Monthly Archives: April 2010

Pesah Sheni as a therapeutic holiday

It seems that before our eyes Pesah Sheni is becoming a holiday of second chances, of no one to be excluded from Israel, of confronting the other, and GLBT identity. It seems to have happened very quickly both here and in Israel.

Traditionally, pesah sheni Torah was about those who carried Yosef’s bones. In the middle ages it was the last chance to see the miracle of the Exodus and bask in how God is above the natural order. And there is some Polish Hasidic Torah about hametz and matzah being at the same time.

In the 1920s, Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson taught about how no simple unlettered Jews is far from God – in contrast to the rigid hierarchy of Lithuanian Jewry. He developed the Lamed-Vavnik stories. A burning heart is more important than cold intellect. And Pesah Sheni is a second chance for all those who where far away. It was a noble message for an era of immigration and dispersion. Simple yidden, however, went out of fashion in the post WWII era

In, 1978 the Rebbe, Menachem Schneersohn told over the teaching of Pesah sheni as a second chance.

Pesach Sheni gives those who did not offer the Pesach sacrifice the first time the opportunity to do so a month later. Its message is that nothing is irretrievable, that a Jew can always rehabilitate himself.
One clear lesson from Pesach Sheni is that a Jew need never give up hope. In the words of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe: “The idea of Pesach Sheni is that nothing is irretrievable; we can always rectify our behavior. Even one who was ritually unclean or who was on a distant journey – even willingly – can still rehabilitate himself.” A Jew is intrinsically good, his soul “a part of G-d Above.” Sin is completely antithetical to his nature. If he does transgress, it is an aberration that cannot touch his essential self. He may be temporarily unclean, but he is of the loftiest levels. Thus no sin, no omission of service to G-d, is irretrievable. A Jew can always return to his real identity. Likkute Sichos XII 5738, emor 216-220

That same year Reb Shlomo Carlebach added it to his repertoire of holy sinners and deepest desires. By the millennium it has shifted into English Breslov, BT literature, and web Torah, but as part of other homilies.

But about two years ago, we see a combustion. This is now a time when all those who need a second chance have their holiday. Almost any metaphors of 12 step, broken pieces, shattered lives has made its way into pesah sheni Torah, from all sorts of kiruv and self-help sources. (There is enough for grad student to collect and sort it out.) Here is the holiday to ask for a second chance. A holiday to celebrate out therapeutic individualist Judaism. Whereas Rebbe Yosef Yitzhak was dealing with actually displacement of war and famine, now we have a acute sense by many in the community they do not share the idealized image of the frum community and need to be made welcome again.

The holiday picks up steam last year there was a widely circulated blog post discussing it as a holiday for GLBT exclusion.. In addition, Rav Cherlow gave a pesah sheni talk on the need to confront the other and this year on the need to accept gays in the community. Finally, this year Kolech proclaimed it a day of inclusion of all. Here is a Forward Blog giving a post to the topic from the lesbian and Kolech angle. There are articles in the Israeli papers worth reading on the event.

But what I am noticing on this one is that the individualism of the kiruv organization, yeshivish self help and Neo-hasidism is overlapping in a metaphor and a holiday with the liberal voices of Kolech. There is a social reality of exclusion needing homilies of inclusion and a reality of therapeutic Torah. Next year, let’s see how this plays itself out.

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Haggadot 2010

I never got around to posting this after Passover, so Pesah Sheni reminded me to get this posted ASAP. All of these are impressions from their use at the table, not in depth studies.

JPS Tabory- he is an expert on the topic and I like his scholarly articles on the Pasover seder but was disappointed with the haggadah. I blame it more on the editor. There are points where the comment on the bottom states “Popular theories are not true” without giving his own opinion. For a popular haggadah just to state that others are false is not good editing. The introduction was more trendy in scholarship than I expected, cutting edge debates around Israel Yuval’s work and whether Christianity is the source of the Haggadah and not visa versa. I would have liked more of the basics from his scholarship. And of course he discusses “Pour out they love upon the gentiles.”

This year, I listened to Jonathan Sacks through someone else reading from its comments. Sacks quotes Primo Levi on the same page as the Hartman’s Haggadah, we have noted in the past his reliance on Hartman’s but the Primo Levi is also quoted in the classic Schoken haggadah by Nachum Glatzer. Sacks was consistently in favor of community at the expense of faithless spirituality and individualism. He even manages to twist a Kotzker statement about letting God into one heart into the need to affirm the future of the community. I was most piqued by his statements about the need for the hope of Jewish history and peoplehood- and the message of the haggadah is not the details of Temple law. Having been acculturated into Brisker appreciation for Temple law- this was unexpected. His language of peoplehood and continuity sounded like a 1950’s Conservative haggadah, I pulled one or two off the shelf, finding the sentiment, but I could not find Sacks exact language

The Carlebach Haggadah was more Holocaust oriented than I remembered.

The MM Kasher Haggadah where everything is explained as messianic and golly gee whiz we can have a return to the Temple does not seem as innocuous anymore.

Marge Piercy’s mix of Jewish renewal, poetry, and foodie recipes is a nice gift for right person.

The Artscroll Vilna Gaon Haggadah remain a gem for conveying the traditional Lithuanian understanding of the Haggadah. “Zekher Yetziat mitzrayim as a chance for unending Talmud Torah.” The Haggadah was not actually written by the Gra. When the Gra died in 1797 – he left behind 10 official books- 8 of them in Kabbalah. There were some early fragments of the Gra on the Haggdah published in 1813 but in the 1850’s there was a full commentary created. Most people knew the Gra only through this accessible entry point of the haggadh. When ordinary rabbis quoted the Gra this was the volume that they could understand. The volume had an effect on the nusach of the haggadah both on Russian printings and on the American Hebrew Publishing company. I could pick issues with the translation but is nice to have some real Torah transalted.

