Monthly Archives: November 2009

Avot, Ibn Ezra, and Being a Mentch

This year Haaretz did not translate their 2009 Rosh Hashanah Jewish culture supplement with its book reviews. The Hebrew edition had some interesting articles, including one by Etkes and a funky one by Haviva Pedaya. But this week they did translate their November 2009 literary supplement. There was a certain gentleness to all their choices. Here are three of the reviews.

The first review is on the new edition of Pirkei Avot that has been a runaway bestseller this Fall. It reminds us of the Israeli project of creating a Jewish cultural heritage, when the books by Dvir and Bialek Presses: Sefer HaAgadah, Sefer HaZemanin on the holidays, Mishnat HaZohar Sifrei Dorot, were on every shelf. They let the Jewish reader approach the Jewish classics outside of yeshiva, orthodoxy, and authority, the way we approach penguin paperback classics. So it is nice to know that the Pirkei Avot is a best seller. Dinur, creator of the Israeli educational curriculum, Beit Hatefuzot, and Yad VaShem, created the older edition. The review has a nice sense of the role of Avot and rabbinic literature on our proverbs and wisdom.

The art of succinct statements By Zvia Walden

Pirkei Avot: Perush Yisraeli Hadash , edited and annotated by Avigdor Shinan Yedioth Ahronoth Books and the Avi Chai Foundation,

“A fundamental challenge facing our generation — living in a country that also happens to be our ances­tral homeland — is figuring out the proper ways to preserve the spiritual and moral image of the individual and society in Israel.” Does this not sound very contemporary and disturbingly relevant? Yet these words were written in 1972 by Prof. Ben-Zion Dinur, who served as Israel’s third minister of education (1951-1955 ) and who initiated the draft­ing of the Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Law in 1953, which officially established Yad Vashem. That same year, Dinur was also responsible for the law that established public education in Israel, in the wake of which the various ideological streams were united into a single school system.

Dinur made the preceding observation in the introduction to his annotated and explicated edition of Tractate Avot of the Mishna, that is, Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers ). He noted that he had begun work on the edition back in 1917-18, when he was teaching at the Tarbut teachers training college in Kiev. He continued his efforts when he served as a lecturer at the Hebrew teachers seminar in Jerusalem (today the David Yellin Teachers College). Which is to say that Israel once had a liberal-minded education minis­ter, one who had actually taught (for years ) in teachers training schools. He diligently prepared his commentaries from a his­torical perspective, because he believed that knowledge of their context was crucial for under­standing their content. Imagine if we had cabinet ministers like that today.

Shinan’s new commentary on Pirkei Avot has featured prom­inently on the Israeli bestseller lists for weeks.

How can one explain the suc­cess of a volume such as Shinan’s? Is it due to the ever-growing thirst to “preserve the spiritual and moral image of the individual and society in Israel,” as Dinur had it? Or is it due to the acces­sible writing style of the editor, a professor of Hebrew literature at the Hebrew University? Or, per­haps native Hebrew speakers are attracted to this edition because Shinan chose to devote much at­tention to the Hebrew text and to connecting the tractate to names, places and landscapes in Israel, while sufficing with only a brief survey of Pirkei Avot’s tradi­tional commentators?

Phrases from Pirkei Avot have penetrated deep into modern Hebrew, even if many of those doing the quoting are unaware of where they first appeared.. Many Hebrew speakers in Israel might quote the phrase, “Love work, and hate lordship,” but few know its continuation, “and make not thyself known to the government” (chapter 1:10 )

The late Levi Eshkol be­longed to the generation that was familiar with the phrase, “The ledger is open and the hand is writing,” but many of the Young Turks working at the Finance Ministry today, who may well believe that “the workmen are sluggish,” have no idea that “the master of the house is urgent” (2:18). We are part of a generation that has become cut off from its cultural roots; we must carry out the difficult work to amend the situation.

The second book reviewed is the Yesod Mora, a perennial Jewish classic on the need to have a broad education and the nature of mizvot. The book has fallen out of fashion in our era. Science, linguistics, mathematics, and philosophy were integrated into Torah. Ibn Ezra rejects the number 613 for the mizvot. He also criticizes the various Biblical and Talmudic scholars of his era for a too provincial education and worldview. Hananel Mack offers us the hypothetical of conjuring up the book that Ibn Ezra would write against the scholars of 2009.

