Monthly Archives: December 2011

Daniel Boyarin and Orthodoxy: An Interview

Here is a little Chanukah fun- a freylekhn Khannike.

Daniel Boyarin is currently one of the most renowned academic Talmudists and sits in the Hermann P. and Sophia Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture, Departments of Near Eastern Studies and Rhetoric, University of California at Berkeley.

Boyarin’s Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash, (1990) opens with a contextualization as an Orthodox Jew and his Sparks of the Logos: Essays in Midrashic Hermeneutics, (2003) has on the back cover a claim of correcting modern Orthodox culture. I had not been able to figure out what he meant since then. I did not want to be in suspense any longer, so, I decided to ask him a few questions.

Boyarin’s Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004) has changed the discourse in the scholarship of the first centuries of Jewish Christian divide and his forthcoming The Jewish Gospels (2012) will create waves of discussion. These works are part of a vast discussion in America, Europe, and Israel. I find myself discussion this aspect of his work wherever I go. The scholarship informs religious discourse.

Boyarin’s work in Border Lines has served the role of shaking up habitual ways of working and thinking in the Jewish-Christian default line. But his views on Orthodoxy and especially the role of gender and politics do not have the same effect. The end of his answer in question 2 reflects my hesitations about his influence from the periphery of Berkeley on the dominant Orthodox hegemonic discourse of NY and Jerusalem.

1) You wrote in Intertextuality “I believe in and am comfortable … with the discourse of Orthodox Judaism” Can you explain some of your belief? Is Orthodoxy just a discourse without rabbinic power?

For me, discourse means precisely speech with power, so the discourse of Orthodox Judaism means precisely rabbinic power. In matters of halakha, whenever a question arises, I consult our mara deatra.. I have never been attracted to notions of deliberate halakhic change but have always thought that the slow evolutionary processes by which certain social changes take place within the structure of halakha has maintained a richness, groundedness, and sense of deep connection between what we do and what we have been commanded to do. In this sense, I am most comfortable, as I have said, with the discourse of orthodoxy.

But, for us, discourse also means speech per se, language, the text and thus Talmud Torah I’m not sure I would have survived in a culture/religion for which study was not central. For me, study is the most significant aspect of my liturgical life, as well. Perhaps the most important thing I would want to say about myself in this context to express again my deep love for the Talmud (all of classical rabbinic literature, to be sure, but especially the Bavli). One of the things that moves me most about study of the past is speaking with the dead, as Stephen Greenblatt once put it. The Talmud affords such a rich opportunity to speak with the dead owing precisely to its jumble of halakha, aggada, and even more than that that it’s like stepping into an ancient bazaar and being present with the folks living then, but these are our folks, our fathers and mothers, with whom we are speaking.

2) In Sparks of the Logos you seek “a rabbinic Judaism that would not manifest some of the deleterious social ideologies and practices that modern Orthodox Judaism generally does” What are those ideologies and practices?

I’m trying (or rather I was; I’ve given up a bit) to imagine an orthodoxy that would be free of the ethnocentrism and even racism that characterizes so much of contemporary orthodox language and political practice and one that would be as radically committed to economic justice for all as the Rabbis themselves. I don’t want to get into a political discussion here but, for me, as hinted below, Zionism does not seem like a traditional or historically orthodox solution to the problems of the Jews (although I will grant that it may have been necessary in some sense as well). The vulgarization and chauvinism that are so characteristic of so much of orthodox speech and practice today are hardly “Torah true” לפי עניות דעתי, and I think most orthodox leaders before the war saw it that way too.

I don’t want to be critical of others so much as to represent what I would have hoped for in my life (much more than I achieved), namely to demonstrate a practice of Torah and of Mitsvos that would authentically enable my own radical political commitments to social, economic, and ethnic solidarity and equality without making me marginalize myself within the orthodox community to which I felt so committed at the time. I feel that I have failed in several ways to live out this, perhaps naïve, original commitment, that I am neither as radical, nor as orthodox, in the end, as I had hoped to be. On the other hand, I am less certain than you are that Carnal Israel, at least, has had as little effect on understandings of gender within the traditional Orthodox community as you think and, perhaps, Unheroic Conduct, as well.

