An Open Letter to the Editorial Board of Tradition

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As you consider the future direction of Tradition, I ask that you consider the following thoughts I have compiled at this late hour of 3 am. Tradition was once the forefront of Orthodox Jewish thought but has since fallen into a rut. As is inevitable, times have changed and Tradition needs to adapt or fall into irrelevance. I have grown spiritually and intellectually from the pages of Tradition and treasure its legacy. Please take these suggestions/criticisms within the constructive framework in which they areintended.

1. There are more academic Jewish Studies departments today than there were when Tradition was founded. There are more academic Jewish Studies journals today than there were 40 years ago. Furthermore, there is much more acceptance of Orthodox scholars in academic Jewish Studies than in the past. So there is no need for Tradition to be an academic journal. You probably can’t do it better than all the rest, so try being different instead.

2. Take risks. Be creative. Most importantly, be honest and caring. See below for some suggestions.

3. Be relevant. When an issue arises, get an article about it and print it immediately. Bump something else if need be, but don’t wait until two years after the fact to address an important communal issue.

4. Be timely. Don’t miss deadlines by months.

5. Don’t be scared to vary size. No one is afraid of a big journal, and a small issue every once in a while won’t bother anyone either.

6. R. J. David Bleich is a treasure. Too often, he is the only thing worth reading.

7. Probably the most interesting and talked-about article in the past few years was Moshe Koppel’s letter. No, it wasn’t academic. But that did not make it any less excellent. It is exactly what Tradition should be printing.

8. Find a distributor and get the journal into bookstores pronto. You should always be over-printing and selling in stores.

9. Cultivate young, up-and-coming authors. Get the phone numbers of these young scholars and ask them to contribute: Rabbis Assaf Bednarsh, Eitan Mayer, Jeremy Wieder, Uri Cohen. Why have I seen articles from R. Meir Soloveichik in Azure (to which he is a contributing editor!) and First Things, but not in Tradition? I’m sure that if you go to him with a good idea and apply pressure in the proper way he’ll give you something great – truly great. More Yitzi Blau, please. Get an article-length excerpt from whatever he’s working on. R. Mayer Twersky is full of eloquence and wisdom but has to be coaxed into writing. Please do so. An editor has to work hard, but it is not a thankless job. Not by far.

10. The Modern Orthodox world is going through a seismic shift at this moment, but I would not know it from reading Tradition. R. Feldman covered developments in feminism. Granted, in his own partisan way (which many loved and many hated), but at least he acknowledged that it exists. Why is there nothing in Tradition about the impending split in the Orthodox community? Why is there almost no social commentary at all? Are Marvin Schick and Hillel Goldberg really the only ones who can analyze and critique the Orthodox world? Get Prof. Halivni to write about his view of the developments in Orthodoxy. It might work and if it doesn’t, don’t print it. I’ve seen a draft article by a young thinker on this subject that is eminently publishable. I don’t think he is even considering submitting it to Tradition.

9. YU is at a major crossroads and no one is analyzing it. It is pretty hard to understate the enormity of current developments. Why not have an outsider take a look at this and write his impressions?

10. Jewish-Christian relations. There is still a lot to be said on this matter, but try to get someone who has not yet said his piece. We already know what he is going to say.

10. Self-pesak, i.e. the ignoring of top posekim – good thing or bad?

11. Kiruv techniques: the good, the bad and the ugly.

12. How about some serious, critical biographical and historical essays? I recently read the Artscroll Rav Pam and was appalled, to say the least. Great inspiring stories but almost no history. Why not commission a history of Torah Vodaas? Someone should set the record straight about exactly what happened between those great scholars. Or get a former talmid of Rav Pam to write a real biography. For that matter, why not get someone to write a real biographical essay of the Rav, that includes his flaws and failures? For all the huffing and puffing the Modern Orthodox community likes to do about hagiography, I have yet to see someone seriously analyze the Rav’s successes and failures. Certainly not in Tradition.

13. Does the internet exist? Does it have an impact on: the Jewish family, Jewish education, the pace of events in the Jewish community? At the very, very least, have someone write an halakhah article about internet use. Granted, I have an obvious pro-internet bias. But I reckon that the vast majority of the 50-and-under population do as well.

14. The world of Jewish education has taken enormous steps in the past few years. Take a look at some of the articles in the Lookstein journal or at its e-mail list (see the previous point on e-mail lists). Some of this, or at least an acknowledgement that it is happening, should be taking place in Tradition. Why not ask ATID to publish some of its fellows’ papers in Tradition?

15. Book reviews do not have to be glowing. If they consistently are, no one will read them. Publish some critical reviews on interesting topics. For example, try getting R. Nosson Slifkin (speaking about young, up-and-coming scholars, put him on your list) to review the recently published English translation of R. Leo Levi’s The Science in Torah or anything by Gerald Schroeder.

I could go on and on, and I am sure that I am not the only one who can. The main points are 2 and 3 above – take risks and be creative. Other journals, who will remain nameless, are doing that with mixed results. Don’t be scared of a little failure. It’s a good thing. That is how you learn what works and what does not. Otherwise, you end up doing the same thing you’ve been doing for years, which was a great success 30 years ago but now has gotten more than a little stale.

I wish you much success and growth. As you stand at this crossroads, look to a future that is different. A future with new voices and different ways of doing things. Change is a good thing.

UPDATE:

PS The academic study of the Talmud is being resurrected in the Orthodox community after being dormant since the purge of Revel. If Dr. Elman does not have the time or the health to write something about it for Tradition, find a student of his to do so. Additionally, a little communal introspection about what to make of this would be very valuable. Personally, I don’t know what to make of it. The Revadim controversy would have been the perfect opportunity but that went by entirely unnoticed.

PPS A reader correctly pointed out in an e-mail that Tradition should also be recruiting more women writers. There is a growing group of capable women who can and should add to the community’s discussion.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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