Agudath Israel of America and me. And us.

I’m going to be an “honoree” at the Agudath Israel of America dinner a week from Sunday, May 17th in New York. I am among a handful of people receiving the Avodas Hakodesh award, which is for volunteers who contribute to the Agudah in some way by, well, avodah — work. If the Agudah calls what I do kodesh (holy) and asks me, as it has, to help promote the organization’s goals by agreeing to accept a plaque and to lean on my friends and associates to contribute, I’m happy to do it.

Someone asked me why. Part of it is that I am friendly with quite a few people who are very involved with the Agudah, and I like them, and what they do, and I like what they ask me to do, too. But on a less personal note, here is the letter I sent out, tweaked a little:

I have agreed to accept the Avodas Hakodesh Award at the upcoming 87th Anniversary Dinner of Agudath Israel of America at the New York Hilton Hotel on Sunday May 17th. And I am writing to persuade you to join me there.

The easy part is explaining why I have carried an Agudath Israel membership card for over 20 years and why this organization merits your support.

“The Agudah” is the largest grassroots Orthodox organization in the country, with chapters in over 30 states. In a time of dizzying political and social change, the Agudah is our community’s consistent voice in federal, state and local government. Its efforts on behalf of yeshivos and day schools, religious freedom, and advocating on behalf of the needy and disadvantaged are well known. Behind the scenes, I have been privileged to be exposed to Agudah’s efforts in coordinating private legal and allied resources where they are needed. And of course, the Agudah plays a leading role in spreading Torah throughout the world, in sponsoring social service and housing programs, job training, youth activities and summer camps, and providing overseas relief.

Agudath Israel takes on challenges that affect the whole Jewish world, with unusual clarity of mission. That clarity is a result of the fact that the Agudah operates under the direction and guidance of the Gedolei Yisroel. And that is why I am an Agudist.

As would be expected with an organization whose ambition and responsibility are almost boundless, the Agudah bestows great benefits… on countless beneficiaries… but is far short of benefactors. Please be one this year, when your support matters more than ever, by making a contribution via this link and, I hope, joining me at the Agudah dinner. Thank you for being at least a little open to persuasion!

You like? OK. Now, someone asked me why BT’s, in general, should want to be involved in this effort, and in particular why BBT-er’s would. To me, the foregoing is more than enough reason. The Agudah does important work on behalf of the Jewish people and it aspires to do its work by the principal of Daas Torah (Torah wisdom as enunciated by leading sages of our time).

It never occurred to me that BT’s might only be interested in supporting “kiruv” (outreach) projects, in the popular sense of the word. Supporting works that benefit the whole community and enhance kavod shomayim (the honor of Heaven) is for all of us. I can think of no better way to demonstrate a lack of need for social training wheels than for BT’s to demonstrate their commitment to the general welfare of our community.

Besides, it has been argued here often, and of course elsewhere, that the best kiruv of all is displaying to the “not yet frum” the “best” the frum world has to offer in terms of role models. Many of those role models are to be found in the ranks of the Agudah, both professionals and volunteers, and as I said, it was obvious to me almost as soon as I understood the “scene” that I must be an Agudist. The fact that I have, over the decades, had the chance to become friends with and work with so many of their number is one of those very happy bonuses in life for which I am very grateful to Hashem.

I like ’em. They’re my guys, and they’ve invited me to dinner. They even put me in a cool video. And now I’m inviting you!

(Don’t worry, glatt kosher. I asked. ;-))

37 comments on “Agudath Israel of America and me. And us.

  1. I don’t know if there’s enough of an audience to make money on it, which is evidently what the Agudah wants to do. It is next to impossible to make money with the majority of Orthodox Jewish works in print.

  2. R’ YGB, are you implying that there is no audience for the JO type of material anymore, at least not enough to sustain the magazine? If there is an audience demand, someone will fill it.

  3. Y,H and M are newspapers – here today, gone tomorrow. JO’s are monthlies – collected and preserved. Moreover, Y,H and M are in the business of making money. The JO was not. Newspapers do not generally print scholarship nor issue position papers. The JO printed accessible scholarship and took positions. Y,H and M will not be critical, nor report critical stories that impugn Orthodox Jewry in some way. The JO did,

  4. Mordechai, press releases were only one thing in my list. Above, Steve Brizel expressed part what I was trying to get at.

  5. The Aguda files “Friend of the Court” petitions on cases that involve Jewish interests. Recently they filed a brief in order to uphold the terms of a Jewish man’s will which was written to exclude any descendents who intermarried, while the intermarried grandchildren tried to prove the stipulation was unenforceable.

  6. The JO, IMO, has been supplanted by the trio of Yated, Hamodia and Mishpacha on a weekly basis, Perhaps, the Agudah realized that it could get its message out in a far more productive and proactive manner with weekly and periodic columns or interviews, as opposed to a magazine that was published periodically.

