkin:
There’s a certain warmth that a playfulness that you have with your writing, it’s very serious and sophisticated, but always with a little bit of a smile. And there are two articles that come to mind when I think of that, and one is the article Tefillin in a Brown Paper Bag, which is a plea for higher quality writing in the Jewish community.

You tell the story of being on a long plane flight and opening up a secular publication, I think it was The Economist, you mention it by name and how it struck you, how the prose and the structure and the writing was so clean and clear and how it hurt you so to speak, that in many Jewish publications, you open up and it feels like we are placing our Torah ideas, the proverbial tefillin inside of a brown paper bag.

This kind of course, non-sophisticated, non-majestic outerwear, and we’re encasing our ideas in poor writing, and it was a beautiful analogy. I’m curious, what do you think of the state of Jewish writing today? Has it changed since that original article was published?

Emanuel Feldman:
I don’t think it’s changed, I think it’s probably gotten worse. The problem I mentioned in that article was that, if yeshiva high schools are going to have an English program, then they should have a serious English program. And if they’re going to particularly in English, in writing, because if the Orthodox are going to have any influence at all on the outside world, on the non-Orthodox world, they have to be articulate both in speech and in writing.

What we have by and large is Yinglish. Very few yeshiva boys can say a full English sentence without saying Yiddish or Gemara words in it, which is fine, but that’s not the way to win friends and influence people.

On the other hand, one of my pet peeves is that by and large, the Orthodox seemed to have lost the impetus to win friends and influence people. They don’t give a darn anymore, main thing is me, me, me. So that’s another story for another subject and for another podcast.

David Bashevkin:
Yes, it is. It definitely has changed. I mean, so much of the work that you describe in your book, Tales Out of Shul and the rabbinate in Atlanta was really dealing, not just with the unaffiliated, but with unaffiliated rabbis.

I think the most moving story in that book is a story at a funeral. It’s really hard for me to even remember to talk about without getting a little bit choked up, but you officiated at a funeral and part of the traditional funeral proceedings is to take the dirt and to cover the grave. The actual what’s known as kevurah, the actual burial.

And you were, I assume, a young rabbi and no one wanted to kind of come in and really do this final rite. We would just lower the casket and walk away and most people were standing off, and you went ahead and started digging and you have this beautiful story where you saw, that one other person started to join and help you and that was the Reform rabbi.

Emanuel Feldman:
Yes. I remember that very well and I knew him quite well. We were very friendly, he knew where I stood and I still were, I knew where he stood, but we were still very friendly personally, and I said to him later, “What are you doing? How come you did this? He said, “I couldn’t stand it that they left you, let you do this all by yourself and no one even stoop down to help you a drop, they just was staring at you.” So that’s why he did it. So that was a very, very key moment in my relationship with him. He was a real mensch, though he never really became a shomer mitzvos but that’s another story.

David Bashevkin:
Yes, no, but you tell the story so beautifully. Another article, which is one of my absolute favorites, and I’m really almost bringing it up to almost a hope, encourage, pray that you can update it. You have an article called An Imagined Symposium, this may be one of the greatest feats of Jewish writing I have ever seen and I am really not saying that to flatter you.

Why do I say that? Is because it’s an article, that’s An Imagined Symposium of all of the Jewish publications you do the Yated Ne’eman, The Jewish Observer, alav hashalom, Tradition, The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, and you ask each of them, so to speak, “When’s Moshiach going to come?” And you answer through the voice of each of these publications in their voice.

So your answer for the journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, which always makes me laugh out loud is one run on sentence, with just a you know like 20 references to the Meiri, Ibid, and it’s really hilarious. It’s actually somewhat profound, your answer for Tradition, almost kind of imitates to me almost Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, that’s where I first learned Milton’s famous quote, those who…

Emanuel Feldman:
They also serve who only stand and waits, is that what or-

David Bashevkin:
Yes. They also serve those who only stand-

Emanuel Feldman:
Who only stand and wait.

