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Spiritual Growth for Jews

Rejoice O Youth, In Your Fiftieth Anniversary

Posted on | January 7, 2013 | By Judy Resnick | 15 Comments

The year was 1962. It was only seventeen years after the end of World War II. Many Holocaust survivors were rebuilding their lives in America. Those teenagers and young adults who had outwitted the Nazis, many of whom had watched in silent horror as their parents and younger siblings were murdered, had come to these shores and were now raising their own families. The oldest of their own children, kids without grandparents, was reaching sixteen. Jews from the first generation had questions, lots of questions; but those with the tattooed numbers on their arms had no answers for them.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller, then a mashgiach (spiritual counselor) at the Mesivta of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, heard these questions from the young men of his yeshiva, many of whom were the children of concentration camp survivors. He saw unaffiliated and traditional Jews shaken in their deepest beliefs following this tragedy. Utilizing his masterful command of the English language, along with his encyclopedic memory of both secular and religious sources, Rabbi Miller wrote “Rejoice O Youth,” which he subtitled “A Jewish Seeker’s Ideology,” meant to answer the tough questions of faith, those asked out loud and those no one dared to ask.

The book is written as a dialogue between a Youth and a Sage, taking place over several days. Youth and Sage alternate, in numbered paragraphs, which are cross-referenced in other paragraphs. Rabbi Avigdor Miller, speaking through the voice of the Sage, gives the Youth lessons in history, comparative religion and science, showing the superiority of Torah. He dares to draw the line directly connecting Darwinism, evolution and the doctrine of “survival of the fittest” to its monstrous but inevitable culmination in the perverted theories of Nazism and the destruction of “inferior subhumans” in the gas chambers.

Five years before Shor Yoshuv, nine years before Hineni and fourteen years before Artscroll Publications, one lone rabbi had the courage to buck the assimilated Jewish establishment and the “Misyavnim” of his day, writing the truth in his books that were self-published and sold only in small Judaica shops. No one can fully gauge the impact that “Rejoice O Youth” and his later books had on the Jewish world. No studies were done as to how many Baalei-Teshuvah were created, or how many people were “brought back” by his writings.

“Encounters With Greatness,” a collection of narratives assembled by his followers after the April 2001 passing of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, relates in one story how someone saw a young woman in a seforim shop purchasing two copies of “Rejoice O Youth.” When asked why two copies of the same book, the young woman replied,”I read this book and was inspired to give up my non-Jewish boyfriend. I’m buying these two copies for two Jewish friends so that they will also give up their non-Jewish boyfriends.”

“Rejoice O Youth” remains a classic, still available at seforim stores fifty years after its publication, and eleven years after the passing of its author. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zatzal, have established a foundation to make his lectures and writings available to a new generation. More than one thousand of his famous “Thursday Night Lectures,” previously captured on the medium of cassette audiotape, have been transferred to digital format “in the cloud” and stored on portable MP3 format players. Subscribers can sign up for free to get daily emails with short concepts and ideas from his writings. His ideas, born out of the great moral dilemmas of the twentieth century, are fresh and relevant in the twenty-first.

While the outside world is lehavdil marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Rolling Stones, we can mark the fiftieth anniversary of “Rejoice O Youth,” which was the first effort to answer the questions of sincere Jewish seekers, and the beginning of the Kiruv movement that would arise later in the sixties and the seventies.

Comments

15 Responses to “Rejoice O Youth, In Your Fiftieth Anniversary”

  1. micha
    January 7th, 2013 @ 6:49 am

    1952 was also 11 yearts after NCSY’s first kiruv Shabbaton and 10 years after the first Chabad shalichim (including Reb Shlomo Carlebach). And we must remember that communal walls weren’t as high back then. Something the OU did /would/ be felt in yeshivish circles.

    I’m just saying: Great book. How many other English sefarim are still in circulation 50 years later? But don’t overstate its historical role either.

  2. Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)
    January 7th, 2013 @ 4:50 pm

    Rabbi Avigdor Miller “dares to draw the line directly connecting Darwinism, evolution and the doctrine of “survival of the fittest” to its monstrous but inevitable culmination in the perverted theories of Nazism and the destruction of “inferior subhumans” in the gas chambers.” That’s ironic, considering that his most enduring teaching seems to be his claim that Non-Jews only exist to serve and be exploited by Jews. About 85% of the time ‘students’/fans of his quote anything of his to me, that’s what they say. The other 15% is about how science and secular studies are all a big conspiracy to destroy our emuna, and how the Modern Orthodox along with the heterodox movements are the “Misyavnim” mentioned above.

    One of my rebbeim, who is a talmid ḥakham and poseiḳ of unquestionable integrity, once told me that R’ Miller said some good things in his life, also, so periodically I flip through one of his books looking to find something worthwhile. One of the last times I tried that, I picked up a recently-published “inspirational” transcript of his shiurim and Q&A sessions, where someone asked “Should we be concerned about the Ethiopian Jews and their suffering?” and the answer was “We shouldn’t care about them at all because they’re Black, and Jews are White” — an answer which is inhuman, unJewish (whatever happened to being raḥmanim?!), and betrays a glaring ignorance of a mefurash mishna in Nega‘im which states categorically that “Beit Yisrael are neither ‘white’ nor ‘black’, but medium-colored.”

