Monthly Archives: November 2009

The Lubavitcher Rebbe on Transcendental Meditation

Back in July 1979,  a rabbi sitting outside on a porch in the Catskils, with a friend or older bachur, he was listening to the Fabrengen. I was called over to listen to it because the Rebbe was speaking about Transcendental Meditation, he assumed that I would be interested.  I was not particularly enthralled since all I heard was “avodah zarah,”  “idols, incense and gurus” “worship of the sun and moon,” “it is OK for doctors to teach.” At the time, I felt that it did not reach the issues and was too removed, too Biblical, and was not really showing understanding.  Beyond that he treated TM as a pathology to be dealt with by physicians. He did not want any connection of meditation to Kabbalah.  Yet, for some reason I still remember the event, the cloudy evening, and my reaction, especially my disappointing mulling it over for some time that evening.

Yesterday, someone sent me a question on Yoga and Judaism, and after an initial email the response reminded me of the Rebbe’s sicha.

So here an audio- video of the original.

The Rebbe compares TM to the avodah zarah of the sun and the moon. The Rebbe does not address other religions but deals with the issue as part of the problem of cults. He wants the creation of something new called “Jewish meditation” to wean people away from TM. It should be seen as a medical problem and should only be taught by someone who  knows the laws of avodah zarah. It is interesting that the Rebbe is careful not to call all of it “ruah tumah” or “klipot nogah.” Rather, the problem is the incense, bowing, and the false gods or treating the guru as a deity. The patriarch Abraham is portrayed as engaged in solitude, yet the Rebbe does not want this new invention of Jewish meditation connected to Kabbalah, it should be done clinically by physicians.

Here are selections from the translation.

There in an issue, which is connected with the physical and psychological health of many Jews, that demands attention. It is quite possible that these words will have no effect. Nevertheless, the health of a Jew is such an important matter, that efforts should be made even when there is not a sure chance of success.

This issue is the idea of meditation. Meditation has its roots in the very beginning of the Jewish heritage. The Torah commentaries explain that Avraham and the other patriarchs chose to be shepherds so that they could spend their time in solitude.

The sun, the moon, and the stars are necessary for life of earth. They bring about manifold goodness. However, they also have been worshipped as false gods. One might ask (as the Talmud asks): “Since they have been worshipped as false gods, shouldn’t they be destroyed? However, should G-d destroy the world because of the foolishness of the idol-worshipers?” The same concept applies in regard to meditation. Though essentially good, meditation can also be destructive. There are those who have connected meditation to actually bowing down to an idol or a man and worshipping it or him, bringing incense before them etc.

The cults have spread throughout the U.S. and throughout Israel as well.

They have called it by a refined name “transcendental meditation” i.e. something above limits, above our bounded intellects. However, they have also incorporated into the procedures the bringing of incense and other practices that are clearly “Avodah Zorah,” the worship of false gods.

Since we are living within the darkness of Golus, many Jewish youth have fallen into this snare. Before they became involved with this cult, they were troubled and disturbed. The cult was able to relate to them and bring them peace of mind. However, their meditation is connected with Avodah Zorah, burning incense and bowing to a Guru, etc. Since the aspects of idol worship are not publicized, there are those who have not raised their voices in protest. They don’t know if such a protest would be successful and since no one has asked them, why should they enter a questionable situation.

Two conditions must be taken into consideration: 1) meditation should only be used by those who need it. A healthy person doesn’t need meditation. On the contrary, if he begins to meditate he will hurt his psychological health. The only meditation that all should carry out is one which is part of one’s service to G-d, for the Shulchan Aruch states that before each prayer one must meditate on “the greatness of G-d and the humble state of man.” However, that meditation is done with a fixed time and a fixed intent. Its goal is not to calm one’s nerves. 2) The meditation must be based on a Kosher idea or a Torah concept e.g. Shema Yisroel, the meanings of the prayers. Thus, this will bring one to an awareness of the greatness of G-d and the humble nature of man.

Also, since as in all treatments, the healer gains a certain amount of control over his patient, we must take care that the professional who is leading the meditation have a clear and well defined knowledge of what is permitted according to the Shulchan Aruch, what leads to Avodah Zorah, etc.

Even in Yerushalayim, the holy city, such a center has been established. I, myself, received a brochure from such an institution. It was professionally produced, containing pictures and a description of how in Yerushalayim, a center for meditation has been set up. They purchase American addresses, and send them this brochure. It makes a powerful impression and arouses curiosity. Thus, we can see how serious the situation is.

In view of this situation, psychologists, psychoanalysts, etc. have a holy duty to advance their knowledge of meditation, and work to develop a Kosher program. Furthermore, since we live in a country in which publicity plays a large role, efforts must be made to publicize the treatment in the broadest means possible.

Furthermore, this treatment should not be connected with any side issues. There are those who maintain that meditation must be connected with the secrets of Torah. Meditation on the secrets of Torah is very important, particularly in the present age when the Wellsprings of Chassidus must be spread outwards. However, the subject at hand is different. There are Jews who are involved in “Avodah Zorah,” worship of false gods, who must be saved. This is the first priority. If one begins by teaching the secrets of Torah, it is extremely likely that the majority of them will not respond. Even the few who might show an interest should be separated from “Avodah Zorah” first.

We cannot sit and wait practically until someone asks to be helped. We have to approach those who are afflicted and speak their language, without mixing in any other Mitzvos. Our object should be merely the Mitzvah of healing their troubled psyches.

Each one of us knows such a doctor. We can interest a doctor in such activities, and he will find a way to attract those who have fallen into these snares.

In all the other exiles, the redemption did not involve the entire Jewish people. However, the Messianic redemption will reach every Jew. The prophet Isaiah (27:12) declares: “You will be collected one by one” from even the furthest extremes of Golus. These efforts to draw Jews away from the Golus of “Avodah Zorah” will help hasten the fulfillment of the prophecy. The Talmud states that all the appointed times for Moshiach’s coming have passed, and everything depends on Teshuvah. When the Jewish people do Teshuvah, they will immediately be redeemed.

