Monthly Archives: February 2011

Reb Yudel, Ethan Tucker, and Dan Bern

Reb Yudel formerly of the JTA is now back in journalism at the Jewish Standard. Besides his articles and the sidebar to the article, Reb Yudel has a corresponding blog where he gets to put the interesting stuff that does not go in the mail article.

This week his article was on Rabbi Ethan Tucker. But in his blog he got to ask a few interesting questions.

Q: What are your favorite halachic works?
A: Yosef Karo’s Beit Yosef. It is amazing in its ability to gather everything together. And the modern day analogue, the collected writings of Ovadia Yosef, is simply amazing. I love both of them in being able to see in them the full picture of what goes on halachicly.
The Aruch HaShulchan is also a masterful attempt at synthesis. That’s another one of my favorites.
Finally, a very obscure one I was introduced to by Rabbi Ovadia’s writings, Erech Lechem by Rabbi Jacob Castro (ca. 1525–1610). He went and made little glosses on the Shulchan Aruch, often kind of correcting for what he thought was the Rama’s overstepping in certain areas.

How is Mechon Hadar different than the Pardes Institute?
Some of the things are similar. A lot of faculty who teach here studied there. Some students studied in both places. Both Pardes and Mechon Hadar create a culture of Torah being exciting and relevant and a critical part of the contemporary Jewish conversation, and capable of shedding light on important issues in the Jewish community. Both have co-ed bet midrash.
At Mechon Hadar, one of values is complete and total equal participation of all the men and women who make up our community, whereas in Pardes the core minyan is not egalitarian.
Another distinction is that Pardes sees itself as a pluralistic institution that doesn’t take stands on the interpretation of halacha and doesn’t have expectations of it students, whereas Hadar has an expectation of its fellows of shmrat mitzvot, of observance, that assumes a normative vision of Jewish life. Someone who comes as as a fellow is expected to be living out daily life of Jewish commitment. The basic elements of shmirat Shabbat, kashrut, regularly giving money to tzedakah — Our fellows spend three hours one afternoon a week visiting the sick– all the various aspects of a life lived in the presence of Torah, a Torah that commands and directs us. Part of being a fellow in the yeshiva is being in the minyan for tefilot three times a day.”

It’s an interesting set of distinctions, and it points to the failure of using a single “left-right” religious spectrum to categorize contemporary Judaisms. Is Hadar more “left” for being egalitarian? Or more “right” for demanding minyan attendance?

From the “Front Page Article”

Tucker acknowledges the good and important work that denominational organizations do for the Jewish people, but says that “denominational labels threaten to make Torah sectarian. I think the Torah paints on a broader canvas. The Torah is the property of the entire Jewish people and speaks to the entire Jewish people. That means that all Jews, irrespective of their background, have the right to demand that the Torah speak to them and address who they are and give them guidance based on the lives they actually lead. It also means that the Torah commands and has expectations for all Jewish people.”

Reb Yudel a life long Dylan enthusiast has found a new focus on singer –songwriter Dan Bern.

Dan Bern can’t escape the Bob Dylan comparisons:
Songwriter who plays guitar and harmonica, solo or with a backing band – check.
Sardonic songs about love and ambiguous relationships – check.
Lyrics ripped from the headlines – check.
Name-dropping of cultural icons – check.
Small town Midwestern Jewish upbringing – check.
Lyrics that aren’t always fit to reprint in this paper – wait, that’s the ghost of Lenny Bruce, whom Bern also channels.
And where Dylan’s Jewish identity has been obscure – he changed his name, after all, from Robert Zimmerman to the decidedly un-Jewish Dylan; publicly embraced Christianity; and now attends Chabad on Yom Kippur – Dan Bern never hid from his Jewish heritage.

