Monthly Archives: December 2010

Pope Sylvester did not create known Anti-Jewish legislation

“Distance yourself from a false word,” (Exodus 23:7) “A man shall not lie to his friend.” (Lev. 19:11)

For the last two years, I have been forwarded by many people a complete fabrication by a frum website that generally circulates BS and falsehood without any leg to stand on.

The deceitful website says:

“Sylvester,” was the name of the “Saint” and Roman Pope who reigned during the Council of Nicaea (325 C.E.). The year before the Council of Nicaea convened, Sylvester convinced Constantine to prohibit Jews from living in Jerusalem. At the Council of Nicaea, Sylvester arranged for the passage of a host of viciously anti-Semitic legislation. All Catholic “Saints” are awarded a day on which Christians celebrate and pay tribute to that Saint’s memory. December 31 is Saint Sylvester Day – hence celebrations on the night of December 31 are dedicated to Sylvester’s memory.

I dont know where to begin. Sylvester was too ill to attend the Council of Nicaea. No, he did not convince Constantine to ban Jews from Jerusalem. Nicaea was not about anti-Jewish statements- it was when the Church changes their calendar so that Easter did not have to be calculated by means of contact with Jews to find out when they were celebrating Passover. Here are the decrees of Nicaea.

There are no records to prove his created anti-Jewish legislation and no historian claims it. For the little we know see James Parkes, The Conflict of Church and Synagogue page 186
For the up to date bibliography,see Paula Fredriksen & Oded Irshai, Christianity and Anti-Judaism in Late Antiquity Polemics and Policies, from the Second to the Seventh Centuries. The anti-Jewish decrees were by Constantine. As far as we know, Sylvester did not convince him of anything and power was vested in Emperor.

There is a medieval “Forged Canons of Nicaea” where in some versions Sylvester is credited with decreeing that Jews and Christians should not share bread or eat together. For a version that does not attribute it to him.
That decree was also not by Sylvester and actually suggested by the very anti-Jewish John Chrysostom and not made legislation until the 7th century and widespread in the middle ages. On this topic, see David M. Freidenreich, Sharing Meals with Non-Christians in Canon Law Commentaries, Circa 1160-1260: A Case Study in Legal Development It is similar to the ways that Second Temple and Talmudic law does not allow Jews to eat food prepared by gentiles or to eat their wine, cheese, bread et al, or to eat with them.

We had enough real and deadly Anti-Jewish legislation and rabid hatred of Judaism without making things up.

For more Forgeries about Sylvester, see Silvestri constitutum which do include a story of his contact with a Jewish sorcerer.
In the medieval Christan The Golden Legend, a book of medieval tales- the source of many Ashkenaz Jewish tales- there are legend of how Sylvester slays a dragon and staged a public medieval style disputation with Jews.

The origins of the January 1st festivities go back to the Roman era. Sylvester and Constantine, still living in a pagan world, would have condemned the celebration as a pagan practice. It only became part of the West later when the original Roman practices were lost. Since the celebration of St Sylvester day was done in a morning mass it had little to do with the midnight celebration. A mass offered at midnight would already have been for the next day, the St. Basil day. Calling the evening festivities by the name of Sylvester was widespread in Eastern Europe. When and why Eastern European counties started calling the evening festivities by the name of the Saint and was it based on a medieval Italian locution is beyond the scope of this blog post.

The false frum blog also has false stories of Julius Ceaser, which I did not bother to refute.

The frum website is also responsible for circulating the completely incorrect statistics predicting Haredim to multiply with simple geometric growth like Drosophila and liberal Jews to cease to be. Those statistics are entirely false and not based on anything actuarial or use of any valid method. I wish a frum actuary or statistician would just post the refutation already. I am not the statistician to do it.

There needs to be a Jewish Snopes just for that website. Last year, when I first received the Sylvester story, I goggled to see if there was any immediate source to forward people. Instead, I found people trying to rewite wiki and online Roman histories using this false source as a valid source.

