Monthly Archives: January 2010

Happiness, Salinger, and Popular Religion.

Rav Soloveitchik in his famous footnote number four in Halakhic Man spends over  two pages decrying the seeking of happiness and solace through religion. For him, true religion is about psychic upheavals, pangs, and torments from anxiety, anguish and tension. He claims that those who seek the stillness of peace and tranquility are non-Orthodox Jews and are “Typical of this attitudes the Christian Science movement.”  Leaving aside the empiricism of this statement, he would not be sanguine about the current Orthodox emphasis on instant happiness through Torah, outreach by promising happiness, or the goal of producing studies to show the happiness quotient of Orthodoxy.

In today’s NYT, there is a review of recent literature that critiques happiness. The quotes speak for themselves on the happiness industry as silly. There are five basic principles of a benign happiness that would apply to the followers of any denomination or Church. And that true happiness is a fleeting emotion related to the peaks of the transient not to a warm bed, friends, and a job.

Smart people often talk trash about happiness, and worse than trash about books on happiness, and they have been doing so for centuries — just as long as other people have been pursuing happiness and writing books about it. The fashion is to bemoan happiness studies and positive psychology as being the work not of the Devil (the Devil is kind of cool), but of morons. “

In “Bright-Sided,” Barbara Ehrenreich recently looked with dismay at what she views as the industry of happiness, a culture bludgeoned by insistent — even aggressive — good cheer.

We could canvass Gore, Rubin, Gilbert, the Dalai Lama and the many authors on the happier.com Web site and produce the Fundamentally Sound, Sure-Fire Top Five Components of Happiness: (1) Be in possession of the basics — food, shelter, good health, safety. (2) Get enough sleep. (3) Have relationships that matter to you. (4) Take compassionate care of others and of yourself. (5) Have work or an interest that engages you.

The real problem with happiness is neither its pursuers nor their books; it’s happiness itself. Happiness is like beauty: part of its glory lies in its transience. It is deep but often brief (as Frost would have it), and much great prose and poetry make note of this. Frank Kermode wrote, “It seems there is a sort of calamity built into the texture of life.” To hold happiness is to hold the understanding that the world passes away from us, that the petals fall and the beloved dies.

In honor of Salinger’s death, many tributes have been placed on the web. (I am still waiting for an Abrahm Sutzkever tribute with content.) Fifty years ago, a theologically oriented literary critic noted that the success of J. D. Salinger was to offer us the torments of hell that we can enjoy. Salinger’s characters rejected the cant of society including its petty views of happiness for a more exquisite torment of those who truly hope.

The literary critic Donald Barr wrote “Saints, Pilgrims and Artists” for Commonweal more than fifty years ago, in 1957, but its analysis remains sharp and insightful

Most of Salinger’s work, therefore, is about those who think they are in hell, a place where the soul suffers according to its qualities, and without escape.

Ordinarily, we all are interested in hell. Ten people have read and enjoyed the Inferno for every one who has read the Purgatorio or the Paradiso. It is fun; like looking at real estate, it gives us a sense of our own possibilities. But Salinger’s hell is different. It is hell for the good, who can feel pain, who really love or hope to love. On the gate of this hell we do not read the words, “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate.” Hope is not abandoned here—hope is the implement of torture, hope deferred. We identify ourselves both with the victims and the devils. And it is not strange real estate. It is home.

Salinger wrote in the 1950’s. Hudnut-Beumler in his Looking for God in the Suburbs: The Religion of the American Dream and Its Critics. 1945-1965 points out the role of solace and happiness in 1950’s religion and the importance of the jeremiads against it by the intellectuals.

In 1946 Rabbi Joshua Liebman, a leading Reform rabbi promised happiness through organized religion in his best seller Peace of Mind, which reached #1 on the NYT charts.  In the 1950’s, many Churches took his advice. As did most modern Orthodox rabbis  in the RCA who wrote definitive books on the Jewish Way in Love and Marriage or in Death and Mourning. Happiness and psychological well-being was promised as the immediate reward of the rituals.

We have just lived through a period similar to the 1950’s, with simple answers and projected resolutions of all problems through organized religion. Barbara Ehrenreich and Amy Bloom now and Salinger and Rav Soloveitchik in the 1950’s, remind us that there is more to religion than simplistic quotients of happiness.