But I wonder why they don’t translate the Nesivos Haggadah? The Haggadah Maaseh Nissim of Rabbi Yaakov Lorberbaum called by his legal commentary Netivot was the major shaper of Eastern European drush on the Haggadah. All these people claiming to wait the view of the mesorah of eastern Europe are not referring to anything spoken at the seder in Europe if they don’t have the Maasah Nissim.

On the other hand, Artscroll did waste their time putting a pile of haggadahs from various contemporary gedolim that are gibberish. I don’t blame the rabbanim and I wont list which ones. But they are quite a few that were sent out as fundraisers by various yeshivas that have vorts that the reader cannot tell if the gadol is telling over the Gra? Differing with the Gra? Offering his own approach to the Gra? Collections of random butchered quotes of Aharonim that only a high pitched tenth grader proving he is stark could love. They should have done the Nesivos instead.

The Business of Ethics

from a Mechon Hartman Symposium

What are the responsibilities of the Jewish community to its members who are in need? Do such obligations extend to non-Jews as well? At a time of belt-tightening, how should donors and fund-raisers properly react? How do Jewish leaders recalibrate priorities to ensure the perpetuation of traditional values? In what ways will the next generation of leadership differ from its predecessors? Our seven respondents, leaders and thinkers from Israel and overseas, represent a broad mix of backgrounds and expertise, but share one aim: to strive toward a brighter day.

Robert Aronson:

The way I look at it, we’re like a field hospital in the Civil War, in a situation where we have to practice triage: what takes priority, whose needs are greatest, what stays and what is cut? What’s more important – your own community, or Israel? It boils down to the old Jewish idea: the poor of your own city come first.

In my community of southeastern Michigan, there is an overall unemployment rate of 20 percent, and underemployment is another 25 percent. The economic crisis is broad and deep, and affects the middle class too. We are still sending 40 percent of the money we raise to Israel, where we have always had a deep commitment, but that proportion is lower than last year. In other communities, such as Washington D.C. and Boca Raton, the share for Israel has suffered even more greatly.

Our ethical quandary is that we are really down to basics – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked – a situation not faced in many years. We have put together a large fund to buy houses whose owners, members of our Jewish community, are faced with foreclosure.

Amotz Asa-El: Testing Generosity

Throughout history, wealth was rare. So unusual was it for people to own more than they needed for minimal subsistence that modern economics initially assumed that shortage was a predetermined part of the human condition. Then, when wealth became common, economic and social thought rose to a new challenge: what do with surplus labor, goods and leisure. Now, affluence has arrived in Israel, too, but rather than generate public discussion of the potential utility of private wealth, it has mainly prompted an attack on the wealthy.

In the newly established Jewish state, poverty was both an economic given and a moral virtue. The country may have lacked natural resources, but was inspired by ascetic leaders who were happy dwelling in desert shacks or basement apartments. Even in the mid-1960s, I as a child in Jerusalem had no idea what a restaurant, a new car or a hotel lobby looked like from within. Everything we ate and wore was locally made, except for the occasional box of Kellogg’s cereal, which in Jerusalem you could only buy at the Agron supermarket.

That culture of ascetism is now history. With Israel’s exports, employment and inflow of investment among the West’s highest, and its currency among the world’s strongest – and with foreign aid hardly 2 percent of GDP as opposed to 20 percent in the 1970s – Israel is no longer poor. A rapidly broadening middle class drives quality cars, vacations abroad, packs glitzy malls and frequents gourmet restaurants, most of which, like Tel Aviv’s skyscraping skyline, barely existed two decades ago.

Wealth was tolerated, but it never became a religious value, the way it did for Calvinism, which defined profit as a sign of divine blessing. For example, Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntshitz (ca. 1550–1619), a leading halachic moralist, scolded the prosperous Jewish elite of Poland, claiming they were “mostly violent and out to impose themselves on the Diaspora,” and that they had “no mercy or concern for the oppressed masses.” To him, wealth was not the result of one’s merit, nor a sign of divine favor, but a divine deposit, devised to test one’s generosity.

Seeking a contemporary economic blueprint in Jewish sources can indeed be frustrating. Judaism’s foundational texts were written in pre-modern economic settings, where credit was needed not as a means of development, but as compensation for crops lost unexpectedly to drought, plague or war; the emergence of credit, investment and banking as tools of progress occurred only in modern times. A rare biblical source that briefly visits macro-economics, Joseph’s handling of a regional famine, takes place where all are farmers, the Egyptian state is omnipotent, and trade is so uncommon that to feed their families, hungry shepherds move from one country to another.

Still, Judaism is economically relevant. It can’t help us choose between monetarism and Keynesianism, but it draws boundaries for economic decision-making. The Bible made no mention of subprime mortgages, but it forbade “putting obstacles before the blind,” which is exactly what happened in the American housing market before its collapse. The Torah was written before the emergence of CFOs, but it declared what is so frequently lost on them, that “the wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning.” And ages before the modern welfare state, farmers were commanded to leave their fallen fruit for the poor, and all were warned not to “harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman.”

Such rules, which make charity a personal rather than a national act, and a civic rather than a political duty, must now be revived in the Israeli consciousness.