In one song he has played in concert but not released (Bern’s 18 albums include only a fraction of the more than 1,000 songs the prolific songwriter has composed), he sings with a twang:

I nosh me a kishke with grits and cole slaw
I blow that ol’ shofar on Rosh Hashana
I sing from the Torah while my dog chases wood sticks
The neighbors don’t like it, but they all are nudniks I’m a Jew from Kentucky that’s what I am
The good Lord foresaw it with his infinte plan
Wherever I wander
Wherever I roam
Forever a Jew with Kentucky my home

Actually, Bern, who lives in Los Angeles, is a Jew from Iowa, where he and his sister were the only Jewish kids in their school. His parents were Jews from Europe. His mother left Germany on the kindertransport; his father fled Lithuania in 1939, one of two survivors of his family; the rest were massacred with the other Jews of Lithuania in 1941. The couple met in Israel in 1950, before moving to Iowa where Bern’s father, a classical pianist and composer, taught music.

As he sings in a song addressed to his sister: You explained me to our parents
English wasn’t their first language

They spoke German
Hated Germans
Confusing times

In “Lithuania,” he summarizes the lesson of history’s shadow:

I saw my dad tell jokes, and teach me how to laugh,
Thirty years after his parents, brothers, and sister were
all shot,
Murdered in the streets of Lithuania

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The Bible as Guidebook for Daily Life

Back in 1995, I began to notice that people who had attended day school became to sound like Evangelicals in that they were referring to the Bible, Talmud, and halakhah as directly accessible to the common sense reader and that the Jewish texts answer questions of daily life. In 1998, I specifically remember someone making a cultural argument from the Jewish sources that had no connection whatsoever to the traditional interpretation and his claim of direct access to the truth through his reading. It was a pre-blog era but it needed to be noted then. In the subsequent decade this grew into an avalanche in the community.

Increasingly, one heard pithy wisdom like the Torah teaches “God helps those who help themselves’ and that God wants one to achieve ones best or that the Torah has answers to the challenges of life. Now there is a whole bookcases in the seforim store of watered-down easy answers from a Torah perspective.People treat them as Jewish philosophy.

There are two elements here. People want to Torah to offer wisdom for everyday life. They do feel a tension to all the castles in the air and abstract answers found in the traditional commentators. They never really wanted that much Talmud or Nachmanides on the Torah. So they found a Torah that speaks to them directly. The second element is that Torah is not in the hands of those trained in rabbinic interpretation, rather is available and close to all.

The New Republic reviewer is as clueless as usual about the Jewish community and thinks Jews never speak like this, but they do. How did the community get here? As a tentative observation
(1) The pop-psych books produced by the Engaged Yeshivish and kiruv world speak like this and make one feel that Torah feels your pain and answers daily life.
(2) The natural needs of suburbia for a moral instruction manual and self-help work. Jews responded to the same needs. This ignorant drivel was actually seen as the most real and relevant and was appreciated by a broad spectrum on the traditional side of the spectrum
(3) The widespread gap-year in Israel empowered people to speak in the name of Torah, but they don’t really relate to agricultural and sacrificial world of the Bible and Mishnah, nor the jurisprudence of the halakhah. Students stopped saying that they know nothing, rather they now have all the ready made answers.
(4) It was the great era of the cultural wars and one needed talking points from one’s own tradition.

The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book
by Timothy Beal Houghton (Mifflin Harcourt) 256 pp.,
that the Bible was “the go-to book for any serious question we might have, from sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll to heaven, hell, and why bad things happen to good people.” The Bible was “God’s book of answers, which if opened and read rightly would speak directly to me with concrete, divinely authored advice about my life and how to live it.”

The Rise and Fall of the Bible is Beal’s attempt to shatter this popular understanding of the Bible as a combination of divine instruction manual and self-help book. While there is no denying that the Bible remains central—Beal quotes polls indicating that “65 percent of all Americans believe that the Bible ‘answers all or most of the basic questions of life,’ ”—he notes simultaneously that Americans are surprisingly ignorant of what is actually in it.

“More than 80 percent of born-again or evangelical Christians believe that ‘God helps those who help themselves’ is a Bible verse,” he writes. Less than half of all adults can name the four Gospels; only one-third can name five of the Ten Commandments. In his own experience as a college teacher, Beal says, students “come to class on the first day with more ideas about the Bible derived from … The Da Vinci Code than from actual Biblical texts.”