3) In several places you have offered a radical orthodoxy by going back the roots. Could there be a yeshiva or seminary of your radical orthodoxy?

A yeshiva or rabbinical seminary would look just like any other one but, on my lights, we would be looking to redirect some of the conversations that take place between us and our Torah about justice, not picking and choosing (otherwise it wouldn’t be orthodox in any sense) but emphasizing perhaps elements that are less emphasized today and soft-pedaling others; this would be more in line, I feel, with the ethical practices of Hazal themselves. While I find that Hazal not infrequently reflect, naturally, their own times and political conditions, there is always a striving for the highest of ethical standards, not only the bounds of the halakha, to fairness to other people, that sometimes seems to get lost among some modern orthodox interpreters of Yiddishkayt. To me, the radicality, the rootedness would be in the constant attention to the question: What does G-d want from me, from us, right now?

4) You offer Bertha Pappenheim the committed Orthodox feminist as a model for an alternative Orthodoxy, but her writings and actions produced a vehement reaction from Orthodoxy. Isn’t she by definition the opposite side of the border since the rabbis rejected her? (Most historians treat her as Anna O. who became an outspoken feminist but treat her Orthodoxy as beside the point or despite her work.)

Rabbi Shlomo Nobel and the Alexanderer Rebbe both supported her enthusiastically. I rest my case. I have written explicitly on the ways that I find that her orthodoxy was neither beside the point or despite her work. Some rabbis of the time, most of them were (with good reason) terrified at the negative attention that her work might bring to “The Jews,” through her exposure of the practices of some Jews who were capturing Jewish girls for foreign brothels. These two great rabbis from very different walks of life understood that the elimination of this horrific practice and other gross injustices perpetrated in Jewish life of the time against girls and women was obligatory and could not wait for “permission” from the anti-Semites, ימח שמם.

Pappenheim’s “orthodoxy” was, in large part, defined—and this is against the views of most other scholars who were hostile to it—by her understanding that these practices were absolutely against the Torah and not in cahoots with it חס ושלום. This insight on her part and the fact that it was supported by such eminences—and, of course, I am closer to Rabbi Nobel זצ”ל in my own style of life than to the Rebbe זצ”ל—provided me with a model of a commitment to radical social change while hewing closely, as close as my own יצר would let me, to learning and practicing the Torah. It gets harder and harder over the decades.

5) Do you have any favorite Orthodox thinker of the last 150 years?

The Satmerer Rebbe, זצ”ל. I am deeply resonant with the view of the Satmar Rav that the oath “not to arise as a wall” לא לעלות בחומה meant that Jews were not to seek temporal sovereignty until the Messiah comes.

6) You tell the story that in 1985 when you taught a summer course at YU’s BRGS you opened the first class announcing that “here you can mention that Torah is from Sinai.” What did this mean?

Without going into theology, I meant that we read the text both as a unity (which does not mean that it does not incorporate much tension) and also as written not only for its time but for all time in some profound and challenging sense. Some of the other teachers were so invested in being critical and scholarly that they were somehow (from my humble perspective) missing the point somewhat which is to learn Torah in a scholarly way and not to dismantle it for historicistic purposes. My teacher, Prof. Lieberman ז”ל said once that study in the university and study in the Yeshiva were the same thing.

7) Do you incorporate any Christian practice into your Judaism?

I don’t incorporate any Christian practice into my Judaism although I do study early Christian texts with a great deal of enthusiasm and pleasure at one direction that some Jews went in. And I don’t think the Gospels in themselves represent any departure from traditional Judaism, at any rate, no more than that of some Lubavitcher Hasidim. They represent one more historical grasp by some Jews at a Messiah. According to my interpretation of the Gospels, Jesus is never portrayed as abrogating the Torah, kashrut or the Sabbath at all.

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Data points for Dec 2011

Here is some date from two just released demographics. The first is an Avi Chai report by Marvin Schick who shows that there has only been a modest downturn in day school enrollment despite the economic downturn. One less Centrist school and very small increase – less than population growth. A very small downturn in Modem Orthodox  schools. And the biggest change in Solomon Schecters.

Dr. Marvin Schick has collected and provided enrollment data for schools outside the yeshiva world and Chassidic sectors.

