In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, you, our listeners, feature as our guests as we listen to your responses to our series on Romance & Commitment and the Origins of Judaism.
It is our double-absolute privilege to hear how 18Forty’s explorations of the big, juicy Jewish ideas have interacted with your own lives. In this episode we discuss:
Tune in as we check in on the 18Forty audience and hear the thoughts that have been most pressing on your minds. Please do leave us your own voicemail with feedback or questions that we may plan on a future episode, at 917-720-5629.
Voicemails begin at 4:40.
The Shame Borne in Silence: Spouse Abuse in the Jewish Community by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
Pri Tzadik by Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
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 are finally listening to our feedback from all of our listeners, both emails and voicemails. So buckle up. This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big juicy Jewish ideas. So be sure to check out 18forty.org. That’s 1-8-F-O-R-T-Y.org, where you can also find videos, articles, recommended readings, and weekly emails. This episode, while we don’t really feature a special guest, I welcome all of you on to be as guests, and I hope that invitation really extends to every one of our listeners to reach out, leave a voicemail, send in an email.
I get really emotional when we prepare these episodes. I’ve gotten emotional, maybe a handful of time when I’m listening to guests, but I get really emotional reading the emails, listening to voicemails. To me, it kind of evokes this moment that I sometimes experience during davening. Sometimes I’ll daven, and I don’t have the longest Amidah the longest Shemoneh Esreh, so I’ll sometimes finish before other people. And in most shuls, you’re in this quiet room and you look around and you’re not gazing, you’re not gawking, but you’re looking around and you’re seeing everybody else davening. And to me, those moments of watching everybody else daven in a hush shul, is itself a form of davening. It’s a reminder that we’re all really praying for something. We’re all grappling with something, we’re all hoping for something.
And I think it’s episodes like this where we sit together in a hushed… It’s not a shul, it’s a podcast, we’re listening together, but we are overhearing other people’s prayers, in the realest sense of the word, people who are grappling with things in their lives, people who are frustrated, people who are looking for some pathway towards personal realization. And to me, it’s the quote that I come back to over and over again from Irvin Yalom, in Love’s Executioner, in that introduction. Don’t forget, I’m not recommending the entire book, just that introduction, where it says, “Even though you’re alone in your boat, it’s always comforting to see the lights of the other boats bobbing nearby.” And it’s episodes like this where we get to peer in, look around in the shul, see other people davening, see other people bobbing nearby, see the dim lights of those boats, and see what others are grappling with.
And I really want to welcome everybody to reach out. I really do my very best to respond to everyone. I’m not perfect, that shouldn’t come as any surprise, but I do my very best because a parent called me recently and asked me to help with some matter related to their family. And they said, “I know you’re so busy with 18Forty. I’m so sorry to…” And I cut them off. This is 18Forty, the helping people in real time in real world, this is 18Forty. This is why this was created. This is why we’re doing the work that we do. And if by dealing with something in an episode sends up a flare into the sky, so other people know that there’s another boat that is grappling with this issue to come nearby, let’s help one another, that’s everything that we try to accomplish and everything that we try to do. So we’re going to dive right in.
You should know there are many voicemails, there are many emails that we don’t talk about. When you send something to me, you don’t have to be worried that I’m going to read it on air. I assure you, when I speak to my wife, when I talk to my friends, it’s not like, “Oh, this is going to be fantastic on 18Forty.” When you email us, you can sometimes let us know, I usually almost always ask before I do read, I rarely read people’s names. They don’t want to be identified, I understand that. But there are a lot that I don’t read altogether simply because they’re too personal, they’re too honest, and people ask us not to share, or they’re simply overcome with emotion. So if you sent in something hoping that it would be read and maybe I didn’t, keep in mind, it could be just because I thought this was so private and so real that it wasn’t necessarily appropriate to be shared. But you can always give me a note and say, “Yeah, I’m comfortable with this being read. I’m uncomfortable with this being read.” But I’ll almost always ask.
But the fact that we are welcomed into people’s lives, it really is the privilege of a lifetime. It is rare to be welcomed into the inner recesses of people’s lives. And the fact that we get to do so together is incredibly special. So those emails are really, really my favorite except for, of course, the hate mail. The hate mail has increasingly become my favorite part of these episodes. So I’m going to really ask all the haters, reach out, keep sending in corrections, keep sending in pronunciation mistakes. We hear you, we see you and we love you. So I’m going to dive right in and let’s begin with some of the responses. And I don’t think there’s been a topic where we have gotten more responses than our series on dating, romance, commitment. And I want to start with some critical feedback, which I think is really, really important. Listen to this.
Hi David. Is it okay if I call you David? I’m not a friend or someone you would see across the street, get a nod or a salute, but you are a guest in our home and now in my parents’ home and now in my children’s home. And I’ve been following your latest episodes on romance and commitment. And I feel like perhaps, I’m sure you’re not meaning to, sending a bit of an unfair message. Particularly with the last episode in which you’ve featured a girl named Devorah who met her spouse on JSwipe. And you made a comment that when she said that she met her husband, and you asked the question, “Does he wear a kippah?” And she said, “No.” And I think also before she had said that she had brought some other guy who was a little bit more religious into her home to meet her parents and just was so uncomfortable. But when she brought this guy who didn’t wear a kippah, it was very uncomfortable.
And afterwards you said, “Well, I bet you thought, ‘Wow, better that at least I have a guy who’s comfortable with my family and maybe a little not exactly what I was looking for, as opposed to a more observant guy who wouldn’t have felt so comfortable in my parents’ home.’” And I feel like you’re sending the message that you can’t have both, but you can have both. Even as an older single, you can have standards and you can have someone who is going to be comfortable in your parents’ home and also wears the kippah, that is possible. And I also feel like that you have brought examples where people, particularly women by the way, not any male examples, of women who have it changed their standard of halakhic observance, whether after or during the process.
Changed it, I’m not saying in a way that was less than, but changed it in a way that was on a spectrum not as observant or I dare say halakhic. But not as, I don’t know what the word would be, where they went a little bit to the left. But you haven’t brought an example of where someone met someone and they had to go a little bit to the right, so it leads me to believe that, and the message that you might be sending to people is that, “Listen, you’re going to have to sacrifice. You’re going to have to lower your standards because as an older single, you cannot get the guy on the standard that you want, and also he be someone who will fit in with your family and overall be what you’re looking for.” So just to let you know, love your podcast and wish you much, much hatzlacha. All the best.
I think this is an incredibly important point, but I don’t know who sent in this voicemail, but I do hope there is a time where we are able to nod to one another. And I wanted to talk for a brief few moments about this piece of feedback, which I think is incredibly important. And number one, the listener happens to be conflating two different stories. There was one story that we mentioned from someone on JSwipe, and then there was another incident that I mentioned of a couple that I was speaking with, where the woman in the relationship was frustrated by some of the maybe religious specifics of the boy, very, very, very specific. But everything else emotionally was absolutely wonderful. And I basically gave her a thought experiment to imagine the reverse, where the religious specifics, and when I say specifics, I mean really, really specific, choosing between two high schools, both of which are great for their future children. I mean really, really specific.
And the thought experiment that I thought was instructive was to think about, well imagine where religiously you are totally 100% aligned, but the emotional feeling is a little bit off. So these were really two separate conversations, I don’t blame the listener for kind of co-mingling. But I think she does raise a certain point. I was sensitive to the fact that a lot of the examples are coming from particularly women who are becoming less religious in order to find relationships. And I guess I was kind of nervous, there are certainly examples of people who became more religious. We’re using those terms colloquially, I’m not here to judge one’s religiosity, but their outward expressions of their religiosity would normally be described as they’re getting more religious, whatever that means. And I think the reason why I gave these examples is what we discussed on the episode with Channah Cohen.
And that is the very real reality that is born out in research that men erode religiously quicker in their single years than women. So very often what is narrowing the dating pool for women, though they don’t have to, but it really is something that’s a very real phenomenon that is worth speaking about and worth knowing, that for some it would expand the amount of people who are relevant to them if women considered men who were from a broader religious background, broader religious practice. Now, I could not emphasize this enough, that does not mean that you just erase any boundaries or any aspirations in your life. Absolutely not. It doesn’t mean that you have to do this, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t also, so to speak, become even more religious and find people who are within that category.
I’m not necessarily telling people what to do. I think I’m responding to a very real phenomenon that I’ve seen people really struggle and grapple with and really burn some people out, where I know people, and I’m thinking of very specific people, I’ll be honest with you, who were unwilling to make any compromises for a very, very long time. And this is a woman, and the men were very quickly eroding. I think these are very gendered phenomenon. I think it has to do with also their ability to return to the community. I think in some ways in our community it is easier for men to return once they’ve gotten married and maybe made some religious changes to snap right back to where they once were and harder for women. I’m not praising that phenomenon, I’m being descriptive, not prescriptive. And that I think makes it easier for guys to take their foot off the gas when it comes to their religious commitments.
Because like, “Okay, once I get my life together so to speak, then I will reenter and everything will be fine once again.” And very often we allow that to be true. And I think there are gender lines in this which women, rightfully so, feel, “I need to hold onto this because if I don’t, there’s no coming back.” And I know women who were very careful not to make any compromises years after years after years until the point where I think they let go of all boundaries, really reimagining the entirety of their religious principles. So on the one hand, I very much recognize that our examples skewed in one direction. It probably would’ve been more helpful if we had more examples, and we really tried our very best to have people responding to this, people who were willing to speak on air.
And I also want to emphasize the fact that you don’t need to change, you don’t need to settle. You don’t need to change what you are willing to commit to. But there is a real phenomenon where there are gender differences in how quickly each respective gender erodes their religious practice, their religious commitment or whatever it is. This is what we spoke about with Channah Cohen, and surfacing that could be helpful to many. Though I don’t want to give the wrong impression that 18Forty is this cheerleader on the sidelines screaming, with pompoms, “Become less frum, become less frum.” We’re not looking to do that. We’re looking to just give people the tools and the framework to make the best, healthiest decisions for themselves in their own life. But I do think this was such an important point.
The next piece of feedback we got was actually an email. And this is an email that I want to read from Lauren G, and she wrote as follows, “I am an avid listener of 18Forty. I wait every week to hear what particular path of excavation you and your guests will take on the exploration of Jewish topics. And I always feel enriched by the insights you’re able to bring in with your pointed questions and fascinating guests.” That means a lot to me. Thank you. “I have written before about how much I appreciate everything you do for Jewish education, so I feel comfortable writing about something this week which really struck a nerve and disappointed me.” I just want to pause. I think this is such a real phenomenon and so many people make this mistake online where it really does matter if every time you reach out to somebody it is with negativity, it really changes the way that you perceive the negative feedback. I wish we were kind of like robots and just judged our criticism based on the merits.
I’ve shared this before online, there’s this notion, particularly within marriages, of a four to one ratio. There are different ratios, but this four to one ratio, that’s the one that I heard where you should always keep a ratio of four positive interactions to every one negative interaction. This is something you should do with your spouses and with your children. And call me crazy, I think you should do this with even people online, even on Facebook, on Twitter, even when you’re maybe writing into podcasts. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to write me four really nice emails just to give me critical feedback. But there are people who I only hear negative things from. I’m not talking about Mel Barenholtz, I assure you. I love him, I know him.