What explains this disparity between Americans’ absolute faith in the Bible and their evident ignorance of it? To Beal, the problem lies with the notion that the Bible is “a divine guidebook, a map for getting through the terra incognita of life.” For as soon as you open it and start reading, it becomes troublingly apparent that the Bible is no such thing. It does not offer answers to problems, especially not to twenty-first-century problems.
Depending on where you read in it, the Bible might give the impression that it is mainly composed of genealogies and agricultural regulations.

The gulf between what readers expect to find in the Bible and what they are actually given produces a kind of paralysis, Beal explains. “For many Christians, this experience of feeling flummoxed by the Bible … [produces] not only frustration but also guilt for doubting the Bible’s integrity.” The Bible-publishing industry feeds on this anxiety, he argues, by endlessly repackaging the Biblical text in ever more watered-down and over-explained forms.

What troubles Beal about these publications is not just the way they dumb down the Bible——but the way they translate and interpret the text according to an undeclared social and political agenda. Read the rest of the New Republic Review here.

The Origins of Jewish Mysticism Peter Schafer – post #1

There is a new book by Peter Schafer of Princeton University The Origins of Jewish Mysticism (Princeton UP, 2011) in the book he traces Jewish mysticism from the Bible to the Heikhalot in about seven stages of development.

The Origins of Jewish Mysticism offers the first in-depth look at the history of Jewish mysticism from the book of Ezekiel to the Merkavah mysticism of late antiquity. The Merkavah movement is widely recognized as the first full-fledged expression of Jewish mysticism, one that had important ramifications for classical rabbinic Judaism and the emergence of the Kabbalah in twelfth-century Europe. Yet until now, the origins and development of still earlier forms of Jewish mysticism have been largely overlooked.

This post was originally going to be a summery of his approach and his periodization. Instead, I have been hijacked by Schaffer’s agenda of demolishing the Jerusalem School of Kabbalah Studies. I am posting this material not to indicate that I agree with his critique but to note that this will be an topic in upcoming months in the review literature. Not all of these critiques are original to Schafer, but he seems to have gone out of his way to collect them.There will be follow-up post(s) on the more substantive elements.

1] On Idel’s Method

In fact, despite his rather moderate and modest definition, Idel’s phenomenological approach runs the risk of dehistoricizing the phenomena it is looking at and establishing an ahistorical, ideal, and essentialist construct.The most recent example of this approach is Idel’s Ben: Sonship and Jewish Mysticism (London: Continuum, 2007). It offers many new and creative insights, but methodologically it presents a breathtakingly ahistorical hodgepodge of this and that, quotations from many different periods and literatures, pressed into scholarly sounding categories such as “apotheotic” and “theophanic” but in fact lumped together by sentences like “Let me discuss now …,” “Let me/ us turn to …” (the preferred phrase), “Interestingly enough,” “I would like to now address,” “In this context it should be mentioned,” and so forth. Constantly arguing against the usual suspects who, in his view, impose a wrong and simplistic logic on the texts, in this book Idel has developed his method of leaps in logic and intuition to the extreme. For a critique of Idel’s approach, see Lawrence Kaplan, “Adam, Enoch, and Metatron Revisited: A Critical Analysis of Moshe Idel’s Method of Reconstruction,” Kabbalah 6 (2001), pp. 73–119, and see furthermore Y. Tzvi Langermann’s critique of Yehudah Liebes, below, n. 94.

2] On Liebes

For a devastating critique of the school of “Jewish thought” in Jerusalem – its neglect of history as a discipline and its exclusive reliance on “parallels” (maqbilot) – see Y. Tzvi Langermann, “On the Beginnings of Hebrew Scientific Literature and on Studying History Through ‘Maqbilot’ (Parallels),” Aleph 2 (2002), pp. 169–189. Reviewing Yehudah Liebes’s Torat ha- Yetzirah shel Sefer Yetzirah (Jerusalem: Schocken, 2000), Langermann concludes that Liebes “merely juxtaposes the sources; rather than constructing arguments, he relies on innuendo. Although he sometimes explains why he believes that a certain parallel is or is not significant, Liebes applies no consistent method of analysis to the parallels adduced” (ibid., pp. 177 f.). “Nevertheless it seems to me that Liebes’ exclusive attention to maqbilot – along with his obliviousness to the limits of this method – stems from the relative neglect of the particular demands of historical writing” (ibid., p. 188).