  7. Bob, maybe you missed Rav Bechoffer’s point. It seems he doesn’t want to just know what dicta or pronouncements are being handed down. It seems he wants intercourse and rational public discourse of Torah and its applications. “Thought and thinking!”, not press releases. A good journal, in some format, is needed for that; much as the role that Tradition serves or attempts to for the Rabbinical Council of America.

  8. R’ YGB,
    Do you believe that an organization can’t create and distribute products of thought and thinking except through its own periodical? I agree that the magazine seems like the best option, but no one, evidently, has stepped up to fund its continuation.

  9. Comment #25 would be plausible if we really knew that the Agudah had no plan to continue the named informational functions by other means. In principle, the Agudah can get its word out through other existing publications, through conferences and press releases, etc.

  10. In axing the JO, the AI has lost much of its raison d’etre. Sans the JO, they are just a shtadlanus organization. They no longer can lay claim to advancing the thought of Torah-true Yahadis, nor to boldy confronting the burning issues of the day, nor to clarifying what the Torah has to say on matters of the day and matters of eternity, nor to educating the generation. True and saddening folly.


  11. Ron,
    Thanks to you (everyone, really) for helping me decipher these discussions. For the record, following your advice I did purchase “Frumspeak,” by Chaim Weiser. It’s quite helpful, but by no means complete. So, thanks again.

  12. Mem, I am sorry. I did undertake to translate better and more often, but I didn’t want to add any base metal to my comedy gold.

    It means “decline of the generations,” and is a central axiom of the “right wing” type of Judaism that our friend DK claims to disdain — the idea that the further we get from the original transmission of the Torah to Moshe, the weaker the signal gets. Hence each succeeding generation is presumptively weaker, spiritually (and, as it turns out, otherwise) than its predecessor.

  13. You know, DK, I gave you as good an open shot as I can imagine, and that’s the best you can do?

    Where are the real apikorsim? You know what we say at the Agudah — yeridas hadoires!

  14. I don’t think we benefited from any prejudgments of the Agriprocessors court cases, whether pro or con. It was as if everyone reflexively defended his own side. If it’s too soon to have judged them to be victims, it’s also too soon to have judged them to be villains.

  15. I expect communities and organizations to conform to principles, values, and independent thought, not blind adherence to shitas.

  16. Ron, I while I was very pleased to see the Agudah blame the Agriprocessors affair on anti-semitism, I thought they could have gone a bit further, and honored them as well, as many of us consider them to be the greatest labor leaders of our generation.

    Would you be opposed to sharing the stage with the Rubashkin heroes?

  17. Do we expect communities and organizations to conform to our personal desires or do we bend a little to theirs?

  18. I feel bad DK. But after all when they told you we were both going to stroll about at the dinner in the company of the gedolim, you had to make a fuss over which of us would walk in front. What can I do?

    Nathan, I’m a centrist too! Where should I send your Agudah card? First year’s dues are on me.

  19. I agree that the Agudah does good work to help the Jewish people.

    My personal problem with Orthodox Jewish organizations is that none of them seem to embody the Centrist Orthodoxy that I believe in. To me, they seem to be either too Yeshivish or too Modern Orthodox.

    Any suggestions?

  20. I thought it was going to be me this year, but I concede you are also a worthy candidate, and I will not let my jealousy come between us.

  21. Thanks for the backup, there, Bob! “Giddy”? But really thanks also.

    I had some trouble figuring out the right tone. Abe, I was trying to have a little fun. Why would I talk down to “us BTs”?

    I stand behind my record of talking sideways to BT’s at this blog!

  22. I like ‘em. They’re my guys, and they’ve invited me to dinner. They even put me in a cool video. And now I’m inviting you! (Don’t worry, glatt kosher. I asked. ;-))

    Thanks for talking down to us BTs as if we were children. Forget social training wheels, where’s my trike?

  23. what an insulting question – why BT’s should be interested in Aguda or anything else. as if being a BT defines a person totally, that they be expected to be interested in nothing other than kiruv. my guess is that the questioner was neither a BT nor someone with much understanding of the greater world around them beyond their limited vision.

    gee, they’d be real surprised to hear that – gasp! – even BT’s have interest in, say politics (an area wherein aguda is quite active, LOL)

  24. Around 1980 we signed up as Agudah members and also subscribed to their Jewish Observer monthly.

    At the time, there was very little coming out in English that reflected the traditional Orthodox orientation toward Jewish and general matters. From time to time, I dig into our pile of old Jewish Observers and find very timely discussions.

    Of course, many are still timely because the problems discussed remain unsolved! We have to recognize that, in our exile, no Orthodox organization, however many Gedolim participate in it and however broadly or narrowly based, can order its followers and supporters to do X or Y. Nevertheless, the Agudah has been fighting the good fight on many levels, often enjoying success. They must be a force, because bloggers with questionable agendas are always going after them.

    Note also that Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, one of the rabbinic advisors to Beyond BT, runs Project YES for the Agudah, to bring Jewish youth in spiritual difficulty back to Yiddishkeit.

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