But there are people who they’re always looking to nitpick and they’ve never seen anything positive that we’ve done. And it does make you question, even if they may be right and even if that shouldn’t necessarily be factored in when evaluating the substance of the criticism, but it is something that makes me wonder. But this is the feedback that she gave and I do think that it’s excellent and worth reading. “In the most recent podcast about dating, you interviewed a whole spectrum of different people from different communities who talked about how they facilitate the dating and marriage process. And throughout the episode I kept wondering to myself where I in my community would fit in the spectrum. I listened for the full two plus hours and by the end, the only way I could describe the experience for me was a severe sense of being completely unseen, the most unseen I have felt perhaps since I was a teenager.
“The reason for this is that I am of Sephardic Syrian heritage and I live in the Syrian community and I am raising my children in the Syrian community. Throughout the interviews, I was challenging myself to really consider whether there would be a person to look specifically at a Sephardic community when it came to this topic because in truth, the Sephardic community does have its own yeshivish niche which dates in a way, and perhaps a more Modern Orthodox niche, which dates in a somewhat similar way to YUConnects. But in the end I felt that really wasn’t enough. There was a real omission of a significant part of the Jewish community and even when you interviewed your last guest about dating on JSwipe and meeting someone Masorti and Israeli, it just seemed so absurd that there was no mention of the guest husband’s background, which I can imagine is Sephardic.” She’s right, “With the last name Agami, which means Persian in Arabic.” I did not know that, great fact. And Lior, I now know the meaning of your last name.
“Perhaps it is completely not true, or the guest did not want to talk about that particular aspect of her experience. But when you said that the concept of Masorti only exists in Israel, I was really taken aback because it’s probably the best designation for most Sephardic people in the US as well. All this is not to complain that you didn’t mention Sephardic people on the podcast, but to point out that when you set up a spectrum of dating systems from Hasidish to JSwipe, I think you missed a very real at important system of dating, which is exemplified by the Syrian community, but I imagine it exists in modern Orthodox communities as well or perhaps in the past. Each time you mentioned what you consider to be the opposite of structured dating, which you were exploring on the podcast, you would give the image of meeting in bars, which seems so far from anyone in any Jewish community.
“I don’t know anyone who goes to bars to find dates, but there is a system of semi-structured dating, which is somewhere in between shidduchim and Jswipe or meeting at a bar, and that is the community organized singles event whose express purposes to bring singles together of the same community and value system and allow them to interact naturally and socially, but with the obvious undercurrent of meeting for serious dating and marriage. The Syrian community plans those types of events all the time. There are Torah or current issues lectures that are arranged by community organizers, particularly for single people. The express purpose of those events, ask the donors,” exclamation point, “Is to bring like-minded singles together to mingle and meet potential dates. Community organizations also facilitate single trips, chessed missions and the like. There are no resumes and no one is matching you up per se, but an environment conducive to meeting an appropriate partner is created by the leaders of the community to help guide young adults who probably would never use JSwipe or go to a random bar to find a marriage partner.
“Perhaps one of the reasons this type of thing is not done outside the Syrian community is because of the religious considerations when it comes to mixed gendered events. Certainly the community used to hold events like dances, which are no longer done for halakhic reasons.” Rats, those were good times though. Early American Orthodoxy, but that’s for a different thing. I’m going to continue with the email now, but shout-out to the old school Jewish dances. “And maybe other communities feel any mixed gender event is tricky to pull off. But that is precisely why it is worth taking a look at the way it’s done in the Syrian community. Marriage is one of the most valued institutions of the community and it is not left up to chance. Of course, there is so much more to say about that and unpack it, but I don’t want to take any more of your time if you’ve gotten this far.” And I certainly have. “Thank you for hearing me out and I hope you don’t misread this as an angry email.” I certainly did not.
“I am still a big fan and I was just hoping to provide a perspective that wasn’t brought up on the podcast, because I think it can be as instructive as any of the other perspectives you explored. Thank you again for everything you do and for reading this email.” She’s absolutely right. We were not able to cover, and this was a major, major gap in our discussion of dating practices. I don’t know how I missed this. I think she probably felt particularly hurt because the Syrian community has done such incredible work in this and I just kind of jumped right over it with my Ashkenazic centric experience and background, and I really do apologize for that. We did get a lot of feedback from people about different segments in the Jewish community that we missed and I tried to do as good a job as possible. I clearly wasn’t able to discuss everything sometimes because I wasn’t thinking of it and that was the case over here. Really no excuses.
I didn’t have this chart of all the dating spectrum and then pull off the Syrian community. I don’t know if that makes it better, it likely makes it even worse. I was not thinking about this mode of dating and it is such an important part of dating, the informal dating events, many of which I participated in. But I think they’re done and organized in a much more particular way within the Syrian community. And highlighting that I think is a benefit to everybody about how our community could potentially operate. So I really do thank Lauren for writing this in. It was an unusually excellently written email, flowed so perfectly, which you rarely see. The longer the email, usually the writing breaks down by the second paragraph. But that was a pleasure to read because it was so well written and so well reasoned. Thank you so much for reaching out and it is a privilege to highlight that point. I think it’s a really, really important point.
There was another demographic that people felt was absent in the podcast and that is the subject of our next email that I’m going to read, and that demographic are ba’alei teshuvah, people who come to the Orthodox community later in life. And this is what the email read. “Hi David. Thank you for all your podcasts. I hope you are well. I wanted to share some thoughts with you. I found these dating podcasts very therapeutic. I was single for many years and I’ve been married, thank God, for several years. I became frum during college and the shidduch system was one of the many things that attracted me to Yiddishkeit. I was brought into the shidduch system because I saw the importance of focusing on more than looks, in particular on shared values. However, my experience in practice was very different to what I thought it was going to be.”
And then there are several points. I’m not going to read the entire email, this is a long email, it’s a good email, but I want to pull out a few lines that I think are exceptionally important. A major issue that he addresses here is the socioeconomic expectations that have absolutely blanketed the dating world. This is what he writes, “Alternatively, the notion that there aren’t a lot of good guys means there aren’t a lot of guys who are fulfilling social expectations while simultaneously being in the top 5% of income earners. This may be true, but again, has little to do with what it means to be a Torah Jew.” This is something that we did mention in passing and I am acutely aware of, and something that really needs to be highlighted, particularly in the contemporary Orthodox community in the tri-state area. I think this has gotten really somewhat out of hand, the role, the angst, the anxiety of how am I going to make a living? How am I going to be able to support the lifestyle that I grew up with?
And that really filters into relationships. People want to know that I can only go out with somebody who almost gives me this guarantee of a certain level of earning. And I think that that puts an added pressure on relationships that, whether in the dating process or in the actual marriage, can cause relationships to absolutely collapse. The way to solve this in my mind is not necessarily to change dating, but we need to talk about financial education and we need to talk about financial expectations in our community and we need to find healthy alternative models that the material expectations that we have in our community don’t crush the next generation who are looking to build their lives.
And he continues, “This emphasis on money created a society where more money was needed to survive. This is because more money earned by people, men and women, is chasing a limited housing stock.” Which he mentions the analogies from his degree in economics, where you have a lot of people who are all chasing this kind of limited lifestyle that they were brought up with and want to continue with. “This has changed the ability of the majority of men to be a single earner that can take care of his family. This is the root of the shidduch crisis, as it confuses everyone about what Jewish marital financial arrangements should be and can potentially be in 2022. It ends up that the wealthy are able to offer a more traditional marriage and relationship while the middle incomes are in a confused state, balancing the economics with the traditional view of dating, marriage and relationships.”
That is a very, very real phenomenon and I am so glad that he shared it. And coming, I think specifically from the perspective of a baal teshuvah, to see your jaw drop and say, “This is what you’re concerned with, this is what the community is about?” Is something that is so painful to hear. And I think anyone, no matter whether you were raised within this community or you came to it later in life, we should all pause and say, “What does it feel like to step into this community?” And to remind ourselves that some of these expectations, some of the way that this has filtered into our community is patently absurd. And taking a step out and being able to reengage about what we want our community to look like is a rare perspective that we need to pay very close attention to, particularly when it’s coming from people who were not raised within this community.
And then he mentioned something specifically about dating within the baal teshuvah world, a world that I was not dating in, but I think this is really important to read. He says, “There is an issue of naivete. My experience was compounded by the fact that I was in the baal teshuvah yeshiva world. I noticed in the baal teshuvah world a naivete of trust in the shidduch process, with a blind trust in shadchanim. And I gained almost a feeling that many rabbis are somehow colorblind to the process of dating in shadchanim. Like it was almost a black box that couldn’t be questioned or understood, and therefore given over to shadchanim as emotional authorities who could better process shidduchim. I feel a level of critique towards the rabbeim in yeshiva who taught us a lot of Torah, but did very little to help single men in their yeshivas actually practically get married. And we were left on our own to navigate the extremely focused world of shadchanim. We didn’t have parents to help us. It was quite a struggle for all of us, with a real feeling of not being gotten throughout the process.”
That is obviously heartbreaking. It’s an interesting piece of feedback. I think a lot of people sometimes want less rabbinic entanglement in their dating lives. But you don’t always think of the perspective of somebody whose parents don’t really know about this world, and to be handed off to shadchanim to find your way, in order to build a relationship within the Orthodox world when your parents and your family don’t themselves come from that world, can be extremely isolating and alienating. And having parental figures who stay with you throughout the process instead of shuttling you off to shadchanim, and whether or not that’s true, that’s certainly this person’s experience, I think is something that’s extraordinarily important.
And finally, there’s a mention, and we’ve spoken about this, but this is something very real and worth hearing. He writes about the pain of dating where there’s such an emphasis on the externalization of people. “In yeshiva,” he writes, “We learned a lot about real growth and it was encouraged to focus on what our avodat Hashem, our service of God, was internally. However, the shidduch world is not interested in that. I found that the most important things to shadchanim and/or the shidduch prospects were a perception of money, family yichus, and an external look of religiosity. This externality was everything I have wanted to leave when becoming religious, in particular, the focus of money. On ancestry.com, I could trace my family line directly back to an important line of rabbis. Later on my dating journey in my community, I was in America, I found that yichus means something very different, meaning that you have an important lineage. It’s not the answer to this question, are you from a known family? And if not, do you happen to be from a very wealthy family?”
Where yichus, which traditionally means that you descend from prominent rabbis, he’s saying that in the dating world, no, do you come from a known family? Are you a known entity within the community? And if not, do you happen to be a very wealthy family? This is a condemnation in many ways on our community. It’s one that I think that is worth airing, particularly coming from somebody who was not raised within the community but lives within the community now, gives us that opportunity to step out and gain that perspective. I really thank you, this letter writing, as painful as some of the feedback may be, I think it’s all the more important. So I’m going to read another email. Again, this is very real. It’s not directly targeted with a direct piece of feedback, but just talks about something that we mentioned.
