Aryeh Kaplan: a lost homily from his Iowa pulpit and outreach at SUNY-Albany

Over at H-Judaica, there is a hunt for Aryeh Kaplan’s physics MA or any evidence to document his work in the field. They did turn up that the Memphis raised southerner went under his birth name Leonard M Kaplan to University of Maryland and had two co-authored articles in 1965 and 1966. Between 1965 and his burst into NCSY tracts and Chassidism in translation in 1973, he did many activities that are usually not discussed such as elementary school teacher in Louisville Kentucky, Conservative rabbi, and abstract artist. By 1965, he had already relinquished physics graduate school and was a rabbi in Mason City Iowa, a congregation that only had a late Friday night service. Here is a lost homily of his that was syndicated as part of a clergy column where he sees modern science including the synthesis of life in a test tube as pointing to God’s greatness. True scientists marvel at the secret of life.

•”Lift lift your eyes on high, and see: Who hath created these? He that bringeth on their host by number, He calleth them all by name (Isaiah 40:26)

Rabbi Leonard M. Kaplan
Adas Israel Synagogue
7th N.W. & Adams

From the day that man first appeared on this planet, he has looked on high at the stars and the world around him, and he has stood in awe before the great mystery of creation. He would try to reach up to the stars, and he would climb the highest mountain peaks, but still they would appear far away, blinking steadily in their continued silence, mocking the puny man who would presume to fathom their origin, their nature, and their destiny. But man was not easily discouraged. He continued to climb and probe the mystery of the stars, the riddle of the atom, and even the secret of life itself. Today, mankind finds himself on the threshold of creating life. By duplicating conditions of a primeval earth, scientists have already succeeded in bringing forth the most primitive form of pre – life. This has lead many psuedo-scientists of narrow mental gauge to proclaim that man no longer needs to believe in God, and that science has done away with all mystery and miracle.

But the true thinking scientist knows that the exact opposite is true — that science has enormously increased man’s sense of mystery, and that all of nature is nothing but a huge miracle.

When astronomers explore galaxies billions of light years away, they find that they are made of the same matter as the stuff beneath our feet. Only one kind of matter is found to exi st throughout the entire universe. Yet, this unique material has one exceptional property — it can support life, and under proper conditions, it can even give rise to life. The fact that inert matter carries the potential of life cannot be considered a mere random accident. It can be nothing less than the work of a purposeful Creator. How then can we imagine something as simple as the electron carrying within itself the potential of the human brain, had not humanity been anticipated by the Designer of all creation? Even the Bible does not tell us that God created life, but rather that He said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures.” (Genesis 1:24). God created matter — the dust of the earth — with the potential of al! life. If scientists are successful in creating true life, our belief in God should be all the stronger, for who else but an omniscient- God could have created the elementary particles of matter with all the inherent potentialities of the human spirit? The handwriting of God is clear — not on the wall — but in the very heart of nature.
RABBI LEONARD M. KAPLAN

Here we have a JTA bulitein about Kaplan in his role as rabbi of Ohav Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Albany where he also serves as as Jewish student adviser at SUNY at Albany. He is working to provide kosher food and is involved in outreach. Notice in the language of the announcement the language of the 1960’s “free university” and “eschews formal leadership.” Aryeh Kaplan’s describes his classes as follows: “Many college students turn to drugs and the Eastern religions searching for a mystic and deeply spiritual experience,” the prospectus said. “Most of these are not at all aware of Judaism’s great mystic and spiritual tradition. Especially relevant to this quest is Hassidism, which stands unique as the world’s only popular mystic movement.” Three years later, he starts publishing his Hasidism as popular mysticism and having everything that Eastern mysticism contains.

Project to Rediscover Jewish Values Launched by Students at State University of N.Y.
ALBANY, N.Y., Jul. 6 (JTA) –
A group of students at the State University of New York at Albany (SUNYA) is planning to launch a “Jewish Rediscovery Project” on the campus next fall. Its motivation is “a common desire to rediscover Jewish values relevant to current problems and to act upon such problems as a Jewish group,” according to a prospectus released here. The youngsters are working with Rabbi Leonard M. Kaplan of Congregation Obav Sholom, the Jewish religious advisor at SUNYA. They estimate the Jewish student population at 2,370 or 19.5 percent of the 12,125 total, and the Jewish faculty at 200 members, 9.2 percent of the total. According to Rabbi Kaplan, Jewish student activists are already largely responsible for the creation of the first full Judaica department in the entire New York State University system, which will open in September under the chairmanship of Prof. Jerome Eckstein. They are also responsible for a Free University of Judaica, offering courses that would not normally come under the Judaica Department; a kosher food plan provided by the University, and a special Passover food plan administered by the University, Rabbi Kaplan reported.