Group # Schools2010 # Schools2011 Enrollment2010 Enrollment2011 %Change
Centrist Orthodox 66 65 18454 18776 1.70%
Community 95 91 19918 19417 -2.50%
Modern Orthodox 83 83 30252 29766 -1.60%
Reform 15 15 4266 4222 -1.00%
Solomon Schechter 44 43 11786 11338 -3.80%
TOTAL 303 297 84676 83519 -1.40%

The second new data points come from The North American Jewish Data Bank has released their latest estimates of the U.S. Jewish population (6,588,000). The full report is here. One item that struck my eye is actual data on the economic downturn as it applies to Baltimore Jews. It does not sound good. A smaller note of the survey is that they found the least antisemitism in Palm Beach and Middlesex county, NJ.

Of respondents in Baltimore, 10% reported that, economically, they are well off; 10% have extra money; 47% are comfortable; 30% are just managing to make ends meet; and 3% cannot make ends meet. The 67% who are well off, have extra money, or are comfortable compares to 80% three  years ago. 12% of households earn an annual household income
below 200% of the Federal poverty levels, and 43% of respondents reported a negative
impact of the recent economic downturn

“Religion without God” – Dworkin’s Einstein Lectures

Professor Ronald Dworkin, the leading legal theoritician of our time, (New York University) gave three lectures last week, first at NYU and then at the University of Bern, Switzerland on his new book on religion. His thesis is that without God, we still “have an innate, inescapable responsibility to make something valuable of their lives and that the natural universe is gloriously, mysteriously wonderful.” Einstein himself still used the word God as a Spinoza-based metaphor similar to his contemporaries. The first lecture seems a return to early twentieth thought of John Dewey and William Ernest Hocking but with out the need for the word God anymore.  Dewey (1859–1952),took a functional approach to religion in that it provided a humanistic social collective. God is the “unity of all ideal ends arousing us to desire and to action.”  Hocking (1873–1966)  in his The Meaning of God in Human Experience (1912),  stressed the idea of religion as a quest for righteousness by cosmic demand, and as the finding of meaning in human experience.  His third lecture is the innovation in the application of this universal morality to global issues and international court cases.

1. Einstein’s Worship
2. Faith and Physics
3. Religion without God

See the three lecture videos here.
Further information here.
For the Full text of the NYU talks as a pdf – here
Abstract:
“For most people religion means a belief in a god. But Albert Einstein said that he was both an atheist and a deeply religious man. Millions of ordinary people seem to have the same thought: they say that though they don’t believe in a god they do believe in something “bigger than us.” In these lectures I argue that these claims are not linguistic contradictions, as they are often taken to be, but fundamental insights into what a religion really is.

A religious attitude involves moral and cosmic convictions beyond simply a belief in god: that people have an innate, inescapable responsibility to make something valuable of their lives and that the natural universe is gloriously, mysteriously wonderful. Religious people accept such convictions as matters of faith rather than evidence and as personality-defining creeds that play a pervasive role in their lives.

In these lectures I argue that a belief in god is not only not essential to the religious attitude but is actually irrelevant to that attitude. The existence or non-existence of a god does not even bear on the question of people’s intrinsic ethical responsibility or their glorification of the universe. I do not argue either for or against the existence of a god, but only that a god’s existence can make no difference to the truth of religious values. If a god exists, perhaps he can send people to Heaven or Hell. But he cannot create right answers to moral questions or instill the universe with a glory it would not otherwise have.

How, then, can we defend a religious attitude if we cannot rely on a god? In the first lecture I offer a godless argument that moral and ethical values are objectively real: They do not depend on god, but neither are they just subjective or relative to cultures. They are objective and universal. In the second lecture I concentrate on Einstein’s own religion: his bewitchment by the universe. What kind of beauty might the vast universe be thought to hold – what analogy to more familiar sources of beauty is most suggestive? I propose that the beauty basic physicists really hope to find is the beauty of a powerful, profound mathematical proof. Godly religions insist that though god explains everything his own existence need not be explained because he necessarily exists. Religious atheists like Einstein have, I believe, a parallel faith: that when a unifying theory of everything is found it will be not only simple but, in the way of mathematics, inevitable. They dream of a new kind of necessity: cosmic necessity.

