Okay then. Midday today there were over 400 comments on David Brooks' Times op-ed praising Orthodox Judaism. Many of those comments on the Times' web site were not quite as laudatory of the kosher lifestyle.
Brooks toured a Kosher supermarket in Brooklyn with a modern Orthodox rabbi and then waxed quite eloquent about the virtues of Orthodox life.
For the people who shop at Pomegranate, the collective covenant with God is the primary reality and obedience to the laws is the primary obligation. They go shopping like the rest of us, but their shopping is minutely governed by an external moral order.Is David Brooks Orthodox? No, Brooks identifies as a Conservative Jew, "in the political and religious sense,” according to a report in 2011 in the Jewish Week:
The laws, in this view, make for a decent society. They give structure to everyday life. They infuse everyday acts with spiritual significance. They build community. They regulate desires. They moderate religious zeal, making religion an everyday practical reality.
The laws are gradually internalized through a system of lifelong study, argument and practice. The external laws may seem, at first, like an imposition, but then they become welcome and finally seem like a person’s natural way of being....
...While a student, he met Jane Hughes, who would become his wife, and three years after their marriage, she decided to convert to Judaism (and has since changed her name to Sarah Brooks). They had moved to New York by then, and she studied with Rabbi Harlan Wechsler, who became their rabbi. When Brooks was asked at the time by another rabbi about what being Jewish meant to him, he mentioned “Saul Bellow, Woody Allen, cultural things.”Postscript: Is it surprising that Brooks does not inform his readers that he is an apologist for the religion that he practices? Yes, it is. Stakeholder disclosure is part of the professional responsibility of journalism. Brooks makes it seem like he just discovered that kosher foods exist. That's a mockery of honest writing.
But, as he explains, at his wife’s urgings, “I got pulled back in.” She became more deeply involved in Jewish life, becoming the “mikveh lady” at their shul when they moved to Washington. “She wanted to keep kosher, which we do. She wanted to send our kids to religious school, which we do.” Their three children — who have biblical names — have attended local Jewish day schools.
“It’s now quite a Jewish life,” says Brooks, who recently turned 50. “I’m still not as observant as my wife. I have a deeply ambivalent relationship to a lot of Jewish things.” He says that their social lives are less involved with Washington’s power brokers and journalists, but rather built around weekly Shabbat dinners with friends from their shul and their kids’ schools.
The family belongs to Washington’s large Conservative synagogue, Adas Israel Congregation. Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, senior rabbi, says, “There are people who live worldly and otherwise secular lives who — when hearing my messages of Jewish heritage and connection and meaning — either don’t relate or don’t resonate with it. But that’s never the case with David. He totally gets it, and he lives his life in a way that shows that he values the deepest messages of Judaism.” He says that he often uses Brooks’ columns as “jumping-off points for sermons and teachings because his conclusions so often jive so well with the ultimate conclusions of Judaism.”
Brooks participates in a Jewish study group with Erica Brown, scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, along with other Jewish journalists. Last year, he wrote a column about her and Jewish study, “The Arduous Community,” admiring her conviction, confidence and combination of “extreme empathy and extreme tough-mindedness.” He finds her “endlessly impressive.”
The columnist sees Judaism as a very rational tradition, and he sometimes feels frustrated that “rational dissections, like parsing the minute meanings of textual passages,” are emphasized far more than spiritual experiences. The Ne’eila, or concluding service, of Yom Kippur includes moments he finds profoundly spiritual.
Calling on his interest in the workings of the mind and the unconscious, he muses that Judaism’s powerful laws, customs and rituals — the understructure of life — get embedded in the mind, which explains his own particular journey. “Even though my Jewish life was not consciously willed, I could so easily fall into it.”
“I identify as a Conservative Jew, in the political and religious sense,” he says.