In 1979, The Rebbe had a yehidus with a couple from Australia, where he said the same thing.

Already in the prior year in 1978, the Rebbe turned to a doctor to help him with this request to develop meditation without idolatry. It gets reprinted around the web as if the Rebbe was answering a question from the doctor rather, in fact, the Rebbe was seeking out the doctor. Notice the Rebbe’s citation of  the Federal Court case.and his assumption that much of this is already part of medical practice. I did include parts that are similar to the Sicha- full version here, and here. We can see the Rebbe’s thought in formation

By the Grace of G-d Teveth, 5738
In as much as these movements involve certain rites and rituals, they have been rightly regarded by Rabbinic authorities as cults bordering on, and in some respects actual, Avodah Zarah (idolatry). Accordingly Rabbinic authorities everywhere, and particularly in Eretz Yisroel, ruled that these cults come under all the strictures associated with Avodah Zarah, so that also their appurtenances come under strict prohibition.

Moreover, the United States Federal Court also ruled recently that such movements, by virtue of embracing such rites and rituals, must be classifies as cultic and religious movements. (Of. Malnak V. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, U.S.D.C. of N.J. 76-341, esp. pp. 36-50, 78)On the other hand, certain aspects of the said movements, which are entirely irrelevant to religious worship or practices, have a therapeutic value, particularly in the area of relieving mental stress.

It follows that if these therapeutic methods – insofar as they are utterly devoid of any ritual implications – would be adopted by doctors specializing in the field of mental illness, it would have two-pronged salutary effect: Firstly, in the view of the fact that these methods are therapeutically effective, while there are, regretfully, many who could benefit from such treatment, this is a matter of healing of the highest order, since it has to do with mental illness. It would, therefore, be very wrong to deny such treatment to those who need it, when it could be given by a practicing doctor.

Secondly, and this too is not less important, since there are many Jewish sufferers who continue to avail themselves of these methods though the said cults despite the Rabbinic prohibition, it can be assumed with certainty that many of them, if not all, who are drawn to these cults by the promise of mental relief, would prefer to receive the same treatment from the medical profession – if they had a choice of getting it the kosher way. It would thus be possible to save many Jews from getting involved with the said cults.

It is also known, though not widely, that there are individual doctors who practice the same or similar methods at T.M. and the like. However, it seems that these methods occupy a secondary or subordinate role in their procedures. More importantly, there is almost a complete lack of publicity regarding the application of these methods by doctors, and since the main practice of these doctors is linked with the conventional neurological and psychiatric approach, it is generally assumed that whatever success they achieve is not connected with results obtained from methods relating to T.M. and the like; results which the cults acclaim with such fanfare.

In light of the above, it is suggested and strongly urged that:

Appropriate action be undertaken to enlist the cooperation of a group of doctors specializing in neurology and psychiatry who would research the said methods with a view to perfecting them and adopting them in their practice on a wider scale.

All due publicity be given about the availability of such methods from practicing doctors.

This should be done most expeditiously, without waiting for this vital information to be disseminated through medical journals, where research and findings usually take a long time before they come to the attention of practicing physicians. This would all the sooner counteract the untold harm done to so many Jews who are attracted daily to the said cults, as mentioned in the opening paragraph.

In conclusion: This memo is intended for all Rabbis, doctors, and layman who are in a position to advance the cause espoused herein, the importance of which needs no further elaboration.

Lord Jonathan Sacks on the Siddur

1] When I think of certain prayer books commentaries, I sometimes think of them with a few words. Hirsch – moral aspiration, Birnbaum – historical anti-Semitism Artscroll – Hashem centered,   Rebbe – attachment to God

For Sacks, the words are hope, faith, and dignity.

Full disclosure – I received a copy from the publisher after my last post on the idea of witness in his thought. In short, my reaction is that his books are generally well crafted and delivered publicly, but here we have short comments not fully explained or justified.

2]  Collective Prayer

His message throughout the siddur is collective faith, we join with others. Prayer concerns the past and future of the community, the people Israel. The prayer is adoration and praise for God – our highest aspirations for the Jewish people. He favors Yehudah Halevi– prayer shows a God of history and human events. We learn from prayer the need to maintain faith, hope, dignity, and pride.

What is prayer? Prayer changes us – it is self-fulfillment He opens the book with a definition that prayer is conversation with God and never actually uses that definition in the book. From his commentary, prayer is listening and shaping oneself from the liturgy. Symbols need meditations therefore many do the yehi ratzon (cf. Hirsch).

His commentary is not very spiritual, emotional, or experiential, despite his use of these words. For example, he states the repetition of the amidah is the peak of religious experience because it contains the kedushah which was based on prophetic and mystic visions. Liturgy is not experience or experiential. Nor will one find much solace or human struggle in the prayer book.

Like the commentaries on Book of Common Prayer – he offers Biblical teachings applied in everyday life. The book is not very Rabbinic.

The commentary on the weekday shaharit is on the history of the liturgy and on the Shabbat shaharit is more theological.

3] Justice

His vision is that prayer will teach us personal and social responsibilitie. There is a cosmic moral standard of justice  God’s eternal values for the affairs of humankind-are justice to the oppressed, food to the hungry, freedom to captives, and hope to those at the margins of society.” Korban (sacrifice) is the pledging of ourselves to do his will. Peace the ultimate hope of monotheism. [Wow – this is nice universalism and good ethical monotheism- will it mold Orthodoxy?]

He writes: We believe that “The world is the product of single will , not the blind clash of conflicting elements”.[what of divine mandated clashes and exclusivism?]

He writes “Havdalah means making distinctions”, “to make order out of chaos, God wants us to be creative.” That is great homiletic but will it encourage the production of what the wider world calls creativity?

4] Revelation

Sacks writes that in contrast to the universal demands on Jews, Revelation is particular – it is our covenant of love with God – a relationship.Torah is our written constitution, collective memory, and record of covenant- not just sacred literature The message, however, of revelation is the universal justice, compassion, inalienable rights for the downtrodden.[This is the point were I find this commentary as selected quotes from his books on global ethics. Nothing is substantiated or justified here but they are justified in the books.In addition, the books come from speeches delivered in public to answer a need. These comments have no criteria for their inclusion.]