Thirteen gates to infinity By Hananel Mack

Yesod Mora Abraham Ibn Ezra, edited by Uriel Simon Bar-Ilan University Press (Hebrew ), 272 pages, NIS 115

One of Ibn Ezra’s late works is “Yesod Mora Vesod Hatorah” (“Foundation of Awe and the Secret of the Torah” ), commonly called by the first two words of its name, a book dedicated to examining the essence of the commandments and their place in religious thought and at the foundation of Jewish belief.

According to the editor, Prof. Uriel Simon, an expert in research of the Bible and its com­mentaries, particularly the works of Ibn Ezra: ” His thinking is disjointed and jumpy, his arguments emotional, argumentative and associative, and his phrasing too abbrevi­ated, tending toward suggestion.”

According to him, a wise per­son’s approach to the holy writings and to religious philosophy requires a broad edu­cation encompassing all the branches of science, and must reject narrow-minded expertise in specific fields at the expense of others. This cosmopolitan position pre­vents those who do not share the breadth of Ibn Ezra’s perspective from properly understanding his writings, particularly those pertaining to philosophy and sci­ence.

According to Simon, “The first chapter is dedicated to a detailed proof of the re­ligious need for multidisciplinary educa­tion.” Toward that end, Ibn Ezra describes four types of “learned men of Israel” who specialize in narrow and defined fields of Torah and wisdom study but are unable to see the whole ensemble, and for whom, for this reason, even their fields of specializa­tion are found wanting.

Most of the remaining chapters deal with the Jewish religious mitzvot and their place in the system of belief and knowledge. Unlike other medieval books on the commandments, such as those of Rabbis Saadia Gaon, Maimonides and Nachmanides, here there is no discussion of halakha — religious law — and its minu­tiae; rather, the discussion is entirely on a theoretical level. Chapter two deals with the numbering of the commandments, wherein the scholar presents and criti­cizes the systems of several earlier “com­mandment-counters.”

Especially interesting is the status of the number 613, the traditional total number of all the commandments. The source of that enumeration is the homi­letical sermon of the Talmudic sage Rabbi Shamlai…Unlike many other homiletical sermons, this one was accepted with great serious­ness, although there were some who saw in Shamlai’s words a tale not to be taken too seriously; Ibn Ezra belonged to the lat­ter.

The afterword added to the new edition deals with the text’s polemical side. Simon draws to­gether the main points of criticism, some of it bitter, leveled by Ibn Ezra against the majority of learned scholars in Israel and Christian Europe, and to a lesser extent also those in Spain, for their tendency to over-specialization and for their lack of systematic education in the sciences.

Contemporary readers are invited to imagine the criticism, tongue-lashing and overt disdain that would have been elicit­ed from Ibn Ezra had he foreseen current trends in the world of Torah and yeshiva study.

Finally, an interview with Michael Wex, author of “Born to Kvetch.” “Just Say Nu,” and this fall “How to Be a Mentsh (and Not a Shmuck ) (Harper, 224 pages, $24 ). Wex discusses how Yiddish culture valued character, being a mentch, and being.ehrliche.  They use to say frumkeit is for the galah, a yid is ehrliche. And a litvish lamdan was called a “tzelemer kop.” Wax points out the role of Pirkei Avot, that the average Jew was not learned and to avoid khnoykishkay.

Questions & Answers: A conversation with Michael Wex

Judaism is all about refinement of character and becoming a better person; if performing ritual or ceremonial com­mandments or studying all day is not mak­ing you a better person, then there’s some­thing wrong with the way you’re doing it. And we’ve got a couple of thousand years of popular ethical manuals, starting with Pirkei Avot, to help show average people the right way to do things.