In the third lecture, I consider the moral and political consequences of fully recognizing godless religion. Constitutions and international treaties across the world declare a right to religious freedom. We must understand this to protect godless as well as godly religions, and this important extension requires complex adjustments in human rights practice. It requires a difficult but indispensible distinction between personal questions about the nature and value of human life, which people must be allowed to decide for themselves, and questions of justice that a community must answer collectively. I end the three lectures by examining, in that light, a variety of controversial topics: state-supported religion, harmful religious rituals, homosexuality, abortion, and the banning of crucifixes, headscarves, burkas or minarets in public places.”

The abstract and information was taken from  Political Theory – Habermas and Rawls

never again? North Korea’s concentration camps

Please do not talk to me about the Holocaust ushering in a new era or that old covenants need to be renewed after the Holocaust. Also please do not tell me that never again means anything but that the Jews are now safe. In the Congo, 5.4 million have just been killed. but the reports of what goes on in North Korea are devastating. Let not play whose suffering is most unique.

From Get Religion

Apparently the people of North Korea aren’t just starving, they’re subjected to racist and nationalistic propaganda and are confused about their relative position in the world. The food bags countries send them are said to be given to Kim Jong-il out of respect and terror.

I’m reminded of this old piece in The Guardian about the torture chambers Kim’s regime ran:

In the remote north-eastern corner of North Korea, close to the border of Russia and China, is Haengyong. Hidden away in the mountains, this remote town is home to Camp 22 – North Korea’s largest concentration camp, where thousands of men, women and children accused of political crimes are held.

Now, it is claimed, it is also where thousands die each year and where prison guards stamp on the necks of babies born to prisoners to kill them.

The piece goes through the first-hand testimonies from defectors about execution and torture, including gas chambers with chemical experiments run on humans. It tells of whole families put in glass chambers and gassed while scientists take notes.

This is difficult to read, but here are some anecdotes from a worker and prisoner:

He explains how he had believed this treatment was justified. ‘At the time I felt that they thoroughly deserved such a death. Because all of us were led to believe that all the bad things that were happening to North Korea were their fault; that we were poor, divided and not making progress as a country.

‘It would be a total lie for me to say I feel sympathetic about the children dying such a painful death. Under the society and the regime I was in at the time, I only felt that they were the enemies. So I felt no sympathy or pity for them at all.’

His testimony is backed up by Soon Ok-lee, who was imprisoned for seven years. ‘An officer ordered me to select 50 healthy female prisoners,’ she said. ‘One of the guards handed me a basket full of soaked cabbage, told me not to eat it but to give it to the 50 women. I gave them out and heard a scream from those who had eaten them. They were all screaming and vomiting blood. All who ate the cabbage leaves started violently vomiting blood and screaming with pain. It was hell. In less than 20 minutes they were quite dead.’

No one knows how many prisoners were held in various centers but one camp alone held 50,000. And why?

Most are imprisoned because their relatives are believed to be critical of the regime. Many are Christians, a religion believed by Kim Jong-il to be one of the greatest threats to his power. According to the dictator, not only is a suspected dissident arrested but also three generations of his family are imprisoned, to root out the bad blood and seed of dissent.

Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said: ‘For too long the horrendous suffering of the people of North Korea, especially those imprisoned in unspeakably barbaric prison camps, has been met with silence … It is imperative that the international community does not continue to turn a blind eye to these atrocities which should weigh heavily on the world’s conscience.’

But the fact of North Korea’s existence and the horrific suffering its people have endured — psychologically, physically and spiritually — is staggering.

Religion as a Chain of Memory – Daniele Hervieu-Leger

When rabbis or religious institutions mention the word history what they really mean is historical memory, how the history is used to construct a contemporary religious position. Popular accounts of Jewish history have precious little history and original content, rather they only use selected pieces of memory by which to understand current reality. The study of Jewish history in its tradition building function, therefore, is not historiography but the study of “Collective Memory.” So I was glad to see the recent anthology Jeffrey K. Olick, Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi, Daniel Levy, eds. The Collective Memory Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. xviii + 497 pp. It will become the new starting point as the basic textbook in the field surveying several dozen works from the 1920’s to today focussing on the creation of this new field in the last 20 years and its application to religion and the memory of the Holocaust. The seminal work was Maurice Halbwachs’s 1925 study, Social Frameworks of Memory and collective memory became a field with British sociologist Paul Connerton’s landmark analysis, How Societies Remember(1989). Jews discussions seem to have became frozen with Yerushalmi’s mention of Halbwachs in Zakhor, but an entire new approach to religious history has arisen.