5] Christian locutions

a) Sacks writes that Resurrection is hope “ Jews kept hope alive, hope kept the Jewish people alive.”We have a divine promise and hope defeats tragedy

This is one of my pet peeve – tikvah and spes are not the same even if both translated as hope.

The former word tikvah is restoration –

[There is a debate of Radak and Ramban is if has the same meaning as kav – to make a line.]

Nahmanides says that just as a blueprint has lines drawn so too our tikvah for the national redemption is already drawn. Christian meaning of spes is of unseen things, the future, as part of the supernatural virtues of faith hope, and charity. For Christians hope is a virtue, for Jews, God (or Torah) has kept up Jewish hope for the redemption. One hopes in God, one does not hope as a virtue.

Sacks uses the word in several places in the Christian sense  and even has locutions like faith, hope, and dignity – cf the Christian faith, hope and charity

The use of the word hope in this sense is also used often in Shakespeare

b) On page 146 – he writes we are your witnesses, the bearers of your name. (Jews don’t use it like this)- see my prior post

c) He uses the phrase “free air of hope” – page 152 coined by the Irish theologian George Tyrrell (1861 – 1909).

6] He views religious language as metaphor

In many places he has a variant of the following: God is unknowable and belong words – the goal is to get behind words.

7] As a book

Well…A large number of quotes are quite cryptic – he likes good phrases better than good comments. Many times one cannot make out what it means. The full ideas in other books are here reduced to bon mots. Comments sometimes say “it may be” “may reflect” – so the effect is a more of a homily than a commentary.

Sometimes he cites his sources – in one case there are three cited names in a single  passage—and then there are many pages without a single citation. Yet, in his other works he cites the author of the interpretation. It seems arbitrary.

8] Sources and comparisons

a) On the topic of liturgy and spontaneity, he surprisingly does not use the usually rabbinic passages on keva and kavvanah but discusses the topic through passages the in Bible. Source seems to be an unnamed book on the Bible or early Rabbinics.

b) He cites historical material from a much much earlier decade with any new insight- he does not references to Yakovson (Jacobson), Abrahams, Elbogen or other works that he relies on.

c) Conspicuous in its absence is the Lubavitcher Rebbe since Sacks relied heavily on the Rebbe in earlier works and adapted a volume of the Rebbe on parashah. But Sacks makes prayer thankfulness and adoration – and does not follow the Rebbe that prayer is connection to God.

d) Sacks noticeably quotes Rav Soloveitchik in his introduction, as if to claim continuity or authenticity, but does not follow his approach to prayer in the commentary.For Soloveitchik, Prayer is the personal existential cry in which there is personal redemption through the tefilot and more importantly, the Torah give us words that raise us above our natural inarticulate grunts of animals.

e) Isaiah Berlin on negative freedom and positive freedom – is unattributed here, and presented as Hazal. In addition, he states that Jews as eternal from Tolstoy (in an earlier work he credited the citation to Hertz quoting Tolstoy) This quote of Tolstoy is also in Isaiah Berlin.But quoting that Jews are eternal from Tolstoy—and not from Krokhmal, Kook, Rosenzweig or Reines—reduced it to a bon mot.

f) In Alenu, he explains “leTaken Olam bemalkhut Shadai” as Lurianic tikkun – is it from Elliott Dorff in My People’s Prayer Book?

9] The sections in the introduction on study, mysticism, and history was less than adequate and quite vague. The section on mysticism could be from more than half a century ago. It has a tone of “Mysticism devalues world”

He takes Kabbalat Shabbat from Elbogen recognized by Elbogen’s its mistaken reliance on Solomon Schechter.  And one is not inspired to confidence when he writes that the source of Ushpezin is a nebulous “Jewish mystical tradition.”

10]  Now what of his frequent citation of Franz Rosenzweig on creation, revelation, redemption? I don’t get this one.

This triad is originally from Hermann Cohen where the triad is a divine meaning to creation in the natural order, the revelation of ethics in the human mind, and human work to make the world a better place. (One finds this Cohen triad occasionally in Rav Soloveitchik;s homilies.)

For Rosenzweig, it is God presence as meaning that negates nihilism, revelation is human love for God, and the liturgical fulfillment of eternity. Prayer along with poetry and love are means to let us be existentially human. For Gershom Scholem, it is a creation of emanation and tzimtzum, revelation of creativity and antinomianism, and redemption through apocalyptic change.

But for Sacks, it is God in nature, God revealed in Torah and prayer, and our redemption in history and life. Where is this mild version from and why bother linking it to Rosenzweig? I have not checked yet, but Netiv Binah by Jacobson and Taamei Hamizvot by Heinneman both combine Hirsch and Rosenzweig into a milder form.

Yet the way Sacks frames the triad it can just as well be Albo’s God, Revelation, and Reward or Cordovero’s God, Torah and Israel. There is a triad in Rabbinic thought and liturgy and in the Rabbinic reading of the Bible which has been formulated different ways in different eras. (see Max Kadushin’s Organic Thinking on this thinking in triads) I am not sure why Sacks attributed his reading to Rosenzweig when Albo or Cordovero would have better served his needs.

But then I found on the web a position similar to Sacks—“Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe explained that mans’ relationship with G-d is three-dimensional; we know Him through His creation, His revelation at Sinai, and His promise of redemption.” Did both Sacks and Wolbe take it from Jacobson or Heinneman? Or another secondary source produced by German Jewry? Hmm..

In short, I like the Orthodox universalism, but will stick to reading his longer works,

Will be Away

I will be away for a few days for long weekend.

A few notes:

Many people, more than I expected, have shown up to download  the Thanksgiving Service. Nobody, not one person, has shown up to read the Zohar post after it was no longer the lede post.

More people have shown up to read the Post-Orthodoxy post than any other post in the last 2 weeks,- people keep returning to re-read it. but it has not generated a single comment. I wonder why?