Post-Holocaust we’ve been given a rosy picture of pre-Hitler life in Europe, in which every Jew was a talmid haham [learned person]. That just wasn’t the case. People stammered out the prayers, but didn’t necessarily know that they meant. Much of the joke with Sholom Aleichem’s Tevye is that he’s always mistranslating biblical verses and rabbinic sayings, and people still argue about whether or not he — Tevye, I mean — was supposed to be doing so on purpose. What you got as a sort of counterbalance to the traditional exaltation of scholarship, was this idea that character is as important as anything else. This is re­ally just an idea that was re-expressed, that regained prominence, in early Hasidism. I talk a little about earlier instances of it, and the way people looked at things. In part it’s the idea about having the basic Jewish common sense to know when something of anything is too much. You look at some­thing like the story in the Talmud about the destruction of Jerusalem, about Kamtso and Bar Kamtso. Ultimately it turned on a piece of khnoykishkayt [hypocritical sanc­timoniousness], about being punctilious about the wrong things at the wrong time.

Lord Jonathan Sacks on the concept of Witness-Updated

Lord Jonathan Sacks has a style that addresses his Anglican listeners and at the same time addresses his Jewish audience.

Jews generally speak of Torah, avodah, gemilat hasadim; or God, Revelation and olam haba;  or God, Torah, and Israel; and now creation-revelation-redemption. All sets point back to Torah.

Christians use the words witness, mission, covenant, proclamation- all about good news to be brought to the world.   “witness.” in their reading of Israel’s covenant history: means the proclamation and exchange of views held with conviction.

Jonathan Sacks has discussed “witness” as a theological concept in almost all of his books.

In his 1992 Crisis and Covenant, he writes,  “An early rabbinic commentary put the point audaciously: ‘ “You are My witnesses, says the Lord, and I am God” (Isaiah 43:12)” (28) In this work he uses the word the way Emil Fackenhim does, we as witnesses to the destruction of our people in the holocaust and now we give witness by the survival of the Jewish people. Our news to the world is the survival of the Jewish people.

In 1997, he writes “Somehow the Jewish people would be the people in whose daily lives the will of G-d, and in whose collective history the presence of G-d would be particularly evident.  You could look at Jews and see G-d.  In that magnificent phrase in Isaiah: “you are my witnesses, Isaiah 43:10, says G-d and so it happened.” Jews are witnesses to God’s existence.”  This is a Jewish version of the Christian doctrine of the witness; Jews point to God and the original revelation to humanity.

But Jews usually assume the verse talks to Jews about their own redemption   As examples, Rashi explains the witness as Abraham and Jacob testifying to their promise for Israel’s redemption and Radak explains that the prophet testifies that just as Sanherib was destroyed so too all of Israel’s enemies will vanish and Israel will be redeemed. Or the use of it for the haftarah of Bereshit is that just as God created the world he is true to his promise to redeem Israel.

A decade later in his Dignity of Difference, Sacks writes “ But from here on he will focus on one family, and eventually one people, to be his witnesses and bearers of his covenant.”(52) The argument is that undifferentiated pluralism leads to totalitarianism, but God chose a single people, the Jews, to teach the world that each people is unique and that there is a pluralism of diversity of different peoples. But the locution is more Christian, Jews are to witness and bear the covenant of Gods’ designs.

None of the Jewish commentators ad loc interpret it in that direction

In his Heal a Fractured World, he writes that we witness to Godnot by seeking to convert those of another faith, but simply by reaching out to embrace the image of God in another human being, by seeing the image of God in another human being (47) We have Levinas adapted as an answer to the Christians who seek to convert those of another faith.

Finally, in his recent siddurThe Jewish people … have … been singled out for the most exalted mission ever entrusted to mankind: to be witnesses, in ourselves, to something beyond ourselves: to be God’s “signal of transcendence” in a world in which his presence is often hidden (Siddur p. xxiv).

Jews have Mission to mankind for the presence of God. Hmm… I did a quick online check of the 19 letters to see if Hirsch used it that way, and from my quick check of 19 Letters- Rabbi Hirsch limits witness- Edut to contexts of duty and service of mankind toward God. God is know through the natural order, duty is the Jewish message. I need to check other works of Hirsch and Hertz. But here in Sack’s prayer book the very knowledge of God is the Jewish mission. Is this more Anglican or Jewish?

Update

I checked the commentary of Dr Mendel Hirsch on the Haftarot (called by most people as the commentary of the father) on the relevant verses in Isaiah. Dr. Hirsch comments that only man has will to act on a higher calling of righteousness. Only through zedek will people realize the nature of reality consisting of freedom from  material slavery in order to live in happiness and freedom. We are a light to the nations when there will be righteousness in the governments. The concept of witness is that the proof of every historical fact rests , on people who were there, on tradition The Jewish people have witnessesed the rise and fall of the nations around them. You were all at the going out from Egypt, which proves a world of providential care. You are witness to your revelation becuase you saw God’s hand in history.