David Bashevkin:
… and wait. That is when I first found that quote from Milton-

Emanuel Feldman:
Milton, On His Blindness.

David Bashevkin:
…. On His Blindness.

Emanuel Feldman:
On His Blindness.

David Bashevkin:
Exactly. So my question is, have you ever thought of updating that article? We no longer have a Jewish Observer, we have Ami Magazine, we have Mishpacha Magazine, we have The Five Towns Jewish Times and the Flatbush Jewish Journal. Have you ever toyed with doing a second round of that article in the voice of contemporary publications?

Emanuel Feldman:
I’ve never thought of it, now you mention it, maybe I’ll do it, but right now the truth is I never thought of updoing it, of redoing it, or updating it. The reason is that, that article was done in a flash of madness.

I mean, sometimes when I write one of these satiric pieces and I’ve written a number of them, there’s a certain madness comes over me and I rush through it, as fast as I can before the madness runs away , you know, and I have to push a button of madness just to do another one like that, that’s sort of one, it was one in a thousand.

David Bashevkin:
When you were the editor of Tradition, who was your favorite writer to edit and read?

Emanuel Feldman:
Oh, well Rabbi Bleich was terrific. You know, Rabbi Dovid Bleich, whatever he wrote in, whatever he sent in didn’t need to change, didn’t need a comment to be changed, it was just perfect.

We hadn’t, I had no other specific writers that like that. He was in every single issue, of course there were people on the Tradition board who felt that Rabbi Bleich should not be in every issue that because he’s dominating it and so forth and so on, but I resisted those comments and he’s still writing for Tradition, I think.

David Bashevkin:
Sure, sure. He’s a-

Emanuel Feldman:
There were some amusing incidents when I was editor at Tradition, there was one brilliant guy whom I asked to write a certain article, on a certain subject, I don’t want to identify it and this guy was brilliant, but he couldn’t write an English sentence straight, he couldn’t say, “I went to the grocery store” without stumbling if he wrote that sentence.

So I said to him, “Look, you’re right what you want to say, give me the ideas, I’ll write the article, but it’ll be yours.” And he did that. And we wrote, and he wrote me really a bad draft. I cleaned it up, published it, and he got all kinds of encomium, and all kinds of flattering on it. I felt like a stage director watching his actors on the stage while he’s standing in the background and they’re getting all the applause, but that was fine.

David Bashevkin:
I am curious if again, and we’ll move on in a moment from, Tradition. I am curious if there was a particular individual article that you are most proud of writing and or editing? You can answer both, something that you edited from someone else, or an article that you are particularly proud of writing yourself.

You wrote so many of these beautiful editor’s opening. They had such a massive influence on me. And I’m curious if there are any articles that you regret publishing or that you regret writing.

Emanuel Feldman:
That’s, it’s a very good question and it goes back many years. I don’t really remember that clearly, I do recall some of the articles that you already mentioned, which I’m very proud of.

You already referred to them, Tefillin in a Brown Paper Bag and the Symposium and others. There was one article that took a lot of courage to print and that was we published an article where we criticized the Steinsaltz English translation.

David Bashevkin:
Your brother wrote that I believe.

Emanuel Feldman:
My brother did that and of course, he’s a very right wing guy and they weren’t sure they wanted to print it, but they did print it because it was not an attack on Steinsaltz, zichrono l’bracha, he was a great person, but it was a objective scholarly critique of major errors in the English translation, which we printed but it was over objections of many people who felt that we shouldn’t criticize Steinsaltz. So that was, I’m proud of having printed that and of our people for going along with it, because it was just a scholarly piece of work.

David Bashevkin:
That is absolutely fascinating. I just wanted to let you know that every year on Shabbos Chanukah, that falls out on Rosh Chodesh without a doubt, your article, I believe it was called… Is that the original, The Shul without a Clock?