“The Jewish Rediscovery Project” is the tentative name for a series of programs expected to attract large numbers of students who find traditional Jewish organizational hierarchies and programs repellant and irrelevant to their interests and their intellectual and spiritual needs. The series eschews formal leadership structure in favor of what the students call sub-cooperatives without chairman and officers, in which leadership is expected to rise spontaneously according to the project’s needs. The student most responsible for the program, according to Rabbi Kaplan, is Tobi Goldstein a sophomore. The prospectus calls for four sub-cooperatives–a Study Cooperative, an Information Cooperative, an Action Cooperative and a Religion Cooperative. In the latter, students will explore Hassidism as an avenue to mystical experience. “Many college students turn to drugs and the Eastern religions searching for a mystic and deeply spiritual experience,” the prospectus said. “Most of these are not at all aware of Judaism’s great mystic and spiritual tradition. Especially relevant to this quest is Hassidism, which stands unique as the world’s only popular mystic movement.”

To be Continued in the next post here- Lost Aryeh Kaplan Part II

29 responses to “Aryeh Kaplan: a lost homily from his Iowa pulpit and outreach at SUNY-Albany

  1. Alan, Thank you for joining the discussion that I responded to on H-Judaica. Your added information is very much appreciated…. I have collected some interesting material on Rabbi Kaplan’s entry into the field of meditation and would like to hear more on this if you have any more findings on this most fascinating personality.

    Rabbi Kaplan was also Hillel director of Hunter and Baruch Colleges in New York. The gem that you quote above is a small part of his extended article in Intercom “The God of Israel”.

  2. Is the following sequence correct for Rabbi Leonard M. (Aryeh) Kaplan? Perhaps you can fill in more details tracing his career? Please note that I am assuming that the Adas Israel Synagogue is in Mason City, Iowa (in north central Iowa and not in Washington D.C.) and I noted that Rabbi Leonard M. Kaplan led services there each Friday evening and organized a Sunday school at 10:30 AM.
    1. Rabbi of the Adas Israel Synagogue, 7th N.W. & Adams in Iowa in the mid 1960s. (according to the Nov. 20, 1965 issue of the Mason City Globe Gazette)
    2. Rabbi of a Conservative Congregation Ohav Shalom, (affiliated with United Synagogue of America) Albany, New York and B’nai B’rith Hillel adviser at State University of New York at Albany (SUNYA) (Jewish Telegraphic Agency April 17, 1970, July 7, 1970).
    3. Hillel director of Hunter and Baruch Colleges in New York. By 1972, he had left his physics research in favor of Talmudic and Kabbalistic research (Intercom, vol. XIII, no. 1, Feb. 1972)

    P.S. Leonard Kaplan was associate editor of Intercom from February 1972 until May 1973. In the December 1972 issue, he began using Aryeh instead of Leonard.

  3. The 7th NW and Adams address is Mason City, Iowa. Here are two more articles from the Mason City Globe-Gazette.

    Globe-Gazette – Mason City Iowa – Feb 20, 1965 – page 26
    Rabbi arrives in Mason City
    Rabbi Leonard Kaplan who has been at Hyattsville, Md, arrived in Mason City late Friday to become rabbi of Adas Israel Synagogue. His family is expected to arrive shortly. He will conduct services here next Friday.

    Mason City Globe Gazette – • January 17, 1966 – • Page 15

    St. John’s Episcopal Church ….

    In the general annual meeting which followed a potluck meal, the group heard Rabbi Leonard M Kaplan of Adas Israel Synagogue say:

    “ We often spend much effort in making a god out of our particular religion. Shouldn’t we spend just as much effort in making our religion a religion of God?” Rabbi Kaplan called for efforts to appreciate strange and often exotic religions, understanding that each one speaks for God and may even have a message for us.

    For many of the world’s people, Rabbi Kaplan said, religion is the most important thing in their lives and understanding them calls for understanding their view of God.