Peter Joseph: Creating New Norms

Accumulation of wealth, in and of itself, is not antithetical to Jewish values. We do not have an ascetic tradition that expects us to renounce the material comforts we wish for our families and which are the just fruits of our labor. After all, put to inspired and visionary purposes, wealth has enabled the creation and support of virtually all of our significant communal institutions. We want to encourage our children to be successful in their pursuits, which we often measure in financial terms. Many of the leading figures in our history were enabled to make their mark by virtue of their financial station. Yet it is all too easy, particularly in times like the present, to reject those positive aspects of our capitalist inclinations.

The other side of wealth accumulation, however, is that it imposes very serious demands which the communal norm should define. At its basic level, accumulation of wealth without tzedakah or social responsibility is greed. Yet it is a gross over-simplification to say that those with means should just give more away in tzedakah. After all, when measured by the standards of American society, American

Isaac Herzog: A Legacy of Compassion

Perhaps my strongest childhood memory is of my grandmother, Rabbanit Sarah Herzog, who founded a leading hospital in Jerusalem that bears her name. I remember very well how every Friday, needy people would come to her home in Jerusalem, and she would speak to each one of them. She would try to help them with their problems, and she would give them money. I learned from my family, my grandparents and my parents, that Judaism is a very compassionate religion.

My grandfather, Rabbi Yitzhak Herzog, was the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel. He died in 1959, the year before I was born, and I am named for him. I see myself as a traditional Jew, not Orthodox as he was, but mesorati in the Israeli sense. And I definitely see myself, in my personal life as well as my capacity as a member of Knesset and government minister, as someone who carries a long tradition of commitment to Jewish religious values.

Formally, public officials in Israel are supposed to be committed to the full equality of our citizens. But in fact, within the Knesset, the innate fear of the non-Jewish minority runs very deep. It’s a reflection of the attitude of the Israeli public at large, which views the minorities in the country as one anti-Zionist bloc. On the other hand, because Arab and Jewish MKs get to know one another in their daily work as parliamentarians, some of these walls, at least on some level, fall down.

A century ago, when he was starting his political career in Manchester, Winston Churchill wrote admiringly of the “corporate nature” of Jewish communities that took care of people’s needs by establishing soup kitchens, old age homes, and so on. This Diaspora model of social responsibility was absorbed into the State of Israel, but to implement it we need not just the mechanics, but the heart. The good news is that many of our young people, religious and secular alike, are rising to the challenge by spending a volunteer year in deprived areas in cities and development towns, working to help needy families. These volunteers also include young religious Zionists from the settlements who work in communities in Israel proper. For them, such idealism can function as an alternative to the settler ideology that drove their parents.

A recent survey found that 46% of Israelis were afraid of slipping below the poverty line. Such fears are certainly understandable, especially in light of the overall economic crisis in the world.

Micha Odenheimer: Global Justice

Should the Jewish people and Israel, despite all of our own critical issues and problems, be involved in healing extreme poverty in the developing world?

As the founder of a Jewish-Israeli NGO whose raison d’etre is to create just such involvement, I often encounter people who argue that we should not. “The poor of your own city take precedence,” they say, quoting a Talmudic dictum, usually with some degree of indignation. If they are from the political Left, they will add, “There are plenty of Palestinians you should be helping first.” If they are from the Right, replace the word Palestinians with Jews; the rest of the formula can remain.

The use of this quotation would be problematic even if our reality were the same as in the days of the Talmudic sages. The Talmud says to give precedence to the local population only when all else is equal, not if the poor of your city, for example, are hungry, but the foreign poor are starving.

In Israel, as elsewhere, globalization takes myriad forms: most of the food being grown in Israel is exported to Europe, while the workers on these farms are from Thailand or China. Our elderly and sick are being taken care of by Filipino, Nepalese or Sri Lankan caregivers. Many of Israel’s largest companies are now subsidiaries of multi-national corporations – the Swiss food giant Nestlé, for example, owns a controlling interest in Osem – while Israeli corporations have themselves gone multinational, and own companies in Europe, Asia or South America. And of course most of the products and resources we use are farmed or mined or manufactured or assembled in the developing world – often in places whose indifference to the rights of workers to a living wage or a safe work environment is what makes them so attractive as production sites.

Rather than assume that economic growth will lead to prosperity for all, Jews have been taught the opposite: create a just society that cares for the poor and the marginalized and prosperity will follow. Specifically, the Torah commands us to create a system in which the poor have access to interest-free loans, and benefit from the periodic forgiving of debts as well as ongoing cycles of land reform. The price of basic foods (she’yesh bo chayei nefesh), according to the Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch, should not be subject to financial speculation. Others examining the tradition might place more emphasis on the Torah’s respect for private property or belief in markets. What is important at this stage are not the specifics, but participation in the discourse – putting the subject of global economic justice on the Jewish agenda.

I often think about the day when our volunteers in Nepal woke up to discover the whole city paralyzed by a massive strike. As a result of commodities speculation in the United States and the globalization of the food market, the price of basic necessities had shot up so high that the majority of Nepalese would no longer be able to afford even two meals a day.

The Best of the Theological Blogosphere in 2009 (and on…)

List that seems to be treated with respect at Resident Theologian– – – – – – –

All That To Say… — Mark Love is the Director of Missional Leadership at Rochester College in Michigan. As a former preacher and professor at Abilene Christian, and having just finished his PhD course work at Luther, Mark’s experience and training give him a wonderfully creative and playful approach to theology in general, and to reading biblical texts in particular. Also, I stole my “Sunday Sabbath Poetry” series from his “Dylan on a Sunday” series, which is hitting two years this summer.