Several people have just discovered the blog and it is interesting to watch them on the stats page, slowly, in a consecutive manner, open each link of the past 2 months.

I am still looking to rename the blog that does not involve my name or the word kavvanah.

Service for Thanksgiving Day 1945 – Rabbi David de Sola Pool

For those who can still get their congregations to add a service this week:

Here is the 1945 Minhat Todah- Service for Thanksgiving Day, Congregation Shearith Israel, NY by Rabbi David de Sola Pool.

Happy Holiday- Let me know if anyone uses it.

Thanksgiving Service- 1945 Rabbi de Sola Pool (pdf of full service)

There are several good sermons from Rabbi Leo Jung for Thanksgiving Sabbath and a couple of shiurim on the web from Rav Soloveitchik from the Wednesday on the eve of Thanksgiving. Here is one of my favorites from Nov. 22, 1975

Was the Zohar ever a book?

Daniel Abrams, “The Invention of the Zohar as a Book” Kabbalah 19 (2009) 7-142

I just finished a very long (135 pages) rambling article by Daniel Abrams with many topics and looks to be the core of a forthcoming book. The article is a seminal one for Abram’s approach and the vast literature review of the field that it contains will make it required reading in the field.

The Zohar was neither written, nor edited, nor distributed as a book by the various figures who produced the various literary units which were later known by the name Zohar. (10)

The Zohar is not a Book – Nor does it have an author (105)

I have tried to express my theoretical discomfort, indeed a perceived dissonance, concerning published methodologies for evaluating the literary quality and forms of the texts known by the name Zohar. (127)

No satisfactory evidence has yet been offered in the relevant scholarship proving that the zoharic writings were intentionally composed, edited, or copied as a book. Not only can ‘the’ Book of the Zohar not be restored to its full form, but there was no single original moment that is recoverable amidst the disparate writings and unstable text(s). (142)

Abrams claims the  idea of the Zohar as a preexisting book was created in the 16th century by the printers- before that point there were only various unconnected manuscripts of esotericism. The production of the Zohar as ideas, texts, and isolated units, has little to do with consumption of the product as a book. He notes that books of esotericism had continuous reworkings.  Then in  the 16th century there arose the idea of a single book, The Zohar.

He spends much of the article reviewing statements of what this work is, from the 13th century to the 16th century printers to 20th century  and then all 20th and 21st century academic studies on what they thought about the nature of the Zohar as a book and whether they imagined that there was such an original lost book to be recovered

Abrams rejects Scholem’s theory of a single author and he rejects Yehuda Liebes’ theory of circle of Zohar authors- hug haZohar. The Zohar contains variety of styles and diverse literature, hence Abrams is sympathetic to Moshe Idel’s reclamation of the theory of Moses Gaster, who considered the work a collection of diverse sources.

He accepts parts of Ronit Meroz’s articles that claim that the texts of the Zohar originated between the  11-14th centuries. But he demurs from her suggestion that there are 14th century imitators of the Zohar’s style Abrams asks: Who says there was ever a fixed thing called the Zohar to imitate?And form criticism does not work if you do not know that the text existed as we have it in these earlier centuries.

With a bit of overkill, he cites Walter Benjamin that in an age of reproduction the book is different than in the era of production. (He does not know Stephen Greenblatt on how a printed book can have ever more aura). He uses Foucault’s “What is an Author” mentioning that author is a constructed idea. But he does not mention that in the middle ages philosophy was authorless while science had an author. Now, in the modern era, we treat science as authorless and give philosophy an author. Abrams does not state why he should think esotericsm should be different than philosophy. He might have been between off citing the shelf of books on authorship in medieval literature- Foucualt may not be proving his point. He has a nice use of Brian Stock on textual communities that have an interplay of textuality and orality.

Abrams suggests that the field needs to go back to manuscripts and first edoitions, and especially colophons  – every text must be treated in its context of production of the manuscript.

He notes:  Danny Matt is creating a synthetic text that does not correspond to any text out there.  Meroz is creating a synoptic edition but that already assumes a whole to be recreated or an original text to retrieve Abrams compares the Zohar to Rabbinic works. Zohar is like the tannaic collections that existed before the Bavli was edited.

He is glad to substantiate Meroz’s finding that some of the texts of the Zohar were originally circulating in Hebrew and then later editors translated them into Aramaic because they thought they were returning the text to its original language of Rashbi which was lost.

He is perturbed by the new book on the Zohar by Melila Heller-Eshed. There is no proof for a hevraya around the Rashbi nor is there any proof that the texts joined as the Zohar have anything in common in the original formation. Abrams is against the literary and thematic studies produced by the students of Yehudah Liebes. (I have a forthcoming review of Melila Heller-Eshed’s book)

Finally Abrams notes the phenomena of hyper-animation of the text where there is an assumed personal authorship. He notes that this started in the 16th century with the poem to Bar Yohai and continues with Liebes’ poem to Rashbi and the invocationof the spirit of Rashbi By Heller-Eshed. He asks rhetorically why doesn’t anyone ask for the spirit of the author of Sefer Yetzirah to descend on them?

Is there a Post-Orthodox Judaism that Corresponds to Post Evangelical?

Many of those who were raised as Evangelical in the recent Great Awakening of Religion are not returning to the Evangelical Faith of their parents. Statistics vary from 25%-80%. The Great return to religion is winding down.  Those raised with an intense Evangelical faith don’t naturally blend back into  mainline liberal Churches. They are specifically ex-evangelicals who have adapted liberal position.

So too in American Judaism, despite the triumphalism of orthodoxy Judiasm in the last quarter century and phony online statistics – Orthodoxy is witnessing similar phenomena.  We also have a large number of people who are ex-Orthodox, not believing in what they were taught, and adopting liberal positions but that does not mean they are comfortable with liberal Judiasm. Read the following and ask yourself: how many of them also apply to someone distancing him/herself from his/her Orthodox upbringing? How many are being argued on the Jewish blogs?

Post-evangelicalism is a term used to describe former adherents of Evangelicalism. includes a variety of people who have distanced themselves from mainstream evangelical Christianity for theological, political, or cultural reasons. Most who describe themselves as post-evangelical are still adherents of the Christian faith in some form.