“Good morning, I hope well as well. I’m not one of those people that write in response to something I hear or read, but this time I feel I must. I’m a regular listener to 18Forty and listen to many, many other podcasts as well.” And just to be clear, we encourage other podcasts. There’s no cheating when it comes to podcasts. I listen to other podcasts as well too. But it continues, “I do not say this lightly. I was literally shaking when I heard this podcast. In my whole life, I do not recall a time I have felt so heard, so seen, so understood. Allow me to explain. I’m a 26 year old single woman approaching 27. In my circles, that puts me in a worrisome older single. I live far from my family, alone. I have a great job, but feel I’m undermined because I am not merited to have a sheitel on my head. Those younger than me are more credible by virtue of their marital status. But what was more jarring to me was the point you made about wanting to bring-“
But what was more jarring to me was the point you made about wanting to bring naches, which means joy. Yiddishe naches, not being the cause of worry anymore. Wow. Just a week earlier I was visiting my parents at home. She has this, in quotation marks, “And for the first time something felt off. I feel too old to be home, and how can I call a basement apartment where I live alone home? I cannot put it into words, but I feel felt, I no longer have a real place where I belong. I so strongly relate to the desire of being ready for the next nissuin. I couldn’t put words to it, but wow. I would love, should you be comfortable sharing, the full text of that journal you wrote because I need to study it, to cry over it, to hold it in my heart and remind me I am not alone.
Being single is so lonely, it’s not something that others can understand. The struggle of making shabbos plans like a seminary girl is embarrassing, yet having spent full shabbosim alone, I would never want to do that either. I cannot find a host for a meal. I cry myself through the meal wondering how is this what HaShem wants for me? How can it be that I hate shabbos? I dread it. I have nowhere to call home. I feel burdensome on my parents. But shouldn’t home be safe? I recently told a friend that it was hard to remain a solid Bais Yaakov girl as the years go on. When I left seminary, I would not entertain the idea of watching a movie or TV. Now I fall asleep to cooking shows. She told me to stop giving in, that I should be productive. I am productive from 05:30 AM to 08:30 PM. I get back from work at 04:45. What can I do to be more productive for so many hours? My friends are married with kids. I wish I had the opportunity for socializing, but socializing involves others. We tend to be busy. So now I feel judged, but it’s hard. Thank you so much for putting the words in my heart out to the world. Thank you for seeing me.”
I have no idea how this is being edited, but I had a really hard time getting through that email. I had a really hard time getting through that email. I would apologize, but I think that’s the point of that email, that the pain, the isolation, that loneliness, which is so, so hard to talk about and the way that this person put it into words, I’m like embarrassed. It is surfacing emotions in me in particular, you could probably hear it. Again, I don’t know how this is being edited, so you might be just wondering why my voice is slowing at this point. That was a really hard email.
That was a really hard email for me to read. And I think it’s really two reasons. And really, one’s only relevant, but I’m going to surface both because I feel kind of vulnerable. But first and foremost is my own kind of wounds, my own experience from this process, that sense of wanting a new nissuin, of feeling stuck and by yourself is so incredibly painful, so incredibly emotionally evocative for me to listen to because there’s a part of me that’s still there. There’s a part of me that still may be healing. I’m so blessed, thank God. But to hear somebody else’s pain like that, for me, it just brought in a surface of emotion that I haven’t felt in a long time, I haven’t quite gotten that emotional in a really long time.
And the human condition, we sometimes don’t pay attention to what is kind of beneath the surface. And this series was hard for me to produce and hard for me to talk about, but reading that email is a reminder of just everything that I went through. But I think more importantly, everything that we went through, because I think the second reason why it made me so emotional, I had trouble getting through and reading that email, is because I think reading that on 18Forty for me brought to surface of how lonely I feel here, how lonely I feel on 18Forty. I don’t know. To make this about me might be the wrong thing to do, but I’m here just reading emails and I just was recording this and couldn’t get through the words because I found it so painful and I’m trying to figure out what that was.
I think when I’m putting these together and I think about the people we affect both positively, but I’m really thinking about people that get hurt sometimes by things that we’ve shared, things that we’ve done and the way that there’s this loneliness. I’m sitting here in my office, I’m by myself behind a mic. This for sure got edited out, but as I’m recording, my wife’s office is right outside mine. She ran in and was like, “Are you okay?” And it was comforting, thank God to see her. Her first question was like, “Was it me?” I said, “God forbid, you’re all the blessing in my life.” But I think there’s a combination that I am grappling with, and sharing with you that being responsible for interacting, for engaging for people and not always in a positive way. I know I’ve hurt people. I really know I’ve hurt people. When I come back in this office to do 18Forty, it gets really, really hard and it gets really, really lonely.
And I guess that feeling, for me, and reading it in the context of that foundational loneliness, that foundational loneliness that the letter writer wrote about, that she’s single, I guess that confluence of reading on 18Forty somebody’s experience about being single put me right back into those emotions which are always bubbling in the surface when I deal with 18Forty because I take this extraordinarily seriously. I really look at it as a responsibility. But that responsibility, it weighs and it isolates, and it feels like there can sometimes be a pressure.
And maybe some people are listening to this like, “Relax yourself. We listen to you in the car ride with the kids fighting in the back. Don’t overdo it.” And that’s fine. For everybody, it’s not the same. But there are moments for me, things that I go through, people who I hear from, people who I’ve hurt that in that moment when I was reading that email really just was this confluence of feeling the loneliness of 18Forty connecting to the loneliness of this writer, which was just so raw, so real, almost like created this nexus event where I was transported back to the loneliness that I felt in every way that this writer describes of being single. And that made it so hard for me to read.
I don’t think I’ve ever gotten this emotional on our show. And for anybody who is uncomfortable or who is cringing, I did not plan this. And maybe you’re never going to listen to it because Tina’s going to edit all of it out. But that was real. That was one of the realest things I’ve ever read, and that was one of the most intense and heavy things that I’ve ever felt. So I thank the letter writer that brought me back to that place in a very real way. So really, from my heart to the heart of the letter writer, thank you for sharing that.
Okay, I’m going to take a deep breath and we’re going to go to our next email, also very powerful, also very important. Just a quick trigger warning before I read this email, it does deal with issues related to sexual abuse. So if you are in the car in front of people or you yourself aren’t quite in a space to listen to that, that is the topic of the next letter. There’s an email I got that writes as follows. “I am an avid and maybe obsessed fan of your podcast. And though I have so many thoughts when listening, this is the first time I’m actually writing in. I have many, many thoughts about this topic. Somebody who’s divorced and is married again. But I want to share a few points that were not mentioned and I think are important. I hope I can organize my thoughts enough to be coherent, but these ideas are a little difficult for me to share.
First idea is one of the problems in the yeshivish Bais Yaakov community is that girls, maybe boys too, but I would not know, are taught that the woman is responsible for the atmosphere in the home. I was raised with the idea that as long as I was doing everything right, our home would be peaceful. If anything went wrong, I was responsible and it was my job to fix it. This was the only way to be an eishes chayil, to be patient, loving and even self-sacrificing no matter what. My children came first, my husband came first. No matter how he treated me or my children, I had to swallow it. The only line I knew he could not cross was that he could not hit me. The children on the other hand, well the Torah says, ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child,’ right? Sometimes the verbal emotional and abuse while being intimate was so bad, I hoped he would hit me just so I would know I could leave without feeling guilty.
Tied to this issue, everything is really interconnected, is that in the yeshivish world, we go to a rabbi when we have a question or a problem. To be clear, I have nothing at all against rabbis. I will turn to them for advice even when not purely halachic. However, these issues can be extremely complicated, and many rabbis have no training beyond yeshiva and no expertise with any sort of abuse. After I got divorced, my ex was arguing about something, not important what, and he said he would compromise if I met him in person to talk about it. After years of abuse and having just begun to heal, the worst thing for me would be to allow him to have that kind of control over me. And yet the rabbi’s advice was, ‘Well, that’s the only way.’ When the marriage was totally falling apart, I asked my rabbi if I was still obligated to be intimate with my husband and he said, yes, it was preferable. I cannot tell you how long I cried hearing that.
We were taught openly and clearly, that if we have issues in our marriage, we were not to tell our parents. We will get past the fight, problem, issue and you’ll move on. But your parents will always be angry at your husband, so you can never tell them when he does something wrong. I suffered for years, and my parents only found out when they figured it out for themselves. I hope that Bais Yaakov schools are allowing Shalom Task Force to give their classes in their schools in clear, graphic language. We knew nothing, did not know what was and was not appropriate in a marriage.
I do not want to go into detail, but I had no idea that the things my ex was saying to me were unacceptable, even abusive. I did not know what a normal, physical relationship was supposed to be like. And since my ex was studying in Yeshiva, I assumed what he said was correct. When I think back now, I cannot believe how little I knew. I didn’t know how much can be said in high school in the very yeshivish world, but I know there has to be more openness, and the boys and girls need to know that they have a person they can talk to in a clear, open, detailed manner without judgment. I have so, so much more to say, but I’ll stop for now. Thank you for bringing this topic into the open. Hatzlacha with your amazing work.”
That is a super heavy email. This is obviously an extraordinarily sensitive topic. I do believe that there has been a revolution in schooling, really, across the board, certainly in the yeshivish world. I don’t know, I can’t speak with certainty, but the need for people to have a better understanding, a better metric to know what is healthy in a relationship, to know that there are fixed boundaries that if crossed, this is not a healthy relationship. This is not behavior, this is not the type of intimate life, this is not the type of emotional life that anyone deserves. People need that form of education. People need that form of knowledge. It has to come really informed obviously through mental health professionals, people who have a deep background in this field. And the fact that this letter writer brought that to the surface, I think, is extraordinarily important. So thank you for that.
Next letter writer, from somebody who’s a fan. I’m not going to read all of the appreciation, but I’ll read some of the beginning because I think it’s very, very sweet. “David, I’ve listened to many episodes of your podcast over the past couple of years. Simply put, your podcast has been responsible for evoking very strong emotions from within me, mostly positive. At first, I met your podcast with annoyance. The first podcast I listened to was with Philo Judaeus about two and a half years ago. I was irritated and wrote a lengthy email to the guests who I knew personally about the issues with some of your sentiments throughout the episode. In retrospect, I’m not quite sure what prompted me to write him instead of you. It could be that I was listening on a Friday night and I was seeking a more immediate response.
But that’s not what prompted the writing of this email. I was brought to tears at the work while listening to Rabbi Rothwachs, and gave me renewed pride knowing that the YU world has frum rabbanim holds such capacity for empathy, particularly empathy for the human condition, not just as a religious Jew but as a human. I was choked up listening to Rav Weinberger choke up while conversing with his son. I was pained listening to Josh Grajower and Dani Ritholtz’s stories of loss. I was heartbroken, inspired by Mark Moskowitz’s story of the teshuva and rebuilding. I felt an intense connection to the anonymous pod on searching for the beginning, given my own religious trajectory. As a comedy nerd, I absolutely nerded out listening to Gary Gelman and Alex Edelman philosophize about comedy and Judaism.