Robert Wuthnow on the Midwest

I am a big Robert Wuthnow fan for his analysis of the American ethos and American religion. He and his team of researchers keep putting out great books. Today, whether you call it fortuitous or providential, I received an email announcement that Robert Wuthnow will release his new book on the Midwest in Jan 2011. The book is on the general ethos, he will probably issue a book on the religion of Midwest in 2012. So, after giving “AS” a chance to view the Midwest as declining compared to the East and allowing others to offer a personal nostalgic look, let us turn to the data and use that to try and analyze where Midwest Jewry is going

The book is called Remaking the Heartland: Middle America since the 1950s. As in many of his other books, he starts with the 1950’s and 60’s and then gives the changes of the 1980-2010. Most people and most textbooks still view social change as forever wedded to the issues of the 1950’s.

His current work shows that people have stereotypes of the Midwest and people need to stop looking at the decline in farming and rust belt industries. Now it is booming due to avionics, fiber-optic communications, finance, medical technology, and bioscience. There are new suburbs. And new meat packing towns made up of immigrants

What does this mean for Judaism? First, whoever gets to the new suburbs with new congregations wins. Most of the Orthodox neighborhoods are not in the new suburbs and exurbs. This is also true about the data from the Census. Open your synagogues in the new carpet-bagger suburbs in Texas of transplanted Northerners and over time they will fill up to capacity. (Who will win by opening first:Chabad? Aish Hatorah? Reform? Renewal? Lakewood Kolel?)

Second, the fields of avionics, fiber-optic communications, medical technology, and bioscience are not emphasized back East. I do not think a researcher in fiber-optics will in any way feel inferior to the lawyer or radiologist of the East Coast. The East coast may need to lose it pride. But the image of midwest Jewish shop keeper is over.

Third, Wuthnow’s point about the complexity of the meat-packing towns was shown in the Potsville case. The Orthodox Jews who move out there to supply the ever increasing need for kosher meat will not be the same sort as those interested in bioscience and they wont live in the same towns.

So does this data change anyone’s comments on Centrism in the Midwest? What narrative would you create for this vision of the midwest? Are doctors who come for the medical schools leaving because they want Torah or because they want kosher restaurants?

One things is certain: The same way Centrism created doctors in Teaneck who drink dry wine and ignored the small towns and elderly shop keepers of the North East and Bronx, the new narrative will be entirely about those in the new suburbs of fiber–optics and medical research and it will ignore Detroit, Cleveland, and all the Jewish shop keepers. Does this effect anyone’s comments about the Midwest?

Several of the commenters mentioned that the community was not divided in clear denominations when they were growing up, Can anyone remember the moments that created the labeling? Which Rabbis? Which events? Who tore it apart and in what year?

From the introductory chapter of Wuthnow’s Remaking the Heartland: Middle America since the 1950s

During the half century that began in the 1950s, the American Middle West— Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, North and South Dakota, Arkansas, and Oklahoma—underwent a dramatic social transformation. The region’s population grew at only half the national rate. More than three thousand towns declined. Agriculture suffered from adverse weather and wild market fluctuations in the 1950s, experienced worse conditions in the 1980s, and became far less significant to the region’s economy.
But the heartland was far different in the early twenty-first century than predictions of its demise had suggested.

Stereotypes of a benighted hinterland had been replaced by images of hospitality and ingenuity. The region’s elementary and secondary schools were among the best in the nation. Its commitment to public higher education consistently ranked high. Without any of the nation’s largest cities, the region was known for innovative medical research and bioscience technology. It hosted some of the nation’s largest businesses and had become a magnet for sprawling exurban commercial districts and housing developments.

Retailers in small towns lost business to franchise outlets in regional centers.

Surely the region was remaking itself, they argued, by importing cheap labor to work in conditions reminiscent of The Jungle and with ethnic tensions as the expected result. But the restructuring of agribusiness proved to be a more complicated story.

Edge cities were not expected to emerge in the Middle West to the extent they did in the Sunbelt and on both coasts, but they did appear and increasingly became symbolic of the Middle West’s new role in the national economy. By 2005 there were ninety-five independently incorporated edge cities with at least ten thousand residents within twenty miles of the region’s eight largest cities. More people lived in these suburbs than in those large cities combined.

Those employers were the principal architects of the region’s new emphasis on avionics, fiber-optic communications, finance, medical technology, and bioscience.