3] Against those who emphasize vision of God

Contrary to the prevailing trend in research on Jewish mysticism (or even in Qumran scholarship) I contend that the vision of God plays a strikingly marginal role in the Qumran texts and much less of one than in the ascent apocalypses, where the vision at least is the goal of the ascent (although its details often remain rather vague). I demonstrate that in all of the analyzed texts, the visual aspect of the enterprise is almost completely neglected.

4] Shiur Komah as magical and originally angelic

My analysis of the respective texts in the Hekhalot literature goes against the grain of the thesis inaugurated by Scholem and accepted by many scholars, namely, that the mystic’s vision of the gigantic body of God serves as the climax of his ascent.
I hold that what is at stake here is not the dimensions of God’s body but the knowledge of the appropriate names attached to the limbs of God’s body and, consequently, the magical use of these names. Furthermore, I argue against the suggestion made by Scholem and others that the Shi‘ur Qomah traditions are essential for the Merkavah mystical speculations, that they are a particularly old layer of the Hekhalot literature, and that they emerged out of the exegesis of the biblical Song of Songs. Finally, I compare the Shi‘ur Qomah traditions in the Hekhalot literature with some related evidence that has been adduced from Jewish, Gnostic, and Christian sources, and I propose that it was originally angels in the Jewish tradition to whom gigantic dimensions were attributed. Only when the idea of vast angelic dimensions was usurped by the Christians did the (later) Jewish traditions – as they are preserved in the Shi‘ur Qomah – transfer these gigantic dimensions to God and claim that they were suitable for God alone, and not for angels or other figures that might dispute God’s position as the one and only God.

5] Mysticism is not a reaction to the halakhah- contra Scholem

only when the Halakhah becomes too rigid (this is the underlying premise) is it time for mysticism to break through and inaugurate a new era. As has been observed by several scholars, this definition of rabbinic Judaism is in itself problematic. To portray rabbinic Judaism as entrapped within the rigidity of the Halakhah and therefore in need of the liberating forces of mysticism smacks ominously of certain Christian prejudices. Also, if mysticism is a reaction to rabbinic Halakhah, one would expect the emergence of mysticism to occur at the peak of halakhic development (let’s say with the appearance of the Bavli) and not at its beginnings (with the appearance of the Mishnah).

Do Jews want Jewish criminals to repent?

Here is the latest column from the Evangelical leader Richard Mouw, president of Fuller theological. He asks why we do not do outreach in prisons? And why we do not worry about the souls of our sinners? Any thought?

Why Don’t Jews “Evangelize” Jews?
from Mouw’s Musings – The President’s Blog by support

Bernie Madoff finally gave a public interview of sorts recently. Basically, he argued that bankers and others in the financial world were complicit in his crimes. I have nothing interesting to say on that subject, but the very occasion of his speaking out raised an important question for me: Who is talking these days to Bernie Madoff about the state of his soul?

My Jewish friends—especially rabbis and others who are serious about their faith—resent the way evangelicals go about “Jewish evangelism.” This is a big subject, and one we don’t often address calmly in our interfaith dialogues. And while I have my own criticisms of the way we evangelicals have sometimes gone about our witnessing about Christ to the Jewish community, I also have serious questions for my Jewish friends about their own views about “Jewish evangelism.” To put it bluntly, I wonder why they are not showing a deeper concern for the souls of those folks in their own community who by any Jewish standard are clearly wandering from the paths of righteousness.

Bernie Madoff is a case in point. He has done horrible things, engaging in a long-term deceptive project that has brought misery to many Jewish lives. It seems to me to be clear from a Jewish perspective that Bernie Madoff should repent of his sins and make a public confession. And—even if he cannot do the Zacchaeus thing, making restitution by repaying his victims fourfold—he can at least let them know that he is profoundly sorry for his sins and is praying for his victims’ well being.

Is anyone in the Jewish community talking to him about such things? Am I wrong in thinking that this kind of “prison ministry” is as much a Jewish obligation as it is a Christian one?