    “In a sense, every religion is an open eye upon God, giving us its own flat, one-dimensional view, He said. It is only the totality of them all that can give us a multidimensional view of the Divine and a panorama of infinite depth.…”

    Rabbi Kaplan said that many scholars are finding they must study mankind as “a single gigantic organism… spread over the face of the earth.

    “If it were God’s purpose in creating this creature that is mankind, to create a being that perceive the divine, then is it not logical that He should have given it many senses?”

    “The eye does not hate the ear for not seeing. The ear does not despise the nose for not hearing. The many religions perceive God, each in a different way. But as long as they all look toward God, they are one. “

  4. thank you for this excellent entree into the details of Rabbi Kaplan’s biography. I’m excited for the next post!

  5. Thankyou for this !!

  6. What’s the Louisville, KY connection?

  7. Any researcher of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan who has not interviewed Rabbi Gedalya Fleer has missed a treasure trove of information. Rabbi Fleer, Kaplan’s friend, visited him once in Albany and wondered why Kaplan was wasting his time there. R’ Kaplan responded by taking him to the living room where he showed Fleer a shelf full of papers. “I’ve been keeping busy.” The papers are what became the amazing “The Handbook of Jewish Thought.” And then there’s the time R’ Kaplan almost got kicked out of yeshiva. (Ahh, but it was for a reason that most Roshei Yeshiva would /wish/ their students would do.)

  8. Phil,
    I spent countless shabbatot with Fleer back 25 years ago. I heard all the stories, including the almost getting kicked out of yeshiva. I wanted to have footnotable sources a few years ago, but found that there were none. That is why I was surprised at the new digitized material. I knew to look for the material specifically because I have heard all of Fleer’s stories. If you are in contact with him, then please send da”sh and also if you could send me his contact info by email.
    I also interviewed several students of his a few years ago.

    • I’d have to Google R’ Fleer’s email, since I don’t really know him. Chances are almost certain that you know more stories from him than he told over when he came to my town. What is da”sh? Good luck!!

  9. Pardon me for quibbling, but I don’t think I would have said that R. Kaplan had been at one time a “Conservative rabbi”. I would have said he was “rabbi of a Conservative congregation”. I think there is potentially a vast difference; as is true with some other rabbanim who took Conservative pulpits. In this, and some other cases, I think the difference is more than merely semantic.

    Phil – da”sh is ‘drishat shalom’ or regards.

  10. Hi Dr. Brill,
    If scientists are successful in creating true life, our belief in God should be all the stronger, for who else but an omniscient- God could have created the elementary particles of matter with all the inherent potentialities of the human spirit? The handwriting of God is clear — not on the wall — but in the very heart of nature.

    I haven’t been exposed to any of Kaplan’s work as a scientist. I have to say, if this quote is accurate – it’s just bad science. It’s the sort of thing the Christian ID’ers (and, I’m told the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists) like to peddle. I’m not impressed by his “insight”.

    Also, as far as this is concerned:

    Many college students turn to drugs and the Eastern religions searching for a mystic and deeply spiritual experience,” the prospectus said. “Most of these are not at all aware of Judaism’s great mystic and spiritual tradition… .

    Whether or not the kids were aware of it wasn’t the problem. I’m not at all certain that Jewish esoteric teachings and meditative techniques are as sophisticated or as highly developed as those to be found in Asian religions to begin with, but in any case, in the latter they’re certainly better studied and organized. More importantly, however – in those traditions, they’re more widely <i.available. Despite efforts of the past twenty or so years, I don’t think the situation has been all that much improved.

    In Judaism, these teachings were always restricted, and as far as esotericism is concerned, I’ve heard it said that most of the legitimate lineage holders died during the Holocaust, and the few who are left have gone underground and are almost impossible to find. You would know more about that than I.

    However, if one wishes to learn Buddhism or “Hinduism” (a term I rather dislike and try to avoid), there are teachers of these traditions in all major American cities at this point. I recently spent three years as a house manager in a Tibetan center here in Boston – and Boston, being a small city, doesn’t have as much as some others (I think the fact that we have as much as we do is due largely to Boston’s status as a popular college town).