Post-evangelical critiques of the evangelical church concern include but are not limited to:

  • Individualism and lack of theological depth
  • Anti-intellectualism
  • Narrow or excessively partisan political views
  • Lack of engagement in art, media, and society
  • Materialism and consumerism
  • Insensitivity toward homosexuals

Christianity Today explains that post-evangelicals have become willingly disassociated with the mainstream evangelical belief system over difficulties with any combination of at least the following issues:

1. Questions over Biblical innerrancy. Questions may relate to the Biblical record of history, contradictions between scientific and scriptural explanations of the nature of the Universe and humanity (e.g., the origin of the Universe, homosexuality) or the discrepancies in descriptions of the personality of God in the different books of the Bible. Shrouding these issues, are are how the cultural understandings and lingustical limitations of the written word have influenced the way Scripture has been recorded and handed down throughout the ages.

2 The moral failure of prominent evangelical leaders. Such failure has cast doubt over the entire evangelical movement.

3  Many post-evangelicals have come of age during times of increasing multi-cultural awareness in Western society. They are presented with the educational lessons of the validity of all cultures and necessity for a pluralistic world-view.

Publications identifying as post-evangelical include the blog Internet Monk

Now that was fun. How many sounded familiar? Any to add in the Jewish case? Do you think they have played themselves out in the same way in the Jewish community?

h/t –Here  is a recent blog post from the blog InternetMonk on the topic.

Update- please see this blog’s continued discussion on post-evangelical here. This one is important for the discussion of post-orthodox, and further discussion here on post-Orthodox, <a
And on the idea of labels and  “post” see here
And here on some of the changes within the evangelicals that may play itself out among Jews.

Update Dec 2012- After three years, the concept of a post-Orthodox moment still seems valid. Here are some later posts on the same topic.
A continuation of this post defining post-Orthodox- here,
A 2011 update on erosion- here,
the history of the term- here.

Copyright © 2009 · All Rights Reserved

Update on Trude Weiss- Rosmarin and the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue

My post on Trude Weiss Rosmarin and the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue has taken on a life of its own outside of cyberspace.

Original Post on Trude Weiss-Rosmarin and the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue

So here is the full text of Trude Weiss-Rosmarin – Toward Jewish-Muslim Dialogue from The Jewish Spectator 1967

Religion and Economics: Trust, Hell, and Keep it Minimal

Robert Barro, an economist at Harvard, and his wife, Rachel McCleary have returned to the question of the Weber thesis with rigorous statistical analysis, a pop article has some of their conclusions.

They found that the trust generated by a close knit community makes more money (and that is why the financial scandals have sent such a shiver in the community). Hell is a better motivator to attend services than theism, mere belief in God does not give enough incentive to waste time on religion. Long term literacy and skills raise income. And one need a certain ideal type of hell-less theism to create the world of Silicon Vally.

Does this explain why learning Torah is an activity that many value but don’t spend much time on? Since most Modern Orthodox don’t have a clear sense of hell, do they have a sense of punishment that keeps ‘em coming or is that why the community seems minimal at times. Is the tight knit social grouping all that is actually valued? What other applications does their reach have for the practices of the Jewish community?

On a larger scale, religious denominations affect economics by creating bonds of trust and shared commitment among small groups, both necessary qualities for lending and trade.. The Quakers of 18th-century Britain, renowned for their scrupulous honesty, came to dominate British finance. Ultra-orthodox Jews similarly dominate New York’s diamond trade because of levels of trust based on religion. Modern religious kibbutzim on average outperform their secular rivals, in part because of trust built through engaging in communal religious rituals.

Most strikingly, if belief in hell jumps up sharply while actual church attendance stays flat, it correlates with economic growth. Mere belief in God has no effect one way or the other. Meanwhile, if church attendance actually rises, it slows growth in developing economies.

McCleary says this makes sense from a strictly economic standpoint – as economies develop and people can earn more money, their time becomes more valuable. For economic growth, she says, “What you want is to have people have their children grow up in a faith, but then they should become productive members of society. They shouldn’t be spending all their time in religious services.”

Robert D. Woodberry, a sociologist at University of Texas at Austin. He has mapped how missionaries spread literacy, technology, and civic institutions, and finds that those correlate strongly with economic growth. He argues in part that this helps explain why the once-poor but largely Protestant United States surpassed rich, Catholic Mexico after 1800.

Governments worldwide have tried to foster their own versions of Silicon Valley, and, lacking the California Bay Area’s particular culture and history, have mostly failed. While education and rule of law might seem straightforward secular policies, the cultural forces that carry them into a society, including religion, have a lot to do with whether people respect them.

The bigger application of research into religion, she thinks, isn’t to foster religious imperialism but to build a better-informed economics, and in the long run, better policy.

More on Spirituality and secularization: Yoga, Jewish Yoga, and Hasidism

The Immanent Frame has a posting on     Taxing yoga: exercise or spiritual practice?

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported on a controversy that erupted over the decision by Missouri tax authorities to require yoga centers to collect and pay a sales tax on their classes. Yoga instructors have argued that they should be exempt from the tax “because the lessons include spiritual elements.” In this week’s off the cuff feature, we’ve invited a small handful of scholars to comment on the legal and cultural status of yoga and on the right of states to levy taxes on yoga centers.

