Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"This Isn't Bnei Brak"

I though this interesting enough to warrant its own post, since I am interested in the ambiguity of language.

It turns out that there are two possible interpretations of "This isn't Bnei Brak," which accord with people's preconceived notions.

When the wig store owner, who seems to have come from Bnei Brak, said "This isn't Bnei Brak," we could interpret it as:
  1. Flatbush is not a place where we impose the over-the-top stringencies on dress, like they do in Bnei Brak.
  2. Here in America, and in this neighborhood of Flatbush, you do not have Talmudei Chachamim of the caliber that we have in Bnei Brak, so do not try imposing your decided halacha on me, for you are a bunch of ignoramuses!
Of course, the first interpretation is the correct one, IMHO, in terms of what is the likely intent of the speaker of the statement, given the context given in the letter.

But the two interpretations accord with people's attitudes towards Bnei Brak before this. Modern Orthodox are more likely to think of Bnei Brak as a place with an excess of conformity in approach to many things, including chumra of tznius. Bnei Brak is a "bad" thing to be compared to. The statement is effectively "this is not Afghanistan under Taliban rule!" Saying that Flatbush is not Bnei Brak is a positive thing to say about Flatbush.

For many chareidim, Bnei Brak is a place of great kedusha, and a place of Torah greats. To cite Wikipedia, "Currently famous rabbis who reside in Bnei Brak are Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, Rabbi Shmuel Vozner, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and Rabbi Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz." Saying that Flatbush is not Bnei Brak is then a negative thing to say about Flatbush. How dare you say we are not Bnei Brak?! We also have a makom Torah, and we also have Torah greats of equal caliber!

Benei Berak indeed has both aspects to it, but the question is which is the more salient aspect to someone making this statement.

The question is what the chareidi store owner meant when he said it. It is remotely possible that he meant the latter, but I think it is far more likely that he meant the former. And that he left Bnei Brak in part to get away from such extremities of tznius.

I wonder, though, whether Bray of Fundie is alone in his interpretation of this statement, or if others interpret it like him. For example, the folks at YeshivaWorld. Or just perhaps, those avreichim from the yeshiva who spoke with the store owner and thought that he was being chutzpahdik. Just perhaps they were speaking past each other.

Any chareidim reading this, who can offer insight into this?

Update: Welcome DovBear readers. While you are here, why not take a look around? A recent interesting post was whether the malach mentioned towards the end of Mishpatim was Metatron or Moshe Rabbeinu.


Nephtuli said...

It's unclear how RAS took the comment, but he certainly took it as a negative.

The first interpretation is a much more plausible reading of the comment. The second is nonsense. Who seriously thinks he was talking about the quality of Torah scholarship in Flatbush?

joshwaxman said...

I agree. And Bray, if we take him at his word.


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