Vattimo and Theology

There is a new series by Continuum Book that engages contemporary philosophy from a theological perspective. Adorno and Theology, Wittgenstein and Theology, Habermas and Theology,  Girard and Theology, Zizek and Theology. They are also offering new readings for the 21st century of Kant and Theology, Hegel and Theology, Kierkegaard and Theology. Most of them look good and will surely engage discussion.

This past week, I went to a book signing for Vattimo and Theology– Thomas Guarino

There is little good material on Gianni Vattimo in English but here is a book review in English and here is Vattimo’s blog (in Italian- Columbia UP has a link to the blog embedded in a translation program).

Vattimo translated Gadaemer into Italian, and took hermeneutics to a Nietzsche influenced extreme. Everything is just interpretation, there is no truth in the text.

Now, how can a catholic priest teaching in a conservative seminary use an atheist, nihilist, gay, anti-clerical, anti-revelation thinker as a basis for a book? The approach not to take is to call this is heresy and forbidden and violates what we were taught. So what does that leave? One can show how other contemporary theologians have rejected his thought. (There is an article in Modern Theology- that does that)  Or one can take Vattimo’s positive points and re-graft them onto tradition.

Instead the author of the new book attempted the following two approaches. One can use it as a self-corrective for how tradition is currently being presented. One can use it to understand what current intellectuals are thinking so that one can respond to the issues of our age

Some of the points in the book:

Cardinal Ratzinger – decried the dictatorship of Relativism, Vattimo argued against Ratzinger that dogmatic claims are the bigger problem and let’s have charitable tolerance.

Secularism, in the post-religious sense, should not be decried but treated as a chance to practice the weak virtues of charity-love without dogma and as a vibrant fruit of religion. Religion has been kept out of the public sphere, but now that it is weakened, it should be brought back into the public sphere.

Vattimo says “I believe that I believe” – meaning that I have faith in the human concept of belief not in an object of believe. So whereas the Enlightenment taught we cant know the truth of religion, Vattimo argues that “faith” is the acceptance that one is heir to a library of the textual tradition of faith and to a socio-cultural world of religion. Modern rationalist liberals want to treat religion as symbolism, or metaphor. In contrast, Vattimo has faith in faith so he takes religion at face values but know that there is nothing behind it. There is no one meaning, all is a fable, all is interpretation, there is no truth out side the cave.

  • “It is only thanks to God that I’m an atheist”
  • “I believe that I believe” (credere di credere)

Guardino argues that this is not theologically sound. We need for revelation, and belief but Vattimo gives us an insight into our age. Guardino best line: “Vattimo makes cultural liberals look like scholastic divines”

Vattimo recites the Latin prayers from the Roman Breviary three times a day, and he says it is not because he believes but as an acceptance of tradition. There was a wide range of opinions what to make of that behavior. Does that give him a weak faith? Does ritual without a traditional sense of faith count? What would Jews make of this ritual behavior?

Unfortunately, we have nothing similar from the Jewish community. We do not have a series like this. There is little Jewish theological engagement since the early 1960’s, except among a few academics. Why cant Jews put out a series like this?

We spend all our time discussing bad ideology about our denominations, maybe responses to actual philosophers might better clarify our beliefs? Maybe a Reform and Orthodox response to Vattimo might teach us more than a rehashing of denominational generalities.

What can Jews learn from Vattimo? Does it reflect our congregants state of faith? How would we respond to Vattimo? What corrective does it offer us?

How would an Orthodox author successful learn from a heretic?

As a side point: It is interesting to watch the major philosopher of our age Jurgern Habermas learning to use Twitter.

Update: Jürgen Habermas says he’s not on Twitter

Over the last several days there has been considerable hubbub around the fact that pioneering media theorist Jürgen Habermas might have signed up for Twitter as @JHabermas. This would be “important if true”, as Jay Rosen put it. Intrigued, I tracked him down through the University of Frankfurt. I succeeded in getting him on the phone at his home in Sternburg, and asked him if he was on Twitter. He said,

No, no, no. This is somebody else. This is a mis-use of my name.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

1980’s and the coining of the term post-orthodox

I first heard the term post-orthodox in the mid 1980’s. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s some people chose to attend the new resurgent Orthodox institutions and pick Orthodoxy as their religious choice. They were part of a small elite group that first attended the new after HS year in Israel programs, first learned to speak of a halakhic universe, and first accepted Torah uMadda. Whereas many of their peers still thought of Orthodoxy as the urban ethnic traditionalism that still looked backwards to a Yiddish orthodoxy, they were a new vanguard of an upper-middle class educated triumphalist Orthodoxy.

