Remember when Jay Michaelson declared the death of “Jewish Hipster Cool” in Sh’ma almost two years ago? (The article is old enough that it’s fallen off the bottom of Sh’ma’s own online archives.) Well, apparently nobody told D. G. Myers of Texas A&M (that bastion of Jewish thought), who writes in the latest Commentary a rant against “The Judaism Rebooters” that inspires among us, the accused, nostalgia more than anything else.
The article came to our attention — and here I use “our” to really mean the Jewschool contributors collectively — about a week and a half ago when David A. M. Wilensky forwarded around a brief blurb from Tablet about the article. He titled his e-mail to us “Someone has to have something to say about this.”
It turns out, many of us had something to say, but none of us had much to say… but I’m getting ahead of myself. Read on.
I responded, “I think it would be great if we can get our hands on a copy of the Commentary article. Reacting to a reaction to something we haven’t read first-hand isn’t so productive.”
Of course, none of us subscribe to Commentary. Only one of us had read the article at that point, EV:
I read the essay; it’s astonishingly ignorant and atrociously researched, not just re. “hipsters” or “young Jews” but about modern Judaism itself. I’m no fan of the hipster “movement” or even of the term “hipster,” but this is a new low for Commentary. Even if it had been published in 2003 — the only year it might have made any sense to publish it — it would have been almost completely tone deaf to contemporary Jewish culture.
However, EV couldn’t post about the article due to a commitment he had made to a friend who was considering a response. He did tell us, though:
By the way, the essay devotes a paragraph to Danya Ruttenberg, so maybe Danya would like to cover it.
Danya, naturally, asked for more info, so EV wrote back:
It’s implicitly snide and dismissive, but not as overtly obnoxious as the rest of his piece, as he mostly limits his “critique” to quotations:
“Danya Ruttenberg, a Conservative rabbi in her early thirties, is a leader of the effort to introduce the concerns of hipster Jews into the tradition. In The Passionate Torah, a collection of eighteen essays on sex and Judaism she has edited, Ruttenberg complains that ‘Judaism seems out of step with our contemporary ethos.’ Postmodernism, feminism, and ‘queer liberation’ have combined to create ‘a sea change in how we address sex and sexuality.’ Jews need to talk ‘about how to maximize sexual empowerment between consenting adults,’ and they need ‘to ask questions like, how might new ways of thinking about queer sexuality impact all our understandings about God?’”
Then he immediately segues into “It is doubtful that many Jewish hipsters will give all that much thought to their ‘understandings about God.’”….
ps: Ben Harris writes about it here.
Whoa, that’s taking, like, pretty much everything I wrote out of context, wildly. Very irresponsible journalism.
And of course feminism is only a concern to the hipsters…?
Reb Yudel chimes in:
I started looking around the author’s blog (dgmyers.blogspot.com) and found this passage from a critique of Michael Chabon: “the exclusion of non-Jews from the Jewish religion is what constitutes the Jews as a people” (www-english.tamu.edu/pers/fac/myers/chabon.htm)
Probably a rather succinct summation of Commentary’s theology.
Yeah, that’s basically the style of the entire piece. It’s pretty infuriating. His view of Judaism itself is summed up when he tries to slam Rebecca Walker: “This conception of Jewishness is about as contrary to the basic precepts of Jewish peoplehood as it is possible to get. Jews do not choose; they are chosen.”
Since when has Rebecca Walker been our spokesmodel?
Doesn’t this whole thing seem terribly 2001 to you all? I thought we had moved from the clever t-shirt phase to, you know, community-building a while ago…
Aryeh Cohen joins in the fun:
Not to say anthing bad, but a bunch of us folks who contributed to Danya’s evil little volume were around to be despised as hippies also.
Sorry, Aryeh. You (and Elliot Dorff, and Esther Fuchs, and Art Waskow, and Bonna Haberman and etc.) are actually snarky little Williamsburg hipsters with asymmetric haircuts now. Your skinny jeans and guyliner will be arriving shortly.
At this point — over a week since the article was published — none of us had managed to squeeze a genuine blog post out of our discussion, so I offered to simply cut and past our e-mails into what you’re seeing right here.
but when you publish it write it slower so some of us older folks can keep up.
This might be a good post to link to also, if it fits (though i still haven’t read the original article, just responses to it).
Ruby K joins the fun, responding to my offer to construct a post from our discussion:
…only if “what a douchebag!” makes it in the final edit.
but seriously, that’s kinda all I got. Idiots. Losers. Of course independent communities for 20s and 30s somethings isn’t relevant. That’s why the movements are cutting vast amounts of staff and people building their own community are succeeding, because we’re irrelevant, snarky hipsters. I’d love to spend more time fisking arguments that have been lost by their ilk and irrelevant for several years, but I’ve got to go back to co-chairing a conference for independent community leaders around North America.
Also, if anybody’s interested, my Mad Libs from a couple years ago…
And here we are. If you can get your hands on a copy of Commentary — that may involve going to a library, synagogue, or a right-wing neighbor’s house, since the online edition is only available to subscription holders — let us know what you think.
And because fair is fair, let’s give Myers the last word. Seeing what JTA and mobius had to say, he wrote a follow-up on his own blog:
Again and again, my critics complain that my abuse of hipster Jews is out of date—by four years, six years. In short, it is not hip.
Yes, that’s a bit out of context. Go read the rest of his post. But beware – he tries to out-snark his targets and it’s a little painful. And know that if you’re looking for him to respond to any of the actual criticism of the way he went after a strawman and ignored what’s actually happening on the ground in the Jewish communities we, the accused hipsters, as creating and participating in, don’t get your hopes up.
Bonus round: go back and reread his article and blog-post and substitute “hipster” and its accouterments with “Reform & Conservative” etc, and realize that this fits in to an even older chain of still-not-very-interesting articles by Orthodox men declaring the failure of all other Judaisms. (I wonder if the out-of-work Temple Priests were writing similar documents during the redaction of the Mishnah.)