While experiencing these emotions. I always told myself that I should really write to you and express my appreciation. For the first time tonight, while listening to your podcast on your dating story, I felt compelled to write to you. I’m an older single, and while dating life trajectory sounds quite different from yours, there was so much that resonated with me throughout the episode. But the single moment that prompted my writing this email to you started about an hour into the episode where you express your dislike for the term growth oriented in the context of dating. I was listening to you verbalize the exact sentiments I have failed to adequately articulate to my friends, family, dates and other people I’ve conversed with when trying to explain the banal, ‘What are you looking for religiously?’ Question. But it was the moment where you said, I think you need to fall in love with an individual, with a person who you appreciate their religious intuition, where I put my hands in the air. I literally said the words, ‘thank you,’ audibly while alone in my apartment, ala the Michael Scott gif from The Golden Ticket episode.”
I’m just going to pause and say I love that he referenced the gif. I absolutely love that he made it clear which episode that is. “It’s one of the most therapeutic moments that I’ve experienced in discussions surrounding dating. I felt understood. You went on to describe how it comes from a place of trust that doesn’t need to be spoken out about what’s going to change after we get married, because I have trust in who you are right now religiously. I love this. I essentially understood it to mean the following. You’re dating a complex neshamah, not a stat line. Instead of point and assist. Think hours learned per week skirts kosher. Of course, that’s not to say actions aren’t super important, but you’re not marrying somebody solely on the basis of their actions. Actions are external and hopefully reflect the internal, but it’s not the person per se. The person is the main part, not to the exclusion of their religiosity, quite the opposite.”
This is absolutely something that I grappled with. I had to come to this conclusion on my own. We usually use kind of that stat line when it comes to what are you looking for religiously? And we have that stat line. And I’m not saying for people to let go of that stat line, but ultimately what I was looking for is something that is nearly impossible to articulate and that is a certain religious intuition. Somebody who wants to build a home, raise a home in the way that I had hoped for. And the fact that this resonated, even given kind of the complexities of sharing this idea with our audience was extraordinarily powerful. Really, really important. I’m so glad this person reached out, because a lot of people misunderstood my hesitance with the term growth oriented.
And this was all really coming from my own personal experience, I felt that the term growth oriented sometimes meant that you’re going to have better stat lines next year. Are you looking to improve your stat lines? And I don’t know if that’s a good reason to marry somebody, that their stat lines are going to increase, whatever they are. I think that an inherent part of all relationship is growth, but we don’t always know what direction that’s going to be. You’re growing together. So sometimes growth oriented was this coded word of like, I don’t like the stats where they are, but once we get married we can bump them up, so to speak. And that’s what I was kind of cautioning against. But an inherent part of relationship is growth, is change, is development. And I think what you need to find is somebody who you have trust in their underlying religious intuition. And now we have an actual voicemail. Let’s listen in.
Hi David. It’s Shmuel Lescher. I just wanted to commend you and 18Forty and the Shalom Task Force for tackling the issue of spousal abuse in our community, and generally just safe relationships. To my knowledge, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski’s book, The Shame Borne in Silence, that he wrote in 1996, is the first work that really brought this issue to light. And we’ve come so far since that publication. In 2015, they actually republished the book. And in the introduction to this second edition, Rabbi Twerski wrote that the first printing of the book got such a negative response that in his first few public appearances following the book in 1996, they needed police protection for him because people were so enraged that he was even bringing this issue to the fore that Orthodox Jews have an issue of spousal abuse.
In this book, by the way, in the 1996 book, he talks about child sex abuse, he talks about alcoholism. It’s really a groundbreaking work in many ways. So I just wanted to commend you and to say that, baruch Hashem, we’ve come far. I don’t want to whitewash and to let us get lulled into a false sense of security that we don’t have anything more to do. But I just wanted to say that people like you and institutions like the Shalom Task Force, are really bringing our community forward. And it’s such a pleasure to hear that we’re able to now speak about these issues and we’re able to confront the challenges. So Im Yirtzeh Hashem, we will continue together to tackle these important issues in general, communal issues. And yasher koach to everyone at 18Forty.
Shmuel Lescher is a longtime friend, and I always appreciate his feedback and his takes on what we discuss. It means a great deal to me. And highlighting these issues with the frame, and giving a place for people, our listeners, to know that they can reach out to them was so important in this series. It’s a part of healthy relationships, healthy commitments to ensure that the love that we concretize with one another is not through kind of control or through any type of manipulation or, God forbid, abuse. And the most precious, the most sensitive things we have and that we form are our love and our relationships. And it is the area that is the most susceptible to unhealthiness because it’s so vulnerable, it’s so real. And what you’re creating in any relationship, you’re really creating together. So giving people those tools is really a credit to the educational work of Shalom Task Force. And it was such a privilege to share the perspectives of their president, Esther Williams, their executive director, Shoshannah Frydman. And I’m so happy and gratified that they were willing to participate and partner with 18Forty on this.
That really concludes the bulk of the feedback from the dating series. There are obviously some more personal emails, voicemails that we won’t be reading now. But continue to reach out, because we’re always ready to listen to people to share the ideas of our listeners who reach out. I think that they’re so important and so crucial. But now I want to turn to the next subject that we covered on 18Forty. And this was a subject that garnered a fair amount of controversy.
I’m still processing if we handled this correctly. I think that we could have done a better job of emphasizing the varying approaches. But that is the series that we did on the Origins of Judaism, where we began with an anonymous conversation with somebody who was really grappling with questions related to rabbinic authority. And we really kind of dove into both the historical and theological ideas related to the emergence of the Yiddishkeit, of the Judaism that we know today, and whether or not there are aspects of that mesorah of that larger tradition that may have shifted in emphasis following the destruction, or during the period leading up to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash in the Second Temple period. So first, let’s begin with a voice note that was really sweet and really, really beautiful.
Hi, this is Shayna. I’m a listener of 18Forty. I just finished up the podcast episode with Dr. Lawrence Schiffman. And you mentioned in your outro, yes, I listen to those, that is very comforting in a way to speak to someone who is so deeply in that academic world that could raise doubt, then yet is still firm and yet really believes in the Torah and our tradition. In many ways, that’s what 18Forty has been for me, really. I’ve come to believe and it could be there’s some flaw in this logic, that in order to really believe something, you have to be able to really doubt it, which is of course terrifying because if you doubt everything and you really question things honestly, you run the risk of being left with zero foundation, which probably, I think, accounts for a lot of that anxiety that takes place in people who are having struggles of faith.
So discovering people who could honestly ask those questions and who really have the deep understanding to be able to do so, because they really are deep into that world of asking those questions of, where does this come from, in a really honest way. And then satisfying those questions enough to really continue with this way of life in a meaningful way, not just wearing the dress code because it’s the world that you’re in. But really in a meaningful way, being a part of this tradition.
The fact that you can ask those questions, raise those things that could cause doubt has been enormously comforting to me and, honestly, has decreased a lot of the anxiety that I felt at points in time about like, well, what if I start doubting that? And what if the answer is no? So thank you 18Forty. I was thinking about maybe writing an email, maybe not. I probably wouldn’t have gotten to it. But then just as I was thinking about that, you got to the point of saying how you want more voicemail. So here’s a voicemail. Thank you so much for what you do, and keep putting out great content.
I cannot thank Shayna enough for reaching out with this. It’s a beautiful sentiment, and one that actually weighs heavily on me to ensure that any doubt that we confront or surface at 18Forty is not just weighed out equally by a framework, by an approach to inspire commitment, inspire faith, but is greatly overwhelmed by it. But the analogy that I keep on using is either this exposure therapy of knowing that there aren’t these questions lurking in the dark that will somehow totally annihilate our ability to participate, to engage with Judaism. That there are things that we’re, so to speak, hiding that you can feel. But we can speak about things out in the open. We don’t get to speak about every single nitty gritty detail, there’s obviously much more, but to at least give signposts in the road for how we either process parts of our faith that may be confusing or may be filled with doubt, or give direction for personalities and people who we can find inspiration from and we can find approaches from to anchor our commitment and our engagement with Yiddishkeit.
But it’s something that weighs heavily on me. And I think what this series really surfaced like, did we do a good job of that? Exceptionally gratifying to hear from a listener who is affirming the fact that we did a good job of that. But I’m always in doubt of the fact of whether or not we did a good job of that. I’m always concerned whether or not we really struck the right chord and perhaps eroded more than we built. And there’s probably no series in recent memory that we approached, no topic that we approached, where that concern was more front and center than talking about the very foundations of the Judaism that we know and love today.
I’ll just make a separate point because she was specifically referencing this episode with Dr. Lawrence Schiffman, who’s an incredible person. Now I have a dear friend, named Eitan, who reached out to me after this episode. I think it was Eitan, it may have been a different listener named Aryeh, and he reached out to me and he actually took issue in a way that I so appreciate with my outro. When I was closing my episode with Dr. Schiffman, I mentioned how comforting it is for somebody who has been immersed in this world of Second Temple Judaism. And despite that, kind of still davens mincha in a traditional setting, and makes sure that he’s davening three times a day and keeps Halakha and Jewish law in an extraordinarily traditional way.
And they took issue with something that I want to surface and highlight now because I think it was such excellent feedback. He said, “David, you missed the point. It’s not despite being immersed in Second Temple Judaism, it is because of it.” This is a scholar who really has immersed his entire professional career in, so to speak, this question of the origins of Judaism. And looking into it, and looking into it clearly, he has chosen the way to live and affiliate his own life with traditional expressions of Jewish law and Jewish practice. It wasn’t despite his academic understanding.
And if you really know Dr. Schiffman’s story, and I hope if we ever have him back, he could talk about it more. He wasn’t even raised in a traditional community. He moves towards one. And the fact that he has dedicated his life to this area, which can be doubtful, which can raise, and for many, erodes people’s sense of confidence and commitment in Yiddishkeit as we know it today, and is still davening mincha, to frame that as despite his work rather than because his work, is a grave mistake. And they’re 100% right. It’s not despite it, he’s not wading through the doubt and saying maybe, Pascal’s wager, maybe this mincha is meaningful.
No, he went through the sources, he went through the history and he made choices about how to lead and express his own life to ensure that they would be in consonance with his work and his commitments and his world’s view. So I still get comfort from Dr. Schiffman’s mincha, which I’ve witnessed myself. But the framing of that mincha is not despite his work, but I think it’s because of it. Here’s another voice note on that series on Origins of Judaism.
Hi, this is Natan. I really enjoyed the podcast with Dr. Tova Ganzel, and just had a question. In about the last half hour or so, I was really interested in the ideas that were being discussed about the kind of roots or anchor of rabbinic authority being this concept of Knesses Yisroel investing authority in the rabbi’s system, which I found to be really close to some ideas expressed by Solomon Schechter, in particular, in his essay, Historical Judaism, where he writes, “Since the interpretation of scripture or the secondary meaning is mainly a product of changing historical influences, it follows that the center of authority is actually removed from the Bible and placed in some living body. Which, by reason, it’s being in touch with the ideal aspirations and the religious needs of the age is best able to determine the nature of a secondary meaning. This living body, however, is not represented by any section of the nation, nor any corporate priesthood or rabbi-hood, but by the collective conscious of Catholic Israel as embodied in the universal synagogue. The synagogue, with its long, continuous cry after God for more than 23 centuries, with its unremittant activity-“
After God for more than 23 centuries with its unremitting activity in teaching and developing the Word of God with its uninterrupted succession of prophets, Thalmus describes “Hasideans, rabbis, patriarchs, interpreters, elucidators, eminences and teachers with its glorious record of saints, martyrs, sages, philosophers, scholars, and mystics. This synagogue, the only true witness to the past informing in all ages the sublimeless expression of Israel’s religious life must also retain its authority as the sole guide to the present and the future.” And I’m just curious if there’s are any meaningful differences that you feel between the opinions you were expressing and what Dr. Ganzel were expressing in the last half hour or so of the call and some of these ideas from Solomon Shechter. Thank you so much.
