Sunday, November 2, 2008

Einstein - The Secret Weapon Against Assimilation?

As if developing the special and general theories of relativity, winning a Nobel Prize, and making numerous other major contributions to the field of physics weren't enough, Albert Einstein is now the secret weapon for combating assimilation!

The following is a short excerpt from the Fall 2008 issue of Jewish Action.
OU President Steven Savitsky: One of the greatest problems facing Jewry is intermarriage. What do you think can be done to stem the tide of assimilation?

Rabbi Gilbert Klaperman: There’s another aspect of this issue that we’re not touching on. And that is, How do we talk to our children about the problem of intermarriage? In other words, to simply say that we will not grant legitimacy is not sufficient. We have to instill in our children a love for Judaism. We have to create a sense of emotional relationship [to Judaism], of pride and joy. We have to talk to them not only about Jewish tradition, but about great Jews who brought credit to us. We have to talk to them about an Albert Einstein, a Jew who brought great glory to our people.

Frum Heretic's response: Rabbi Klaperman, you do know that Albert Einstein did not believe in a personal God, the God of the Jews, don't you? Perhaps you should read Albert's 1954 letter to philosopher Eric Gutkind, which has some quite acerbic words to say about Judaism:

The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this... For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything 'chosen' about them. [excerpt]

Did you also know, Rabbi, that Einstein's first wife, Miliva Maric, was Catholic? That Einstein got her pregnant before they were married and they divorced because Einstein committed adultery with his cousin, Elsa? That after marrying Elsa he had several extramarital affairs?

Is this your ideal of a Jew that can help stem the problem of intermarriage and assimilation?


Garnel Ironheart said...

Okay, okay, so he should have picked Woody Allen instead!


LonelyMan said...

Kiruv is not about telling the unfiltered honest truth, but rather what works. The mentioning of Woody Allen is quite ironic because the the students and adults who come to Kiruv seminars are probably filled with Jewish guilt...I know I was. They want to feel a connection with their Jewish heritage, but they feel guilty that they don't so. So, the Rabbis work off and play on that, giving them whatever is the most immediate reason to feel Jewish pride, in this case being famous Jews and Nobel Prize winners (I personally prefer Natalie Portman and Scarlet Johannson, but to each their own.) You can credit a whole host of psychological defense mechanisms and other things to this regard, but that's quite an analysis in it's own right.

People aren't going to think too much into it, FH, you know that. Yes, Einstein was somewhat deist, Krum as a Bagel, but he at least has ideas, sayings and facts you can cherry-pick off (and so does Ms. Portman mind you.) Strangely enough, as someone who's been around enough Kiruv things, I would say actually yes, it works to some extent, though not as well as the rabbis claim. People who get mekareved usually become more irrational before possibly returning to some point of rationality (and questioning perhaps.)

Garnel Ironheart said...

But I don't understand why a non-frum example like Einstein or Allen would work. After all, they simply prove that you can be remembered as a famous Jew and that millions of Jews will identify with you without any need for observance on your part.

Success and failure, fame and infamy, are not reasons for becoming frum. I think that's why I never clicked with kiruv.

Frum Heretic said...

I guess I agree with both of you (sounds like a Jewish joke). Kiruv organizations are very selective in their use of famous (non-frum) yidden, and it is usually in the cause of making sweeping generalities about the greatness of the Jewish people all out of proportion to their numbers. But often when one looks more closely at these famous examples that they exhibit the exact opposite character traits than the midot that Judaism claims are desirable. It's a very mixed message.

Margo said...

Kiruv is all about proselytizing. I love when kiruv rabbis tell me, "Oh, no, we are not missionaries. We only talk to the Jews." Ah, so you're selective missionaries. They couldn't care less about what's true. They know that people won't think too hard about their claims, and as long as they get you hooked by making you believe that you need their "product" and that it will change your life for the better, they're good to go. People will believe anything if they think that they cannot go on without it or that it will be utopia.
I did kiruv when I was frum and I now experience people constantly trying to be mekarev me. It's marketing and they work with your emotional needs more than any rationality, because they know that they make no sense.
Nice post. Einstein was a brilliant man who contributed a lot to the world we have now.

Pen Tivokeish said...

There are some quotes where he says he singles out Buddhism and the Quakers as the most rational or most attractive of the faiths.

Frum Heretic said...

Re Einstein & Buddhism: thank you for pointing that out. Although the intention of the post was to show the absurdity of using Einstein as a shining example of how great it is to be Jewish (see also Garnel's comment) and not to bash Judaism itself as fundamentally irrational, here is one of Albert's quotes:

Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: It transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural and spiritual; and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.

David said...

Einstein comes into it because he was one of the smartest guys who ever lived and he was a Jew. True, he wasn't frum (and he was intermarried), but they're grasping at kiruv straws-- if Einstein makes you proud to be a Jew, then we'll talk about Einstein's Jewishness.

Non-religious Jews aren't really going to connect with Moshe Feinstein, and Lazar Kaganovich isn't exactly the kind of role model you want.

This isn't a dispassionate scientific investigation-- it's propaganda.

Pen Tivokeish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pen Tivokeish said...

I did a little quote mining exercise last week, see my result here. The clearest thing he ever said on this I think was "My position concerning God is that of an agnostic."

Anonymous said...

Hey She was Serbian and we are Orthodox.