Emanuel Feldman:
I think it’s the Shul Without a Clock. It’s God and Mrs. Cooperman.

David Bashevkin:
God and Mrs. Cooperman, and every year we remember Mrs. Cooperman, the woman who during davening would read all of the inserts from beginning to end before she-

Emanuel Feldman:
Every Shabbos she would do that, every Shabbos.

David Bashevkin:
Every Shabbos. And once a year, when it was Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh and Chanukah, she finally got it right, so to speak.

Emanuel Feldman:
Actually, once in three or four years, wasn’t every single year.

David Bashevkin:
Yeah, correct. Once in every three or four years, and to me, because my bubbie and my grandmother, both did not come from educated homes. My bubbie grew up in North Adams, Massachusetts, my grandmother was a rebbetzin in Portland, Maine, my grandfather was Moshe Bekritsky, from the first talmidim of Rav Dovid Leibowitz.

My grandmother couldn’t even read Hebrew, and she was a rebbetzin and this is in the 1940s, 1930s and whenever I read that story, I think of my own grandparents, particularly my grandmothers, my bubbie, and my grandma who didn’t have a strong education. I don’t know what they davened, if at all.

My grandmother had to pray in English, the rebbetzin, and my bubbie did know how to read Hebrew, but it’s a fascinating window in an Orthodoxy that we don’t really think about too much anymore, and almost doesn’t exist. The undereducated, but deeply committed Jew, and you provided such an eloquent and moving window into that world.

Emanuel Feldman:
Yes. Thank you. That’s one of my favorite pieces and I still get reactions to it, every time those three events coincide on Chanukah, and my own family, we have a special dinner in honor of Mrs. Cooperman.

David Bashevkin:
Mrs. Cooperman.

Emanuel Feldman:
I mean, just my wife and I and kids.

David Bashevkin:
Did you write that article when she was still alive? Did she know that she’s in the-

Emanuel Feldman:
No, she was gone by then. She was no longer alive. Not only I changed her name.

David Bashevkin:
Oh, it’s-

Emanuel Feldman:
To preserve her anonymity. I had some interesting reaction there, I was praising that woman.

David Bashevkin:
Yes.

Emanuel Feldman:
I was praising, but a very frum, not very frum, but very educated and observant, modern Orthodox professor from New England wrote me and said, why do I make fun of an old lady? So she, obviously I wrote her back. I said, “Read the whole thing, I’m not making fun of her, I’m praising her anyway.”

David Bashevkin:
It was very beautiful and thank God, you definitely seem to be able to respond to criticism and people who want to find it, will always reach out the fastest and the loudest. I’m curious about your influences, who are the writers that influenced you?

Emanuel Feldman:
I could not say that there was any one writer who influenced me, as I mentioned earlier, I was writing ever since I was a kid, I was always a voracious reader and read everything I could get my hands on. And I think a good writer has to read a whole lot, and somehow subtly, if he reads good writers, that’s going to seep into his bone somehow or other, but I didn’t find any, one particular writer who affected me.

I did have the good fortune when I was already about to get smicha, I was about 24, 25 years old. I was in Ner Yisroel and I had just got my Bachelors at Hopkins, to attend a graduate seminar at Hopkins, which they called a Master’s in writing program.

So I was admitted to that and we mostly, during the summer months and very intensively, we were introduced to some of the top writers in the country who used to come in and talk to us, in general about writing. You can’t teach writing, but you can get a sense for what is good and what is mediocre.

David Bashevkin:
Were there any famous authors who came to visit that writing seminar?

Emanuel Feldman:
Yeah, the famous author were the one who wrote Sophie’s Choice. What was his name? I forgot his name, anyway he is very, very famous.

David Bashevkin:
I’m going to embarrass myself because I just remember the movie and not the book, so I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of you.

Emanuel Feldman:
Whatever it is, William Styron, that’s his name. William Styron, S-T-Y-R-O-N.