Courtney Bender, Associate Professor of Religion, Columbia University

While the yoga teachers interviewed in the article are quite concerned that the state of Missouri considers yoga to be “entertainment” or “exercise” (unless, presumably, it takes place in a temple or a church), the category confusion surrounding yoga is nonetheless generative and valuable for those who teach it. The yoga teachers I met during a series of interviews I conducted in 2004 moved back and forth easily in spaces where they taught yoga as primarily exercise, primarily meditation, or primarily stress relief. These multiple capacities actually made it possible for yoga teachers to make a living. Likewise, it seems to me that they reveled to some degree in this possibility. They could argue that even if you didn’t “believe” in yoga it could help you.
Of course, not everyone thinks that this separation is possible—some teachers, and many outside observers, agree that it is not. But in this regard, yoga’s “spirituality” surfaces as a concern, or a danger. This Monday morning’s New York Post gives us a clear example. Several years ago New York City’s Department of Education contracted with an independent group to teach yoga and movement in dozens of elementary schools. When the Post got wind of this, it ran a story with a headline reading “‘Cult’ program in NYC schools.” Even though the techniques described seemed innocuous (if not downright silly), the reported dredged up fears of yoga as a plan to infiltrate the schools and brainwash innocents (not surprisingly, the article links the “guru” to a sexual harassment case). Within several hours of the publication of the story the city suspended this program.

1] How does this relate to our quandaries over self help and Neo- Hasidism? If I have any criteria for Hasidism of the eighteenth century  is an immanence that is enthusiastic, devekut, and mindfulness of God. The 21st century versions the immanence is about self, expression, exercise, and marketing.  Midpoints are more confusing.

2] There are now studios claiming to teach “Jewish Yoga” to emphasize that it is not foreign and to incorporate it under Jewish spirituality and Neo-Hasidism. They will do a renewal chant instead of a Sanskrit chant at the end.  I have no problem saying it is not Neo-Hasidism. But is it Jewish, Hindu or exercise (as Missouri thinks)? I ask becuase there are teachers of the dharma who find the term Jewish Yoga as offensive as Hindu Kabbalah or Christian Talmud. When the Swamis wrote to the Jews, they received a reply that this yoga is Jewish. The swamis are going Huh?!? it is our India tradition. The Jews respond it is Hasidism. My Jewish-Hindu encounter  article elicited emails to me from the Dharma side to help fight the degradation of their tradition.

Which brings us back to The Immanent Frame

Stuart R. Sarbacker, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Oregon State University

That there should be tension between the spiritual and material culture of yoga is not surprising, given its modern history. Modern yoga, especially the posture-driven variety that is popular in North America, is the product of a particular historical moment in which premodern forms of yoga (such as hathayoga) were merged with Indian traditions of martial arts and wrestling, European physical culturalist thought and callisthenic practices, Hindu universalism, and emerging ideas of “modern science.” The shift towards scientific and secular frameworks and the focus on the body (often through intense attention to the finest of alignments in posture, such as in the Iyengar system) broadened the appeal of yoga while often pushing its metaphysical moorings into the background. As a result of this, the contemporary yoga community in the United States represents a spectrum of traditions that extend from sectarian tradition-driven studios and ashrams to “free-floating” yoga courses offered at fitness centers such as Bally’s Total Fitness.

The fact that yoga brings together the exotic overtones of Indian spirituality with the more familiar exertions of Euro-American callisthenic and fitness traditions has certainly been a driving factor in the success of yoga in North America

Yeshiva U sponsors New Age Jesus speaker as Jewish values.

This Tuesday Shmuly Boteach’s  Jewish Values Network together with YU is sponsoring an symposium on Jewish values.  One of the main speakers on Jewish values is Marianne Williamson. I assume that no one at YU knew who she was or looked into it and now it is too late to change it. I don’t blame them. I assume that once they saw the conference had Michael Steinhardt, Dershowitz, Steinsaltz, and Tulushkin, then they could sponsor it, since these speakers represents Yeshiva University values. (This is an interesting topic in its own right.) But I find it quirky at the least but also disturbing since I know someone who almost converted out of Judaism because of her. full schedule here
Who is Marianne Williamson? The following account is all quotes from the web- so technically I should indent.

The story began in 1965 when Helen Schucman, a professor of Medical Psychology at Columbia University in New York, began receiving channeled messages from a speaker who would later identify himself as Jesus Christ. The messages began with the words, “Please take notes,” this is not optional. So Helen Schucman a atheist Jewish psychologist began writing and for the next ten years the voice is said to have dictated “in an inaudible voice” over 500,000 words contained in the three volumes. This was done through the process called automatic handwriting, (in which a spirit entity guides the hand )and clairaudience, (hearing from a disembodied spirit) Schucman wrote this hefty volume, and she claims the source of the words was Jesus Himself.

The primary reason for the Course is the “Correcting of the errors of Christianity…. To foster spiritual development through the study and practice of A Course In Miracles, a set of three books channeled by Jesus. …to teach the Course’s reinterpretation of traditional Christian principles such as sin, suffering, forgiveness, Atonement, and the meaning of the Crucifixion…” (Foundation for A Course In Miracles, “Forgiveness,” p.3- 4).,

Marianne Williamson’s full embrace of the Course led her to give talks and lectures on it, which eventually resulted in the publication of A Return To Love. The book A Return to Love, became immensely popular as an inspirational self help book. Here most famous new age quote which has been attributed to many:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

With the strong Eastern influence in self-help writing, the Christian stance of A Return to Love stands out, but it is best seen as a spiritual work that happens to use the Christian terminology of the Course. Williamson is quick to admit that all ideas about God are expressions of a single reality (she herself has a Jewish background), and that people do not have to consider they have a personal relationship to ‘God’ to be an advanced Course student. Its students proceed according to how they treat other people. So to even think the name “Jesus” is to be reminded of one’s essential nature and one’s essential power. A Course in Miracles also says “you do not have to personally invite Jesus into your thought system to aid you in your journey.” But Jesus can do more for you if you did.

What Marianne Williamson Believes About Jesus

Remember I’m not a Christian, I am a Jew. My conversion to Christ, and to me conversion means “a conversion in thought-forms and a belief system.” I don’t feel that I was born a Jew and was supposed to become a Christian. But I do feel I was born a Jew, I am a Jew, and I was meant to meet Jesus on my journey. It is, above all others, my most predestined relationship. I feel blessed to have met him as a Jew.

1] So did no one notice? Was it because Shmuly Boteach took charge? How are they going to spin this as authentic Jewish values? I assume that no one looked over the program.

2] Is all new age, self-help, and popular spirituality OK as part of Judaism?  How does anyone teaching 12-step, “The Secret,” or Course in Miracles manage to call themselves Hasidism and Kabbalah?