The Manhattan Declaration and Apple Apps

These past few weeks there has been a little drama being played out that may effect religious texts on the web and Orthodox Judaism.

In Nov 2009 a group of conservative Catholics intellectuals and clergy issued the Manhattan Declaration on the nature of marriage.
It was designed to serve as an ideological and philosophic document for conservative Church reform and education. While acknowledging that “Christians and our institutions have too often scandalously failed to uphold the institution of marriage,” the group rejects same-sex marriage. The declaration states that opening a legal door for gay marriage would do the same for “polyamorous partnerships, polygamous households, even adult brothers, sisters, or brothers and sisters living in incestuous relationships.”

Apple has rejected twice an application to produce an APP for the document since they consider it harmful and hate speech toward same-sex marriage. Will this now cause a ripple for other apps? Would an APP for YUTorah be allowed if they know what if there? How about responsa or Rabbinic literature? There is plenty in contemporary rabbinic literature that would be just as against diversity and accepting the other. If this goes to court, there will be plenty of Amicus Curiae Briefs and could set the lines for relgion and the internet. Thoughts from a Jewish perspective?

Apple Says “No” to Manhattan Declaration App 2.0
December 23, 2010
We received notice from Apple last evening regarding their rejection of our resubmission of the Manhattan Declaration iPhone/iPad app to the Apple App Store. This is an appalling response from Apple. Nearly 500,000 Christians have signed the Manhattan Declaration including representatives from many major Protestant denominations, leading Catholic Bishops and leaders of the Orthodox Church.

Apple is telling us that the apps’ content is considered “likely to expose a group to harm” and “to be objectionable and potentially harmful to others.” Inasmuch as the Manhattan Declaration simply reaffirms the moral teachings of our Christian faith on the sanctity of human life, marriage and sexual morality, and religious freedom and the rights of conscience, Apple’s statement amounts to the charge that our faith is “potentially harmful to others.”

AS on the Midwest (Guestpost)

It seems AS is on winter break and home back East for a while. He has given me lots to think about the Midwest and Orthodoxy. There is much here to discuss. Do I have any Midwest readers (besides Evanston) to collaborate? Any Thoughts?

Here is the Guest Post by AS

Because you asked….since moving west of the mid Atlantic Appalachians for the first time in my life and as a result becoming a bit of an unwitting anthropologist, I offer the following: I quickly noticed that the East Coast elitist narrative (which I have realized surrounds explicit intellectual and tacit economic aspirations) does not resonate in the Midwest on almost any level (just to take one trivial example – East Coast transplants find it crazy that the centrist school curriculum is at least one year behind the east coast schools they went to in Limmudei Kodesh curriculum, the natives don’t notice the difference). And aside from some ardent but not very ideological Zionism there is nothing to take its place.

Centrist communities are very much in decline by most metrics from the rust belt to Chicago and many are and have been trying to import East Coast products to compensate but with limited long-term success thus far. The only Centrist narrative I can detect is still very much the immigrant success story: they came from Europe, they became American, and they remained Orthodox. But that is a given for those who are two generations removed – it is not the story of their lives. There is no master narrative of Centrist Orthodoxy to provide the building blocks for Centrist/MO identity formation.

As a result a lot more people gravitate to the Lith. Yeshivish circles (if they grew up frum) or the BT Aish or Lubavitch circles if they did not – not for ideology, but for a more robust narrative that actually talks about God, and popular religion that more easily provides a large variety of spiritual engagements for different tastes. Challah baking, inspiring talks simulcast around the world, tehilim groups, school plays, quasi hassidic tisches, chavrusas with full time learners, weekly halakha sheets that give easy entree into the world of chumrot, stories about sephardic miracle workers, shiurim about how mitzvot are magical, Torah as a series of simple moral lessons.

So my guess is that Centrist shuls turn to popular culture in an attempt to add more to the religious smorgasbord hoping that given that all the other stuff is pretty much spoken for, this will appeal to the people who want shul to be a continued affirmation of their American identities, the only centrist narrative that is yet discernible. I think that you will find that most of their appropriations of popular culture play on distinctly American themes or react to the ways in which the American identity has become problematic.