Here is my challenge to the Jewish community: If they don’t go after the likes of Bernie Madoff… do they have any objection to our doing so? Can’t we agree on at least this minimal attempt at “Jewish evangelism”?

It’s Over!

How long is an era? When the old seem untenable? After the enlightenment, Jews felt that the prior era was over. When the 1960’s came, people proclaimed a new liberal era that evolved beyond the past. When the 1990’s came, religious conservatives had a triumphalism that the past was over. Here is a two minute clip from the show Portlandia that mocks this sense that one must be the new. The clip makes fun of hipsters and technology junkies but works for many who think they are the whiggish conclusion or evolutionary end.

Two views on Abortion

Yesterday, I received two views on abortion within an hour of each other. I found the juxtaposition disturbing. In the first, Dr. Bernard N. Nathanson an abortion advocate who in the 1970’s repented of his ways by becoming an anti-abortion advocate and converting from Judaism to the Catholic Church. In the second, a copy of Rabbi Aviner’s know position that abortion for birth defects is fine. I am not sure why it bothered me so much. I know that there are rabbinic positions against abortion and I am not advocating that. There was something in Aviner’s tone that made the Nathanson story more poignant. Maybe it was his eugenic vision of producing strong vital large families. I know that Modern Orthodox rabbis regularly permit abortion for medical reasons. My nagging question is by what criteria? What is their view of science, the nature of the soul, sanctity of life? I do not think they answer just by legal formalism, but is there vision of the meaning of it all?

Dr. Bernard N. Nathanson, a campaigner for abortion rights who, after experiencing a change of heart in the 1970s became a prominent opponent of abortion and the on-screen narrator of the anti-abortion film “The Silent Scream,” died on Monday at his home in Manhattan. He was 84. . Dr. Nathanson, an obstetrician-gynecologist practicing in Manhattan, helped found the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (now NARAL Pro-Choice America) in 1969 and served as its medical adviser.
After abortion was legalized in New York in 1970, he became the director of the Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health, which, in his talks as an abortion opponent, he often called “the largest abortion clinic in the Western world.”
In a widely reported 1974 article in The New England Journal of Medicine, “Deeper into Abortion,” Dr. Nathanson described his growing moral and medical qualms about abortion. “I am deeply troubled by my own increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60,000 deaths.”

His unease was intensified by the images made available by the new technologies of fetoscopy and ultrasound.
“For the first time, we could really see the human fetus, measure it, observe it, watch it, and indeed bond with it and love it,” he later wrote in “The Hand of God: A Journey from Death to Life by the Abortion Doctor Who Changed His Mind” (Regnery Publishing, 1996). “I began to do that.”
In addition to the 60,000 abortions performed at the clinic, which he ran from 1970 to 1972, he took responsibility for 5,000 abortions he performed himself, and 10,000 abortions performed by residents under his supervision when he was the chief of obstetrical services at St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan from 1972 to 1978.
He did his last procedure in late 1978 or early 1979… and soon embarked on a new career lecturing and writing against abortion.

“The Silent Scream,” a 28-minute film produced by Crusade for Life, was released in early 1985. In it, Dr. Nathanson described the stages of fetal development and offered commentary as a sonogram showed, in graphic detail, the abortion of a 12-week-old fetus by the suction method.
“We see the child’s mouth open in a silent scream,” he said, as the ultrasound image, slowed for dramatic impact, showed a fetus seeming to shrink from surgical instruments. “This is the silent scream of a child threatened imminently with extinction.”
Supporters of abortion rights and many physicians, however, criticized it as misleading and manipulative. Some medical experts argued that a 12-week-old fetus cannot feel pain since it does not have a brain or developed neural pathways, and that what the film showed was a purely involuntary reaction to a stimulus.

Dr. Nathanson earned a degree in bioethics from Vanderbilt University in 1996 and that year was baptized as a Roman Catholic — he described himself up to that time as a Jewish atheist — in a private ceremony at St. Patrick’s Cathedral by Cardinal John J. O’Connor, the archbishop of New York.