David Bashevkin:
Uh-huh. And he came and what were the books that you were reading as a child, as a teenager? You couldn’t identify-

Emanuel Feldman:
Anything I could get my hands on. I used to go to a library in Baltimore always and come back with a stack of books and read there. Remember, these are the days before television and before the thumb driven computers.

David Bashevkin:
The iPhone, yeah. Thumb driven computers.

Emanuel Feldman:
Only distractions are yetzer haras and all we could do was read and I loved reading and that’s it, there weren’t any specific writers. I used to read Zane Gray, he was used to write westerns, but he was a good writer. Later on, I read guys like Sherwood Anderson, I read William Faulkner, I read Hemingway, I read… Good writers. And also I took courses, I was an English major in college and I took courses in some of the top writers, Shakespeare, so on and so forth.

So all of that has an influence, but I want to say I don’t consider myself a good writer, I’m still working at it. People think I’m a good writer, but that’s only relative to what go passes for writing today. I can write a sentence from beginning to end without tripping over it, but that, I don’t, I’m still working on becoming a good writer.

David Bashevkin:
What I really admire about your writing, is that it is versatile is that you can write in multiple voices and I don’t just mean the Imagined Symposium. I mean, being able to capture the narratives that you did in Tales Out of Shul, but still write a more scholarly comparison of the laws of mourning and the laws of joy, which was another article that had influence on me, I think was called, Uncommon Connections in Mourning, I forgot the exact title.

But I think the versatility, I think a lot of times now what bothers me about writers, is they only have one voice they can write in. They’re either, they write fiction novels or they write scholarship, very highfalutin. It’s rare to find someone who can write in multiple voices for multiple audiences and that’s what I personally appreciate the most.

Emanuel Feldman:
Thank you. I just wrote an article about baseball, which will appear in Mishpacha next week the commercial message. Next week, an article by me of baseball. I like baseball very much, and as a kid I used to pitch and the coach used to tell me, “Mix up your pitches. Don’t throw a curve each time, don’t throw a fastball each time, don’t throw a slow each time. Mix them up.” And that’s good advice for a writer.

Mix up your pitches. If you can’t, when a reader picks it up, he never has, he shouldn’t know what to expect. He should only expect something well done, something carefully thought out, but it shouldn’t be the same thing week in, week out.

David Bashevkin:
I love that analogy and I love your baseball writing. You have one article about watching a baseball game, where they cut out the kind of the warm-ups and the intermission, so it’s a condensed game and you lament how much you enjoy kind of the empty space in between, and I believe you have another article where you talk about going to a baseball game and maybe even catching a pitch and get, or imagining catching a pitch and imagining how your brother and congregants would react.

Emanuel Feldman:
Yeah. It wasn’t just the baseball game David, it was a World Series game, let’s get that straight.

David Bashevkin:
Yeah.

Emanuel Feldman:
You’re right. That was another very well known article, which I loved very much that is, I went to a World Series game, was one of the rare times that Atlanta was in a World Series. I didn’t want to go, but the balebos had third base, third base tickets, third base line and he was a nice guy and he was a big contributor and this and that so I went. Okay.

And it, there was a high fly ball, foul ball that was hit and it’s way, way up high and it was coming down towards me and I jumped up and grabbed it, caught it with one hands. So anyway, I wrote about that, I was a hero of the grandstand at that point, but I wrote about it, but then my daughter who lives, who lived then and still lives in here in Yerushalayim, heard about it because it was picked up by television and everybody heard about it and she calls me. She says, “Abba, were you at a baseball game last night?” Again, I said to her, “It wasn’t just a baseball game, it was a World Series.”

Anyway, when I got back to Yerushalayim, this happened in Atlanta, when I got back to Yerushalayim, I was really scared to walk into the Gra Shul here in, before HaPisga and Bayit VeGan where I daven every Shabbos, because they knew me very well. They knew my father, alav hashalom, they knew my brothers zei gezunt, Rav Aharon, and here I’m coming in and I know what they think of sports here. And that’s what wrote about, I don’t want to elaborate on it too but that was the story.