By the mid-1980’s, however, there was already a minority group that went oops!! What did we do?  They wanted out. The word post-orthodox meant that in the sorting hat of the 1980’s they chose to be orthodox and they were already over that ill fated decision. The term did not catch on because most people who used the term, with time, left orthodoxy for other denominations. A variety of authors used the term post-orthodox in the late 1980’s But only a very small number of tortured souls kept the drama going for decades. The most famous of those who kept the drama going for years is Rebecca Goldstein, who even moved to Teaneck and then to Highland Park before checking out.  There is a review of her new book in Today’s NYT.

Seltzer’s rebellions — rejecting Orthodox Judaism, shrugging off the influence of a controlling mentor, and coming up with a theory for the meaning of life and love that excludes supernatural agency — mirror Goldstein’s own. These preoccupations recur throughout her work. In her 1983 novel “The Mind-Body Problem,” she wrote of a dishy lapsed Modern Orthodox Jewish philosophy student who ditched faith for scholarship, then tried to acquire genius by marrying one.

Even in her nonfiction, like “Betraying Spinoza” (2006), a study of the famous philosopher who was ejected from Amsterdam’s Jewish community for his heretical views, she merged her personal history with her idol’s. Now almost 60, Goldstein remains fascinated by the codes and beliefs she absorbed in her Orthodox girlhood and continues to transmit her defiance and doubts to her characters.

Goldstein shows that philosophers and scholars may construct as many proofs or disproofs of divinity as they like. But to people of faith such questions remain as inarguable as the persistence of kugel.

Her 1983 novel “The Mind-Body Problem” presented most of her frustrations with Orthodoxy and her fantasies of life outside of Orthodoxy. Yet, since Orthodoxy was still growing in institutional strength and social capital, her critiques were waved off as bad personal experience.  Or at best, it offered glimpse into some of the more risqué parts of Upper West Side Modern Orthodox life. – the occasional sin, libidinal encounters, and philosophic doubt was socially within the bounds of a society created by collective Shabbat meals. But the term post-orthodoxy disappeared because either one chose to move to an orthodox neighborhood or one did not. Religion was in vogue for the next 25 years. and why gripe about things when all is going well?

As an aside, in the 1990’s, the term had a brief life when those who had been trained as Orthodox and who taught Kabbalah and Hasidut gravitated to the Renewal movement and New Age worlds. They could claim to offer the best of the “secrets” of the Kabbalah but in a freer, eclectic, non-traditional,  post-Orthodox way.

In both of these cases it referred to isolated individuals, not to a mood or social change, and certainly not to anything in liberal modern Orthodoxy.

Update- But neither of these two prior uses has much to do with the current sense that seems, at least to me,  as similar to the phrase post-evangelical. A moment that will have diverse sociological implications. In the current version there is a sense that the last 25 years are over, and that for those of gen y – millennials orthodoxy has lost its former coolness, people are seeking to create new definitions and/or ignoring current ones,  and that the last 25 years is treated in a more limited and humble way accepting its strengths and faults.  Time will tell what it brings in all directions.  But I dont see it as connected to baby-boomer liberalism. Even among the Evangelicals, it is used by diverse groups including those who have opted out, those who have created the more spirit driven Emergent Church, those mainline Evangelicals who have started new projects, and as a name for a new era that would also include the opposition.  And now back to philosophy. I will report on Habermas and Theology next week.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Akdamot from Beit Morasha- Call for Papers on Religious Experience

ה’ אלוהי אתה?! (ישעיה כה,א)|
דבקות כמיהה וניכור בחוויה הדתית

קול קורא למאמרים

למרות היותה מושג חמקמק מהווה החוויה הדתית מרכיב נפשי בסיסי בחייו של האדם המאמין והלא מאמין כאחד.

לקראת גליון כ”ה של אקדמות העתיד לראות אור לקראת החגים אשר יציין גם י”ג שנים להופעת כתב העת אנו מזמינים את הציבור לשלוח למערכת מאמרים פרי מחקרם והגותם העוסקים בהיבטים שונים של החוויה הדתית מנקודות מבט שונות.