This is an excellent point and an excellent question. The listener who’s reaching out is making reference to a idea that was expressed by Solomon Shechter who in many ways is the founder of conservative Judaism and he has this notion called Catholic Israel. Catholic doesn’t mean Christian in this context, Catholic means universal and that the way law is shaped is through the acceptance of the Jewish people. There’s definitely overlap. I think the fact that people reached out and said, this sounds like Conservative Judaism and I think the distinctions between Orthodoxy and Conservative, a lot of them hinge on how they look at the application of this point. Essentially I would say two things. Number one, the most meaningful difference I think is how much latitude is Catholic Israel given when we think about the authority of practice. I think in my conversation with Tova Ganzel, what we’re really talking about is how to know a specific opinion and kind of figuring out what is the right approach to a certain rabbi or a certain idea.
And I think that if this notion of Catholic Israel is emphasized without an emphasis on a very real tradition, if we give the full authority of interpretation just on communal practice, we’re always going to fall to the lowest common denominator of what is considered authentic. I think that Catholic Israel is something that needs to be applied with a limited set of opinions and we look at what is derived in the correct opinions and there have been different periods in Jewish history. We’re as unclear what direction the community would go in and that doesn’t mean that any opinion can be deemed correct just because the community is doing it. I think the biggest mistake, and this isn’t necessarily Solomon Schechter’s mistake, but it may be the mistake of Conservative Judaism if I may say so, is applying Catholic Israel to the full gamut of all opinions and just whatever people are doing can de facto be justified.
I think that’s too blanket of an application. I think that when we look at different opinions in halakhic discourse, there are opinions that have standing and there are opinions that don’t have standing and figuring out from among those opinions, which is correct does rely on this communal authority very often on what’s kind of preserved through the generations. I believe that rabbinic authority is derived from communal authority, but the second point is really figuring out what community you are a part of. I mean obviously if you looked at American Judaism and said the notion of Catholic Israel as whatever American Jews do is inherently should be the law would be a preposterous application because most American Jews are not that affiliated at all with Judaism. So just by their lack of affiliation saying, “Oh, it’s a majority wins,” isn’t the way to do that.
I think that the application of Catholic Israel specifically needs to be within the concept and people don’t even like the term Catholic Israel. I don’t have a problem with it. It’s not great branding because it’s known as such a Christian term, but I think it needs to be applied to specific communities and how you know which is the correct community. That’s for people to really know and understand. To me it’s figuring out who are the ba’alei hamesora. Who are the people who are really committed to preserving tradition from one generation to the next. That doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily always right, but figuring out from within what is the right community to affiliate with and then looking from within the consensus of that community to me is the way that we really need to exercise. There’s a sociological component to this. It’s why I don’t look to let’s say a Hasidic community. I don’t look to the Conservative community or the Reform community.
I have a very particular part of the Orthodox community that I look at what has been accepted and concretized in our community over the years and it does give you some kind of maybe confusion or it’s not as clear. It creates the need for a choice that you are confident with the intuition and judgment of the larger communal atmosphere that you find yourself in. And for me, I think part of the reason why I am so confident in affiliating as Orthodoxy is not because they’re always right, but because of the way that they have specifically preserved Halakhah and what they’ve emphasized and what has been accepted and what hasn’t been accepted in our circles. By and large within the community I affiliate with has really created an environment that allows me at least to practice Yiddishkeit in the way that I feel preserves its authenticity, but allows it also the flexibility to address the changes of society, et cetera, et cetera.
So I think there’s absolutely overlap. What this really needs, and I’m really gearing up for it, hopefully in the coming months, a full deep dive series on the different denominations. I’ve been seeing discourse online in particular about how we relate and understand other denominations has become so broken and so spiteful, though the ideological differences are so very real and I wouldn’t minimize that for a second. But when we think about the differences in our communities and what is authentic and what is not authentic and how did we kind of evolve into this status of something that really needs a deeper dive. But the underlying question of how this differs from Catholic Israel I think is a very real one, and I hope that this response has given some framework for it. But the truth is it’s not always so clear, which is the very fact that in the early 1900s the difference between the Conservative movement and the Orthodox movement wasn’t always so clear.
I think sometimes clarity and authenticity is something that emerges over time that within any given moment or every given year within the Jewish community. We don’t always know with certainty just to know a hundred percent this is the right way, but requires a real sense of connection and preservation of our mesorah throughout history and ensuring that that is not lost because as I’ve mentioned before, particularly in my essay introducing the Halakhah series, it can be lost and it has been lost for many. And learning how to both preserve and how to be flexible and responsive to the people and ensuring that you are surrounded by people who properly negotiate both of these values is of the utmost importance for your own Jewish life to ensure that it continues, that it’s engaging, that it’s uplifting, and that it is inspiring. The next response I got again from the Origins of Judaism series is an email, and this is from Dr. Karen.
She wrote as follows, and it’s something very positive and very sweet. “Since every time I listen to the series of Origins of Judaism, you indicate you get a lot of negative feedback I want to send positive.” And we did get a lot of negative feedback and one that I hope to really do a deeper dive on in future episodes and really figuring out where the lines in that discussion are. I think more than anything else, the negative feedback that I thought was most constructive was figuring out the right balance between trust and doubt. To not frame a topic as overly mired in doubt and being able to emphasize the sense of trust and cultivate a sense of trust in the Yiddishkeit we have today. And there are people who felt that I missed the mark on that and that’s something that I’m always looking to correct and always looking to make better, but this is what Dr. Karen said.
“I love this series. It has gotten me thinking in such different ways and I’ve appreciated every chapter of the journey. The idea of the evolution of halakhic Judaism seems to trigger many people, but it is an amazing concept in elasticity which has withstood the test of time and in fact is the essence of the test of time.” And I absolutely love that. It’s not just withstood the test of time, but in fact is the essence of the test of time. And I think that’s something so beautiful. Something we alluded to why time is so central to Torah Shebaal Peh, our oral traditions where the very orders of the Mishnah, Zeraim, Moed, Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim,Tohoros, the six orders of the Mishnah create this acronym and this goes back over a thousand years, creates this acronym called Z’MaN NaKaT, choosing time, and the ability of Torah Shebaal Peh, of our oral law, oral tradition to be a dialogue with the generation throughout time and connecting us really to Sinai itself. And unfolding and preserving that revelation throughout the generations is exactly this notion of elasticity of not only withstanding the test of time but is in its essence the test of time itself.
So thank you so much for that email. The next email we got also something that I deeply appreciate. Somebody wrote, “I have been thinking about the last episode of this series with Dr. Tova Ganzel for a while now and can’t seem to stop. This entire series spoke to me since although I believe fully in Judaism and sometimes it is nice to think more deeply about how the things we do today connect us to Har Sinai and to God in general. I’m a strong believer that Judaism is a partnership between the people of Israel and God himself and our practices have a strong human component to them.”
And then he really opens up a little bit. “Some days I feel like I can connect to infinity in various ways and that my existence is part of something much bigger that I could never grasp. However, some days it just feels like I’m mumbling something half the time, wake up, mumble, pee, mumble, eat, mumble, and the repetition starts to lose meaning. I don’t know if I want an answer or if this is a question at all or just a complaint, but it certainly helps to write these thoughts down. To what extent is Judaism that we practice today and love today is part of a true partnership that God intended? I struggle to believe that this is all what God wanted, but I refuse to believe that it is none. This podcast has made me think a lot about my Judaism, my love for it, and my conscious practice. I feel like it is much better to think and question what we do than just do it without true intents. So thank you for that. And P.S., your pronunciation in your podcast is part of my weekly entertainment. I also learn most of my difficult words from reading and English is not my first language, so I get it. Greetings from Brazil and thank you so much for this.”
We discussed this a little bit more, not in our Origins of Judaism series but in our series on Halakhah and to me, I think Halakhah is actually meant deliberately for those moments where you feel wake up, mumble, pee, eat, mumble, and the repetition starts to lose meaning. I think the reason why we have this repetitive process is that it is the way that we preserve the collective memory of revelation. And Halakhah is built upon a deliberate suspicion of our human memory and our human emotion that it is so easy to forget the purpose of why we’re in the world.
So we create a system of Halakhah to serve as a bastion, as a container of that original memory. I believe that Halakhah, so to speak, is the preservative for our collective memory of the Jewish people, for how we ensure that we do not forget and it’s almost built into our lives to the point that there are times in our lives where we forget altogether about the intentionality and about the kind of underlying relationship that Halakhah is meant to preserve. I think that’s a necessary function of any kind of legal system of what Halakhah represents.
I think it’s much safer than God forbid, the alternative which is to connect to God when you feel that emotional connection, when you feel that kind of stirring of the heart and then to reach out to God. That I believe would leave somebody with only connecting to God when you know the moment is right. And as life gets busier and faster and quicker, those moments can come less and less frequently. And even when we do come, we don’t necessarily have the rituals that have been sanctified in a way that give us that connection to earlier generations to reach out as a people and connecting ourselves to the Jewish people. So I think that it’s almost deliberate that Halakhah has an aspect itself that lends itself to mindlessness because it’s trying to preserve that underlying experience and knows that without it you’re going to have to rely on your own internal interiority, which is even harder to remember.
To me, it reminds me of this beautiful idea from the Rebbe of Kotzk that we say in Shema, V’hayu had’varim haeileh, these words shall remain al l’vavecha on your heart. And the Kotzker Rebbe famously asked, “Why do we say that the words of God should be on your heart? Shouldn’t they be within your heart? And the Kotzker Rebbe says something amazing. He says, “Look, most people’s hearts, most of their life are utterly closed and we just keep the words nearby on top of our hearts. So hoping if there is a brief moment where our hearts open up, that the connection and relationship with God can sink in.”
And I think the system of Halakhah is what ensures that we remain tethered and close, that the words of God remain al l’vavecha nearby on our heart. It doesn’t guarantee that they will ever make it inside your heart, but it does give an assurance that if your heart hopefully does open up for those moments on a Yontif, on a Shabbat during davening if your heart opens up for that moment and you have the framework of Halakhah and connection to anchor you there, then in those moments you’ll be able to channel that relationship and that connection because it was never that far away to begin with.
And I think for people who get frustrated that they’re not able to live in this consistent union with God, with God consciousness, with this underlying relationship of Jews throughout the generations, I’m with you. And I think the entire system of Halakhah and Jewish law acknowledges that difficulty, which is why there is such an emphasis on ritual and action in Jewish law to ensure that in those brief moments where we are able to have the capacity to fully embody that relationship, that God, his Torah and the Jewish people are always nearby.