David Bashevkin:
It was very, very charming story. I’m curious and again, you don’t have to answer this, I have read both of your writings, you, and my rosh yeshiva when I was in Ner Yisroel your brother Shlita, who is still the rosh yeshiva, and I’m curious, you have very different styles in the way that you write and communicate on issues.

I’m curious if you each critique one another, or you just kind of have separate paths and live and let live, or do you kind of bounce ideas and critique one another’s approaches and styles?

Emanuel Feldman:
Once in a while we would critique, but most of the time we do not. Once in a while, I ask his opinion about something and he asks me occasionally opinion about something, but basically we’re independent voices. We’re very close even though we’re brothers, we’re very close.

David Bashevkin:
I have a brother, I understand that.

Emanuel Feldman:
Yeah. But, and we have different approaches to things, but we are separate individual creatures.

David Bashevkin:
I really appreciate your approach to everything. If you could point to three English books that shaped you as a person, and again it’s an easy escape, we’re going to take for granted that the Torah and the classics of the Gemara, those obviously are the works that shape us, as Jews and as human beings. But if you could point to three English books that shaped you, what would they be?

Emanuel Feldman:
I’m sorry to disappoint you. I cannot point to three English books that shaped me, I think there were dozens and dozens and dozens of books that shaped me, subtly, unconsciously, but I cannot point to any particular one, two or three English books that shaped me.

David Bashevkin:
Is there even a specific passage in a book, that still stays with you that you can almost quote it verbatim? It’s such a part of a fiber of who you are.

Emanuel Feldman:
The passage that stays with me was written by a critic in the New York Times, who was reviewing a book by Cynthia Ozick, who was a very, very fine Jewish writer. He said that Mrs. Ozick never writes a cliche or a platitude or an empty phrase. That’s very important for a writer to realize.

I always look over any article I write. I go over and over and over again, make sure A, that every word is precise and there’s not a better word that I could use. And secondly, there’s not a cliche, and secondly, that it’s not just a platitude and that it moves the story along, it’s not just something that I’m filling in space with.

There’s that one line by this critic, which hit me more than anything else, which I just said, “The cliche platitudes and making sure that everything is precise.”

David Bashevkin:
I cannot thank you enough. It really, for me, it is a personal privilege to be able to speak a little bit about writing and your incredibly prolific career. I always close my interviews with more rapid fire questions.

If someone… And you’ve been dodging this, so I’m going to try one more time. If someone wanted to read a book or an article to learn the craft of writing, what would you recommend?

Emanuel Feldman:
First of all, I don’t think you could learn the craft of writing, A. B, one of the fine books I read over the years, was by Francine Prose, P-R-O-S-E, which is a great name for a writer.

David Bashevkin:
That’s a great last name. Yes.

Emanuel Feldman:
She’s very, very, very good. And she has a book called Reading Like a Writer, and she has excerpts from books, but mostly the fiction books and she analyzes what the writer’s mind is going through and that’s very, very, very, very important for me when I read it.

David Bashevkin:
That is fantastic, any other recommendations?

Emanuel Feldman:
No. The other recommendations is take your spare time and learn as much Torah as you can, the commercial message from God.

David Bashevkin:
Yeah.

Emanuel Feldman:
Okay.

David Bashevkin:
Yes. Yes. Without a doubt, if you could take, if somebody gave you a great deal of money, this is always a strange question to ask somebody who has been retired for so many decades, but bear with me, and allowed you to take a sabbatical and go back to school with no responsibilities whatsoever to write a PhD. What would the subject and title of their dissertation be?

Emanuel Feldman:
That’s a very good question. Again, first of all, I wrote a PhD already, so I don’t have to write another one.

David Bashevkin:
What was your PhD on? It was PhD in English?