  11. You are correct, there is little to compare to Samadhi in Judaism.

    The issue, however, was one of knowledge. Most of those attracted to Kaplan were interested in the counter-cultural bricolage where Kabbalah, I-Ching, Buddhism, Hinduism, and the Whole Earth Catalog were the same. I was in correspondence the other day with one of his students from the 1970’s and she said that she was surprised and upset to learn in his classes that Kabbalah was not the same as pop-Hinduism. She assumed that everything counter-cultural was in agreement. People at the Hillel in Albany and in Brooklyn were looking for an alternative to the straight establishment, not to sit in retreat and master Samadhi techniques. Nor did they want to practice kavvanot and yihudim everyday. They just wanted a cultural demarcation of mysticism and eastern ideas to infuse in their lives, a little breslov, a little chabad, and some Buber.

    About the myth that there were lots of Jewish spiritual masters before WWIII and that Judaism had linages of mediation pre-WWII, I am not sure who started that myth. I think it comes out of Renewal circles.

    On the science part, I do think he would have written more. But his views were closer to science fiction and Analog magazine than science or intelligent design, unfolding of deeper secrets. He would probably have loved string theory.

  12. About the myth that there were lots of Jewish spiritual masters before WWIII and that Judaism had linages of mediation pre-WWII, I am not sure who started that myth. I think it comes out of Renewal circles.

    Ah. Well, what I’ve heard – and I might only have come across this once – had to do with “lineage-holders” (to use the Asian term) of Kabbalah – and it wasn’t that there were lots, but that of those who did exist, most, as I said, died during the War. Those who are left supposedly aren’t readily approachable – you know, “They have to find you”, yadda yadda.

    Did the Renewal folks want to create a provenance for stuff they were pretty much inventing, or adapting from Asian religions?

    I don’t know that Judaism has nothing like samadhi, if we define it as a state of non-dualistic awareness. My understanding is that some of the Hasidic masters advocated techniques that could bring you to that point, or close to it. I’ve even come across an article by a Chabad guy in which he quotes the Rebbe talking about “emptiness” (although I know he didn’t mean the same thing the Dalai Lama means when he uses the term). However, again – you’d know more about that than I would.

    So, here’s a question. If someone is looking for something along the lines of samadhi or moksha, and we acknowledge you can’t find them in Judaism – what would you, as a frum guy, tell them? How do you convince them to remain with or return to Jewish practice? I assume you wouldn’t be comfortable telling them it’s okay to combine, or to practice the meditative techniques as long as they don’t engage in the devotional practices, because there’s the danger of overlap and therefore avodah zorah.

    Of course, the Haredi answer would be either A) These practices exist within Judaism to the extent that you need them, and if you can’t find them there, you don’t (the standard Chabad answer)!; or B) It really doesn’t matter what you want or think you do; you’re obligated to take on the “yoke of the mitzvot”, and that’s all there is to it. I assume these would not be your answers.

    • By the time they come to me they have already been practicing zazen, vipassana, or Tibetan meditations for years. They already have their inarticulate synthesis between modern orthodoxy and their practice. There are young Orthodox rabbis who have spent years in the monastery or going to retreats. When they come to me the are looking how to integrate that into their lives as Orthodox rabbis. Rabbi David Hayyim Halevi, former chief rabbi of TA, has a famous responsa written 30 years ago permitting the techniques without the ritual devotions. However,most of them have creatively steered their own courses of selective use, rationalizations, and saying that they are only using a technique. And for the last 15 years, the modern Orthodox adepts have also had their practice and thinking mediated through the many ways ways renewal teachers create Jewish versions or uses pieces of Hasidut to create equivocations. Kaplan’s writings have an immense totemistic function of saying – “We have this too, so it is OK to do what you are doing, even if the Establishment is oblivious.” Alternately, people use Kaplan for “even though I leaned my meditation from the Buddhists, my meditation is entirely different because I do it for prophecy and not like the Buddhists who do it without God.” In the end, they have to earn a living and be a rabbi so they focus on synagogue skills and halakhah, or they focus on their ability to teach 10th grade navi.

      Since you were a house manager for years, did it rub off on you. Did you find tranquility and peace? Do you still go for retreats? What tradition did you learn? Do you seek the well being of all sentient beings?

    • [Two months later…]

      > I don’t know that Judaism has nothing like samadhi, if we define it as a state of non-dualistic awareness.

      There’s hitpashtoot ha-gashmeeyoot, bitul, ein ode milvado, and m’tzeedoe/m’tzeedeinoo. At one point Moshe Rabbeinu speaks God’s words in first person. All of these are what might be called states of non-dualistic awareness.

