Cribbing From the Ozick Canon With Impunity

Cynthia-OzickMeet Elli Fischer. Fischer knows quite well the limits of cultural literacy and arts engagement in American Modern Orthodoxy. In the NY Jewish Week, a newspaper increasingly dominated by an Orthodox readership, he notes,

“…the pressure to produce high earners discourages and marginalizes those members of the community whose calling is in music, literature, the visual arts, or the performing arts. The problem is not only that creative types will likely be unable to afford the Modern Orthodox lifestyle; the community itself tends to marginalize those who pursue artistic careers, viewing them as irresponsible.”

Fisher has a point. Although very much an elite, arts and culture is not a particular strength of the American Modern Orthodox. Most Modern Orthodox Jews have probably not read much I.B. Singer. They have probably not read much Philip Roth. And they have probably not read much Cynthia Ozick. Not even her famous short story, “Envy; or Yiddish in America,” from 1969, decrying the sad state of American Jewish literature and its putz writers.

They know ten words for, excuse me, penis, and when it comes to learning, they’re impotent.

Now lets compare that to Fischer’s complaint about,

“…novelists who do not know the difference between Tosafot and the Tosefta but know and use a dozen Yiddish words for genitalia.”

Which novels are those? Which decade is this, again? Are we back in 1969, perhaps? The sad thing is that Fischer is betting that the average Modern Orthodox reader wouldn’t spot a lift of a Cynthia Ozick line even if it is one of her most famous, and even if it was sent for free to the entire community on the Upper West Side. And perhaps he has a point to hold them in such contempt.

Maybe next time he decides to jazz up a rant by borrowing from an American Jewish writer who does, in fact, know quite a bit more than ten Yiddish words for penis, and even more than a dozen Yiddish words for genitalia, he should just make sure it’s restricted to the print edition, as that is less likely to catch the eyes of those outside his well-heeled, but not terribly well-read, former enclave.

What do you think?

About The Author

Bernard Mendelbaum

Bernard Mendelbaum is a retired insurance policy man from Rye, New York.

9 Responses

  1. Elli Fischer

    Take it easy, pal.
    It’s a paraphrase of one line. Writers do it all the time as a nod to those they’re borrowing from and a wink to those who have read the classics. If I had written “to paraphrase Ozick” it would’ve just sounded presumptuous. But I readily acknowledge to debt. That passage in “Envy” is a classic rant.
    By the way, DO you know the difference between Tosafot and Tosefta? That’s all mine.

  2. Eric

    Are you saying that two different writers are never allowed to have the same (pretty obvious) thought?

  3. Elli Fischer

    Also, what’s the deal with the word “impunity”? Are you really suggesting that I ought to be punished for paraphrasing a line from Ozick without attribution? I mean, besides the punishment of being the subject of this blog post.

  4. Bernard Mendelbaum
    Bernard Mendelbaum

    “Also, what’s the deal with the word “impunity”? Are you really suggesting that I ought to be punished for paraphrasing a line from Ozick without attribution? I mean, besides the punishment of being the subject of this blog post.”

    You have been punished enough. Next time you borrow from a great American Jewish artist, please cite him properly, especially if your intended audience is Modern Orthodox tabloid readers who won’t recognize the source like they would a well-known braisa.

  5. Matt

    Bernard: your piece seems less about plagiarism and more about your angry towards (modern) orthodox Jews.

  6. Morris Rappoport

    I’m not a former insurance man but I bet I’m as well read as the silly author of this very silly article. And I am decidedly Modern Orthodox. I polled a dozen friends. Those over sixty recognized the line; a few younger ones didn’t. Those in the latter group are potential insurance clients. Probably not good to dis them.

  7. Elli Sacks

    Perhaps we should get Cynthia Ozick to comment… I suspect she would express appreciation for the obvious reference rather than the righteous indignation of the author of this piece. Though I’m certain that Ms. Ozick has more important things to do with her time.


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