Emanuel Feldman:
PhD was on concepts of tumah and tahara, of ritual defilement in Jewish law and ritual cleansing in Jewish law. Tamei and tahor that was my dissertation, so I was really basically I was learning while I was doing the dissertation.

David Bashevkin:
You did that at Hopkins?

Emanuel Feldman:
I did that at Emory University.

David Bashevkin:
At Emory. Yes. Yes.

Emanuel Feldman:
I did my Master’s at Hopkins and I did a doctorate at Emory.

David Bashevkin:
Is there a topic? Let me almost rephrase it, because you already were yotzei, you have fulfilled your obligation in writing a PhD. Is there a topic within the Orthodox community, particularly you had a platform you still do, but it’s not of your own making as you mentioned, but if you had your own platform with, as the longest word count of your own choice, is there an issue that you wish you, or others would speak about more in the community?

Emanuel Feldman:
Yeah. I think my platform would deal with the inwardness of the Orthodox community and their lack of concern with what they represent. Let me put it this way, I think every Orthodox Jew represents God, so to speak. He represents a HaKadosh Baruch Hu, people look at an Orthodox Jew as being a representative of the Torah.

So the Orthodox you has to behave in a different way, in a better way than an ordinary person. He has to be a mensch, he has to be… What’s the expression cleaner than Caesar’s wife? Cleaner than a hound’s tooth? I forgot the expression.

And he has to be concerned more about the non-Orthodox Jews around him because he is a living example, and a representative for good or for ill of what Torah is. And if he is not concerned about the people around him, if he just makes Shabbos v’zich, and his only concern is to go to shteibel and finish early and go home and have his cholent and take a nap, then yiddishkeit is not going to not going to flourish. It will flourish when people look outward at the non-Orthodox and reach out to them and try to bring them close.

David Bashevkin:
Do you think that the state of Orthodoxy has improved or deteriorated since your years in the pulpit?

Emanuel Feldman:
Well, certainly since when I started out in 1952, at 70 years ago, that was, there was no Orthodoxy to speak of except in the major cities, New York, Baltimore that type of thing. So it definitely has improved, it has spread, it has become much more acceptable in the world around it and much more influential. So it definitely, it really been triumphant because it was down for the count and it’s like a resurrection, it’s come up.

I think we still have a long way to go, but it materially it is grown tremendously. Its institutions, its schools, its yeshivas and kollelim, it’s amazing what it has accomplished. I still think we have a long way to go and we should not rest in our laurels. We should not say, “Wow, what a great job we’ve done. We got it.” We have much more to do to bring power to the masses of Jews everywhere.

David Bashevkin:
My final question, I’m always curious about people’s daily schedules. What time do you go to sleep at night? And what time do you wake up in the morning?

Emanuel Feldman:
Also, I want to ask you a question. How many final questions do you have?

David Bashevkin:
This is actual last one.

Emanuel Feldman:
What time do I go to sleep at night? Let’s put it the other way around, what time do I wake up? I wake up between five and 5:30 AM, as a result, I go to sleep about 9, 9:30, so I try to get eight hours. At my age I need to have eight hours, so that’s basically it. I go to bed relatively early, but those that kid me about it, I say, “Fine, I’ll call you at 5:00 AM and see where you are.”

David Bashevkin:
I cannot thank you enough for your time and wisdom and for all of the inspiration thought provoking ideas that you’ve shared over the years and really, on a very personal level I feel like I am meeting a rebbe, a mentor, someone who has guided me over the years and really shaped the way that I approach and think about ideas.

You have a deep pitching repertoire, and you really always have kept them guessing, and as a model for sharing Jewish ideas, you have inspired so many particularly myself, so thank you so, so much for your time today.

Emanuel Feldman:
It’s a pleasure by the way, I’m a fan of your writings as well. I’ve read it over the years, you do a very, very good job. Thank you very much.