Hmm..Hirsch does not seem like Sacks. I will check the essays if I get a chance.

The Angel of History: Rosenzweig, Benjamin, Scholem

Good review in Notre Dame Philosophic Review. It shows how we currently read these thinkers and the importance of Rosenzweig for that generation. The book focuses on how they all reject the linear approach to progress-redemption.
It is interesting to note how Benjamin calls all human acts for redemption as “theurgy” I always wondered where Moshe Idel got the phrase since his was not a big Iamblichus reader. And important for the literature of Scholem, Idel and onto Halbertal, Benjamin calls the chain of interpretation “a weak messianic force.”
Here are selections from the review.
Stéphane Mosès, The Angel of History: Rosenzweig, Benjamin, Scholem, Barbara Harshav (tr.), Stanford UP, 2009, Reviewed by Eric Jacobson, Roehampton University

Stéphane Mosès’s The Angel of History is a classic in modern Jewish philosophy

The Angel of History is one of the few studies in twentieth century Jewish thought and philosophy to draw out a common tradition and render the comparative notions of temporality and causation accessible. This comparison is achieved by coalescing all three thinkers around a bifurcated notion of history: one that makes its appearance in worldly affairs, guided by the hand of the conquerors, and another based on an indelible thread that links this generation to a history to come. All three partook of this view to varying degrees and its final resolution in a Messianic redemption.

Since the first publication of this pioneering study in 1992, it is surprising to note how much has changed in the scholarship on Franz Rosenzweig, Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem. For one, it is no longer common to place Benjamin under the lens of Marxism. Equally, Rosenzweig is more commonly viewed in the light of Levinas , Expressionism and Heidegger today than in the shadow of Martin Buber. But perhaps even more, our picture of Scholem has considerably changed with the ongoing scholarship of the Kabbalah.

An exchange of letters from 1921 establishes the influence of The Star of Redemption on Benjamin and Scholem. There is evidence to suggest that Benjamin shapes his early Messianism in relation to The Star. Scholem’s debt to Rosenzweig is evident in many places, not least in a 1930 lecture delivered in Rosenzweig’s memory.

A common approach to history, which Mosès understands as a revolt against the idea of progress, a history leading to greater forms of reason that finds an epiphany in Hegel. As he remarks: “Past suffering is not abolished even by a triumphant future, which claims to give them meaning, and more than thwarted hopes are refuted by the failures that seem to sanction them” (11).

Mosès speaks of a model in Benjamin’s thought which is anti-sequential, exemplified by the conclusions to the Origins of German Tragic Drama that “a work of art can never be deduced from those that precede it”. There is no history that follows unwaveringly from one advancing moment to the next, and no experience that is reducible to mere sequence, generalization, even totalization. Rather than a progression, history lies below layers of stratification (85). Redemption at any moment meant for Benjamin the search for a historical site between the incessant return of the unremarkable and an infinitely new that anticipates a complete and final end. Redemption was on no absolute course, symbolized by the last line of his On the Concept of History, which understands the immediacy of redemption as the door through which the Messiah may enter at any time.

In the early years, he was indeed attracted to the systematic nature of The Star of Redemption, yet he would ultimately follow a course that was intrinsically methodical. He sought to avoid any theurgical impulse, favoring notions such as the “unintentional” of human acts which advances redemption without active causation. In the later years, the tightrope is spanned across the interpretation of history, where each generation participates in a “weak messianic force” through the act of interpretation
Full Review Here

Catholic-Jewish Interfaith Dialogue- Timothy M. Dolan and Arnold M. Eisen

Lecture Tonight at 6PM – Refreshments and Kosher Wine will be from Supersol. This is the first public act of Jewish-Christian encounter in Dolan’s new role in NYC.  (He sent me a very nice note upon his arrival.) This will either be very good or a nothing since neither speaker is, in any way, a theologian or visionary. One side is a sociologist embracing the self-focused individualism of American religion, the other side is a defender of the collective and authority but a real nice guy, a gregarious public figure.