About his baptism, he said, “I was in a real whirlpool of emotion, and then there was this healing, cooling water on me, and soft voices, and an inexpressible sense of peace. I had found a safe place.”
“He was a pro-life prophet,” Father McCloskey said in a recent Register interview. “He saw the whole culture of death coming, and knew that abortion was just the tip of the iceberg.”

Testing a Fetus for Abnormalities:
The Responsum which Hangs on Hospital Walls
[Shut She’eilat Shlomo vol.2 #312]

Question: Should older women be counseled to have a prenatal exam to reveal an abnormality with the fetus? If a problem is detected, what benefit is there if it is not permissible to have an abortion? Furthermore, since these exams can endanger the life of the fetus, is it permissible to check if the fetus has an abnormality?

Answer: 1. It is a good idea to have this exam, since either way – if the exam is positive and there is no problem, the pregnancy will continue with calm and contentment for the benefit of the mother and perhaps also for the benefit of the fetus. If, however – G-d forbid, the exam is negative and there is a problem, they can turn to a rabbi and ask him if it is permissible to abort in such a case. If he rules that it is permissible – since there are cases where it is permissible, and indeed abortions have been performed in practice by the rulings of great authorities – the parents can responsibly decide what they want to do. If they decide to keep the child, it will be out of free will, and they will accept him lovingly with a full heart, and they will raise him lovingly with a full heart.

2. Regarding man interfering with Hashem’s actions, there is absolutely no interference here. Everything is included in the light of Hashem which illuminates the path of the scientific intellect of man, which acts in a manner permissible according to the word of Hashem, which was revealed to us by Moshe Rabbenu. If this were not so, all medicine and all science in general, would be invalid. And on the contrary, wisdom gives strength to the wise man.

3. Regarding the claim which is heard against abortion being permitted according to Halachah, that it prevents a soul from entering the world, we do not engage in the hidden in order to decide Halachah.. On the contrary, the Halachah must be decided according to what is revealed to us and our children for eternity, and anything which is intended by the Halachah is in any case intended by the secrets of the Torah which are more hidden. If according to Halachah there is room to perform an abortion, we rely and trust that this soul will find a correction in other ways and the hand of Hashem will not shorten.

4. Regarding the test being dangerous, besides the fact that there are tests which are devoid of any danger, such as blood tests; according to Halachah, it is permissible to enter into a remote chance of danger when there is a need, such as making a living – engaging in a profession which has a certain danger involved in it or for a mitzvah. Endangering oneself in a minimal way is called as “an infrequent damage” in Halachah. This is the law in our case, since giving birth to a disabled baby can sometimes destroy an entire family, and all the more so when we are discussing the danger of a fetus which is yet to be born.
We must certainly clarify, however, if it is permissible to have a test with a minimal chance of danger. It does not make sense to enter into details here, since Blessed be Hashem, science continues to advance, and in each individual case, one must take counsel with a G-d-fearing doctor and with an halachic authority.

5. The last is the most precious. The reality is that many women, who are not young, refrain from becoming pregnant, even though they very much have such a desire, because of a fear of giving birth to a disabled baby, and they live with a broken heart. When an halachic authority permits, and even encourages them, to arrange a prenatal exam, and also promises that in the case of a problem, G-d forbid, he will stand by their side in finding an halachic solution with responsible thought given to the effects on the family, this will take a huge burden off of their heart, and they will give birth to more children who will fill their lives with joy and happiness, and add more servants to the world for the sake of increasing the sanctification of Hashem’s Great Name.

Rock & Orthodoxy Part II

It seems the topic of Rock and Orthodoxy is on people’s minds. I think people want it discussed and are thankful for the chance. Similar to the interest in Yoga & Judaism, we do not usually directly discuss the conjunctives.
I received from Jon his appreciation of heavy metal. For interested, here is a summary article with bibliography of some of the heavy metal and relgion issues. Here is more scholarly study of heavy metal and Church showing the limits of integration and a sharp section on the difference between outreach and institution, Christ and the Heavy Metal Subculture: Applying Qualitative Analysis to the Contemporary Debate about H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture

Here is Jon’s email to me.

What role does popular culture like heavy metal play in your life?

