Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Saccharine Frumness

Just listened to a calling post message from the kids' school. The principal has the standard yeshivish accent and manner of speaking, that sort of lilting, slightly lisping and nasal sound. It struck me as I listened that all these guys sound the same; they all have this weird saccharine quality to their speech. Not the accent specifically, but the content. They are just too damn sweet - it's like listening to Forrest Gump. They seem to talk to one another as you would to small children.

And then I thought that probably I am just a mean guy, not nice like these guys. I am much more of a jerk. But then I also thought - isn't that the classic Jew? The Lenny Bruce, the Jackie Mason. My Yiddish speaking forebears, always with the salty saying, tweaking and teasing one another. Yiddish is a language for scoffers, for mean people, for teasers and verbal bullies.

Have frum people always been nice, even hundreds of years ago? Were they always these heilige, saccharine, plastic people? Or is this a new phenomenon?


Blogger evanstonjew said...

There is a much esteemed, retired principal in Chicago who might be described as talking the way you describe. Undoubtedly his style, a sort of yeshivish Mr. Rogers, has rubbed off on other mechanchim. In his case there is a connection to gedolim of the previos generation...Rav. Kaminetzky, Rav Pam, Chafetz Chaim type people and others.Ultimately this style goes back to Slabodka and the mussar movement, a topic much discussed on the new charedi blog Not-Brisker Yeshivish.

Fortunately chasidim don't talk this way nor do those who were influenced by chassidim.Hershel Tzig's blog is a wonderful example of sharp, witty dialogue by a chasidish crowd.

This issue you raise is also relevant to one of the ongoing themes of UOJ on the formation of American Orthodoxy. (See his initial post and comments on Rav Z. Epstein.) It also is related to how English can be written with yiddish rhythms.

September 02, 2009 10:13 AM  
Blogger Tobie said...

I found that my teachers, in general, were plagued with a homogeneous sweetness that made it hard to like them but made one feel very guilty if one didn't. I feel like it's something that's drilled into them in the name of midot- midot means being sweet and gentle and well, saccharine.

I feel bad being against it, since I mean, it's nice for people to be nice...right? although I have met very few people who can pull off sweet without me despising them.

Probably due to these biases I have, I tend to imagine earlier generations as a little more biting. Talmud, responsa, all that jazz seem a lot more raw than we allow ourselves to be nowadays. And while that was a lot more fun- perhaps we really are being better people nowadays and this sweetness thing is simply an unfortunate side effect? Or perhaps, to be fair, a fortunate one that I am simply too grouchy to enjoy.

(Sorry, comment more rambling than usual)

September 03, 2009 4:43 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

I think then, as now, there were the saccharine tsadikim and the more biting sarcastic Jews. In every generation there is some of each ... so, good for us, keeping the tradition of the grouchy sarcastic Jew alive and well!

September 06, 2009 4:11 AM  

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