An und für sich — Quite possibly one of the most prolific and thoughtful group blogs around, especially given that the authors aren’t getting paid. Adam Kotsko & co. have created an engaging place for philosophical, theological, cultural, and textual conversations to be had; and Adam in particular is a kind of blogging force of nature, routinely offering innovative and off-the-wall comments and interpretations on any number of subjects. The snark rears its head from time to time, but it’s usually in good fun. And even when it’s not, it’s no less worth the read.

The Church and Postmodern Culture — This one ebbs and flows, depending on recent releases or engagement with particular works, but when it’s going, it’s great. The contributors and books claimed and produced here are especially noteworthy.

Clavi Non Defixi — Evan Kuehn, though a long-time read for many, has been a recent discovery for me. Evan focuses primarily on matters academic, journalistic, ecumenical, historical-theological, and/or library-related. Though often reliable enough as a purely compendious source, Evan also offers constructive thoughts on a regular basis in relation to current events in his fields of interest. I should also add how impressive his levelheadedness is, given the waters he regularly wades into.

David Ayres: Prayers & Poems — David is a friend from Abilene Christian, and he’s just now finishing up his undergraduate degree in Bible, on his way to an MDiv and a rich ministry of the word. He also happens to be one of my favorite poets, and it is a grateful marvel that such a gifted wordsmith is going into full-time preaching.

Experimental Theology — Richard Beck somehow finds the time in his busy schedule as a husband, father, professor, teacher, researcher, speaker, writer, and sometime-preacher not only to post on his blog daily, but to plan and execute complex, long-term series exploring such extensive subjects as purity and defilement, religious experience, and the theology of Calvin and Hobbes. Though I regret not getting to know Richard while in Abilene, it’s been wonderful sharing various conversations back and forth since moving to Atlanta.

Faith and Theology — Ben Myers’ blog is the premier theological entry in the genre for good reason. His easygoing, facilitator style creates space for conversation and cross-pollination, serving as an exemplary model for the medium, while his excerpts from papers and forays into constructive work are exceptional. Not that he needs one from anyone, much less me, but F&T comes with the highest recommendation.

The Fire and the Rose — David Congdon, PhD student of systematics up at Princeton, doesn’t blog a lot anymore; but when he does, it’s worth reading.

God’s Politics — Though the flurry of posts bears weeding through, and I continue to have my worries that Jim Wallis has become a soft spokesman for the Obama administration (and/or thinks first in terms of “values” and “the global context” and not “the church”), there is still a great deal of penetrating thought and extraordinary work being done by, at, and through the Sojourners folks.

Inhabitatio Dei — Halden’s blog is a warehouse of sincere ecclesial concern, rich theological depth, unyielding rhetoric, and constant cultural criticism. As it stands Halden is the regnant gadfly of the theological blogosphere, and even when exaggerating or targeting someone or something he deems blasphemous, his posts not only ensure you know where you stand, but the force of his arguments demands careful attention to one’s own and clarifies the importance of the witness of the church in America. In other words, essential reading.

James K.A. Smith — Though I’ve been exposed to Dr. Smith’s work in myriad ways, I haven’t had the opportunity to sit down and read a book of his start to finish — a lack I hope to remedy soon — but it has been enjoyable to be able to read him in short bursts online. (And it is an overwhelming challenge to realize just how much out of his discipline, including fiction and poetry, he reads!)

Joshua Case — Josh is a fellow MDiv student at Candler, and I enjoy telling him that he is wrong on a regular basis. He is also an immensely talented thinker, writer, networker, dreamer, speaker, minister, and podcaster. Universities and seminaries prove their worth by creating space for people like Josh and I to argue matters out, at the very least with respect, hopefully in love. That has certainly been the case for us, and I’m glad to know the kind of work Josh is doing is being done by the kind of person Josh is.

Michael Gorman — Sitting in Austin’s airport last January, I discovered to my surprise and delight that Michael Gorman — the Michael Gorman, eminent New Testament scholar and hero of my brother Garrett — had added me to his blogroll. I quickly returned the favor, not simply as thanks, but because I had long been reading Gorman’s work (both on and offline) and continue to appreciate his various emphases in reading Paul, admiring his position vis-a-vis the interlaced Hays-Wright-LTJ schools of thought. It is a strange, and if anything a cool academic/ecclesial world we inhabit, where scholars like Gorman take up blogging. Hopefully others continue to follow suit.

Narrative and Ontology — Philip Sumpter is an Old Testament PhD student in Germany with a perpetual flow creative engagement of texts, the Psalms in particular, as well as what seems like a wholesale intimacy with the work of Brevard Childs. Good stuff here.

Paul J. Griffiths — Clearly the most erudite and learned spare-time blogger I am aware of, Griffiths’ every-so-often posts — on Catholicism, on Augustine, on literature, on politics — are simply extraordinary fair.

Per Crucem ad Lucem — Jason Goroncy seems to me the most disciplined and unique blogger on offer: an Australian Presbyterian minister and theologian, with expertise in P.T. Forsyth and interests in cooking, the arts, and more. I enjoy especially his “Monthly Bests” that update us on his reading, watching, listening, eating forays. Fun, different, and always something new.

Peter Leithart — Leithart’s attention to the text and — not here a contradiction! — theological readings thereof are unparalleled, and the quick shots across the bow that constitute his postings are concise, direct, and always on point. How are we so lucky that such a man blogs on a near daily basis?