3] Is new age really the new cosmology, meaning that it is invisible and taken as a given by common sense, in which it is OK to say Marianne Williamson is kosher and muttar in a way that Biblical scholars or historians are  not be kosher?

Two Months

Well, I have managed to still be here after 2 months.

I have learned that when I go away for a few days, I need to place a notice that I am away.

I have learned that many people show up Saturday night -after shabbat. Most people visit in the weekday evenings. I cannot usually guess what get the most hits. I expected the Trude Weiss Rosmarin post to get many hits and a friend even transcribed the entire article. But I would have not expected that the David Nirenberg article on Jewish-Muslim relations in Christian Spain to be one of big hits. On the other hand, I am quite surprised that no one is looking at the Novak posts here and here. I learned that three book reviews from Haaretz in a single post is too much. I also learned that if I announce a public event, I find that readers will show up.

I will be teaching contemporary Jewish thought in the Spring, thinkers of the last 15 years. So even if people are not interested in Novak, you will hear more about Fishbane, Halbertal, Boyarin and others. And more on Sacks and Benedict. There will also be more Kabbalah and spirituality.

If you want to comment on a post then post it, dont send an email. But if you want to comment on the general content or to let me know you are out there,  and you are not already on weekly (or monthly) email contact feel free to drop me a line.

A Tiny but Articulate Minority -The Thought of Rabbi Walter Wurzburger

I have been asked by several people  for a copy of my article on Rabbi Walter Wurzburger’s thought- A Tiny but Articulate Minority TRADITION 41:2 (2008). So here it is below. Wurzburger  formulated an existential and Kantian defense of Orthodoxy against historicism.  In his time, congregations in Queens and Long Island, with YU rabbi were still called Orthodox. Yeshivish Jews were called Ultra-Orthodox. The term modern Orthodox  (small m) was a term only for the rabbinical intellectuals who embraced modernism, by their own count – a few score at best. In the late 1970′s the term was applied to a not very clearly defined sociological group of those who have more modern congregation, graduates of day schools, and orthodox summer camps. By the 1990′s  there was a serious mess of terminology.

Rabbi Wurzburger saw a need to affirm a modern philosophic Orthodoxy. He was active in interfaith work and was committed to an ethical Judiasm that aspires to answer to higher “covenantal imperatives,” greater than a formalist reading of the legal canon.

I wrote a long article but think someone out there should use my article to write for him an appropriate wikipedia article.

Here it is:  A Tiny but Articulate Minority- The Thought of Rabbi Walter Wurzbuger by Alan Brill

Spirituality at B’nai Jeshurun

There is a new study from Synagogue 3000— The New Jewish Spirituality and Prayer: Take BJ, For Instance  Ayala Fader & Mark Kligman S3K Synagogue Studies Institute. This one looks at the success of BJ in NYC. I have picked out the theological sections.  BJ preaches a spirituality of finding God in one’s own life through an emotional religious experience. Their deity is a therapeutic deism with psychological elements- it seems the true fulfillment of Arthur Green’s theology in Seek My Face, Speak My Name: A Contemporary Jewish Theology (1992) or the undated pop version Ehyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow (2002).

Central to BJ is the claim by members and rabbis alike that in order to experience God, individuals must “let go”  of rationalism and the intellect. The goal is to access an emotional part of the self which opens the individual to experience the “energy” of God, something which is found within each person. When it comes to prayer, comprehension of Hebrew (loshn kodesh), Jewish ritual or traditional Jewish music is less important than kavanah (“sincere intention”). By privileg­ing kavanah, the emphasis of prayer shifts from “obligation” (the mitzvah) to what congregants describe as the “freedom” to choose those aspects of Judaism that best speak to each individual’s experience of God.

[The] aim is to have religious practice create opportunities for what they call “spiritual experi­ence,” meaning the experience of God; but God must be re-concep­tualized in order to be relevant in the contemporary world. Marcelo explains: “We have to change the paradigm from the idea of God to the experience of God.” The paradigm for today’s Jews requires what the rabbis describe as a “God of love.” Jews today, suggest the rabbis, need a “reason of love” or they will abandon God. [Their ] “God of love” is not necessarily a supernatural figure. As an entity found inside the self, God is, in effect, human.

To find God, each person must search inside the self. This concept of God echoes humanistic beliefs, but is clearly distinct from secularism. The rabbis elaborate a post- rationalistic God, located in the emotional interior of each individual, not the intellect. The point of the commandments (mitzvot), claim the rabbis, is not to force us to “give up things” but to “open us up and purify us for God.” Jew­ish ritual practice, particularly prayer, is an individual choice one makes in order to experience the divine.

Self-exploration is often expressed in therapeutic language, but with the goal of personal transcen­dence. When there is closeness to, and individual experience of, God, an individual can become more holy in the sense of ascending to a higher level of humanity. As the rabbinic intern said: “It’s not separating the two, God and psychology. We’re not going to pass it over to the therapists…it’s about finding out where God is in your life… It’s about how you can grow holy in this thing… It’s co-opting psychology and lacing it in spiritual terms.”

Now the contextualization in studies on Spirituality and Evangelical Churches. It confirms that much of the Neo-Hasidism of liberal Jews shares much in style with Conservative Evangelicals.

Embodied religious practice comes also through the use in services of practices from a range of minority religions. A number of people talked about the use of “breath” and meditation techniques. Others adopt meta­phors of “healing and wholeness” drawn from therapeutic contexts. This kind of combinative religious practice is a com­mon feature of New Age spirituality (Rothenberg and Vallely, 2008). Individualized picking and choosing from world religions in order to satisfy personal needs is a feature of postmodern religiosity, a “tradition” favored by Jewish baby boomers (Cohen and Eisen, 2000). But at BJ, combinative religious practice is institutionalized, not left to individual personal spiritual journeys; it is part and parcel of the synagogue, modeled publicly by authoritative spiritual leaders, and framed as the revitalization of Juda­ism’s authentic and shared religious heritage.