Recreation in a certain sense, I guess. Something to do. If I watch a movie or tv, it’s because I need a break from more mentally exhausting pursuits. That’s the role of popular culture in general, for me, but for my part I’m not the heaviest participant in popular culture. Heavy metal in particular is music, so it plays a deeper role than most pop culture, and it provides for the sort of vicarious expression that art generally does.

How does it relate to your religiosity?

That’s an interesting question. With regard to pop culture in general, not much. I think even if more of my time was spent on things that could be called pop culture, it wouldn’t have very much of a relationship with my religiosity. I think pop culture and religion don’t have a lot of common ground to begin with – not because the Torah forbids it, or because pop culture encourages activities that are assur or something, but because the attitudes of participants in each have very little to do with each other. Religion demands service and engagement, whereas pop culture is a place for detachment and having the culture serve you. Regarding to your rock ‘n roll Orthodoxy posts and such, I’d be one of those people who worries that Orthodoxy is being watered down and made less meaningful for the next generation.

With regard to heavy metal music specifically, there’s a more complicated relationship. There’s a greater possibility for common ground than with pop culture in general, insofar as someone who listens to music seriously is engaged by it, and does not listen detached from it. But the music itself speaks to an aspect of the human condition that probably aren’t too compatible with religiosity – depression, anger, arrogance. The music I listen to more or less often changes with my moods, and sometimes I consider the possibility that my listening to metal more frequently indicates that I’m in a less desirable spiritual state – but leading into the next question, I don’t think stopping the music is going to do anything more than generate frustration.

How would you want educators and rabbi to treat, or relate to, your musical taste?

Not to. I can’t remember a specific instance of a rabbi and/or educator telling me that I shouldn’t listen to certain kinds of music. The most I can think of is a vague semi-formed memory of middle school – where we had more yeshivish rabbis and educators – and some teacher hinting that certain kinds of music aren’t ok Halakhically. But if I’m not just making the memory up, I never paid it any attention, because it sounded like one of those machmir things that I didn’t grow up doing anyway.

Before I had a chance to post Jon, I received a new article by Mordy published in the Forward on Matisyahu, wanting him to be more Philip Roth than Jewface/blackface.

Why Matisyahu Is More Interesting Than His Music

The first Stubb’s album came out right after his debut “Shake Off the Dust… Arise,” when his music was still predominately and ostentatiously Jewish. His big single, “King Without a Crown,” namedropped Hashem and Mashiach. It was arguably all downhill from there…“Live at Stubb’s” came close to capturing what Matisyahu originally had going for him — an exciting melaveh malka show and a demo tape where he spit an exuberant early version of “Close My Eyes.”

Slate’s Jody Rosen accused him of the simultaneous crimes of Jewfacing and Blackfacing..

For those of us less than impressed with his music (indie tastemaker website pitchfork put him on a list of “15 Worst Releases of 2005”), this background religious psychodrama was always more interesting than the records themselves. His lyrics may have been upbeat reggae-praise-hymns to God, but he always seemed uncertain. In a 2006 interview with the Dutch magazine Revu he looked depressed and exhausted and answered a question about whether religion makes him happy with, “No, it does not.” If anything, the admission made him seem more Jewish than ever, like a hasidic reggae version of Philip Roth’s Seymour “Swede” Levov in “American Pastoral.”

Now, ignoring the platitude that you can’t go home again, Matisyahu has tried to do just that on “Live at Stubb’s Vol. II.” The album opens with “Kodesh,” where Matisyahu rhymes, “Soar into shamayim where the angels call in love / and the glory of Hashem fits like a glove.” This is much more explicitly Jewish material,

At the conclusion of “Time of Your Song,” Matisyahu repeats the line, “You might get caught in a temple of doom.” It is sung buoyantly, without a trace of self-consciousness or fear, and will do nothing to convince you that it is worth your time to pay attention to Matisyahu’s music again. It may, however, convince you that it’s time to pay attention to Matisyahu himself — the character and persona always more interesting than the music.

Unlike Drake, or Bob Dylan, Matisyahu’s Judaism will never seem light and comfortable. The day his oblique lyrical references to his spiritual conflicts become explicit is the day I’ll be back onboard. In “American Pastoral,” Roth writes, “The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget about being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride.” Read more