Oliver Roy relies on this literature, especially Religion as a Chain of Memory – Daniele Hervieu-Leger (French edition, 1993). Reading the book has been on my to do list for a while, so after my four posts about Roy, (here, here, here, and here) it was a good tie in.

According to Hervieu-Leger, modern societies define religion by a chain of belief– a tradition, a chain of memory, an envisioned past. There is no longer a direct experience of God or the creation of hierophantic moments. In the modern era, many have trouble relating to the chain of tradition. When one is successful, then one has religion.

In the current era – belief has two elements: the personal experiential element which was called in 1990’s “the sacred”, and now is called the “spiritual” based on experience; and the “religious” element based on the tradition and memory. To say that one is spiritual but not religious or religious but not spiritual is to grasp only one pole of religion. Organized religion when it is successful is about constructing a sense of tradition and tie in with the past. This divide causes current forms of “religion” to be rationalized in the Weber sense of no longer having presence of the divine, now pastors, rabbis, and priest follow abstract rules.

The point of her reflections is that religion today means collective memory and the goal is that, when successful, it is mobilized and is the normative. The collective memory regulates and transcends the individual memory

This functions not just in the classic ritual such as the Passover seder but also in a variety of cultural, political and contemporary moments. For example, specific memories of the Holocaust, state of Israel, Eastern European Jewry, and the formation of one’s denomination is bound up with this collective memory called religion.

Hervieu-Leger points out the crumbling of former religious memory which was tied to the local and agricultural in modern societies. Some of it undergoes homogenization and for others there is a sense of fragmentation. Movement creates loss of memory and the need for new memory, rural to urban, country to country. Collective memory is tied to place- some of us are ruptured from Eastern European roots, but then also removed from earlier places of settlement. Movement of people to new enclaves creates a need for new collective memories.

Collective memories can be pre-existent the person, for example to be told by a follower of Rav Kook that one’s soul and memory is tied up in the land of Israel preexists actual memories. The collective memory transcends the individual- pre-exists even the visit to the land.

She thinks that there has been a gradual loss of the personal god and metaphorization or symbolization of all religious objects. In the chain of religion the links are horizontal through time and vertical toward metaphysics. This symbolization allows material objects to create memory and they can be most effective with sales and product tie-ins. There is a need for the objects to be emblems objects that bring that past to memory. Think of dancing Hasidim in living room paintings in secular Jewish homes or the huge amount of stuff that people bring back from Israel to create a new memory.

She quotes Dominique Schnapper, which was in turn used by Roy, that symbols are no longer meaning but a sign of belonging. In the most advanced societies, religious symbols are now entirely social and organizational demarcation.

Hervieu-Leger cites Certeau on how signs and practices are broken, signs can wander off or become scattered.

Those who enter in a religion as a convert or baal teshuvah show a different chain of memory and a greater purity that is outside of the prior social memory. The sectarian is modernizing by dissolving the actual tradition. This dissolving of society allows greater ecclesiasticism, transferring memory of the tradition to the clergy. Since one now wills oneself religious, this creates infinite possibilities for constructed memory. She discusses BT’s in 1970’s who sought not just a return but a new identity rejecting their past and assuming a counter cultural return to the tradition of an imagined Europe- a culture they felt that missed in their own up bring. The second wave of BT’s sought a way to change from life in the secular world and a change in their own lives.They constructed many alternate and personal memories of the past, hasidism, litvish, or even an imagined but inaccurate vision of modern Orthodoxy.

Notice how the memory of medieval Ashkenaz favored by many mid twentieth century thinkers, Baron, Katz, Finkelstein, Agus, Assaf, has faded. Current research by Robert Chazen is not making a cultural splash because Ashkenaz is not the focus of the current constructed chain of tradition. Neither is the constructed memory of the Shtetl used much anymore.