Preacher Mike — Mike Cope was the preacher at Highland Church of Christ in Abilene for nearly two decades before leaving the position last summer. I had the privilege of being a member at Highland from 2004 to 2008, as well as both being a student in a class taught my Mike at ACU and taking a graduate course with Mike as a fellow student. Though God has graciously not called me to the pulpit, Mike Cope proved to me simply through the patient gracefulness of his own preaching that the proclaimed word continues to have power to shape God’s people over time. My own understanding — and understanding is surely too weak a word — of Scripture, proclamation, women’s roles, new creation, and the mission of the church are all profoundly grounded in four sustained years of attending to the weekly voice of Highland’s pulpit. That Mike is no longer regularly preaching only means his other work, which most certainly includes his blog, has more attention.

Rain and the Rhinoceros — Another excellent blogger who only resurfaces from time to time, Ry Siggelkow (no less fake-sounding than his actual pseudonym, R.O. Flyer) does great work and always commands attention when he posts.

Seeking First The Kingdom — It has been an odd and unique pleasure to have come to know Jimmy McCarty first by way of reading one another, and then in person, and now in friendship. I first read him on Sojourners more than a year and a half ago; we learned of one another’s blogs by way of our respective engagements with torture and with the homeless; then we discovered we each belonged to that strange American tradition called the churches of Christ. Jimmy finished his M.A. at Claremont last May, then moved here to Atlanta to begin his PhD in Religious Ethics at Emory.

Theology Forum — This one is run by Kent Eilers, Kyle Strobel, and Steve Duby, and from what I can tell, attends to various theological topics from a decidedly Reformed/Protestant perspective. There have been some rich discussions here recently, and I always enjoy seeing a new post up, as I know I will inevitably be learning something new.

Theopolitical — Davey Henreckson, PhD student at Notre Dame, keeps things straightforward and on topic: intersections between theology, political theory, and historical practice, usually in the form of reviewing or walking through important books, never without personal or constructive comment. This is an area of which I am supremely ignorant but in which I am extremely interested, so Davey’s blog is an indispensable resource.

Vita Brevis — I came to John Penniman’s blog by way of Evan’s link to his unbelievably helpful guide to applying to PhD programs — which, I will have you know, I printed out and read twice over, with liberal underlining and highlighting. (It is my field guide for this fall’s descent into application hell.) Since then I’ve come to realize that I barely missed John here at Candler (he left a year ago for Fordham), and have come readily to enjoy his entries in historical theology, particularly of late regarding the evolution of Roman primacy in relation to the Catholic Church’s recent troubles.

Hadot: philosophy as a way of life

Pierre Hadot (1922 – April 24, 2010) just died

Hadot taught all of us, or at least reminded us, that for ancients philosophy was a way of life, a way for self-perfection and eternity and not an abstract knowledge. To understand why the monotheists Plato, Aristotle, and Zeno the Stoic were important for Maimonides or for that matter any medieval Jewish thinker, then one should read Hadot. Everyone from Idel to Boyarin is dependent on Hadot’s work

Hadot’s Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault (Blackwell, 1995) Organized more on ideas

Hadot, Pierre, What is Ancient Philosophy?, Harvard University Press, 2002, Organized more on history

Here are some paragraphs from online book review to get a sense. From Here

Hadot identified and analyzed the “spiritual exercises” used in ancient philosophy

By “spiritual exercises” Hadot means “practices … intended to effect a modification and a transformation in the subject who practice them. The philosophy teacher’s discourse could be presented in such a way that the disciple, as auditor, reader, or interlocutor, could make spiritual progress and transform himself within.

For Hadot, the fundamental distinction lies between “philosophy” and “philosophical discourse.” For example, after surveying the schools of Plato and Aristotle and their successors in the Hellenistic and late antique worlds, he explains, “Throughout this investigation, we have recognized the existence of a philosophical life–more precisely, a way of life–which can be characterized as philosophical and which is radically opposed to the way of life of nonphilosophers.

How then did the philosophical life (as opposed to philosophical discourse) die, or appear to die? Hadot draws attention to the movement under the Roman Empire away from philosophy as dialogue or research and towards philosophy as commentary on the “great books” of the past (see 149-157). As the 2nd century AD Platonist Taurus complained, “There are even some [students] who want to read Plato–not in order to make their lives better, but in order to adorn their language and their style; not in order to become more temperate, but in order to acquire more charm” (150).

And from here.

What is ancient philosophy? Pierre Hadot makes very clear what he thinks it is not: it is not the deposit of philosophical concepts, theories and systems to be found in the surviving texts of Graeco-Roman antiquity, the subject matter of courses of study in the curricula of modern universities.

In the author’s own words, “Philosophical discourse . . . originates in a choice of life and an existential option—not vice-versa . . . . This existential option, in turn, implies a certain vision of the world, and the task of philosophical discourse will therefore be to reveal and rationally to justify this existential option, as well as this representation of the world” (p. 3). Moreover, philosophy both as a way of life and as its justifying discourse is not the attainment and deployment of wisdom, but “merely a preparatory exercise for wisdom” which “tend[s] toward wisdom without ever achieving it” (p. 4). It is the primary purpose of this book to establish these

Plato and the Academy (chapter 5). According to Hadot, Plato’s goal in founding the Academy was the creation of “an intellectual and spiritual community whose job it would be to train new human beings . . . (p. 59). The program of training and research in the Academy from the various branches of mathematics to dialectic had primarily an ethical aim, which was to purify the mind and to “learn to live in a philosophical way . . . to ensure . . . a good life and thereby the ’salvation’ of the soul” (p. 65). To achieve this aim various “spiritual exercises” mentioned in several Platonic dialogues including, notably, the practice of death in the Phaedo (64a) and the (practice of?) transcendence over all that is mundane described in the Theaetetus (173d–175e) would have been instituted in the Academy. All these exercises have as their aim the transformation of the self.