    The original anti-semites among the ancient Greeks and Romans claimed that Judeans were “misanthropists” — that we only cared about ourselves, and literally hated the rest of the human race. R’ Avigdor Miller is one of the most to blame for taking that slander, which *was* false, and turning it into an ‘iḳar emuna.

  3. Jon Baker
    January 7th, 2013 @ 6:21 pm

    I tried reading that book 15+ years ago, on the recommendation of a chasidish friend. The book disgusted me. It starts out with a claim that to approach the book with an “open mind”, one has to assume that the scientists are not just wrong, but evil liars. With that kind of bias explicitly in evidence, how is anyone to take it seriously as an “unbiased” presentation of the Torah/Science debate?

    I know he’s very popular in my neighborhood (Midwood), but then, ideologically, my wife & I are very different from a lot of our neighbors.

  4. Steve Brizel
    January 7th, 2013 @ 6:55 pm

    I share Steg’s and Jon Baker’s POV completely, having read the book in question years ago. Books that offer simplistic theodicy rooted solutions to problems that are either admittedly complex or beyond man’s comprehension should be viewed with skepticism inasmuch they offer solutions that often can be challenged on very firm grounds, and more importantly, ignore the more important question of what and how we should respond to such displays of evil and suffering. One can posit that that there are some issues with how MO is practiced without resorting to a POV that MO is a 20th Century version of Misyavnim.

  5. Steve Brizel
    January 7th, 2013 @ 7:00 pm

    Judy Resnick wrote:

    “The year was 1962. It was only seventeen years after the end of World War II. Many Holocaust survivors were rebuilding their lives in America. Those teenagers and young adults who had outwitted the Nazis, many of whom had watched in silent horror as their parents and younger siblings were murdered, had come to these shores and were now raising their own families. The oldest of their own children, kids without grandparents, was reaching sixteen. Jews from the first generation had questions, lots of questions; but those with the tattooed numbers on their arms had no answers for them”

    FWIW, I think that RYBS’s Drasha Kol Dodi Dofek as well as RYBS’s drashos to the Mizrachi predated the publication of the book in question and certainly offered an alternative perspective.

  6. Judy Resnick
    January 8th, 2013 @ 3:43 am

    To Jon Baker #3: Regarding scientists and bias, one should consider the recent incident of a professor at an Ivy League university, whose career and popular book sales were based upon proving how smart some species of monkeys are. Professor XYZ did experiments which were supposed to show that the monkeys reacted by turning their heads when they heard specific changes in human speech. However, a lab assistant checking the videotapes against Professor XYZ’s notes found that the professor had written down “monkey turned its head” when according to the videotape, the monkey “didn’t even flinch.” Professor XYZ wanted to see certain results so much that he wrote down that they had occurred – even when they did not.

  7. Bob Miller
    January 8th, 2013 @ 8:52 am

    Next time, the monkey should write up the results.

  8. Jon Baker
    January 8th, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

    Judy: all that proves is that people see what they want to see, not that either side is more or less correct in its approach.

    F’rex, I had an argument once with R’ Immanuel Schochet, professor emeritus of philosophy at a community college in Toronto and well known Lubavitcher writer, when he spoke at a communal dinner in my old shul in Park Slope. He was trying to say that the written Torah supports the authenticity of the oral Torah, and the oral Torah supports the authenticity of the written Torah. Now, any first-year philosophy student would tell you that that was a logically untenable position, being a circular argument. But R’ Schochet couldn’t see that, because of his preconceived notion that Torah is Emess.

    Now, I believe that too, but I don’t maintain it’s a logically necessarily true position. It’s a belief, not a provable position (absent clear archaeological evidence, which we don’t have, and because of the miracles involved, probably will never have).

  9. Bob Miller
    January 8th, 2013 @ 4:35 pm

    The mutual support of the Written Torah and Oral Torah point to their being two parts of one whole, given together.

    While that might not convince everyone that this whole is really true, it should at least help repel arguments by schismatic Jews that later rabbinic authorities fabricated the Oral Torah.

    If there were 100% philosophical proofs we could understand, wouldn’t that negate our moral freedom to choose?

  10. Zev
    January 9th, 2013 @ 11:20 am

    Nice article and sounds like it was an epic book. I do however take issue with the last line as it is historically inaccurate to say that this book is what started to the kiruv movement or even to say that kiruv didn’t really get started until the 60s and 70s.

  11. Zev
    January 9th, 2013 @ 11:23 am

    Ah, the first comenter beat me to it. I concur with Micha.

  12. Zev
    January 9th, 2013 @ 11:26 am

    Jon, Lawrence Keleman and R’Dovid Gottlieb both systematically prove that there had to be an oral component to the Torah and that our Oral Torah is the correct one. Fascinating stuff.

  13. Bob Miller
    January 9th, 2013 @ 1:55 pm

    Zev,

    “Persuasively demonstrate” would be more accurate than “prove”.

  14. Steve Brizel
    January 9th, 2013 @ 6:36 pm

    Zev-Long before R Keleman and R Gottlieb’s works, the commentaries of the Malbim, Netziv ( HaEmek Davar), the Torah Temimah and Meshech Chachmah demonstrated the interrrelationship of Torah She Baal Peh and Torah Shebicav.

  15. Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)
    January 9th, 2013 @ 7:46 pm

    And of course that was the headline mission of Haktav Vehakabbala, also!

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