Our next email’s from somebody who I know personally from a rebbe of mine in high school who wrote as follows, “I just listened to the Schiffman interview in its entirety. I thoroughly enjoyed it and found him spot on in every way. These issues have haunted me since my yeshiva bochur days and I am familiar with much of what he spoke about. Most people have no real history sensitivity or orientation. These issues are simply off the radar. That’s really okay. But those of us who are attuned, this was really refreshing. There was so much of the issues raised and you both encompass them without being bogged down in too much of the nitty gritty of how the rabbinic system works. My sincere thanks and appreciation.”
And now here is the next voicemail.
Dear David Bashevkin, this is Shai Goldman, undergraduate at Columbia, big fan of the podcast ever since the recent three weeks. A thought on your interview with Dr. Lawrence Schiffman. You seem to have had the conviction that the idea of Torah study being pivotal to one’s service of God, avodat Hashem is a relatively modern phenomena and you were skeptical that it would go back to the times of the Second Temple. Personally, I think if you look in Tehillim and other places in Tanakh it seems to me to be already cited as a foundational aspect of a person’s avodat Hashem even from the times of the Tanakh. Take for example Yehoshua, where we have the source of you have to learn Torah day and night, and Tehillim is similar, as well as Tehillim 119 lots and lots of verses from David about how important Torah study was to him and his avodat Hashem. I rejoice on your words, as in the Torah, the warrant for your Torah, which is so enjoyable for me, I would die in my pain. So anyways, just a thought on the importance of Torah study. Maybe it’s not as modern of a phenomena in Judaism as it may have seemed from your interview. Thank you so much for the podcast and yeah.
This is an excellent point and probably one of the areas that I may have framed it a little bit too much of a break, but I do stand by the distinction. There’s no question that the importance and the sanctity of Torah goes all the way back. What I was essentially emphasizing is the centrality of Torah study among the masses as a vehicle for the service of God. I think that became much more prevalent and prominent more and more leading up to and following the destruction of the Second Temple period. You don’t see that emphasis when you hear the words of the Nevi’im about what they are excoriating the people for, what people need to be working on. You don’t really see Torah mentioned all that much and you don’t see it really centered in a lot of the narratives in Nach.
Now this is not my own insight. This is something that Rav Kook, as we said in the episode with Yosef Bronstein, my dearest friend also emphasized and noticed this is something that many people, Reb Southwark points this out. I don’t think we need to be afraid of it, but it also doesn’t mean, and that’s why I’m so grateful to this listener, that the notion of developing a relationship with God through Torah has somehow, God forbid, been invented. Far from the truth. We find references to the sanctity and importance of Torah going all the way back. But I think the idea that the study of Torah, Talmud Torah being centered among the masses as a primary vehicle in avodat Hashem and really even what that study of Torah meant, I think has evolved and has become more centered within our community. I think has become more centered in the last 200 years in good ways, in great ways.
And the fact that something evolves does not mean that it was invented. It means that Judaism has a lot of competing ideals together. There’s something, we have countless midrashim on, love of God, love of Torah and love of the Jewish people and at different periods in Jewish history we’ve emphasized different aspects of this relationship. But that doesn’t mean that any of those relationships, God forbid, were so to speak, invented from scratch. That I do not subscribe to. And as our listener pointed out, David Hamelech, throughout Tehillim, does have these very moving and romantic discussions of the role of Torah in his own life. I rejoice from your words, I rejoice from the word of God, referring to Torah, is something that we see really throughout Tehillim and the words are incredibly beautiful and I thank the listener for emphasizing this and pointing it out. Now we have a final voice note on this topic. Let’s listen in.
Hi David, it’s Lauren Harless. I’ve been thinking a lot about the questions that you’ve been addressing in the Origins of Judaism series and I think that instead of viewing it as a problem that Judaism today looks different than the Judaism of the First and Second Temple period I’ve been thinking that we should view this as progress. My hashkafa is very much in line with the Rambam’s philosophy, who says that the point of learning Torah and the system of Halakhah is to bring mankind towards a greater understanding and knowledge of God and God’s action.
In the past, I think that goal used be much harder given that our work life consumed so much a part of our days. People lived shorter lives. We didn’t have modern medicine to confront illnesses. Now however, with modernity, the common Jew, so speak has so many more opportunities to learn Torah and strive to keep Halakhah properly. This conversation actually reminds me of another thought I’ve been having a lot lately about moshiach about how our world today, despite all our very scary and real conflicts going on and all the problems that modernity does bring, our world is actually a lot closer to a redeemed state, I think, than we often realize.
My view of moshiach again is in line with the Rambam, who says that during days of moshiach, the entire world will recognize God, but the laws of nature won’t change. I think about how 200 years ago it would seem impossible for the whole world to come to one truth, to one understanding of who God is and his actions. But now however, we have these small devices in our hands where it’s possible to have all the information in the world at our fingertips and that dream seems less of a dream. That dream of everybody recognizing God just seems so many more possible. When I was sick last year, not major sick, I was able to quickly go to the doctor and get tested for flu, strep, and I wonder if I was doing that, if maybe during the days of moshiach, we’ll have tests and treatments for all harmful illnesses, so there won’t be sickness because we can quickly just go to the doctor, get tested and get treated.
We obviously still do not have a just and righteous society and our community has a lot of work to do before moshiach can come. But given our modern technologies and even our focus now more on Torah and tefillah, I think if we as a Jewish community figure out how to really live in line with true righteousness and justice, tzedek and mispat like Hashem talks about Abraham in Parshat Vayera I think we’re actually a lot closer than we think to moshiach. So thank you for addressing this topic. It brings up a lot of important discussion. I think continuing with having these discussions hopefully will bring everybody more in line with truth. So thank you again. I really love the show.
I love this voice note from Lauren. I think it’s incredibly important. There are really two perspectives, both of which can remain true that we talk about a lot when it comes to our larger traditions in Jewish thought. Sometimes we talk about the dissent of the generations that yeridas hadoros how each generation becomes farther and farther, so to speak, from revelation, from that collective moment at Sinai of really experiencing godliness and each generation since then is getting weaker and weaker and farther and farther away. And that’s certainly something that we see quite often emphasized in the Talmud in later commentaries. But I don’t think it’s the only perspective. I think there is a way to look at Jewish history as a culmination, as a journey towards something. Each generation refining and getting stronger is something that Reb Tzadok emphasizes over and over again.
And he quotes from his Rebbe, the Ishbitzer and the name of his Rebbe Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa This is from Rav Tzadok’s Pri Tzadik in Parshat Vaetchanan, the 21st section he writes as follows (this is hard to translate): Even though our cerebral capacity may diminish in every generation, the inner experience of our hearts expands constantly, and becomes more refined and more sensitive in each generation in each moment throughout the exile.
And I think that interiority of experience of what we’ve seen, the fact that we’re a generation that has survived through what we’ve survived and built what we have built on the shoulders of every generation have a certain interiority and knowledge built on earlier generations, but that progresses and expands and gets richer and more beautiful in every generation. So thank you so much for this listener. That is it for the feedback on Origins of Judaism and I just want to read some emails about future topics that people would like to see.
We sent out a survey this past Thursday. These surveys are really, really important in helping us kind of understand our audience and more importantly kind of measure our impact, what’s working, what’s not working. And you should have already received it if you were signed up for our emails, which of course you can do at 18forty.org. Shame on you if you’re not already signed up. But we did send out that survey this past Thursday. I’m begging you please take a moment and fill out that survey. We really read all of them. We do this every single year. I am begging you, please take a moment to fill out that survey.
Here’s one email that we got. “Good morning. I’m an avid listener and enjoy the diverse topics on your podcast. I’m a little behind them. I’ve just listened to the episode on child and parent alienation.” That was part of our Teshuva series. “I listened to the part about parents struggling to navigate keeping children in their lives and then when the topic switched to what was described to be quite the opposite, although the topic that was presented was interesting and thought provoking, I had expected, and would still love to hear an episode about young adults and not so young adults who feel like they have cut ties with their parents in order to live healthy lives.” That is a very, very heavy topic and one that I would absolutely love to discuss and any listeners who are willing, have gone through such experiences please reach out.
Another email. “I have greatly enjoyed the Origins of Judaism series as I’ve been waiting for the discussion of this topic. This series covers origins of the halachic process and peoplehood. I think it is important and will be most helpful if you covered origins and development of Jewish, here’s a fancy word, get ready eschatology. The end of times, not the beginning of times.
That’s not super high on my list, but I am intrigued and maybe it should be higher on my list. What’s going to happen in the end of times? How does this all end and has the ending already begun? Are we in the beginning of the end? It’s a great subject and I appreciate Abigail for reaching out with that suggestion.
Another suggestion. “Hi Rabbi, big fan of the show. Really find that it speaks to me. Just curious if you’ve ever entertained the thought of doing a series on hashkafic diversity within a family, similar to the one you did already, but within the Modern Orthodox world. More importantly, the flip-out generation. Being in this situation, I’m curious to hear from those several years ahead of me in this situation. Would be willing to hear both sides advocating for themselves and giving advice to others as to how to allow for differences while still respecting each other.”
I love this topic. I come from a family. We’re all Orthodox, but there is incredible diversity within my family. There’s incredible love, respect, and admiration within my family, but that doesn’t mean that there are never issues that arise. There certainly are. I’ve reached out to some people. I would really love to do an episode on this, really like intra-generational divergence within one generation. Yossi Mickey, if you’re listening to this, I am coming for you. I really want you on this topic. I’m sorry to call you out right now, but yes, that’s a great topic and thank you for suggesting it.
Another suggestion we got, “Big fan of 18Forty.” Thank you for that. “Would love for you to do a series on Zionism and Israel.” Super important topic and he actually has a list. “The other topic I want, are the Torah’s stories true?” Super important topic. Maybe we’ve touched a little bit upon that. Sometimes depends what you mean by true and which of the Torah’s stories. There’s definitely some variation in that. Is a story you read in the Midrash? Is the story explicit in the Torah? How we think about those things is a long, long discussion, but one I’d be happy to one time get into.
He’s really asking like he continues, “Do the stories of the Torah have to be factually true? I’m a big proponent of the idea and if you believe in all the aggadata as literal, then you are a fool. And if you believe that none could have happened, then you’re also a fool.” So that’s something that I would very much like to cover. It’s something that’s garnered some type of controversy. It’s really about historicity, the historicity of the Torah, something that is quite sensitive. But I do hope that we’re able to get to it more in depth.
One more email. “There is no other shiur or podcast that I listen to that that inspires me as much as yours.” I’m always flattered when people call this a shiur. That probably means that my intros are getting a little bit too long. It goes, “To continue aspiring to grow and connect with Yiddishkeit.” I doubt I can think of anyone that should be interviewed by 18Forty that wasn’t considered yet, but just in case, there was a book that I read several years ago, The New American Judaism.