Catholic-Jewish interchange will be the subject of the 17th annual Nostra Aetate Dialogue, which will take place at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 5, at the McNally Amphitheatre on Lincoln Center campus. The discussion, “The Future of Catholic-Jewish Interfaith Dialogue,” will feature Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York, and Arnold M. Eisen, Ph.D., the seventh chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Edward Bristow, professor of history at Fordham University, will serve as moderator.
The event is co-sponsored by the Archbishop Hughes Institute on Religion and Culture and the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan. Admission is free and open to the public.The Nostra Aetate Dialogue can be traced to the Nostra Aetate (In Our Time) document, a declaration by the Second Vatican Council stressing the importance of relationships between the church and non-Christian religions.
The Archbishop Hughes Institute on Religion and Culture was established in 1995 to foster Catholic-Jewish dialogue and in addition to the Nostra Aetate Dialogue, hosts the annual Russo Lecture.

Finding a Place for the Lonely Man of Faith

I know that many of you who are reading this are introverts trying to cope with the extreme extroversion of Orthodoxy. Its group identity, its endless minor simchas, its lack of interest in contemplation and mussar, and its turning Torah study into a collective group practice rather than an intellectual activity.What happened to the great introverted traditions of Ramhal, Vilna Gaon, the Magid of Mezritch, the Alter of Navarodk, Rav Zadok, Rav Kook and Rav Soloveitchik? They knew how to be introverts. What happened to the ideal of being the Lonely Man of Faith?

To make you feel better, Adam McHugh has written Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture.The book is written by an Evangelical having the same problems in his church. The book is more autobiography, self-help, and pop-sociology than a definitive study, but it will allow those who share his concerns to know that others share his concerns

McHugh presents the same dilemma that many of my students have gone through. He describes in his introduction how he realized that he wont become an academic but then he realizes that he is too introverted for a pulpit. He describes his disappointments in dealing with the world of congregations and finding himself to be the odd man out in the extroverted world of seminarians and outreach workers.
In chapter one McHugh deals with three issues: personal relationship with God, Scripture, and active evangelicalism. Introverts in Church don’t  relate to God as part of a collective, they prefer knowledge to be contemplative and creative, and they don’t make good kiruv workers. Introverts are blamed for both keeping the religion too formal and self-defensive, as well as being too disobedient.

Introduction and chapter

From an online review:

For every introvert who has considered a job in the ministry, only to have second thoughts about the grueling expectations of congregations who assume a pastor will be endlessly gregarious, outgoing, available, and always “on”
For every introvert who has longed to share his or her spiritual gifts, but felt that being introverted made the prospect impossible, or at least difficult; or felt that the more extroverted members of the congregation didn’t approve of the quieter, subtler, more behind-the-scenes efforts of introverted members.

From the author’s blog- an outtake from the book

What do introverts reveal about God? Introverts reveal the creativity of God, who designed the world in all its beauty, color, abundance, and fecundity. They demonstrate the subtlety and the gentleness of God, who often speaks in whispers rather than in horn blasts and who is usually more reticent than he is talkative. For those who are attuned to hear God’s voice, he seems to speak in words or brief sentences more than he speaks in paragraphs. Introverts, when they have attained a level of personal and spiritual maturity, reveal the restfulness of God, who rested after his creative work and who dwells in his own Shalom. Introverts, with their multi-layered personalities that are only unraveled over time, reveal the mystery of God.

Can Kabbalah be translated into a modern idiom?

I found an interesting article written for  the BBC from a transpersonal psychologist in England The essence of Jewish meditation By Professor Les Lancaster The very nice and sensitive essay shows the problems in trying to translate Kabbalah on meditation in modern terms.

It lets me ask about the process of presenting Jewish kavvanot to a modern audience.

The basic worldview for the kabbalist is the sefirotic chart, arranged as concentric circles, a Jacob’s ladder or chain of being, expressed with medieval philosophic language.  A kabbalist’s view of God and the world was arranged in nestled chains, God emanates into the world. This cosmology of chains is not just a points on a cord, but vast realms, lights, and colors, a realm to transverse, a way of marking off distance. This cosmology was accepted as based on the Jewish tradition, the experiential truth of the method, and as part of accepting the theology of the Kabbalah.  This worldview, for them, was as corrigible as a map. Meaning that unlike a dream where no incorrect dream, Kabbalah is a vision correctable based on the writings and visions of others. For the kabbalists the kabbalistic worldview is objective, subject to correct and incorrect turns, and offers a reproducible mental world. One chooses one path, one worldview, and follows it. The traditional meditator does not credit the human mind or imagination with these depths, rather he starts with a map obtained through the study of Kabbalah.