In modern Orthodox circles, some look for historical memory to Maimonides and Nahamnides, or a romanticized Volozhin, other to the religious Zionist project, others have as their memory the Hatam Sofer’s rejection of Reform and others their memory goes only as far back as their buying a Rinat Yisrael Siddur when they spent a few months in Israel in the 1970s’s. Some look back to eastern Europe and the power of the local rabbi other look at the same people and see the lack of power and need for accommodation. Rabbi Belkin used to invoke Philo of Alexandria, Maimonides, Spanish-Portuguese, and Mendelsohn/ Hirsch/Shadal.
Currently, Hasidism, Breslov, and the Besht are used by many for a bewildering variety of forms of chains of tradition. Art Green and others have created collective memories of Neo-Hasidism.
So what periods and figures does everyone use in their collective memory? Do they work? Why?
Didn’t Kurtzer win the Brandeis “Next Big Idea” with a plan for reworking Jewish cultural memory into something usable?

And I return to Certeau’s questions about signs that wander off or become scattered. What the criteria when these new collectives memories has swerved too far from a course?

Holy Ignorance- Oliver Roy part IV

continued from here Part III

The book opens with a variety of thoughts on holy ignorance that were used as a setting but were not developed. So I come back to them last. Roy points out the role of philology, history, and logic and how they have been jettisoned in the age of holy ignorance. He mentioned his exasperation that people would listen to people pontificating pre-Bacon ideas. What happened to the need for empiricism, method, and drawing logical inference?
(The historian of the Evangelical movements, George Marsden placed the use of Baconian method as the dividing line between Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, but noted that the latter stopped there without any further theory). Roy notes how event he use of Baconian method has slipped. One should note all the rabbis in recent years who question not just science, but political science, sociology, history, and economics. They say scholars are all just opinion without method (and not because they read Gadamer). They get up and give sermons on things of which they know little and create vague undefined ideas or they just assume that everything in the world is an ideological sermon. Another means of this is to turn everything into metaphor or religious symbol in which their “system” overrides method.

Roy finds a string desire in the new religion to kill the old man. He also discovers a greater sense that man is a tabula rasa and religious groups will fill in the child or convert with everything he needs to know. There is less of an acknowledgement of tradtion and upbringing.Religion proclaims itself above culture and cannot be touched by the historian or anthropologist.

How does this new religion relate to other symbolic systems? Iron wall? Can we interrupt table tennis with halleluiah- I have been saved? What should we make of it?
His point is that there has been no secular eradication of religion. Rather, religion has given up on culture and now appears as pure religion.

We used to have a Jewish atheist or intellectual believer as opposite forms of accommodation with culture.
New trend is to see secular culture as pagan not secular. Therefore the space of accommodation disappears. If one is an atheist then one is more likely to give up one’s Judaism and if one is religious there is less of a desire for synthesis.
Now religious purity based on a religious marker that can be tailored for the needs of the market.
Religion now focuses on same things as secular society- self-affirmation, lifestyle, fulfillment, and happiness.
This process of deculturation removes original context and original language leading to pop culture evangelical and pop culture orthodoxy.
Deculturation undoes Thomist and Maimonidean synthesis of religion and culture.

In Roy’s perspective, converts (and BT’s) are nomads without cultural pressures.

One of his big conclusions is that he thinks that Talal Asad is wrong- the market standardizes and that today the standard is a conversion to relgion.
For Roy, religion is only a religion when it disassociates from culture. Most Romans and medievals treated worship was an act of practice not of belief. This is also true for the Jewish communities.(28)

He give an interesting example of Halloween. In prior decades the candy giving was treated as “profane” as having no value and no redeemable holiness but also no unholiness. Now, he see a greater trend to considering it as “pagan” and needing to be shunned.

In sum, he sees a shift from light to the word and cultural mission to accomplish to a group sense of the purity of insiders and the infidelity and pagan outsiders.

