Thursday, January 5, 2012

UPDATED: Adventures in Semantics: Hashkafah, Hashgacha, Haskalah

Personally, my biggest tongue-twister is hashkafah and hashgacha. My brain consistently combines the two into a nonsense word: hashgafa.

Hashkafah: Worldview. It generally refers to your "brand" of halacha and Jewish living. Modern orthodox, yeshivish, Satmar, etc.

Hashgacha: The kosher certification of a restaurant. It'll be evidenced by a little sign in the window, which is called a teuda. The teuda may be more specifically called a teudat kashrut or teudat rabbanut, especially in Israel. It's essentially the restaurant equivalent of the hechsher you see on your grocery items. 

Extra credit:
Hashgacha Pratis: Divine providence; G-d's activity/intervention in the world. While it isn't an exact match, many people say it when secular people would say either "How lucky!" or "What a coincidence!"

Haskalah: A movement in Eastern Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries that is also called the "Jewish Enlightenment." When Jews were allowed to integrate into secular society, they did so. That's not good or bad in itself (hello, your writer self-identifies as "modern orthodox"), but it did lead to the wide-scale assimilation we saw prior to the Holocaust (and as some theorize, that assimilation was a large driving force that led to the Holocaust.).

And remember not to confuse havdalah in the mix!


  1. "teuda" as a stand-alone. "teudat" when followed by the descriptive word such as "kashrut". teuda= certificate, of any sort.

    "hashgacha" also meaning "providence", or "surveillance" such Hashgacha Pratit- divine providence

  2. Thank you! I've updated the post. And thank you for reminding me of hashgacha pratis! I always think of it was a phrase, rather than its individual words, so I didn't think to include it!

  3. Whoa, as someone who really has liked your posts, and as someone who has learned a lot from your writing and has been consistently impressed with your writing, I take what you write in good faith. Your words are insightful and have helped me understand better this great tradition I was born. However, as someone raised a secular Jew, and the grandson of assimilated Jews who fled Germany and post-Anschluss Austria in 37 and 38 respectively, I'd really like you to clarify that you don't think assimilation led to the Shoah. At all. I assume you are just trying to report neutrally what we both know some people claim, but imagine how offensive it would be to neutrally report something like "In the 20th century, Jews have found professional success in entertainment and financial industries (and as some theorize, Jews now control the media and world banking)." Alternatively, if that is really want to argue that, go ahead, argue it, but lay it out there, don't just slip it in an parenthesis.

  4. Jared: I never said I agreed with it. Not even remotely. I said "as some theorize." That's generally where the conversation turns whenever haskalah is mentioned, so I mentioned it in passing. I was also under the impression that this argument is well-known, regardless of my feelings on the topic (or yours). In case the argument is new to you, my understanding is that the argument is that the widespread assimilation raised the hackles, so to speak, of non-Jewish Europeans. This made them feel threatened because the worst fear of xenophobes is that "the outsider" will "infiltrate" your society. And they ascribe bad motive for this infiltration, assuming that the "infiltrators" do it to conquer the society or otherwise manipulate it. So...that's the argument that assimilation lead to the fear-mongering that created the Holocaust. It's not blaming the victim, it's a statement about xenophobia's psychology.

    Thanks for bringing it to my attention that some people may not be aware of this debate.

  5. I'm with Jared, and I don't know of any circles outside of ultra-Orthodox ones where the, "The assimilated Jews brought the Holocaust upon themselves," argument is used or even alluded to as a potentially valid idea. I've read very widely about the Holocaust, and no book or scholar I've read, Jewish or otherwise, has argued that the Holocaust was triggered by Jewish assimilation. I think it absolutely constitutes victim blaming, it's a pretty disgusting way of trying to leverage the Shoah to bolster the legitimacy of a particular set of religious practices, and I'd be curious to know, specifically, who the "some people" who theorize that the Holocaust was triggered by Jewish assimilation are. Are we talking about historical scholars here? I suspect not, but maybe I'm just not sufficiently widely read.

    As Jared said, I really enjoy reading your blog, and I'm pretty shocked to see this "theory" being slipped in there as if it's totally mainstream and non-controversial. I've never once heard it used in a context where it wasn't being used as an attempt to bolster a particular religio-political standpoint.