But I am trying to pin down how we get from my description of the past to the following:

What is Jewish meditation?

It involves shifting the centre of gravity of the mind away from the sense of ‘I’ which normally dominates our goals. Like all meditative practices, Jewish mystical techniques are directed towards enhancing this second form of thinking. At the same time, these practices cultivate an awareness of the divine presence in all things.
The objective of meditation is to engage with these deeper currents.

One of the major texts of Kabbalah, the 12th-century Bahir, writes that the biblical prophet Habakkuk ‘understood God’s thought.’ It tells us:
“Just as human thought has no end, for even a mere mortal can think and descend to the end of the world, so too the ear also has no end and is not satiated.”
Jewish mystical practices enable us to use thought to ‘descend to the end of the world’, that is, to plumb the depths where mind and physical reality are no longer separate.

The goals of Jewish meditation
-heighten one’s understanding of the Torah
-develop an understanding of ritual and other religious observances
-give direction to prayer
-increase one’s awareness of others’ needs

One of the oldest texts that describes Jewish meditation practices is the Sefer Yetsirah. Consider the following extract:
“Ten dimensions of nothingness. Their measure is ten to which there is no end.
A depth of beginning, a depth of end; a depth of good, a depth of evil; a depth of above, a depth of below; a depth of east, a depth of west; a depth of north, a depth of south.
The unified Master – God faithful King – rules over all of them, from His holy dwelling place, until eternity of eternities.”
The meditation based on this passage entails consciously building up a deep sense of your place in relation to the dimensions.

The meditation continues with the first of the six directions of space. What is immediately above you? Air… the ceiling… other rooms… the roof… birds… sky… vastness of space… the infinite that cannot be formed in the mind…
It is as if you generate a beam of light from within that is gradually extended further and further whilst, at the same time, maintaining your awareness of the centre, the heart as the source of light… And then continue into the remaining directions. You may glimpse your inner core suspended at the heart of a web of infinite interconnections.

We have the idea of limitless expanse, which was originally sefirot, treated as the depths of the mind. I understand the need for the psychology. Yet what happens to the Neoplatonic depth? Identifying mind and physical reality has a bit of a countercultural sound to it. Gone is the need to go through an ascent to reach God either by chambers, cosmos, worlds, souls. The author, similar to the popular pamphlets issued by the school of the Magid of Mezerich pushed away the meditation of the Kabblah. Early Hasidism thought that though emotional enthusiasm one could ascend through all the worlds, sefirot, and chambers. Here entering the depth of one’s mind has the same effect.

I get confused by the goals. Does it help by giving one esoteric knowledge? Does it mean viewing one’s mitzvot and prayer as taking place in the kabbalistic cosmology?  And why claim it will make one more sensitive to the needs of others. At least, Buddhists will distinguish between jhana (knowledge) and metta (love-kindness). Here it seems everything is blurred.

In his use of Sefer Yetzirah, we have the conversion of a scientific-cosmological text into a meditation on space. Deep of divinity becomes depth of the soul.In this modern version, one looks into the inner core of the self, the heart, and the limits of the ordinary mind. One is not told about the traditional phrases “fixed order of lights” “the infinity of God” or the need to identify with the Divine will.”

I find much of our presentations of Kabbalah on the popular level to be modern psychology. I do think we need to use modern psychology and not medieval psychology, but what are the boundaries for a successful translation? Many of the popular Orthodox presentations are straight pop-psych and new age. What is the limit in modernizing the medieval?

Hat tip: Solitude- it cites the full version. For the original BBC- here

Novak- Social Contract Part II of III parts

Novak- Social Contract Part II of III parts

OK – I have learned that if I am out of town as a scholar in residence or at a conference, then I should put up a note. Well I am back from a combined Scholar-in residence gig and delivering a conference paper.

To continue with Novak-Social Contract from below.