A book that I read several years ago, the New American Judaism that showed a deep appreciation for traditional communities. It made me proud of where I am. I grew up and still live in the old section of Lakewood. Perhaps this author may be appropriate for a podcast on denominationalism. The New American Judaism is actually written by Professor Jack Werthheimer. That’s a great suggestion. I think I would be happy to have Professor Werthheimer on the show. I don’t know if he’s listening, but we definitely want to talk about denominationalism. I’ve spoken about that before, and I think he would be absolutely excellent. The last suggestion is a voice note and let’s listen to it now.
He, David and team, thanks for your podcast, our website and the law. I really enjoy it. I was wondering if maybe we can do a podcast about Matisyahu, and I’m saying that because he’s the kind of person, ba’al teshuva, he’s studied for a few years, learning, and then he decided to influence his music and then obviously he had some questions and came up. He didn’t get the answers that he was looking for because he helped everyone out, kind of help people you reach get close with Hashem and then at the same time he was struggling and didn’t get answers. And how do other people that are in his situation, other singers Nissim Black, whoever it is, how do they deal with the challenges he had and what kind of answers do they have? Anyways, totally be interesting. So happy new Year.
This is Is an excellent suggestion. He’s not the first person to suggest it. I don’t think Matisyahu listens to this podcast, but I actually one time made an effort to reach out. I do find his story to be extraordinarily fascinating. I actually once wrote an essay after I remember he used to have a long beard. He was a very famous singer. I don’t know if kids even remember him. He has an incredibly famous song, “One Day.” After he cut off his beard, it became like a focal point within the Jewish community. I wrote an essay at the time, I don’t think I’ve ever shared it about spiritual schadenfreude. How we react as a community when people go off and what sort of reaction it gives us and what feelings it gives us when we see, especially public personalities who we championed as a community make very different religious choices later on.
Personally, I would love it, and it would be an honor and a privilege to have him on. I don’t really have a way of reaching him. If somebody knows him, one of our listeners knows him and wants to make an introduction, it would really be a privilege because I do think he has a story. I heard him once. I think on the Pete Holmes podcast ages ago, and it was a fascinating interview and I thought very instructive and constructive. I would love to have him. I think it would be very, very powerful if anybody wants to make that connection, please go ahead.
Before we get to our closing hate mail… That’s not real hate mail, I’m teasing, of course. I love it. Just want to share some really nice compliments that we got that really gives me the encouragement that I need. Continue the work that we’re doing all together because it is together. This is an email I got from somebody named Gary. He writes, “Hi, I’m a longtime listener and so many of your episodes resonate with me in so many ways. Couple of particular things that resonate with me, intergenerational divergence, something I’m constantly struggling with, although for me, it’s being the child of a parent with the addiction and how it has shaped my trajectory. Second, and linked to the first, is reclaiming my path to Yiddishkeit. I was brought up in a secular environment, became from in the BT movement years of the late nineties, but then had to reshape my worldview post-Slifkin in a more cynical and wired age. I’ve witnessed many of my peers with the struggles of reconciling and inspired youth, but fraught adulthood with various consequences of different levels of magnitude. Thank God I’m very proud of my trajectory, but it’s one that needs constant work, and your podcast really helped me find my grounding.”
I love that. I love the notion, “Reclaiming my path to Yiddishkeit. That’s something that we’re all trying to do. We have a path, we’re shown a path when we’re younger, when we’re kids, maybe when things were a little bit simpler, and then things get really, really complicated as we grow up, as we get older and not letting go of that notion that we, too, have a path and reclaiming that path to Yiddishkeit. To be a part of that is a privilege and to know that people are doing that is deeply inspiring to me. This is another email. I found this incredibly moving and encouraging.
“Dear David/Dovid.” Big debate how I should refer to myself. I usually introduce myself as David. Anybody who’s close to me calls me “Dovid.” What I’m really trying to avoid is anybody calling me Da-vid or Da-veed. If you execute Da-vid or Da-veed, then you’re probably going to be put on the David train, but those most close to me do call me “Dov-id.” Writes as follows, “I’ve been hesitant for a while about reaching out cause I’m generally the silent reader, media consumer, and honestly, I’m not sure why I’m being different this time. This email has been sitting in the draft bin for ages, but after listening through the latest now as old podcast and you acknowledging the impact messages of thanks after all original creators, I feel as if I should. I’m so grateful to you and the entire 18Forty team for providing me with a voice when I was scared into silence in a family, when I felt alone in the quiet quarters of doubt.” That’s a powerful image, the quiet corridors of doubt.
“I am so appreciative of your work. I was recently visiting New York after a while away, and as I was on a run down the parkway, I felt as if I was hearing voices of old frustrations, doubts and loneliness that had been recorded and perpetuated in the streets of Brooklyn. It hit me pretty hard. The evocative memories of the past, some unpleasant and many unpleasant ones, which I had not expected to be forced on me, and I was pretty thrown off. Then further on, the voices of Ari Bergmann, Jacob Schacter, Jonathan Haidt, and Shlomo Carmy were ringing forth from the empty path. Their familiar warmth, guidance. and religious insight brought a smile to my face and a relief from the disturbing nostalgic walk down memory lane. I recalled how much those conversations meant to me back then and the tremendous sense of relief they brought in many areas of my life, but especially in my religious life.
The details of it are irrelevant, but the support you and your team are providing to the average guy can’t be underestimated or second guess because of the doubters and the haters. You all were and continue to be genuinely life changing and for that I will be forever grateful, really. I feel sort of silly giving a suggestion, but I would love to see more attention given to encouraging follow-up thinking, posing questions to the listener that they should consider after listening. Maybe even add that to the quickfire questions to the guests would be awesome. Not everyone has the time to read a book on every topic. I think it would go a long way to engaging the listener in thoughtful and rigorous religious introspection and not feeling satisfied. And I got it after listening to one series of ideas that obviously go way beyond that. Thank you so, so much again, keep supporting our curiousness.”
Another really wonderful email that highlights kind of ways that I’ve improved through this process and I hope some of that’s clear, though. I sometimes regress. Somebody wrote in, “I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this, when I was first suggested the podcast, I didn’t exactly click with your interviewing style and personality and was a bit turned off. I stuck, through, because I thought the content was excellent and I now have become a huge fan of you, your personality and all your idiosyncrasies, and I’m unabashedly a Dbash Hasid.”
That means a lot to me and brings a smile on my face when I definitely sorely need one. I think a lot of credit has to go to seriously improves interviewing skills, though I do miss the mentions of mass familial connections, anxieties over the creative process and just more informality. Maybe this episode is a throwback to that, but I think you’re great, and I do appreciate that and I did work on it. I think when I first started for sure. I had no idea how to guide an interview kind of to what I wanted the listeners to get out of it, and I’ve really tried to improve on that and will continue to improve on that.
“I would love to get more of you on the podcast as a whole. So yes, I do think the intro is great. Always love to hear that. And there’s no need for the gratuitous apologizing over its length, though I will continue to do that and especially with love to see more pushing back on guest views and opinions. I really appreciated the interview with Ari Koretzky for that reason also because it was extremely revealing about your intentions, especially your rant over the target audience and criticism, definitely one of my favorite dialogues in podcast history.”
I’m so glad that you enjoyed that. I’m so appreciative. And that was an interview we did in the summer where he interviewed me and you could obviously find that on 18Forty.org, but he’s a phenomenal interviewer, probably one of the best people who’s ever interviewed me, and I love his stuff. His podcast is called Jews You Should Know, the work that he’s done and his willingness. It was his id ea to interview me, and at first I was kind of like, ah, I don’t know. I’m not sure I loved it, and I’m so appreciative and I’m so glad that that episode resonated.
This is really nice. I’m just going to read. This is from Nativ. He wrote to me, “Everything about your podcast just screams of love for Judaism while seeking truth regardless of that direction that may take you.” I really do appreciate that. I try to transmit a love of Judaism, and I’m looking not to steer people away from a path. I’m looking to give people the confidence to make those commitments to bring Judaism into their lives, and I appreciate that, that it screams love for Judaism, because I’m not really that effusive. I don’t have the classic cadence of more inspirational speakers, but hopefully, and I appreciate that this listener, hopefully other listeners don’t question my abiding love for Yiddishkeit.
This two references the conversation again with Rabbi Ari Koretzky wrote us all, “Hey, heard your question-answer episode where your guests doubted that non-Orthodox people listen to 18Forty. In that interview it was Rabbi Koretzky, who I love, said, ‘Why do you translate so much? Don’t all of your listeners know these words?’ And I said, ‘I think you’re totally wrong. And I just wanted to say I do. I’m a 30-year-old woman in the process of converting to conservative Judaism. I don’t find it inaccessible. I listen for the rare mix of academic and inspiring conversations that 18Forty offers. I also appreciate that like me, you seem to know more movie and SNL references than you might want. Thank you so much for your hard work.”
I think if I go down in history as anything, I hope my movie and SNL references get some sort of mention in there, and I appreciate that that was noticed, and I really appreciate the fact we toe such a difficult line. I need, I want 18Forty needs to be for everybody, but obviously it’s representing a very particular point of view. If somebody told me that a non-Orthodox Jew is listening to this and is getting extremely turned off and thinks that it has a very heavy Orthodox bend, I don’t think I’m doing a service. I don’t hide the fact of where I am situated. I don’t hide the fact what my own convictions are, but what we are trying to do is build entryways to everyone’s individual commitments to their Yiddishkeit.
And that’s really, really tricky and sometimes it does require translating when some of our community may be listening and say, “Hey, you don’t need to translate these words. You don’t need to kind of make the style so clunky and cumbersome,” but I think that they’re wrong. I want 18Forty to be for everybody to introduce wherever you are in your religious life, to give you the frameworks, the ideas to take step forwards and not, God forbid, to take step backwards, to be an entry point of engagement. And I’m so glad that that listener reached out.
Our next email came from someone who raised two issues. “Two things came up on your latest episode,” she writes, “and I feel compelled to comment on. First you ask if your listeners were born yet in 2004. That gave me pause. Is that your intended demographic? I was born in 1976, and your conversations feel incredibly relevant to me.” My target demographic is not a particular age. I’m just never sure because I teach in college, and I make references sometimes that I’m shocked that none of the students get them or know about them, things from SNL, Seinfeld, I mean, those shows that were anchors in pop cultures that kind of unified as a common point of reference for everyone are quickly disappearing. I’m always surprised when they don’t get those references. So I was just not sure because I have students who are born in the 2000s, so I’m never, ever sure when you’re listening, but whatever year you were born in, you are a welcome and important part of our demographic.
The second issue that’s raised is, “You emphatically declare that you have absolutely no time for fiction, only non-fiction. Yet later in the episode you reference The Matrix. I want to know why watching a work of fiction and drawing relevant lessons is different from reading a work of fiction and coming away with something substantial.” I’m an avid reader, and my preference is fiction, so of course I’m feeling a tad defensive. Oh, my goodness. “Keep up your excellent work.” That’s very, very sweet From Esther, and I’ll be honest, I probably phrased that wrong. It’s not that I don’t have time for fiction. I kind of prefer reading non-fiction because I think you get a lot of those lessons, but also anchored in history, and I’m always looking to learn more, I don’t know, of the reality of the world that we live in that doesn’t always preclude non-fiction.