Aristotle and His School (chapter 6). Aristotle, according to Hadot’s account, founded the Lyceum on the model of the Academy—at least with the same ethical goal in mind, if not the same intellectual practices.

The Hellenistic Schools (chapter 7). Hadot’s general thesis is most easily demonstrated in the cases of the various Hellenistic schools which arose in the late fourth century BCE. The idea that Epicurus and Zeno (respectively the founders of Epicureanism and Stoicism) established their schools to create communities which pursued some shared way of life to attain a shared spiritual goal is not new, and Hadot demonstrates very effectively how the physical and epistemological theories of these schools were intended to support their spiritual goals. This is true not only of the “dogmatists” (Epicureans and Stoics as well as Platonists and Aristotelians, all of whom affirmed positive doctrines) but also of their opponents, the “skeptics,” who recommended the suspension of belief as the proper path to their spiritual goal. In addition, Hadot shows convincingly that these various spiritual goals, differently described in the different schools—for example, for the Epicureans it was a life of stable pleasure achieved by the limitations of one’s appetites while for the Stoics it was a life of self-coherence, lived in conformity to Nature or Reason—all involved the goal of self-transformation. Each school had its own set of spiritual exercises designed to lead its adherents to the achievement of its particular version of that goal.

Schools in the Imperial Period (chapter 8). The development of philosophy in the age of the Roman Empire is characterized by two outstanding phenomena. The first is a change in pedagogy. Philosophy classes began to be devoted to the reading and exegesis of the texts by the school’s founders, and instructors began in increasing measure to write commentaries on those texts to assist comprehension among their students. The second is the eventual decline of Epicureanism and Stoicism and the ascendancy and development of Platonism (synthesized with Aristotelianism in the Neoplatonism of Plotinus) as the dominant philosophy of late antiquity.

The final part of the book (“Interruption and Continuity: The Middle Ages and Modern Times”) may be summarized more briefly. Hadot credits the rise of Christianity with the decline of philosophy practiced as a way of life. Christianity positioned itself as a “philosophy” (in Hadot’s sense) with its own regimen of spiritual exercises and spiritual goals, and as this religion came to eclipse the various pagan philosophies, it usurped their spiritual function.

R. Moshe Cordovero on the Amidah.

R. Yosef Karo writes that he followed the kavvanot of the Ramak.

In contrast, to Provençal method where there is an ascent to tiferet or binah. In Cordovero’s method, as mentioned above, the shekhinah itself is raised and the entire system collapses up like the folding up of a telescope. One folds shekhinah up beyond nezah and hod which makes her the same as tiferet, not that there is only tiferet or that she merged into tiferet, but that she has been raised to the point of tiferet.  From tiferet, the shekhinah together with tiferet receive from an influx from binah. There is  loss of differentiation and integration within binah. This ascent during the silent prayer allows the entrance and then the merging of the soul into the supernal realms.

The passage contains the division of ADNY into AY, the Infinite oneness found within ten sefirot showing unity of keter, tiferet, and malkhut, and DN the forces of judgment and materiality showing the emanation process as privation from the Divine goodness.

Here we have words of the amidah especially the name A-donai (A-d-n-y) divided into Aleph for the top three sefirot, and daled-nun as judgment of the world, and yod as the ten sefirot. The infinite light (aleph) above descends to the earthy world of judgment (daled-nun) through the means of the ten sefirot (yod). The infinite light cascades down in emanation as the discrete units of the three Divine names, E-hyah, Y-H-V-H, and A-donai.

ADNY, this name is malkhut.

Meditate that She is now higher than nezah and hod, as She is silently rising between the two shepherds during the unification of the recitation of the Shema. The mystery of prayer is their literal union, that they completely unite. The individual is silent because the union is in silence. Voice (kol), tiferet, is not heard outside at all,. The mystery of this verse is to open the door of the palace for the worshiper to enter inside. Thus, he knocks on the opening of the palace gate, holy of holies, in order to enter inside, to unify and bind. As it is known, inside the palace is malkhut, bound with the three fathers whose mystery is love (ahavah).

One knocks and says, “my Lord” (ADNY), who is malkhut, as she is the aspect bound in the mystery of daled nun that she is the mystery of alef, which is the name eh-yeh in binah and the mystery of yud, which is Y-H-V-H in tiferet. This is why she is called Ado-nai, tied to three names, Eh-yeh, Y-H-V-H, Ado-nai on nezah and hod.

“My lips” are nezah and hod;

“open” (tiftah) from inside the palace. These are the openings of palace of the gates of righteousness so that I may enter them and praise Y-H (Psalms 118:19).

“and my mouth” (u’fi) for through the opening of the lips the mouth is formed, which is malkhut. Since She does not have a mouth without open lips, immediately you will see malkhut.

Immediately, “will express” (yaggid), from the side of hokhmah, which is the mystery of gimmel daled, seven sefirot GYD, a drop from the brains that are drawn down in the mystery of semen that shoots like an arrow.