The most interesting to me has been the idea of shul as a refuge for men, maleness and the besieged American male ego (this is especially true for members of the decimated Midwestern middle class – East Coasters tend to forget that there were actual Centrist true middle class communities where most of the members lived comfortably on single income blue collar jobs or small businesses, and there were only a handful of professionals). The result is a flourishing of men-only programs, some official some not. Men seem to gravitate toward shiurim for men, some offering cigars or single malts (and of course kiddush clubs), father-son learning, men only leisure activities organized by the shul, and a variety of men’s sports leagues organized by shulgoers. Shul is marketed as a place where you can comfortably seek out a fraternal and masculine identification which you can no longer get at the workplace and which in mass popular culture is almost always presented as sophomoric testosterone-fueled self-parody.

For someone who grew up with an elitist narrative (perhaps a particularity extreme form, where nearly everyone in your shul had semicha and an advanced degree) , and will admit that it is still very constitutive of my religious affiliation, this is pretty bleak. Centrism here provides no compelling story and is now struggling to fill in the gaps left over by streams of Orthodoxy that have done a better job of presenting an appealing popular religion. And if not for its unreflective quasi religious Zionism, it would be even weaker.

In sum my verdict is that Centrist Orthodoxy writ large does not provide a framework for a flourishing of popular religion, and perhaps has not since the early 60s. The result is that there are few building blocks for many second, third and fourth generation Centrist Americans Jews to form the stable religious identities necessary to maintain their communities.

The elitist narrative will still work for some of the people – certainly for many of the kids attracted to some of the old overseas hesder yeshiva programs and some others who have spent a year or two in Israel and now feel that they have got it. They probably do learn better than they ever did in high school. And they will likely be attracted to the shiurim that play on their strengths and ignore their weaknesses – that at least is what I witnessed over the course of 8 or so years in and around YU.

Is there a point in bursting the bubble? Do you put them in a room with an English speaking bochur from Chevron so that they can see what someone their age could achieve in learning if they did almost nothing else? Is it worth pointing out that the spiritual satisfaction they ostensibly get (or are told that they get) from learning a number of hours a day will likely not carry over once they start working the hours necessary to pay for day school tuition?

Centrism needs a narrative that is triumphant yet grounded. For an older generation it really was enough that you became American, helped build a synagogue and day school, and most of your kids remained religious. But centrism today requires a narrative that holds its own against hareidi themes like rebuilding what was lost in Europe, the self-evident authenticity of its fundamentalism, or of everyone, even the little people having a role to play in a larger elitist story. But aside from those three necessary components I cannot flesh out the story. (maybe we need centrist focus group researchers asking questions like: what are you proud about in your Judaism; how do you see yourself as distinct from other Orthodox groups; what would you tell your kid if they asked you… etc?)

As far as economic aspirations: you have to remember that this region has had a massive exodus of young college graduates for richer pastures. For those that stay thee are clearly different economic aspirations. You don’t need to go to a top law school or get a job in finance. The cost of living is much lower resulting in lower tuition. A successful professional can pretty easily be a sole provider. And there are more blue collar workers and tradesmen who are Orthodox than I have seen in any other region (compare to New York where the Orthodox who were not college educated went into small businesses and real estate). There is also a suspicion of East coast elitism – not the Tea Party kind, but more of a “stop telling us how we are screwing up all the time” fatigue. In the Centrist community there is also a wariness of rabbis and educators who come from the East and are perceived as seeing it as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

So how will they react to WINGS? On the one hand they are probably desperate to revitalize shuls that may be slowly shrinking. On the other hand they don’t have the cash to blow on certain kinds of programs and they probably feel that people like Steve Weil, despite his Midwest cred, is now thoroughly out of touch with what goes on in flyover territory.

Twenty Somethings- Lost?

Here is a notice from an upcoming conference at Fordham. The topic speaks for itself and the Jewish community would have much to learn by analyzing the similarities and differences. Any thoughts on the loss of the Twenty-Something in Judaism from this program?

The first major difference in the way they run a conference that I notice is that Fordham is bringing in to speak the best experts in each field, the ones that wrote the definitive books. Centrist Orthodoxy only brings in people within that community who are at least temporarily approved. So they have the experts in popular culture, Centrism only brings in those who have read the books of the experts.