David Bashevkin:
My absolute pleasure, thank you again so much and I’ll let you know when this drop so we’ll be b’kesher.

Emanuel Feldman:
Very good.

David Bashevkin:
More often than many people would think I get questions from friends, from listeners, from acquaintances about writing a book. I am not, I wouldn’t call myself a prolific writer, I’m not a, my books don’t sell certainly as well as they would in my dreams, but I’ve published… What I think I’ve done well, is that I’ve published in many different outlets.

I’ve published in kind of more yeshiva oriented outlets like Mishpacha Magazine. I published now in Tablet Magazine, my series on the themes of every tractate in Daf Yomi. I’ve published a little bit more in an academic voice my book Sin-a-gogue, more of the friendly, humorous voice like a Mishpacha Magazine, I’ve published in newspapers op-eds and I do think I have a versatility in the different voices and a lot of that was inspired to me by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman.

Now, when people ask me to, I want to write a book, I want to share ideas, which is one of the great joys and privileges of my life to be quite frank is to have this opportunity, to have platforms, to share ideas. What greater joy on earth can there be?

The question that I always pose to them is when you close your eyes, so to speak, what ideas do you want to be associated with? What do you want? You need to develop a voice where people can almost instinctively associate you with certain issues, ideas, and a way of speaking.

I think the real greats, whether in writing and whether or not you agree with them or not, just people who really develop a relationship with an audience, find a way of merging both a tone and a topic, that you can almost predict without seeing their name on the page. I know who probably wrote this. I think Rabbi Sacks is a great example of this. You don’t have to see his name at the top of the page, you know both his style and the types of questions that he deals with.

I have a friend in Lakewood named Rabbi Eli Steinberg, who sometimes actually plays this game with me. He will very often text me or direct message me on Twitter with just a passage from a Hebrew commentary, whether it’s on chumash or Talmud, and he would say, “Guess who? Who do you think wrote this? Who do you think came up with this?” And I think it’s such an instructive way to think about our own writing and the way we build a relationship with our audience.

You have to find a way both in your tone and style, the rhythm of your writing, the how you say it, and also what you talk about and what you say. And I think the people who do this best and the models, and that’s why I found Rabbi Emanuel Feldman so intriguing and so instructive is that he really found a way to do this.

And what I find so beautiful about his example is, and I think, what in many ways he perpetuates, is kind of a Judaism that almost has ceased to exist. It’s like untouched by the… It’s like a Judaism that was put in a time capsule in the ’70s and ’80s, that was untouched and uncorrupted by… What in my opinion is a lot of the narishkeit, a lot of the pop culture that seeped into Judaism in the last 30 years.

There is kind of a very open, very traditional, very strong, very confident, but also very accessible Judaism that Emanuel Feldman represented in my mind, it’s the Judaism in many ways of Rav Herman Wouk who passed away, Lord helped me if I pronounced his last name, Herman Woke, Wouk, Woke, I’m going to get letters, that was no good, that was no good, but leave it in anyways don’t edit that out, let them see me struggle.

But I think that finding a way and sharing ideas, is not just about what we write about, but finding the perfect match of how we share those ideas. And I obviously don’t always get it right, sometimes I speak about a topic that I shouldn’t be talking about, sometimes I’m talking about a topic that I should be talking about, but not in the right way, and finding that perfect match of how to do it. I think is really an art that when you see people who have built relationships with their readers, with their audiences, they are doing it like no one else.

And that is so much of the magic that exists inside of books, of being not just introduced to new ideas, but building relationships with thinkers, with worlds, with environments, that you don’t otherwise have access to. And I hope that you appreciate and builds your own relationship, not just with topics with that mishkababel that exists on the source sheet or in the back of the Talmud, but with specific ideas, with specific thinkers, with specific peoples, build that relationship because more than anything else, it will help you refine your own ideas, your own thought process, and the way you share ideas and God willing, write and share your own books, your own thoughts and your own articles.

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