BJ shares many goals and practices with North Ameri­can megachurches and evangelical seeker churches. These churches focus on Christian spirituality in large settings where members can be part of a growing, successful and innovative ministry (Thumma and Travis, 2007:158). Like so many at BJ also, evangelical seekers, predominant­ly baby boomers, decidedly depart from the denomina­tion of their upbringing, searching out religious fulfill­ment through individual choice and a therapeutic ethos with an anti-institutional bias (Sargeant, 2000:163-4).

However, BJ has a distinctive definition of what indi­vidual fulfillment means. Seeker churches satisfy thera­peutic concerns for self-fulfillment through an evangelical understanding of Christ’s salvation (Sargeant, 2000). At BJ, individuals encounter God through individualized and, often, embodied expression of affect. Concep­tions of God, too, differ of course. Anthropologist Tanya Luhrman’s description of a “new paradigm” church (2004), for example, describes how congregants learn to conceptualize Jesus as a “buddy.” BJ members, by con­trast, find God inside themselves. However, God only enters the emotional, non-rational, vulnerable aspect of the self.

Regardless, what makes BJ seem modern to so many is the way that the traditional liturgy is made to engage modern forms of self-construction, including introspection, self-cultivation, and personal freedom as the path to happiness.

Full Article Here

Novak- Natural Law in Judiasm part 1

Natural Law in Judaism – David Novak (Cambridge UP). Here we go again with another volume.

This book, except for a few slips and snipes, is not directly against liberals. Rather it presents Novaks view of Judaism.

Chapter One – Jews were outside public sphere in middle ages and did not know how to enter. We need natural law based on God’s wisdom to engage public life.

Chapter Two – The Bible is filled with stories showing the pre-existence of morality. They prove natural law. Novak does not really entertain that they might be intuitionism like Saadyah Nahmanides, and Rav Kook, or virtues and phronesis like Maimonides, or cultivated conscience like R. Israel of Salant.

Chapter Three – Jewish ethics are based on natural law. Novak assumes that we are darshinan taama dekra (expose reasons for the scriptural law),  we work on reasons for the commandments, and that the Talmudic discussions on rational commandments were actually derived by reason. The Noahide law shows that natural law undergirds the Talmud. He also assumes that the Meiri’s category of “people of relgion” to be the Noahide laws and that the Meiri is the best explanation for the Talmudic law. He assumes the natural law, which preexists the halakhah, includes the principles of avoiding desecration of the name, human dignity, and misleading someone in business.

Chapter Four – Maimonides showed the rational structure to the law and its teleology in accordance with nature.

Chapter Five is the core argument of the book. Albo brought the term natural law into Judaism but it was always there.We receive norms from God on the right way to act. We avoid the two incorrect positions – it is incorrect to act from autonomy and it is is incorrect to think we have to wait for Divine commands. God gave us the basic principles as norms know through natural law. The Talmud is a record of the Jewish understanding of what natural law requires.

Novak rejects legal formalism and is happy  that his approach rejects the approach of the legal formalist Hans Kelsen. Unlike formalism- Novaks law corresponds to a divine reality, is given to humans to make the world a better place and shows the primacy of God’s wisdom in our world. Our major activity in maintaining the world through Torah is the development of the rational laws through philosophic activity. Jewish law, philosophy, and theology all merge in our quest to apply the natural law to the world’s problems.

He pushes Maimonides slightly on the side because he is too Platonic and based on an ideal nature. Now we are post Cassier and Habermas and knowledge is for human construction and to serve human interests.

Novak quotes Etienne Gilson on the need for revelation and to see divine wisdom in our world. Rav Lichtenstein quotes the same idea from Gilson But for Rav Lichtenstein, the Divine wisdom is the Talmud as know through the books in the Beit Midrash; the halakhah in is playing out by the hakhamim is Divine wisdom. For Novak, the divine wisdom is the Jewish natural law, the norms given by God and know as the basis of the Bible and as the principles on which the Talmud is based. The divine wisdom is in our rationally understanding these norms of natural law and philosophically applying them.

Novak does explicitly rejects Rabbi JD Bleich  who equates halakhah and ethics. Novak argues that ethical principles inform the law and one cannot decide the law without philosophic principles.

Novak avoids the presentation of Maimonides as done by David Hartman and Isadore Twersky where Maimonides combines halakhah with philosophic quest. In contract, Novak presents Maimonides as working for natural law philosophic principles to derive Jewish law.

Chapter Six – Noahide Laws The Noahide laws are not just something before Judaism or of a lower status but they are the basic principles of morality for Jews too. Moral by definition mean the Noahide laws. The image of God means that people can make more of themselves than they can from a natural state.

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Etienne Gilson

Does this sound familiar?“Catholicism lite,” against “Taliban Catholicism”

We tend to think that our divisions in the Jewish community are internally generated, rather than reflective of the divisive culture wars of the last 20 years. The article is on the extremes in the community. If you substitute “orthodox-lite” and “Taliban-orthodox” would it change the meaning? And if the trend readers are correct,  much of the ideological driven angst will dissipate with the new generation.

Recently John Allen published a column regarding young Catholics. Here is some of what Allen wrote and some comments from the Commonweal journal blog:

This new generation seems ideally positioned to address the lamentable tendency in American Catholic life to drive a wedge between the church’s pro-life message and its peace-and-justice commitments. More generally, they can help us find the sane middle between two extremes: What George Weigel correctly calls “Catholicism lite,” meaning a form of the faith sold out to secularism; and what I’ve termed “Taliban Catholicism,” meaning an angry expression of Catholicism that knows only how to excoriate and condemn. Both are real dangers, and the next generation seems well-equipped to steer a middle course, embracing a robust sense of Catholic identity without carrying a chip on their shoulder.

“Why would I want to join a bunch of people who seem bummed out about the church?” one asked. “What’s the attraction in that?”

Yet they were equally emphatic that their choice should not be read in terms of left/right dynamics, as if they were choosing a side. In fact, many said their politics don’t really conform to any ideological formation, and in any event they said they resent being boxed into categories they find artificial and restrictive.