Another difference is the role of the empirical data. Centrism at best will bring in someone who did a minor study without controls and non random sample. At Fordham, the bad news empirical data is placed front and center. There is an issue to talk about. They actually mention that religious kids are hooking up.

Finally, a more subtle difference is that Centrism uses a model of deviance, similar to Dobson. If there is a problem in a child, then it was the fault of the parents or the educators. Centrist social psychology stacks the deck in favor of the perfection institution, it was just a deviance in the implementation. Here the model is social trends and autonomous choice. (I may fiske the recent Azrieli survey on parenting as an example).

But then I realized that this is not fair. They Catholic seminaries are not taking in this data or having this discussion. Rather, it is University in the hands of the University Professor laity that is having this discussion. I suppose if the seminaries wanted to know something they would also invite an acceptable clergy who was in the audience and not one of the actual speakers.

When evangelicals make these lists of why 20 somethings are not affiliated, they also include provincialism and lack of culture. These are not current Catholic problems, but they are Centrist problems.

Twenty-somethings raised as Catholics are swelling the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated. Even those who continue to identify as Catholic are regularly absent from the pews and are likely to judge faith less important in their lives than did their parents and grandparents. Yet many twenty-somethings hold traditional beliefs about God, prayer, and life after death; many express spiritual yearnings and the desire to serve.

This two-day conference will examine the lives of young adults and their relationship to the Catholic Church—or the lack thereof. From sexuality to spirituality to service, the conference will present the data, and explore the issues, obstacles and opportunities that mark the fraught relationship between twenty-somethings and the church in today’s cultural, economic, and religious contexts.

The speakers include leading experts and practitioners: James Davidson, Robert Putnam, Melissa Cidade, David Campbell, Carmen Cervantes, Donna Freitas, Colleen Carroll Campbell, Tom Beaudoin, Rachel Bundang, Bill McGarvey, Marilyn Santos, Tami Schmitz, James Martin, Robert Beloin; and twenty-somethings themselves

Friday, January 28, 2010, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
Twenty-Somethings: The Known and the Unknown
What the data shows about young adults and the church

Saturday, January 29, 2010, 9:30-5:00 p.m.
9:45 a.m. Session I
On Your Own?
Student loans, job searches, finding friends and housing, the parish and social scene—a look at the economic, career, social, and religious challenges twenty-somethings face. What are the implications for religious communities?

11:00 a.m. Session II
Sex and the City of God
Hooking up, casual sex, cohabitation, later marriages, and same-sex relationships are cultural realities for twenty-somethings. How does this affect young adults’ ties to Catholic communities, teaching, and values, and their own desires for lives of integrity and wholeness?

1:00 p.m. Session III
Frenemies? Popular Culture and Catholic Culture
The complex encounter between church and culture: How do twenty-somethings navigate the varied terrains of church culture and popular culture? How does the church engage the media-saturated, sensory-charged, and socially-networked lives of twenty-somethings?

2:00 p.m. Session IV
“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” Yearnings of the Spirit
Prayer, preaching, service, Scripture, liturgy, sacraments: what do twenty-somethings seek and where can it be found?

3:15 p.m. Session V
An Inconvenient Church: Reasons to Love or Lose Catholicism
Live From New York: What twenty-somethings are saying about the church.

Full Schedule and Announcement Poster.

Ronit Meroz-Who wrote the Zohar?

I know I am behind on posting about some of the new works on Kabbalah. In the meantime here is a nice video interview with Ronit Meroz about her forthcoming book about the various strata in the Zohar. She states that the texts of the Zohar were written between the 11th and the 14th century, layer upon layer, each generation adding or taking out what they wanted. she claims that the manuscripts show that there were many things called Zohar.
Meroz places the first texts in Israel in the 11th century, those texts were reworkings of Rabbinic ideas taken a little further. The early drafts were not mystical yet, rather more mythic versions of Rabbinic statements. Here is an 18 page taste of her book from an earlier article. (Whatever similarities her view has to Emden and Sde Hemed would need to wait until the full book comes out.)
For the alternate view, see my post on Daniel Abrams, who claims the Zohar was never a book until created by the printers.

Notice how she changes the question when the interviewer asks: Is it worth it [to spend a decade looking at 1000 manuscripts]? Is it interesting to do this?