  6. I never said it wasn't controversial, but I was under the impression it was widespread (in the sense of being discussed in many places) and "mainstream." I've read it from Jewish books to my western civilization course in college. So yes, historical and psychological scholars to victims of the Shoah (granted, victims who were and remained traditionally-observant). I disagree about it being per se victim blaming (though it could certainly be used that way) because I see it as an analysis of psychology rather than being a statement about the assimilated Jews. For example, some people blame gays for "ruining" traditional marriage. That says more about the people doing the blaming than the gay community. That is the analogy I would use instead of the Banker Jews analogy.

  7. I'm sorry, I meant to write "gay marriage."

  8. As a baby BT, the two I confuse are chossen and chazzan. I'm fine when they are spoken, but in writing I always have to think, "Which one has the 'Z' again?"

  9. LOL - you forgot "haskamos", a word I frequently mix up with "hashgachas". In fact for a while, I thought they were one in the same! For those that don't know, haskamos are "endorsements" -- letters of approval most commonly found in the front of Jewish seforim (books).

  10. With all due respect on this sensitive topic, I don't think that's a mainstream view, at least not in any Jewish community I've been a part of or in my secular studies. I'm honestly curious about how one might argue the "Jewish Enlightenment" of the 18th and 19th centuries and the assimilation coming from it in any way drove the slaughter of six million Jews and four million others. Sorry, maybe this is too many years in academia speaking, but what's the theorized mechanism of action here? Is it haShem's wrath at the perfidy of maskilim? Is it German workers in the collapsing Weimar economy feeling threatened by the rising socio-economic status of the Jews? And how does one fit a Hasaklah==>Shoah argument with the long history of pogroms in Europe, dating back long before Moses Mendelsohn and Spinoza? And the fact that the assimilated Jews were more often the ones who emigrated before the wars and the pious Jews of Poland and the old Pale of Settlement were the ones that ended up shot in places like Babi Yar? How does this jibe with the fact that the hateful Nazi propaganda did not focus on the on the assimilated, Anne Frank-looking Jews, but the traditional, peyos-keeping black hat Jews (invariably with hooked noses, of course)? I guess I'm wondering: if you're saying this is a legitimate theory worth repeating, how does the theory fit together? If you happen to remember the name of the Western Civ books you read, I'd really like to look it up, though I mean, I can't remember all the books I read for Western Civ and what was in each. But if this is what you believe, I'd appreciate if you could point me towards any scholarly work on this (though I guess that's not your responsibility either). I just do feel like you're edging very close to blaming the victims, or, even worse, implying in some ways the assimilated Jews of Western Europe were in part responsible for not only the slaughter of their equally culpable neighbors (including at least one member of my family) but the slaughter of many actually innocent frummers in the East.

    I don't know, like I said, I've genuinely enjoyed reading your blog and have learned a lot from it. But I just came back to check this post after watching a video of Neturei Karta protesting Israel in yellow stars and KZ uniforms, and I just think that if someone were to retell that, they'd have to not characterize them neutrally as "some Orthodox Jews protested Israel, comparing Zionism to Nazism", but "This tiny fringe group which is spouting a pretty incoherent argument in an absolutely repugnant fashion compared Zionism to Nazism." (Not that it's at all relevant, but this is the video I'm talking about: Maybe I read too much Wikipedia, and every time I see "Some people say..." I want there to be a little blue [who?] next to it.

    I looked around online a little, and I guess I've seen things like this from time to time, It does end with the lines "[M]any of the maskilim were sure that they were bringing salvation of the Jewish people — without realizing that they were bringing destruction." But the whole piece is not about them bringing their own destruction, but rather, failing to prevent or predict it, which is something quite different. So it's out there as an argument, sure, but it's not any good (I'd be really surprised if it showed up as fact in a secular book) and it shouldn't be repeated any more than any other ideological canard, especially because this is such a sensitive issue, I guess is what I'm saying. Sorry for writing so much, it was just quite shocking to read that opinion repeated by someone whom I respect. Please pardon any typos, it's late.