אורך המאמרים לא יעלה על 7000 מילה (כולל הערות שוליים).|
המועד האחרון למשלוח המאמרים הוא א’ באייר התש”ע (15.4.10).|
כתובת למשלוח: press@bmj.org.il

Heschel’s Heavenly Torah- Lost in Translation

In the Fall issue of Modern Judaism 29/3 October 2009, there is a devastating review of Gordon Tucker’s translation of Heschel’s Heavenly Torah in which he claims the original meaning of Heschel is lost in translation. He seems to be bending over backwards not to be scathing,but his bottom line is that Tucker omitted paragraphs essential for arguments, manipulated the material to make Heschel seem like a pluralist, and even worse, he inserted his own pluralist editorial comments into the text of Heschel without any indication that these are not Heschel’s words.

Haber also claims that Heschel sought to determine a correct position in Aggadah, that he uses traditional phrases like “principles of faith,” that he often follows Rabbi Akiva and Tucker will present Heschel as following Rabbi Yishmael when he really was following Rabbi Akiva.. The worst is that in the crucial section on Maimonides position on Torah from Sinai, Tucker added his own explanation at the expanse of Heschel’s own words. Therefore, I must correct what I wrote in my own review of Heschel, based on the English translation, that the discussion of Maimonides was “not theology or halakhic,” what I need to say is that Tucker’s additions are the problem.

Lost In Translation: Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “Heavenly Torah”—A Review Essay- Gedalia Haber

Although Heschel is aware of the plurality of opinions shared by the Sages, I found that he nevertheless strives to determine which opinion is correct, according to its compatibility with the simple meaning of the biblical text (Peshuto shel Mikra).However, when I compared certain words and phrases in Tucker’s translation to Heschel’s original text, to my surprise, I discovered that Heschel’s intent was often obscured or omitted entirely.

In the pages that follow I shall demonstrate a few basic differences between “my Heschel” and “Tucker’s Heschel.” … This juxtaposition will reveal critical areas where Heschel’s intent has been altered, and will retrieve “lost” ideas that were omitted or adapted in Tucker’s work. This will help to reconsider the question of Heschel’s views regarding religious pluralism and the diversity of opinions characteristic of Aggadah.

Heschel’s explicit parallel between Jewish law and Jewish thought is omitted in Tucker’s translation, and all that remains is the dichotomy between Halacha and matters beyond Halacha….Tucker does not translate this passage, although it seems that Heschel is stating a fundamental principle.

Tucker’s translation undermines Heschel’s certainty, and while it may render Heschel’s ambitious claim more digestible, at the same time it reverses Heschel’s opinion completely.

Another example of Heschel’s decisive attitude toward Aggadic material is his discussion of R. Akiva’s view regarding revelation. According to Heschel, R. Akiva claimed that Moses ascended to heaven in order to receive the Torah. Heschel claims that “this matter of the ascent of a mortal to heaven is very important in the Torah of faith. Judaism demands that man should acknowledge his place. A basic rule in Israel: ‘God is in heaven, and you are on earth’ [. . .].

The phrase “Torah of faith” should be understood as the doctrine of faith, since the context is “Judaism’s demand” of man. However, Tucker subverts Heschel’s intention by transforming Heschel’s prescriptive, dogmatic style into a historical, descriptive one: “The theme of human ascent to heaven is of great importance in the study of religion, but Judaism demands that humans should know their place. Israel lives by the rule: “God is in heaven, and you are on earth.”4

Heschel’s critique of Maimonides’ view of Torah from Heaven is the climax of TMS II,… Although Tucker retains Heschel’s title (“Maimonides’ Ruling”), he transforms Heschel’s discussion from a Halachic attack on Maimonides to a criticism of Maimonides’ “perfectionist” attitude. Tucker’s version does read that “Maimonides came down on the more stringent side,” but Tucker adds an interjection which is not present in the original text: “Is such perfectionism possible?”.Tucker proceeds to omit the phrase ‘if the Halacha is established according to the Sifrei,’ and shifts Heschel’s Halachic polemic to the realm of criticism of the high “standard” that Maimonides set for us.

I disagree with his claim that Heschel is promoting the more pluralistic exegesis of the Yishmaelian School.

What is the meaning of Heschel’s critique? Alan Brill rightfully points out that in Heschel’s discussion of rabbinic sources in TMS, “there is no historical change or driving force to history.” Heschel holds an ahistorical conception of Jewish thought. Contrary to the view that Jewish thought and practice developed in certain directions, and what was once considered legitimate might be considered heretical today (and vice versa), Heschel claims that there is a unity between generations. However, this lenient or  liberal view is not pluralistic, and it does not leave room for Maimonides’ “perfectionist attitude.” Heschel sees it as the objective truth, which demands submission.