(h/t Yosef Rosen).

Rav Aviner- Democracy as the Will of the Jewish People

Here is statement from Rav Aviner issued on Friday. Can we use this to test EJ’s desire to use Rawls? How would you solve this statement of Rav Aviner?

I am not interested in the halakhic or politics aspects. I want a continuation of the discussion on the use of Rawls. Hartman preached pluralism of as the solution, Menachem Kellner makes an ahistoric typology between rational Maimonideans and irrational racist Halevi followers. Rav Aviner defines democracy as the will of the people and the fulfillment of ideals in a Platonic state way. He does not know that here we define democracy as civil liberties, civil right, representation democracy or minority rights.

Rav Aviner on… Without Loyalty There is No Citizenship
[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Shemot 5771 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Question: A law has been proposed in the Knesset that any non-Jew who wishes to receive citizenship in our country must swear a loyalty oath: “I declare that I will be a faithful citizen to the Jewish state, and I undertake to respect the country’s laws.” Is this law appropriate?

Answer: Obviously, I don’t deal with laws and jurisprudence, but with the Torah. And so, here is how things look according to the Torah:

1. It is halachically possible for a non-Jew to live in the Land of Israel. The Torah allows for a ger toshav, or resident alien. The Poskim [halachic decisors] write that even in our times there is room for a status similar to that of the resident alien (see Rambam, Ra’avad, Kessef Mishneh). In other words, it is possible for a non-Jew to live in the L and. Yet there are two preconditions to this, one moral and the other political.

2. The first condition is moral: undertaking the seven laws commanded to Noach, the foundations of human morality, by virtue of which man is called man. True, some take the lenient view that it suffices for a non-Jew to undertake not to worship idols, and such was the ruling of Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Kohain Kook (Mishpat Kohain), and our Rabbi Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook (Sichot HaRav Tzvi Yehuda – Eretz Yisrael). After all, this is the Land given to Avraham, who fought against idolatry. Hence it cannot be that somebody who goes against this should live here. Therefore, this is not the place of the various types of Christians, and of various pagan faiths from the Far East. By contrast, Islam is not idolatry.

3. The political precondition is that the candidate must accept the state’s authority (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim). This is something obvious and logical that exists throughout all the nations of the world. Certainly, somebody busy destroying our country and killing us cannot live here. That goes without saying.

4. Let’s just point out that there is no racism in either of these conditions. Racism is a biological doctrine that distinguishes between races, but within the Jewish people there are Jews from almost all of the races, whether they were born Jews or converted.

5. All that said, the idea of a Jewish-Democratic state can find expression, but note that I place the word Jewish first. In other words, there is room for democracy on condition that it does not contradict Judaism. That is certainly how things must be. After all, this is the State of Israel, or, in the words of Theodore Herzl, “the state of the Jews”, in both Hebrew and German, or, “the Jewish state”, in Yiddish and French. This is a Jewish state, and not a state of all its citizens.

Certainly, democracy, i.e., the will of the majority, cannot force an immoral or antinational law. Examples would include a law that would force Shabbat violations or a law that would decide to erase the State of Israel and make it part of the United States. Even the philosopher Plato described an idealistic democracy aimed at the general good as an organism and not just a utilitarian gathering of individuals. Certainly there are timeless ideals that transcend the law. After all, a nation is not built solely on economics and security, but on ideals and history as well.

To cut a nation off from its history, from its soul, is an immoral act, and the most antidemocratic act there could be.

Let us support real, exalted democracy: responsibility and loyalty to the Nation down through the generations

I repeat I am not interested in politics or the halakhic status of Christianity. I want a Rawlsian discussion. Or do we need the basics of Locke? Should we be pushing Rav Hayyim Hirschenson as one who saw the need for democracy? Is this just a problem of Israel not having a constitution? Would Habermas or Charles Taylor work better in Israel were we allow the voice of non-democratic positions a say in the public discourse. We are speaking to a group that does not realize that Plato is seen as the opposite of the democratic society.
From a politic perspective see Jeffrey Goldberg article from this morning “What If Israel Ceases to Be a Democracy?”. Can we create a Judaism with some of Locke, Rawls, or any other democratic thinker?