As I mentioned before, I have a handful of non-fiction sci-fi writers that I absolutely love, Ted Chiang, Alan Lightman. They’re out there. I love Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. He wrote The Little Prince, the French writer of the old classics, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Frankenstein. A lot of those earlier books definitely stand the test of time, and I’m getting more and more into children’s books. I have a video about my favorite Jewish children’s books that we have on the 18Forty YouTube channel that, of course, you can check out and should check out.
I’m definitely not trying to tell people not to read fiction. I think Esther, of course, knows that I would not diminish the importance of fiction. Instead, I think people should just read what they love and just always read it with an eye of learning and growing and improving upon ourselves. So thank you so much for that. The next piece of feedback is a voicemail and this is what it says.
Hi David Bashevkin. My name is David. I’m a big fan of the show. Thank you so much for everything that you do and wishing you continued success in this phenomenal project. I wanted to ask, you’re always recommending books. and you’re someone who’s very clearly learned not only in Torah but also in many different areas of secular wisdom, and you often recommend books, as I said, or other different types of resources for gaining knowledge on these topics. And as someone who not only is running this project and has other endeavors and jobs and is also a big social media presence, do you have any tips on productivity for myself and other people who are in school, who are in the workforce? Any tips that you have for budgeting time, to properly budget time in order to maximize our ability and the fulfillment of our potential in gaining knowledge in a meaningful and substantive way?
This is an absolutely excellent question, and I plan on doing not a podcast, but I’d like to do a video on my kind of own system that I use to organize what I read and what I learn. I think that if you want to be more productive, you kind of need a system so that you are building equity with your knowledge and with your time. I think a lot of time, especially in our leisure time, if you’re already working, what we do is we’re often paying rent with our time. So you have an hour of leisure, so you pick up a book, and you read it and then you maybe forget about it and it goes in one ear and out the other and you don’t have a way of creating an ownership, that equity, with what you read and what you engage with that stays with you over time.
I personally have developed not a very complex or sophisticated, but I have developed a system of writing where I organize the things that I read, the things that I look at in a way that that allows me to remember it better and take ownership and build ideas with everything that I am engaging with. That includes academic books. That, of course, includes the Torah that I learned, but it also includes what I’m watching on Netflix or a movie that I’ll watch. I’m always thinking about what ideas does this connect to and all of the different disparate hours and minutes I try to have build one upon the other. So I really think this deserves a longer deep dive, and hopefully we’ll be able to do a video about it. If you look, and we can maybe link to this on the episode notes, but I did a thread on Twitter some of my tips for remembering what you learn, and I really go through the system that I have.
It’s not exhausted. I think the number one thing, just to be clear, I am not productive with my time. I have a very hard time getting out of bed. I waste a lot of time, but what I do is the things that I do engage with, I engage with them in a way that really optimizes my ability to build equity in them, that this is an idea that I’m not going to just forget or be in some miscellaneous notebook, but everything is systematized and is able to cross-reference with one another. So I’m always building kind of my knowledge, one book upon the next one piece of Torah upon the next, that it’s not just I’m starting from scratch every time I open up a book.
And our last email before we get into the haters. It’s somebody who writes that, “Due to my increased exposure to the secular words, I’ve been doubting almost everything I’ve been taught regarding Orthodox Judaism in the particular sect of it, which I belong, all the traditional proofs, the source sheets as you call them, all the different proofs. I can’t necessarily articulate why it isn’t valid anymore, but simply being made aware of the fact that people dispute it has made my whole foundation of faith shaky at best. This further intensifies my despair. It’s one thing for the system you are in to not be working, but it’s a whole different story if the system itself is predicated on a debatable proposition, it’s like having the rug pulled out from under your feet. Therefore, I’m eternally grateful for your efforts to shine a spotlight on these issues and address them. Many episodes of yours that I listen to often leave me with more questions than answers, but you’ve helped me realize that it’s not always getting all the answers as much as becoming comfortable living with the questions. I’m still worried about what my persistent doubts mean for my future as a Jew, as a future husband and father in a community whose existence I cannot yet fully explain or justify, but I’m comforted to be part of your podcast community, a community that grapples with these issues and doesn’t sweep them under the rug.”
That’s always painful to hear, but it’s also a privilege to be a part of in helping ground people’s faith. It’s everything that we’re doing. I know what that feeling is of having the proverbial theological rug pulled out from under your feet, and as we said, instead of sweeping things under that rug, only to have it pulled out from underneath you, like the analogy that we’ve used so many times before, sometimes you need to steer into the controversy to prevent the car from swerving, and that’s what we do quite often and the fact that it has been a comfort to you is really a great deal of encouragement and comfort to us and all the work that work that we’re doing here. So thank you so, so much.
Okay, our final segment, if you’re still listening, here we go. This is an email from somebody who I love, a past winner. I had his brother-in-law in my class, not going to give it away. His name is Ken. He’s definitely not a hater, but he has the following piece of feedback. “Sometimes you end your intro saying, ‘And it’s my absolute pleasure that I’m interviewing X, Y, and Z,’ and then you start the interview, ‘It’s my absolute pleasure’ just gets redundant sometimes.” I think he’s right, Denah, we got to do a better job of cutting out additional “absolute pleasures.” We need to make sure that we’re focused. It’s not always a double absolute pleasure. Sometimes it is. This person knows that it is a double absolute pleasure to know him. Just all the encouragement and support that he’s given means a great deal to me. So it is an absolute pleasure getting this email, a double absolute pleasure. So thank you, Ken, for reaching out with that suggestion. Here are some shorter comments before we close some pronunciation suggestions. Listen in.
David Bashevkin, Ben Rothke here, your biggest fan in northern New Jersey. Previous message, I think had some cell issues. In the Yonatan Adler episode you mentioned the Mechaber. You said his name numerous times, and you said his last name is Cairo. Really, it’s closer to Carro. You also mentioned, I’ll send you via email. There was a video last year, a lecture by Professor Mark Shapiro, Professor Benny Brown and the children discussing their father. Fascinating interview, but yasher koach. Keep up the great work.
I really do appreciate that. I probably have been pronouncing Rav Yosef Karo incorrectly. It’s not like Cairo, like Egypt. Karo. I will do a better job of that and so many people reached out. I read an article before that episode from Professor Yehudah in his dialogue in the pages of Tradition and so many people reached out with the fascinating background of his life and his family, and I hope it’s something that we actually return to. Here’s the next one.
Hi, David. Good evening. Just starting to listen to the Lawrence Schiffman episode in the intro, and I got absolutely stuck at the reference to the tenants of Judaism. The word is tenets, T-E-N-E-T. Tenants are those who pay rent to live somewhere. Tenets are fundamental, I guess underpinnings. So just for future reference, I love your stuff. Have a good evening.
Well, that’s a doozy. It is tenets of Judaism, not tenants of Judaism, though sometimes I feel like a tenant of Judaism and just hoping that I could pay my rent. But yes, that is an absolutely fantastic correction, which is an absolutely fantastic intro to our next voicemail.
Hey, David, Ben Rothke, your favorite listener in area code 973. In reference to the episode with Professor Schiffman. Yeah, starting at the 24-minute mark is, I think, way too long. You’re going to lose people. I mean, there’s entire podcasts that are shorter than 24 minutes, and one thing I’d also suggest limiting the use of the term “absolute” and “absolutely” to four times per episode for you, and in reference to the episode with Lawrence Schiffman, that was absolutely amazing. I just really wish he would’ve gone on for about another eight hours. So you definitely have to please bring him back because he was absolutely amazing. That’s the absolute truth. Thank you.
It’s an absolutely excellent point. I don’t know if I could limit to myself to four “absolutelys” per episode, but I will definitely try my best. The intros are always going to be too long for some and not long enough for others. I think it’s part of the work that we do here is kind of framing the very interviews and building the relationship with the audience. Please, you should know on every email now, we started listing the exact time much to my own protest, but the 18Forty team overruled me, gives you the exact minute and second of when you can skip to begin the episode. So, really, don’t feel like you are chained or forced to listen to my ungodly long intros. And here’s the next one.
Hey, David, Ben Rothke. I’m a biggest fan of Passaic County, maybe even Bergen County. The episode child in Parental Alienation was really beyond words, how powerful it was. So kudos to that. Just incredible. You mentioned American Girl Magazine being affiliated with Girl Scouts of America. Yeah, that is not correct. American Girl Magazine was completely separate. Girl Scouts is the official Girl Scouts of America magazine. Just one thing else, you close with the story that almost every branch has a white cloth. I mean, happens to all of us. On the good news, says you didn’t close the episode with the part about a podcast not being complete without some schnorring, so I thought that was a good thing. So you do amazing work and please continue. Kol tuv.
Always appreciate. And there’s one demographic I don’t want to get on their nerves, and that’s the Girls Scouts of America, so I appreciate the correction. Our final voicemail is not directly from Mel Barinholtz who I saw a few weeks ago, but another listener who was calling out a Mel Barinholtz correction, pronunciation correction. This is the type of fighting that will bring and rebuild the Third Temple. I love it. I hope you love it. Our final correction from this section and this episode, listen in.
Hi, David. Sorry, I started leaving a message and kind of mucked it up. But anyway, regarding your dear friend Mel Barinholtz and his corrections, while he is almost entirely on the mark with his English corrections, there’s one in which I think you can zing him back. He corrected you on your reference to champing at the bit. He correctly corrected that it’s not bits, it’s bit, but what he seems to missed is the actual phrase is “champing.” C-H-A-M-P at the bit. It’s frequently confused with “chomping” and to the point that it’s sort of become acceptable. But going purist, the word is “champing.” There’s another podcast I listen to where English usage or grammar is not the point, but it comes up occasionally and their motto is, “The first rule of correcting people is be right.” Have a great day. Thanks for what you do.
I hope it’s clear how much it means to me that people are reaching out. I hope people continue to reach out. I hope episodes like this give you encouragement to reach out. Of course, we love those who lurk. We love those who just listen, but please do reach out. It really enhances and creates this sense of community looking at one another, diving in together over these ideas to create a type of community, the type of affiliation, the type of commitment for ourselves, for our families, for Am Yisroel together, is really the privilege of a lifetime and it is so encouraging to hear from everyone, whether it’s a correction on a pronunciation or somebody really opening up their hearts. It opens up my heart, and I am so grateful to all of you. So thank you so much for listening. This episode, like so many of our episodes, is edited by our dearest friend Denah Emerson.
It wouldn’t be a Jewish podcast without a little bit of Jewish guilt, so if you enjoyed this episode or any episode, please subscribe, rate, review, tell your friends about it. You can also donate at 18 forty.org/donate. It really helps us reach new listeners and continue putting out great content. You can also leave us a voicemail with feedback or questions that we may plan on future episode. That number is 917-720-5629. Once again, that’s 917-720-5629. If you’d like to learn more about this topic or some of the other great ones we’ve covered in the past, be sure to check out 18Forty.org. That’s the number one eight, followed by the word “forty,” F-O-R-T-Y.org. You can also find videos, articles, and recommended readings. Thank you so much for listening and stay curious, my friends.