Tucker comments on this that the “halachic pluralism” implied by the Talmud is a “long established fact,”…However, Heschel restricts this pluralism one paragraph later and states:

The Divine Voice declares: “These and these are [both] the words of the living God, but Halacha is established according to the school of Hillel.” Many students who have not studied sufficiently have regarded this saying according to the rule: “split the sentence”; they took its beginning and ignored its ending [. . .] as if the world were chaotic. As if permission had been granted for each person to build an altar for himself.

Moreover, is the power of every scholar equal to the power of Hillel and Shammai or R. Akiva and R. Yishmael? Is an innkeeper’s wife equal to wife of a priest? Does the trivial discussion of idlers compare to the complete Torah of the forefathers? Many scholars who have not studied sufficiently cannot be considered laymen anymore but did not reach the level of the great [rabbis]. ”

These omissions and rewordings obscure what Heschel tried to convey and are barriers between Heschel’s thought and the English reader…However, as I have shown, Tucker eliminates fundamental passages and phrases without commenting on their absence. I believe the message they convey is no petty matter.

Jewish Meditation 1995-2005

Here is an account from The Forward that parallels what I have seen in the field. In the early and mid nineties there was a great desire for the technical aspects of meditation and Jewish meditation. Then, after only 5 years it started broadening into all forms of spirituality especially musical forms and emotional healing. And finally right before our eyes, it all stops around 2005. People started coming to a class listed as Jewish meditation and assumed that it has something to do with guitars, bongos and chanting. In 1995, people wanted meditation and came with Zen or Vipasssana backgrounds and then flash it was gone by 2005, leaving revivalism in its wake.

Even the local Buddhist center here in NJ, gave daily and weekly meditation classes in 2000 and now only offers a once a month introduction to Happiness, saving any serious meditation instruction for biannual retreats.

Chochmat HaLev came to life in the 1990s… One of these teachers, Rabbi Avram Davis, proposed creating a Jewish meditation center that could be a community resource…. Chochmat HaLev was launched, first as a series of classes in 1992 to 1993, and then as a nonprofit organization in 1995… In focusing on Jewish meditation, Gefen and Davis were at the forefront of a wave of interest in training a generation of Jewish “spiritual leaders,” who could bring meditation to their own congregations and lead meditation retreats and workshops for nonaffiliated Jews. So in addition to holding its own retreats and workshops, Chochmat pioneered a year-long leadership program with an initial cohort of 40 students.

Something happened on the communal meditation cushion, however. Joined by their interest in Jewish spirituality, the initial group felt a desire to pray together — a development that took Gefen by surprise. Davis, however, had thought of offering services from the beginning, because for him, Jewish meditation could exist only as part of a larger practice.

From the start, Davis led Chochmat’s services, distinguished by the constant thrum of a six-piece band composed of guitar, bass, drum set, keyboards and vocalists, its musical direction owed in equal parts to Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, American rock and Moroccan beats. During a typical service, continuing today, participants dance in the aisles, clap, stomp their feet and sway with hands in the air, in an atmosphere most reminiscent of evangelical rapture

From 2000 to 2005, Chochmat HaLev functioned much like a cross between an institute for Jewish spirituality and an independent minyan.  Holding these two very different organizations together was a tight-knit, supportive community.

The year 2005 marked a crisis for Chochmat. The meditation school had essentially vanished. Aside from one year-long distance-learning program, the school was not offering more classes than an active synagogue. And because of its regular religious services, Chochmat was no longer seen as a non-denominational resource center: Its original mission was gone.

In 2005, the Chochmat board decided to become a functioning synagogue, and Avram Davis chose to leave.

Full version

Now Jewish meditation is once again for the few.People still do visualizations – part motivational part Neo-hasidic as a way to get psyched or as a means of bringing a moment of silence or a visualization into a regular service.  People are very sympathetic, “lets do it for a few minutes or a mini-course” and then let’s move on.

More on the year 2000 from the same author.

The year 2000 would see the establishment of the New York-based Institute of Jewish Spirituality, a Jewish meditation center run by Rabbi Sheila Pelz Weinberg; Makor Or, a San Francisco-based center founded by Rabbi Alan Lew (z’’l) and Norman Fischer; as well as a new emphasis on meditation at Elat Chayyim under Rabbi Jeff Roth and a burst of books on the topic (among them books by Gefen and Davis).

Ten years ago there was a meditation moment.

