July 1, 2005 | Issue 22

Modern Orthodox Conference Largest Ever

TEANECK, NEW JERSEY — [TheKnish.com] This past week marked the occasion of the largest Modern Orthodox conference, organized by the group Deah. Deah, which quite appropriately can mean either wisdom or opinion, was founded in 1996 to advocate Modern Orthodoxy (motto: "We're not quite dead yet"). The conference took place in the business lounge in Motel 6 off of Route 80. In a fit of optimism Deah rented the big room, which seats 30.

The conference was structured around a series of talks. The list of talks was impressive and was divided into two tracks. The schedule was as follows:

Beginner track:
A. Encouraging College Attendance
B. Introduction to Comparative Religion
C. History and Origins of Halakha
D. Women in the Workforce
E. Gnostic Influences in Kabbalah
F. Lessons from Textual Criticism

Advanced track:
A. Begging College Graduates to be Rabbeim
B. Being Mekarev Students of Comparative Religion
C. Defending Halakha as Binding
D. The Shidduch Crisis
E. Rescuing Authentic Kabbalah
F. Maintaining Torah mi-Sinai

As an intrepid TheKnish.com reporter, I showed up early for all of the talks, so as to get the best seat and shoo away the crickets. One speaker thanked me so much for coming so that he wouldn't have to speak to an empty room, and was terribly dissappointed when I told him that I was just a reporter on assignment. "No one came? How am I going to get rid of my butterflies by imagining my audience in their underwear?" he asked.

I managed to wrangle an interview from the busy schedule of Rabbi Dr. Sole Newman, founder, president, treasurer, speaker and chairman of Deah (his wife fills all other roles). "Attendance is a bit down this year. We think it's the terrible weather," said Rabbi Dr. Newman. Before I could point out the sunny climate or ask, "Who's we?," he continued. "We keep halakha and contrary to popular belief we really do exist. Our mistake was that instead of imitating Hashem's love and care we imitated his hiding of face. Have I mentioned we keep halakha?"

I asked the Rabbi if the turnout met his expectations. "Well, we were going to advertise but that might offend the chareidim. You won't tell anyone about this, right?" he said. "Anyway, the journal is in its second printing and we have high hopes of printing a third one very soon." I lifted my hand to punctuate a question and he flinched. Classic sign of abuse: fear of being attacked by chareidim. When I asked the rabbi why one of the speakers looks just like him, except for his wearing glasses, he said "There may have been a dearth of speakers willing to risk being here. Hey, it worked for Superman and the chareidim have a hard time telling fantasy from reality anyway. Oh G-d, please don't hurt me!"

In the end the conference attracted more protesters than attendees. I invited both protestors to my office for an interview but only one accepted and only on condition of anonymity. I asked what he thought of Rabbi Dr. Newman's keynote. "Keynote? Vus is dus shtuss? And Rabbi Dr?" he sniffed, "It's a steera minei ubei. I bet it's not even one of those divinity zachim. Also, he uses big words, the warning sign of a kofer. Did you check the size of his yarmulke? He probably uses an eruv too, the filthy shaigetz. Chas v'sholom you should associate with such shkotzim." Keeping his eyes ever down, he made his grand exit, slamming the closet door with just the right amount of indignity.

Writer

Pencil Mordy Ovits did standup once. They laughed at him. They all laughed at him. You can email your laughter to him at movits@theknish.com.


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