First Blessing

The goal of the first blessing of the silent amidah is to draw down from binah into the lower sefirot of yesod and malkhut.

The following paragraph is a note written above the liturgy, so that the reader does not misunderstand the process and think that one is still just connecting the lower to the higher sefirot, The entire first berakhah is not only in binah, but in the depths of binah; while the other mentioned sefirot are all within binah. The imagery is of the infinite king, a cosmic deity, who is so great, that there are many aspects (bekhinot) , called inner limbs. This passage is not included in the first Rosh Hashanah commentary  and may be by another hand, but it does express the characteristics of the practice of the Cordovero intentions.

This entire blessing is in the depths of binah until “shield of Abraham” that She descends into hesed. Whenever it says that [the pray-er] goes down into malkhut and the avot, it is all hidden in binah. For the first blessing is the first principle of the king, and all the higher inner limbs are included in it. Thus, she will have many aspects.

Cordovero wrote notes above the words Bless and You explaining how the blessings within the amidah work.  He reiterates that his method is to go from top to bottom during blessings drawing down from the eyn sof to malkhut.

“Bless” During the amidah, one should direct “bless” down from the Ein Sof to yesod including all ten sefirot from the Source of everything. The power to bring down influence from on high until malkhut below depends on thought.

This is why the Zohar says that one should not start at the level of “Your face,” so that you do not admonished, God forbid. Should he start “bless” from bottom-up, standing in din, then the going bottom-up is din. Rather, start from the top and go before His face below; this is the mystery of “blessed” from top-down to repair it beforehand with influx and sweetening its judgments.

Energy is drawn down from the top three sefirot to the middle six, first as keter, hokhmah, and binah into tiferet, then in the middle blessings one draws daat the animating vitality of the world into the twelve-sided version of tiferet, and in the concluding blessings of the amidah one brings the spiritual energy into malkhut.

Yesod includes yesod malkhut (YM) from keter until yesod seals this world of yesod malkhut from the world of the male, spreading top-down.

Blessed (Barukh)

Malkhut is the world of the female. Alef (A) is keter; tav (T) is hesed, binah, gedulah, gevurah; hei (H) is tiferet until malkhut.

Are You (Atah; ATH)

Tiferet, which binds together male and female from the bottom up.

Lord (Y-H-V-H)

Ein Sof keter of keter:

yud hei vav hei (YUD HY VYV HY); [72]

alef hei yud hei (ALF HA YUD HA); [143]

yud hei vav hei (YUD HA VAV HA); [45]

alef dalet nun yud (ALF DLT NUN YUD). [#zzz]

Bind head to head YAHH-VYHHhokhmah and binah.

Bind body to body YAHD-UNHYtiferet and malkhut.

Binah

Our God (e-lo-heinu)

Hokhmah that lights up binah

And God of (vei-lo-hei)

In the mystery of her three roots, gedulah, gevurah and tiferet inside her.

Our fathers (avoteinu)

Hesed of hokhmah bound in hesed of binah.

God of (e-lo-hei) Abraham (avraham)

Gevurah of hokhmah bound in gevurah of binah.

God of (elo-hei) Isaac (yizhak)

Tiferet of hokhmah bound in tiferet of binah.

And God of (vei-lo-hei)  Jacob (ya’akov).

Mystery of three fathers revealed in the great binah of gedulah

The God  (ha-e-l) The great (ha-gadol)

Gevurah

The mighty (ha-gibbor)

Tiferet

And the awesome (ve-ha-nora)

To bring them influence and blessing from the source of the right of keter, called or zah, the mystery of yud in the name yud hei vav hei (YUD HY VYV HY) [72]

God on high (e-l elyon)

Who brings influence from hokhmah to binah

Benefactor of (gomeil)

Hasadim that are great and give light, that her aspect is from the right, hesed; and all the aspects from her side are kind

Great kindness (hasadim tovim)

From the source of binah of keter, which is the name alef hei yud hei (ALF HA YUD HA) [143]

And possesses all (vekoneih ha-kol)

The sprouting of three fathers, all hasadim from the highest white light.

And remembers the kindness of the fathers (vezokheir hasdei avot)

Mystery of the name yud hei vav hei (YUD HA VAV HA) [45] of keter, vav of the name of arikh anpin and keter revealed

And brings redemption (u’meivi go’eil)

Nezah and hod, children of the three fathers

To the sons (livnei) of their sons (veneihem)

Meditate on spreading the last letter hei in the name Y-H-V-H of keter

For the sake of His name (lema’an shemo)

From there, spreading out the exiled malkhut who will be bound between two arms.

In love (be’ahavah).

Now return to unify from bottom to top through hokhmah and binah as one. Malkhut bound with malkhut of keter.

King (melekh)

Tiferet bound to tiferet of keter yud hei vav hei (YUD HA VAV HA) [45]

Helper (ozeir)

Gevurah bound in the name Eh-yeh of keter

And savior (u-moshia)

Hesed bound in the mystery of the highest hesed of keter, yud hei vav hei (YUD HY VYV HY).[72]

And Shield (u-magein).

Yesod including all ten sefirot from the world of the male

Blessed (barukh)

Malkhut including all ten sefirot from the world of the female

Are You (atah)

Going up to unite in keter until Ein Sof

Lord (Y-H-V-H)

YAHD-UNHY; YAHA-VYHH;

alef dalet nun yud (ALF DLT NUN YUD); [#zz]

yud hei vav hei (YUD HA VAV HA);[45]

alef hei yud hei yud hei vav hei (ALF HA YUD HA YUD HY VYV HY).[#]

Bind three fathers of malkhut in hesed to bring everything out from binah and bring them to hesed.