As a side note, the modern Religious Zionist Rabbi Chaim Navon has an article in todays’ Haaretz claiming that the secular have also become more extreme. As I went to sleep last night, my FB feed was quickly becoming filled with dozens of responses showing that decades ago the Zionists were proudly working on Yom Kippur as atheists and there was soft-core European style on Israeli TV, yet the religious Zionists thought the goal was to have a synthesis.

Hitchens, Atheism, and Rav Kook

With all the recent eulogies of militant atheist Christopher Hitchens by many religious people, it is a good time to ask the question of the value of atheism for the religious soul? Many religious people were more impressed and placed themselves in dialogue with Hitchens than with sanctimonious religious followers. Many fine religious works were written as a response and new defense of religion. Religious blogs and journals are devoting more space to his eulogy than to those of religious figures.
How do we explain this influence?
Rav Kook thought God needs atheism.”Because atheism cleanses the dross of ‘petty religion,’ the narrowness and provincialism of established Jewish religion that frequently becomes arrogant, rigid and judgmental. We need these people, these atheists, whom seek to befriend.”

Do we still have a theory that allows us to see a value in atheism? Rav Kook was happy to see late 19th century atheism wake up the simple Jewish masses because they had primitive views and they needed to evolve. You lose a few souls but the nation gains a purified idea of God. But what would Rav Kook have said about the primitive views of the 1990’s? Without the evolutionary sense of moving from peasant to modern world then what would he say about our current crop of vulgar believers who became vulgar atheists based on reading the new atheists? Rav Kook assumes that there would be an advancement in perception, in a Piaget or Kohlberg sense. He did not assume that they would remain un-evolved. What is being provided to these simple people who smashed their idols?
Are Jewish thinkers acknowledging that God as a supernatural force is dangerous for the community the way Rav Kook did?
Most of the best books written in response to the new atheism pointed out that the faith of Augustine, Calvin, Schleirermacher, or Kierkegaard was not the crude view of the atheists. Do we need a Jewish version? And for who? Those who already read books, can already read the best books. But the primitive believers who became primitive atheists still dont know how to read. I have no evolutionary belief that they will evolve.

And what about the darkness of atheism itself- what would be a current way to explain that it has a force for the good? Thoughts?

From the VBM

When the heretic smashes his “idols”, his preconceived notion of God, his activities are accompanied by danger. A concept of God has been shattered – and it must eventually be rebuilt. This brings the momentum of a religious community to a halt. Instead of continuing to climb ever higher on their pathway to spiritual uplifting, the religious community must now rethink its direction, as well as its confidence.

While the heretic is unable to destroy God, his arguments and critiques destroy the normative systems and patterns of belief. The heretic rejects the precepts and commandments of Torah and thereby brings into question any redeeming value that they appear to have. These commandments are the religious community’s guideposts for spiritual growth, and the heretic weakens them, if he does not destroy them completely.

Rav Kook, however, argues that a positive spark does emanate from the depths of the non-believer’s arguments. The non-believer challenges the religious man’s concept of the Divine, forcing the religious man to re-assess his perceptions. Not only does this strengthen the religious community by demanding a re-evaluation, it is also necessary for the community’s continued development. Since God is a priori undefinable, the religious community’s perceptions of the Divine, and their consequent behavior, must constantly be revised. Hence heresy, “kefira,” is the only dark force capable of contributing to world perfection

Confronting God can be an enjoyable and enriching experience for Man. However, if a person’s confrontation is based on a misconception of God, this can lead to crisis. This crisis may eventually result in a denial of God’s existence.
God is commonly described as a Supernatural Force. It is this common perception of God which R. Kook believes to be erroneous and thus dangerous.

For those who want to see some of the religious appreciations of Hitchens-see
Commonweal
American Thinker
Baptist Press
Christianity Today This Evangelical one in Christianity Today is exceptional good, but the Baptist News has a good closing:

I would like to see the dialogue of Christian apologetics move from Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris into our houses, diners, and local community centers,” Stetzer wrote. “The AP news wire will not be abuzz with the passing of the atheist in your neighborhood, but your heart ought hurt for them. I am grateful for evangelical scholars who have engaged New Atheism with the level of intellectual commitment the movement deserves. But for most of us, we ought to concern ourselves with and grieve over the debates that war in the minds of our families, friends, and coworkers.