11] Novak considers the Reform and Conservative movements as having applied Occam’s razor to Mendelssohn. Since Mendelssohn said that we need God and Torah to survive, they reduce  it down to the bare minimum needed. For Novak, Bible and Talmud as a cultural element is not enough. It has to be elective and mandate.

Novak says there are only four choices to Jewish identity in the modern era: conversion, secularism, antinomianism, or the natural law mandate.

He considers Conservative Judaism as antinomianism since it, according to Novak, it denies God, Torah and redemption. He states that since liberal Judaism forges- “no consistent connection to the historical Jewish traditions”- therefore they cannot make powerful claims on civil society. (But his treating shituf a social contract of trust, he considers as a strong connection to the Jewish tradition.)

For him, any connection to the land of Israel and the state of Israel only from a sense of the people chosen to bring the Noahide laws into the public sphere.
So any discussion of Israel without discussing the noahite laws is just tribalism

12] One of Nova k’s consistent themes is the need for a sense of Jewish election. A theological basis of election that is greater than the parochial interest in mizvot. Mendelssohn did not have a strong enough idea of election.
A similar idea to Novak’s was presented several decades ago by Arthur A Cohen, is his book Natural- Supernatural Jew, which was subjected to a critique by Walter Wurzburgerbecause one cannot have supernatural destiny without halakhah
But at least Arthur A Cohen left the idea of election as a positive metaphysical concept that said Jewish history is not just an aggregate of contingent events, there is a mystery that holds the Jewish people together. (In his later work, The Tremendum, it becomes a post-Holocaust negative identity.) But Novak makes it a zero-sum approach in which there has to be some special secret plan only done by the Jews and not those liberals.

13] Novak writes that our only friends on the social and political levels used to be the liberal Protestants so we did not support our natural theological allies, the conservative covenantal Christians. Jews have striking similarities to Christian political theology..

14] He wants Jewish identity to be their status as a chosen people, this should be considered before race, class, gender, democracy, liberalism, or politics. But he does not think this will lead to just provincialism and parochialism. He is against Rawls. We need to decide everything from within our Jewish condition

15] Novak considers that revelation is in the world but not of part of it. The revelation comes from the divine mandate.
In the case of the four dialectic thinkers discussed by Sagi, they each see a need to affirm the halakhah as the expression of faith and belief.
For Novak, the affirmed faith is the mandate for natural law and a sense of election.
But if it is natural law, then it is hard to claim that revelation is not part of the world. Let us see in his other book on Natural law if he resolves this.

16] Novak thinks that a Jew should be anti abortion as a value even if there are halakhic grounds to permit it. Meaning the halakhah is not what defines Judaism but the grundnorms on which it is bases. This seems to be Zechariah Frankel’s positive historical Judiasm but from a neo-con perspectives. There is an essence greater than the manifestation in the Oral Law.

17] Novak considers Judaism as a public language – not what does the tradition say but what does the Torah require us to do? It is not the texts but a an internalized sense that God wants you to change the public sphere. A mitzvah is the sense of God commanding what to do (cf. the ecstatic position his teacher Heschel who considers mizvot a connection to God; a prayer in the form of a deed, or the approach of Hirsch in which mizvot are uplifting in our own lives )
Novak wants to be able to speak in the first person about what Judaism requires and thinks that anyone who cannot speak for Judaism.in the first person has no business saying anything.

18] Novak criticizes Rabbi JD Bleich’s position on Noahite laws as halakhah to be decided by rabbis as irrational and undemocratic.Why would non-Jews want to come under Jewish scrutiny and Jewish moral authority as second class citizens?Novak finds the Orthodox version of social theory and bioethics- politically ineffectual and philosophic inadequate. No one is waiting to be declared a ger toshav- resident alien.
He also rejects Nathan Lewin’s sectarianism in always fighting only for particularistic self-interest.
He characterizes Orthodox provincialism and parochialism as the following (In sharp contrast to his own p & p) “People living in a democratic polity in such bad faith prevents them from exercising true moral influence on it, and thus makes them far more subject to the moral agendas of the enemies of Judaism.”
Any Jewish understanding of the Noahite laws has to come from our commitment to natural law. The Noahide laws are universal normative categories based on God given rationalism.