Shield of Abraham (magein avraham).


Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Arthur Green- Radical Judaism #2 of 5 parts

The first chapter is on Green’s quest for God.

Continued from part 1- here.

Continue to part 3 – here. Continue to part 4 here.
part 5 here

Green writes that he is a Jewish seeker looking for a lone path. He discusses his atheist upbringing and that he is seeking a middle path between atheism and theism, which he finds in his poetic pantheistic reading of Hasidism.

Green wants to be both a seeker and the spiritual leader of our age. His calling himself a seeker is a bit much at this point when Green sets himself up  as an exemplar and leader of our age.  Someone who is seeking does not write an article called “On Being Arthur Green” implying that one should learn from his wisdom – it was published when he first got to Hebrew College. One can only write an article like that at a pinnacle to share your wisdom. In addition, Green has been in the public eye and noted in the newspapers his whole life.

As a spiritual autobiography of someone who was in all the important places, there was little on his teachers at JTS or Brandeis. Nor on his classmates David Novak, Reuven Kimmelman, and  Byron Sherwin. Nothing as doctoral adviser at Penn or his being President of RRC. Nor a mention of being invited as a young academic to Peter Berger’s “other side of God” retreats or being one of the youngest involved in the Classics of Spirituality and World Spirituality series. Nothing on founding Shefa quarterly with Jonathan Omar-Man and Adin Steinsatz. And most surprisingly nothing on the founding of the first havurah while in grad school Havurat Shalom in Somerville, where along with his buddies Danny Matt, Michael Fishbane, James Kugel and Michael Strassfeld they set out to create a new Judaism for a new age. As a seeker he can claim to “still haven’t found what I am looking for” and not need to survey the past. But if he is offering wisdom that he holds as truth then the disestablishmentarianism is a bit jarring.

Green himself attributes his title Radical Judaism to the radical “God is dead” theology of the 1960’s. He claims that the holocaust and historical criticism ruptured his faith. He found his way back through the non-personal pantheistic hiding God of Hasidism and Kabbalah. He attributes his salvation in the writings of  Hilell Zeitlin (H”YD) who went from freethinking journalist to fervent Hasid and was uniquely able to interpret Hasidism through the eyes of Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Tolstoy. Zeitlin created an urbane Hasidism for his urban newspaper readers.

As a side point, Green’s Tormented Master followed the interpretive lines of Zeitlin and portrayed Rav Nahman as struggling with doubt and freethinking.  When Mendel Pierkaz gave a negative review of Green as “Hasidism for a new world” since it was based on Zeitlin, everyone was furious and even more furious when Piekarz reprinted his review.  The sacrilege was that Green was considered in America as the true university interpretation of Rav Nahman. Now Zvi Mark is the regnant academic work on Rav Nahman and has a different reading of Rav Nahman than Greens, and more people follow the interpretation of Rav Nahman by Rabbis Kenig, Schick, Arush and Schechter et al than academic works.

Green accepts his involvement in the psychedelic age and quaintly defines post-modernism as the rejection of modernity by the counter culture of the 1960’s  They sought to transcend the rational into the realm of myth, drugs, pantheism, and poetry. (Go read Art Green’s early psychedelic works under the pseudonym Itzhak Lodzer.)

Green accepts as another side to his thought that of religious humanism- Kafka, Buber, and Hebrew literature.

After almost 40 years, Green is not claiming identity of his thought with Heschel anymore. He does claim affinity to Tom Berry (d 2009) visionary advocate of evolutionary ecological development of human consciousness, human lifestyle, and our life on the planet. Berry is the near forgotten theologian of the Age of Aquarius and moon landing, who barely got obituaries last summer when he died. Green reminds people of Berry’s positions on our sitting on the edge of a new evolutionary moment where religion will no longer be literal. Like in 2001 Space Odyssey, the world is being thrust into the future and mankind needs to evolve with it.  Religion will now be a mystical pantheism of energy flow that God providentially directs. Yes, he believes this but just not literal the way fundamentalists or orthodox believe. This God is not the theistic God of the Protestant era but “God” – the force of the astro, geo, bio, psych, realms.

Many years ago, Green wrote an article in Shefa Quarterly on the need for a new Jewish theology deserves reprinting for its quest for remytholization over rationalism. Not shattered myths but learning to make the myths of Pesikta, Zohar, and Rav Nahman come live again. For a sense of what this new volume lacks in its discussion of myth compared to older Green writings, here are some excerpts from a NYT interview from 1989 about the new RRC prayer book. They give a sense of the kernel of the birth his rejection of rational for myth and learning to see religion as a progressive force.

While the notion of a ”chosen people” is still excluded from the new liturgy, the mention of miracles, like the splitting of the Red Sea, have been restored. Dr. Arthur Green, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and one of the editors of the new volume, said the ”language of myth” speaks powerfully to many people, even if they do not believe in the literal details. ”As myth, the ancient tale of wonder underscores the sense of daily miracle in our lives,” he said.

Dr. Green, the president of the college, said the prayer book was molded by events that began unfolding in the 1960’s, and ”our view of religion and its place in society have drastically changed” since then. The nation, he said, went from debates over ”Is God Dead?” to seeing the power of religion in the civil rights movement and in the movement to end the Vietnam War. ”We learned from the 60’s that religion can be a progressive social force for change,” he added.

Continue to part 3 – here.
Continue to part Four here
Continue to part 5 here.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved