Monthly Archives: May 2010

Ben-Gurion, Bergman and Aurobindo in Israel

Here is a found nugget from Tusar N. Mohapatra

I read Sri Aurobindo to find some light in our difficult days

Professor Samuel Hugo Bergman (1883-1975)
Prithwindra Mukherjee

In a recent conversation[1], I mentioned that in 1972, as a guest of the Hebrew University for lecturing on Savitri, I made the acquaintance of Yehuda Hanegby, editor of the monthly Ariel. During this visit, Madame Themanlys, commissioned to interview me for Kol Israel, the official radio, revealed her identity as the daughter-in-law of a personal friend that the Mother had in Paris, belonging to Max Théon’s group. I would like to speak of a third interesting personality whom I met in Jerusalem : Professor Schmuel Hugo Bergman, commonly known as Samuel Bergman.

On the eve of my talk, during a dinner, Dr Poznanski, the Rector of the University, informed me that Professor Bergman, Dean of the University, was hoping to listening to me but, owing to his health (running 89), he could not be present at my lecture; he would appreciate if I went to have breakfast with him on the next morning.

I was staying with my friend, Professor Joseph Sadan, and had my meals with his parents at the picturesque Hayim Nahman Bialik Street : Joseph’s father Dov Sadan was a well-known scholar in Ladino, and his mother treated me with refined traditional dishes from Central Europe. Yehuda came to pick me up for going to see Bergman. Yehuda knew him pretty well and informed that Bergman had been a school-mate of Franz Kafka in Prague, and a zealous friend and translator of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). In 1920, Bergman along with Martin Buber (1878-1965) had founded in Palestine a “dual national” area to house peacefully Jews and Arabs, before joining the Hebrew University.

On entering the impressive library where sat the venerable scholar, I discovered rows of books by Sri Aurobindo. Amused by my reaction, he asked me to take the seat in front of him and commented on showing me the set : “This was our food for thought; David and I read Sri Aurobindo to find some light in our difficult days.”

Yehuda whispered : “By David, he means Ben Gurion !”

[1] “Meeting Prithwindra Mukherjee”, Article and Interview by Sunayana Panda, The Golden Chain, August 2009, p.13

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New unpublished Rav Kook

My reader Paul Shaviv showed up earlier this week and left the blogging equivalent of a baby in a basket in a comment on my About page. He posted a link to a pdf of one of the new Rav Kook works that have been recently transcribed. I had assumed that this was already discussed and linked elsewhere.

Rav Kook left behind scores of notebooks of his thoughts. Many of those notebooks were used by the Nazir to create Orot Hakodesh as an editor’s synthesis. Others were used by R Zvi Yehudah to produce a different voice for Rav Kook. Recently, some of these notebooks have been published as Shemonah Kevatzim. In the last few years, even more material has come forth from the archives creating a serious academic and Merkaz haRav world debate on why were they hidden until now? what was edited out? Does it change our view of Rav Kook?

For those of us in the field, none of this is new. It is the bread and butter of academic conferences. Back in summer 2009 at the World Congress for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem when others were heading home already, I attended session 352 held in the evening in the Senate room located away from the other sessions . The session was dedicated to the editorial changes and changes over time in rav Kook’s thought. The speakers were Neriah Gutel, Yehudah Mrsky, Udi Avramovitch and Bitty Yehudah. And the audience was the entire cabal of Rav Kook experts (minus a few for specific personal reasons.) Their papers and the discussion afterwards discussed all the debated issues of what do we learn from these new volumes? How was Rav Kook’s vision different at the beginning? And what was consciously changed and censored?

Everyone had already read Avinoam Rozenak’s Hidden Diaries and New Discoveries: The Life and Thought of Rabbi A. I. Kook Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies – Volume 25, Number 3, Spring 2007, pp. 111-147, which first appeared in Hebrew. Rozenak showed that some of these writing had a more antinomian element to them and that the editors were more conservative.

So here is the 250 page pdf of one new books, Harav Kook- leNevuchai Hazeman The work starts off following the Guide of the Perplexed for content but then veers off course. Very little of it is new, we have seen almost all of the paragraphs or at least the ideas before in his other works. What we gain is a turn a phrase here, a named interlocutor there, and an alternative organization illuminating Rav Kook’s thought pattern.

We also have two recent articles in Kipa [in Hebrew]. One used the aforementioned Udi Avramovitch as its expert source. Udi finds the volume more radical than the printed version and he finds a greater identity of God’s will and the will of the people. He also claims that in this work Rav Kook claims a value for other religions and that they worship the one true God. The second article quotes the army and settlement Rabbi Yosef Kellner that the book is essential to read but they are confining distribution, and here is a letter by Rav Kellner about the book.

Rav Kook started the volume while still in Europe and finished it in Jaffa. The book starts off discussing the image of God as volition- will. Human have a will to make manifest as creativity in the world. Yes, Schopenhauer’s definition of man as the guide for our generation. (Along the way Spinoza is deftly defeated by the volition of R. Moses Hayyim Luzatto)The second chapter tells me that Saadayah and Maimonides saw that books of sectarians (minim) multiplied so they were compelled to write philosophic works. That does not inspire me in its understanding of the medieval but tells me more about Rav Kook. In a later chapter, he tells me that “all revolutions are good for clearing away the small minded people and narrow visions” with a later in the paragraph phrase that “they all follow the pure knowledge of God” Holy Hegelian Marxist! What do I do with these grapplings with the sectarian writings of German Idealists for a Torah for the 21st century?

Can we use this as a guide for social revolution now? Well, let look at what he said about the problem of favoritism, corruption and cronyism in rabbinic courts. Rav Kook was against any change to the institutional fabric and rejected secular oversight or higher courts to oversee lower batai din, threatening to return to the R. Hayyim Sonnenfeld camp. What of women in modern world? He did not think women should vote or study Torah. What of secular studies? The new diaries show that he encouraged his inner circle to avoid the wisdom of the gentiles and stick to the prophetic Torah.

Furthermore, we tend to read Rav Kook as if he is the one pushing the envelope on the potential diffusion of God’s light in a new age. Rather than responding to forgotten correspondents who were more radical than he was like R Shmuel Alexandrov or R. Moshe Seidel. These newly released versions, at first reading, will make it easier to find the original dialogue partner. As you read through it, let me know if you find any especially unique passages or if you can detect changes from the beginning to the end of the writing process.

For the meaning of these writings, I await the series of new scholarly articles that will be written in the next few years. The one thing these writings do show is his concern with making a new passionate Jew beyond cognitive focus of the Eastern European beit midrash. A new Jew concerned with volition, inner voice, volkgeist, a new age, love, and seeking a new knowledge of God.

Immediate Update– both the article in Kipa and the file of Rav Kook have been take down, the link wont work. I can understand the removal of the unpublished book, but what benign or nefarious power took down a current news article. If anyone knows then please let me know. The article in Kipah is cached and one can still get to the Headline but not the article. Friends in Israel, what’s the story?
Next Update– I just posted the pdf from my saved copy and the articles reappeared with minor changes.

Suburban Religion: The Divine Commodity-Skye Jethani

A few years ago, I was asked to teach the beginning of Rav Dessler’s Miktav MiEliyahu whee he discussing the purpose in life. They did not know what they were asking for, and they had never read it, but they knew it was an important book. As we were reading it, they all remarked how it cannot say the things it does- for it invalidates the suburban trajectory of their lives. By the end they did not want to continue, they preferred something more relevant to their lives. Rav Dessler was known to be anti-bourgeois and the sharpness of his thought has receded into memory. Recently, people have however been turning to R. Itamar Schwatz (belevavi mishkan evneh) who screams out for people to abandon their cell phones, suburban homes, and nice clothes and flee into devotion toward God. A shock treatment to remember what life in this world is all about-service of God. But not everyone is ready for such shock treatment.

How do you tell such people that they do not get the world-to-come simply by paying a mortgage in a religious neighborhood? How do tell them that it is not just where you once upon a time learned but also what you study now? Rav Nahman of Bratzlav mocks the material life in his story “The Master of Prayer” But what if one is not looking for reductio ad absurdum, rather insight?

American society has also been witnessing preachers who are questioning the religious value of suburban life. One of these is Skye Jethani The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity .

Americans live in a consumer-driven society. We are consumers. This is our world, and the ethos of the corporate and consumer dominated life has been with us and expanding for well over 100 years. Consumers R Us.

However, there is a difference between being a consumer and having a worldview of consumerism. Consumerism is “a set of presuppositions most of us have been formed to carry without question or critique” (12). It has become the subconscious framework through which we view everything, including God, the gospel, and the church. In Jethani’s view, “it is competing with the kingdom of heaven for the hearts and imaginations of God’s people” (12).

For Skye Jethani, the concept of imagination is key. “Learning to see the world as it truly is—saturated with the presence and love of God—should be the essence of Christian discipleship, or what many call spiritual formation” (13). However, the church is failing to provide an alternative vision that will captivate the hearts and minds of consumers and break the chains that bind their imaginations. Instead, churches are catering to consumers without challenging the worldly assumptions that leave them undernourished and anemic in their faith.
What are Skye Jethani’s complaints about consumerism? How does this worldview stunt our faith?

• It commodifies God. God is not the Holy One any longer, the Great Mystery, but one who nicely fits in with our desires and politics. We value him for what he can do for us.

• It moves us to construct our Christian identity from the brands we consume rather than from what God has done for us in Christ. Christians buy Christian, and thus are Christian. Image is everything.

• It leads us to seek transformation through external “experiences” we consume. This has led to a whole new kind of church and ministry: “And the role of the pastor, once imagined as a shepherd tending a flock, now conjures images of a circus ringmaster shouting, ‘Come one, come all, to the greatest show on earth.’ In Consumer Christianity, the shepherd becomes a showman” (75).

• It has turned the church from an “ocean-liner” designed to move people from point A to point B (connecting people with God), to a “cruise ship” that is, in itself, the destination. One need never disembark because it contains everything the Christian life has to offer.

• It leads to a faith that is insatiable, unable to delay gratification, and averse to suffering.

• It causes us to segregate ourselves from others who are not like us, and to gather in homogeneous communities, causing us to miss the gospel call to a unity that rises above human divisions.

• It moves us to choose lifestyles of guarded isolation and individualism and miss out on the gospel call to practice hospitality, especially toward those we would never naturally associate with.

Is he right that we have become a homogeneous pleasure cruise ship? Have we converted God into a kitchen deity serving human needs? Has outreach and spirituality turned into a form of entertainment? What is the alternative to a fixed commodified faith?

Meditation Lab

One of the interesting people I met in Oslo was Harold D. Roth, professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Brown University. As many of the experts of the Eastern Traditions, he was of Jewish background who turned to the east becuase “One of the problems I wrestled with as a young Jewish person growing up was how the Holocaust could be justifiable in light of the theology I’d been taught.”

Roth offers a meditation lab to compliment his lecture course.

TOM: The Religious Studies courses you teach at Brown are supplemented by lab courses where you invite students to engage in what you call “critical first-person investigation” of the material. Would you tell us more about this?

ROTH: There are two courses that I teach that involve first-person labs right now. These are advanced seminars for people who already have had some courses in Buddhism. In them we have our weekly three-hour seminar in which we discuss the texts we are reading, and then from 9am to 10am, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we try out meditation techniques that are derived from these texts. I encourage people to investigate things empirically, to try out different techniques, for example, following the breath, or counting breaths, or paying attention to different parts of one’s body, the diaphragm, the sensation of the breath coming in and out the nose. These are all practices that would be used in the “Insight Meditation” tradition that is at the heart of Theravada or “Southern” Buddhism. Very often I’m able to coordinate the actual reading with the techniques in the lab. For example, when we study Theravada Buddhism we get two sutras that are devoted to breathing meditations: “Sutra on Mindfulness of Breathing” (Anapanasati sutta) and “Sutra on The Foundations of Mindfulness” (Satipatthana sutta). And in the lab we use techniques from those particular texts. I call this approach critical because I never ask anyone to accept what they are reading as true. I just ask them to read the texts with an open mind, and to practice a particular technique with an open mind. And then we talk about how the text relates to the techniques and the experiences in the meditation lab.

Direct experiential questioning is important for a complete investigation of religious phenomena. However, … academics in Religious Studies are very uncomfortable with engaging in religious practices as part of their pedagogy and their research. It is odd, because there are a lot of other academic disciplines that encourage first-person practices, such as laboratory science, public speaking, and anthropology, to name a few.
This kind of direct experiential questioning is important for a complete investigation of religious phenomena. However, conventional academic study in the field of Religious Studies has completely banned it, for a variety of reasons.

It is odd, because there are a lot of other academic disciplines that encourage first-person practices, such as laboratory science, public speaking, and anthropology, to name a few. All these disciplines give you techniques to critically examine the data you get from first-person investigation

First, religions in which empirical experience is central de-emphasize the need to believe. This is the case in all the world’s great mystical traditions.

Second, the whole idea that any of us can be completely objective denies the important role that our own subjective experience plays in our intellectual investigation and reasoning. Instead of banning and attempting to deny our own experience as a valid investigative tool, why not develop methods that engage it in a critical, reasoned way? That is what is behind my courses that combine traditional third-person academic study and “critical first-person” investigation. So I, for one, would be happy to engage in first-person investigation in Christian prayer or meditation, or Islamic practices, or Hindu practices, even though I don’t consider myself a believer in any of those traditions. I think first-person investigation is part of a serious examination of religion. The field is cutting off its foundations in not finding that acceptable.
The very fact that anybody does any kind of sitting or moving meditation practice … already gives them a leg up in interpreting texts that might have involved meditative or mystical practices.

ROTH: Yes, that’s exactly what I’m alluding to. For example, there are Taoist texts and Buddhist texts produced by specific groups of practitioners. If you don’t understand what the practicing context is, and if you haven’t had any related experience, you’re just going to miss the allusions to the practice and can not appreciate when this technical language is being used. Very often, especially in the early Taoist tradition, things are described metaphorically. Or Chinese characters may be used that have a range of meanings. They may have particular meanings in a political context but in a meditation text they might mean something very specific and concrete. So that’s part of what one needs to be sensitized to.
To read more from a good interview- here.

Any thoughts on labs for Kabbalah or mahshevet yisrael courses?

Safed Today

Cordovero’s Safed was a city of 18 study halls and 22 synagogues where lay devotions and public acts of penance were the norm. Pining away for God mixed with the channeling of errant spirits. And Yosef Karo the author of the Shulkhan Arukh received an angelic visitor guiding him in ritual practice and bodily mortification. Solomon Schachter’s Safed was a romantic vision of kabbalists going out into the field to greet the Sabbath. (In actually, Cordovero sang Lekha Dodi indoors and Luria meditated on Ana BaKoah without lekha Dodi outdoors.) Now Safed has combined its romantic heritage with Israeli Hasidism and then transformed the aura into a world of art, new age spirituality, hippie ethos and holistic health. Even without the visits by the material girl, there is still a whole lot of materiel religion going on.
Alastair Macdonald of Reuters seeks to capture the new age spirit of the city in an article and a blog post.

In this hilltop town above the Sea of Galilee, black-clad Hassidic Jews throng stone alleys where sandal-shod New Agers offer biblical jewelry and organic hummus to tourists seeking enlightenment — or Madonna.

But in this mountain-top retreat for Jewish mystics, both of an Orthodox and of less conventional persuasion, the public outburst of peace, love and understanding seemed entirely natural. Depending on your national cultural references, it’s hard to capture the spirit of Safed precisely – it is part hippie-haven, part devotional centre for hordes of black-clad Hassidic Jews; part Taos, New Mexico, part Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Spirituality and tradition are everywhere on Safed’s storefronts — “Natural face cream products based on ancient recipes”; “Bible and Mystical Art Center”; “Art & Soul.” Craft and art shops abound, though the town has lost the reputation it enjoyed in the 1960s as a home for Israel’s serious art world.

“SPA FOR THE SOUL”

It might seem the last place to forget one’s cares. But that is just what Eyal Riess of kabbalahtour.com at the International Center for Tzfat Kabbalah recommends. Eighteen years after he traded in the secular life of metropolitan Tel Aviv, he believes even a short burst of Safed air and Kabbalah can work wonders.

Busy executives choppering in for a few hours of “Kabbalah Experience,” or the party of “Russian oligarchs” flying down specially from Moscow direct to Safed for three days are among 40,000 people who Rabbi Riess says visit his center every year. One of his tour offerings is branded “A Spa for the Soul.” “Kabbalah teaches the parallels of experience between the spiritual and physical,” Riess said, pointing from his rooftop terrace to the cemetery “where Madonna visited last year.” We find the code of the soul of a person, based on the letters of his name and the date of his birth.”

Next door, Algiers-born, Paris-raised Danielle Chouraqui, a self-taught painter, is painstakingly at work on her latest creation, designed to draw viewers into pondering the mystic links between the Hebrew alphabet and the secrets of the human body and soul — “22 letters, 22 chromosomes,” she says. Her goal is “to get people to talk to their soul.”

As a town housing both Arabs and Jews, Safed saw violence in the decades leading up to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. In that year, Safed had a substantial Muslim Arab majority, including the 13-year-old Mahmoud Abbas – now the Palestinian president. Most became refugees as Jewish forces swept through the Galilee. Aside from a mosque, turned into an art gallery, and some Israeli public monuments to the war, there are few reminders of their presence.

I regularly receive sincere phone calls and emails from people looking for the Lurianic source for Safed aromatheraphy, healing candles, and yogic kabbalah. This article captures something of the spirit.

Peter Beinart on Day Schools

Back in 1999, Beinart framed the rise of day schools as a rejection of the original acceptance of public school. The growth of Jewish Day Schools is an abandonment of the American public square.

Beinart pointed out that the rise of day school had other factors than the obvious religious commitment. Even though day schools were originally for ideologically driven Orthodox who have not totally integrated into America, Day Schools became a form of private school for those moving up the latter.

Now, it seems the drive for day schools is the ideological need to create an enclave, in many classes an upper middle class Orthodox enclave. In this type of school, what counts? the education or the creation of the enclave? Some families are clearly still interested in creating private schools better than the public schools while others no longer ask if the day school if better than the public school in social studies, English, arts, or college preparation. Beinart reminds us to account for the role of the school in social mobility,class and caste. At the end of the twentieth century, day schools were “in” but the word “day school” may have had three different meanings- a prep school for Jews, a community school for identity, and a day school to create an enclave. Studies done by Avi Chai do not differentiate types of schools or factor in class and caste. (One of the decent studies available on the web, which was done privately by Alex Pomson, shows that in Toronto day schools are not growing relative to population increase.)

Jews supported public school because it helped enforce the separation of Church and State. Jews did encourage Christian kids to go to pre-Vatican II Catholic and Protestant schools because it would not have helped their integration. In those days, thinking of America as a Christian country would have meant Jews are excluded. Now, Jews do not worry about the possibility if there are Christian schools that do not offer an American secular narrative Jews do not worry about being outsiders. Nor do American Orthodox Jews currently worry about the possibility of Afrocentric, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh private schools.

What do day school parents feel about the melting pot? I would suspect that many are oblivious or against. Or it is only useful for everyone else. Do some of the parents see that if you exclude yourself from the socialization of the rest of the country then you start to look sectarian? Or if you accept the melting pot for viewing sports and listening to Lady Gaga, but not for social science thinking and historical narrative then you create a hybridization that may not work in all contexts. (In the full article, Beinhart cheers for the creation of the New-Jew HS in Boston as outside the box.)

Read full version of Beinart on Jewish schools here.

Preparing children for “the general American environment” meant public education as both practice and ideology. “The public school,” says Alvin I. Schiff, the Irving I. Stone Distinguished Professor of Education at Yeshiva University, in New York, “was considered sacred, holy. It was the method and setting by which Jews could become Americans.”
All the talk about Jewish identity may also obscure a less high-minded reason for the Jewish-school boom: as Jews have moved up the economic ladder, their commitment to public education has waned.
“As the public schools have eroded,” Miller says, “we are no longer being compared so much to public schools as to other independents.” Jewish leaders argue that because Jews make up such a small proportion of the U.S. population, the growth of Jewish schools has no real impact on the overall health of American public education. But public schools rely more heavily on Jewish support than the numbers would suggest, in part because Jewish organizations, fearful of any breakdown of the wall between Church and State, have traditionally lobbied hard against school vouchers and other government aid to private schools. As awareness grows that voucher programs might benefit financially strapped Jewish schools, that opposition may diminish.
Yet such parents, by choosing Jewish schools, are preparing their children to lead more observant, less assimilated lives than they do. Some even describe the phenomenon as an inversion of a practice in nineteenth-century Europe whereby parents would remain Jewish but baptize their children.
Why a growing number of relatively secular Jewish parents are abandoning the education model of their youth is a topic of considerable debate within the organized Jewish world

THERE is another, even more sensitive issue lurking behind the Jewish-school phenomenon. Earlier generations of Jews, according to Eduardo Rauch, of the Jewish Theological Seminary, in New York, sent their children to public school not simply as a means of ascending into the middle class but as a show of national loyalty. Today, in contrast, parents are willing to consider Jewish schools in part because they no longer fear being viewed as outsiders. They take their integration into mainstream America as a given. But what if earlier generations were correct — that full equality in an overwhelmingly Christian country is, in fact, reliant on Jewish willingness to participate in a common system of education?
In fact, when discussing issues like Afrocentrism and bilingual education, American Jewish leaders sometimes bemoan the demise of the melting-pot ideal in this country. Yet separate religious schools both rely on that demise and exacerbate it. The Orthodox community, for its part, has rarely celebrated the melting pot, and generally worries less about total acceptance by the broader culture.

For our last discussion about day schools, see here- Catholic Schools and Jewish Day Schools.

Peter Beinart on his Orthodox affiliation

By now everyone has read, reacted, or over reacted to the essay by Peter Beinart, The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment. For a summary and links to many reactions, see JTA or Alison Ramer and Menachem Mendel. I also assume everyone has read the interesting three part interview with Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic.

My interest remains focused only on religion and how it plays itself out in people’s lives. I will leave to other people and other blogs to deal with the politics. However, in the second installment of the interview with Goldberg, I found the following snippet dealing with religion.

Jeffrey Goldberg: It’s interesting to me that you, an Orthodox Jew, don’t answer the question about Zionism in any sort of theological way whatsoever.

Peter Beinart: I didn’t call myself an Orthodox Jew; I said I attend an Orthodox synagogue. But anyway, it’s a reasonable question. I feel a spiritual connection through Jewish observance–when I’m in shul, on Shabbat, even through kashrut. And I feel a spiritual connection to Jewish people–a certain delight at certain Jewish idiosyncracies, at a sense of global peoplehood.

My immediate question is what does this say about those gen x’ers who floated into Orthodoxy during the great revival of the last decades. How do they combine the warm of Shabbat with their liberalism, theological openness, and not fitting into the rigid Orthodox categories. Would the post-orthodox vortex of those demanding rigid definitions of belief and practice throw him out of their sectarian imaginary? Does he fell uncomfortable around Orthodox political views? So I emailed Peter and received the following response.

Although there are a lot of Orthodox Jews in my family (my mother is Sephardi, which doesn’t always translate easily into American categories), I was raised in a Conservative synagogue. I began going to Orthodox synagogues in my 20s.

What appealed to me was the dedication to Jewish learning, which I have come to believe is the only path to Jewish continuity. I feel in many ways limited by the fact that I did not attend Jewish school, and want my children to learn more, far more, than I did at their age. In a way, I’m more concerned with their knowledge than their observance, though I suspect and hope that the latter will follow the former. (In any case, we’re less strictly observant than some). If they can feel confident in a Jewish religious context, it will always be available to them, even if they drift away for periods of their lives. I’m also attracted to Modern Orthodoxy’s vision of a life in which one can be faithful to halacha (though I myself could be more faithful) and also truly at ease in the world, recognizing the truth and beauty in non-Jewish things.

In addition, I have always felt a sense of community that I consider precious: the involvement that people have in each other’s lives, the long, lazy stretches of time during a shabbat meal or at the park on Saturday afternoon, a series of friendships that are not based on work (which I find is very common in Washington), the amount of time we spend in each other’s homes, the way we watch each other’s kids grow up.

I think I’ve also been lucky because my community is very tolerant both in terms of observance and political opinion, even on Israel. (I didn’t realize quote how tolerant until I wrote my essay).
That makes it much easier for me to deal with those parts of Orthodoxy that do trouble me: for instance, the participation of women. I might have grativated to some more egalitarian conservadox minyan, but the fact that there are so many successful, empowered, articulate women in my community makes me feel more comfortable on questions of gender. There is also a sense of irony and good humor about Orthodox Jewry’s foibles among our friends that I greatly value.

So I suppose I compromise my liberalism to participate in an Orthodox community, but I’m willing to do so because I am so enriched by it in so many ways. (And perhaps because I fear that a more universalistic Jewish community would be less of a true Jewish community). So it’s a little like Zionism. I recognize that to be a Zionist I have to compromise my liberalism: I have to support a Jewish state, which by definition will never be able to provide absolute equality to its non-Jewish citizens. But I try to do so while still hoping for as much liberalism as possible. I’ve never felt my community is demeaning or disrespectful to women or gays or lesbians or non-Jews, even as I do remain bothered by the roles according to all those groups in mainstream Orthodox practice.

I’ve also been inspired by various people who are far more learned than me who are also highly critical of certain illiberal, even racist, tendencies that they see in the Orthodox community, and in Israel. They have modeled for me a life of Jewish commitment that is not morally complacent, and which is zealous about the rights and dignity of non-Jews, both in the US and the Middle East.

On the essay itself, I’ve been pleasantly surprised–even moved–by the reaction from the Jewish Week and from Nathan Diament, who runs the Washington office of the OU. I don’t expect that publication or organization to agree with my views on Israel, but if there is marginally more concern for the declining Zionism of non-Orthodox Jews, and for the kind of attitudes expressed at the 2002 Israel rally, where a largely Orthodox crowd booed a call to recognize Palestinian suffering, then I will be gratified.

We seem to have a functional religion adding value and community to life. His religion is not very theological. Regarding problematic ideas and values, we see an important role played by those who are ironic or critical toward towards their Orthodoxy as helping to make Orthodoxy more welcoming. It seems these friends help lower any religious tensions or cognitive dissidence. I was pleased to see the tolerance and acceptance of diversity within the community, or at least among his friends and acquaintances.
If you comment, limit it to religion. Post the politics on one of the other blogs.