UPDATE – see the detailed rundown by Len Moskowitz in the Comments section. The comment shows that there is no diminution.
Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Tu bShevat Seder -with Text

One year on tu b’shevat someone (a second career retiree) brought Rav Soloveitchik some bokser before shiur. After chuckling, Rav Soloveitchik told a story about how Rabbi DZ Hoffman would ask on his oral semikha exams – where is Tu bshevat in the shulkan arukh? (ANS-tahanun). Then someone (I don’t remember who) mentioned that Rav Kook on is exams would ask: what to do when you fnd a mistake in the Torah during Torah-reading?

Tu bshevat generated a piyyut for the amidah – found in the Cairo Genizah and is mentioned already by the Maharil in the 15th century. But by the end of the 17th century, in grand baroque age, the holiday generated a detailed seder of collecting 30 fruits. (There is a ton of painfully incorrect history about Tu bShevat on the web)

Twenty years ago, it was still hard to collect 30 fruits. But with the revolution in eating habits and the opening of new markets (Fairway, Whole Foods) one can now collect 30 fruits with ease. In 19th century Russia, even mid-summer one could with great difficulty only collect half the number.

It has made a come-back in certain circles. The seder will probably remain limited in its practitioners for a variety of reasons.

1] To collect 30 fruits based a set typology is a very tactile, crunchy, foody, techie activity. Most American Orthodox Jews don’t regularly shop for papaya, fresh lychees, gooseberries, dragon fruit,  guavas, tamarind fruit, hickory nuts, and kumquats.

2] The seder assumes that one is comfortable with Zohar as one’s table talk. In America, this limits it to academics, Renewal Jews, Neo-Hasidim, and Moroccans.

3] The seder is a performance ritual. Most modern orthodox Jews have a difficult time with ritual. performance. Watch them struggle to get into hoshanot.

4] One has to have a visionary and narrative religion.

5] One has to have a meaningful understanding, beyond rationalism and irrationalism, of tikkunim, theurgy, magic, and religious cause and effect.

6] When you are told that Rav Kook avoided onions because they are all kelipot – it must resonate with you. .

Once, when Rav Abraham Kook was walking in the fields, lost deep in thought, the young student with him inadvertently plucked a leaf off a branch. Rav Kook was visibly shaken by this act, and turning to his companion he said gently, “Believe me when I tell you I never simply pluck a leaf or a blade of grass or any living thing, unless I have to.” He explained further, “Every part of the vegetable world is singing a song and breathing forth a secret of the divine mystery of the Creation.” For the first time the young student understood what it means to show compassion to all creatures. (Wisdom of the Mystics)

For those emailing me requesting sources:

Here is the traditional Pri Etz Hadar in English. This is the entire Seder- go for this.

Hillel Collegiate shortened version

A Chabad crib sheet

A nice article- with footnotes Tu Bishvat in Contemporary Rabbinical Literature

Reb Shlomo on Tu Bshevat

Excursus on Hemdat Yamim.The printed edition of the seder comes from the beautiful work Hemdat Yamim, which teaches the “customs of Safed” in a first person narrative, pretending to be a 16th century person from Safed. .According to current research, the work includes quotes of various Kabbalist customs from 1550 to 1715 from a variety of kabbalistic groups in Jerusalem, Safed, Italy, Turkey, Greece, and Amsterdam. Much of this material was attributed to the Ari, since anything based on Safed must be Ari. In this 150 period, there are over 300 little minhag books of Safed custom. Hemdat Yamin has many of them and collates them for us. To do any serious work on these customs one has to really be prepared to look at a large number of these books.

Isaiah Tishby places the editor in the circle of Kabbalists from Smyrna, and Benayahu attributed it to one member of the group, Israel Yaakov Al Ghazi, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem.

The book mixes customs based on Cordovero, Luria, Azikiri, ibn Makir, the Peri Hadash of Amsterdam, Nathan of Gaza and others. A recent article by Moshe Fogel in JSJT, shows that even if it has Sabbatian hymns written by Nathan of Gaza (such as the Atkinah Seudata for Yom Tov), it has no explicit Sabbatian theology or belief in Shabbati Zevi. And for those following Lithuanian tradition,  both the Gra and Haayim of Volozhin accepted Hemdat Yamim.

(Think of using a potential Sabbatian custom as similar to the tune to Birkat Hamazon sung today in every Day School, which was commissioned by Mordechai Kaplan. It does not make those schools into Reconstructionist ideologically. It only shows that there are cultural overlaps and that one is part of a larger set of concerns called American Jewry. )

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved