Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Rabbi of the Future

[This week's Haveil Havalim is here]

As CNN and the New York Times reported last week, Beloit College publishes The Mindset List, an annual list of facts about the world of their incoming freshmen, to help their faculty recognize the contours of the universe their young students inhabit.

It’s an eye-opening list; for this year’s freshmen (born in 1992), the factoids include:
Few in the class know how to write in cursive.
Email is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail.
Los Angelenos have always been trying to get along.
Entering college this fall in a country where a quarter of young people under 18 have at least one immigrant parent, they aren't afraid of immigration...unless it involves "real" aliens from another planet.
Colorful lapel ribbons have always been worn to indicate support for a cause.
Trading Chocolate the Moose for Patti the Platypus helped build their Beanie Baby collection.
Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.
They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone.
DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed.

So it set me thinking: What about today’s rabbinical students, young men (in my corner of the Jewish world) in their early 20’s who are just starting to learn for semichah (ordination)? What shapes their philosophical universe, what assumptions do they have which will influence the way they learn, the way they daven, the way they lead their communities, when they receive semichah?

In other words: What will be the mental world of your new rabbi?

I can think of a few for these students, who were likely born in 1988-1990.

Rav Moshe Feinstein has always been deceased.
Rav Soloveitchik, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach passed away before they started grade school.
There have been CD editions of sefarim, and Jewish educational software, since before they started grade school.

Cutting-Edge Issues that are no longer cutting edge
The Reform movement has always accepted patrilineal descent.
Abortion has always been legal in the United States.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” has always been the policy of the US Military.
Yeshivat Chovevei Torah has existed since before they entered Junior High School.
R' Avi Weiss's "Women at Prayer: A Halakhic Analysis of Women's Prayer Groups" was published when they were still in diapers.
The US Jewish intermarriage rate has always been around 50%.

They have heard about the Six Day War – from their grandparents.
They have heard about the 1981 Lebanon War and the Iraqi nuclear reactor and the first Intifada – from their parents.
Ethiopian Jews have always lived in Israel.
R' Meir Kahane was assassinated before they were out of diapers.
Iraq launched Scuds at Israel in Gulf War I before they were out of diapers.
Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated before they graduated kindergarten.

Jewish Life in North America
Soviet Jewry has always meant small communities led by Chabad emissaries and served by other outreach groups, rather than large masses of Jews trapped behind an Iron Curtain and squelched by Communism.
It is entirely possible that even their grandparents have no adult memories of the Holocaust era.
The Crown Heights Riots occurred when they were still in diapers.
Adam Sandler's Chanukah Song has been playing on the radio since before they entered grade school.
Award-winning Israeli wines have always been available in North America; no Malaga has ever crossed their palates.
The last new Seinfeld episode aired before they turned nine years old.
Baruch Lanner had resigned from NCSY before they were old enough to attend an event.
The Siyum haShas of Daf Yomi has always been held in Madison Square Garden –and the Barnum and Bailey Circus has held events there for Chol haMoed since they were Bar Mitzvah.

What would you add to this list?


  1. My son, born 1990, adds these:

    Artscroll has always been around.

    The post high school year in Israel is a given for yeshiva high school graduates.

    The "shidduch crisis" pre-dates their awareness of dating

    Israel has always been a world power in the high-tech field

    The Sinai peninsula has always belonged to Egypt

    Oreo's and M&M's have always been kosher (does not apply to Canadians)

    Radical Islam has always been the biggest threat to the West

  2. I love these kinds of reflective pieces, they really put things into perspective. We can't even remember how we entertained our toddlers without Youtube videos, and they have only been around 5 years!

    Over the past several months I belatedly became an avid reader of your blog. I unsuccessfully tried to email you a few weeks ago but never received a response. Please do drop me a line if you have the chance. Thanks!

  3. Laya-
    Wow, great additions to the list; thanks!

    R' Maroof-
    Thanks for reading and commenting. Did you email the address in my profile? I don't see anything from you in my mail - and I don't have an email address for you.

  4. These freshmen were born after I graduated high school! :( (Songs of the 80's have always been 'oldies' for them)

    Just makes me wonder what these lists will look like when my kids are old enough to be college freshmen. Hopefully one will be "Mashiach came before their Bar Mitzvah!"