  11. Jared, my problem is that you still appear to assume that I believe this theory, and that seems to be your issue here. If you are in academia, you should know that stating a theory exists does not equate belief in that theory. And that description you gave? To be honest, yes, if I discussed a video like that on this blog, I'd use the sterilized description. I'd use your second description on something like my Facebook or Twitter account. I try to state things on the blog in the most, matter-of-fact, de-opinionized way I can. Perhaps that is the lawyer in me.

    As for Western Civ, that's been 8 years ago and we used some textbook, but we primarily read photocopied essays and primary sources. It was an honors colloquium that presented several POVs on just about every topic. To be honest, I think that course was the base of my excellent liberal arts education.

    I think you're missing the larger point of why this was mentioned. When I have heard the haskalah mentioned or written about, that theory tends to be mentioned alongside it. The point wasn't to give it any validity or "airspace," but to simply prepare the reader for the conversation. Clearly, you're prepared. This blog is no end-all-be-all on topics. It's what I see and hear, as an individual. As the first comment on this post shows, I am human and make mistakes. However, I don't think pointing out that two ideas tend to run together was a mistake. It is what it is. Now you've presented the other side of the case in these comments, so what is the point of continuing to argue when we clearly believe we're talking about different things?

  12. Skylar:

    I've got a bit of advice for you as someone who is on the verge of joining the Tribe - never, ever think that you can just make a passing comment about the Holocaust or Hitler. It's still relatively recent history, and a raw gaping wound for so many. I think that you may not have really thought about what you were posting, since the main topic was just sound-alike words, but you need to realize that there's no such thing as a casual drive-by reference to Jewish factors leading to the Holocaust.

    Have you ever read Sartre's "Anti-Semite and Jew"? It's interesting, as it was written by a non-Jewish French philosopher shortly after the WWII. Sartre does a good job of deconstructing the anti-semitic mindset, and famously concludes "If the Jew did not exist, the anti-semite would create him" (meaning that some people have a need to create an "other" to be a scapegoat).

  13. JRKmommy: Thank you for your input.

    However, I resent the assumption that many have, that the "raw, gaping wound" of the Holocaust cannot belong to converts. That we can have no concept of it. The assumption, which was the subject of some similar "advice" I received, is that converts must not have had family suffer its horrors or even know anyone who did. Without knowing anything about us, our families, our friends, or our experiences. I have seen similar statements about Sephardim from Ashkenazim who were totally ignorant of the fact that there were Sephardim deported as well.

    Therefore, they consider any statement or opinion we have about the Holocaust to be irrelevant and ignorant. We have no right to any opinion or emotion about it. And all I did was state a fact about others' opinion that was incredibly relevant, in my opinion. I resent this assumption and its application. I also resent your assumption of my general ignorance of Jewish feelings and history. Your statement is condescending.

    I stand by what I said and how I defended it. Different points of view among Jews is nothing novel. Unfortunately, neither is people putting words in the mouths of other people. Nor is automatically ascribing the worst motives or the stupidest brain.

    Quite frankly, if people don't like what they read on the blog I provide for free and with many hours of my own hard work, they don't have to read it. I think the great majority of people who have read my writing regularly understood what I intended to say here and did not add their own assumptions that it was my opinion or that it was simply thrown in without careful thought. And even those who did probably said, "Oh that silly Skylar, she just doesn't understand" and moved on without lashing out with accusations and vitriol. In short, on the interwebz, haters gonna hate. I don't have time or energy to worry about the opinions of strangers, which is why I don't post my opinions on the blog on anything but the most vanilla topic. I don't care for people with "Someone on the Internet is WRONG" syndrome. I prefer my criticism to be constructive criticism offered by people that I have a reason to believe are reliable. Diplogeek has been a regular and thoughtful commenter, but I don't know you others. While I may disagree with Diplogeek's characterizations, I did consider his words seriously. I just disagreed. What more Jewish trait could I have than sticking to my guns in the face of vehement argument?

  14. I think, perhaps, some writers have ruefully pointed out that Jewish attempts at integration and assimilation didn't fully work, or save them from the persecutions and Holocaust, but in general it is only the Ultra-Orthodox historical interpretation which assigns blame to assimilation (and/ or, paradoxically, Zionism) for the Holocaust.

    As for the idea that the Holocaust is so hallowed that only a few self-appointed gatekeepers may determine what people can and cannot say or can and cannot think about it. Puhleez.