      When you look into this, beware of Buddhist and Advaita concepts being presented with a thin veneer of Judaism.

      • @Len Moskowitz: When you look into this, beware of Buddhist and Advaita concepts being presented with a thin veneer of Judaism.

        Yes, I’m aware. I no longer “look into” it. Frankly, I no longer care.

        And if I were still interested and had a preference, it would actually be for Advaita.

        And by the way, Len – we had a brief exchange on Amazon about four years ago: http://www.amazon.com/review/ROTI2PQ6RDEW3 (I’ve changed my pseudonym since then, but you can see which is me.) I didn’t pursue it at the time, but I’d like to take this opportunity to say that I still disagree with you, and as far as this is concerned:

        I think that your expectation that no one from the Yeshivish or Chassidic worlds would agree to be consulted by the Dalai Lama is incorrect. The Orthodox Torah scholars that I know, though having no compelling reason to visit Dharamsala, would gladly welcome the Dalai Lama’s approach for consultation. While there are closed-minded people and extremists in every community (Jewish Renewal included), anyone who took the time to research the Dalai Lama’s life and perspectives on Dharma would likely find him to be among chassiday umot ha-olam (a very pious non-Jew), and so they likely would have little reason to consider him to be an idolater.

        I disagree profoundly. In fact, I am absolutely convinced that you are wrong. I thought it was an odd complaint on your part at the time, and I still think so.

  13. You want the long answer or the short answer?

  14. Really? Most people go for the short answer!

    Since you were a house manager for years, did it rub off on you.

    Well, there’s a story. I have about a thirty-year history with Buddhism, but I was never formally a Buddhist; I never actually took refuge. Much of it involved my own reading, but I went to teachings occasionally, spoke to Western Buddhists, the occasional lama. Most of my encounters were with Tibetans and their students, just because that was the form that was presented. The first Western Buddhist I knew – a cousin’s cousin by marriage, who was one of the original JuBu’s and was my intro to much of it – was a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism.

    I managed the center between five and eight years ago. I took the position because it was available, and I was, and it was along the lines of the sort of thing I’d thought about doing for a number of years – but by the time it came along, it was already too late. When I moved in, I already had serious misgivings, and my experiences over the subsequent three years confirmed them.

    I’d had an attraction/repulsion thing going on with Tibetan Buddhism for years; every time I thought it might be a path for me, something happened to turn me off. But I seemed to have some sort of “karma” with the Dalai Lama; every time he’d come to town, if I showed up, I got to be in his presence, in receiving lines, shake hands with him, etc. There seemed to be a fair amount of synchronicity involved, and in all of the years I’d been at the religion game (see below), he was the only teacher who moved me profoundly or inspired in me a sense of reverence. No one in Judaism has ever done that for me. In any case, the Buddhists were all deeply impressed; it was one of the reasons they let me move in.

    The center was part of an international umbrella organization called the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. The lama who heads it up belongs to the Gelug sect, the sect to which the Dalai Lama belongs (the DL came to the center once, actually). There is a tremendous amount of what we would call “fundamentalism” in Tibetan Buddhism – and a distressing lack of critical discernment among its Western practitioners – and the FPMT is one of the premiere manifestations of this phenomenon. My experiences there killed the entire thing for me. Everything with them (really, with nearly all of the lamas I’ve known) involves threats of lower rebirth. As you’re probably aware, there’s a lot of fire and brimstone in Buddhism, but Zen practitioners rarely see it and Vipassana practitioners never do. As I’m sure you know, the three young Jews who brought Vipassana here in the seventies jettisoned virtually all of the doctrine on the way over. What Westerners encounter in Vipassana centers bears little to no resemblance to Theravadan Buddhism on the ground in Asia. Zen, of course, is iconoclastic to begin with, and like Vipassana, it’s been packaged for export (although the extent varies with teacher, lineage and organization).

    Tibetan Buddhism is very different. It’s like a mythical animal out of one of those medieval bestiaries, cobbled together out of disparate parts to form an unlikely whole. One the one hand, you have a large corpus of philosophical work, with sophisticated ideas regarding the nature of the self with which it took the West until the twentieth century to catch up, buttressed by some really elegant arguments honed through centuries of monastic debate. On the other, it’s all laminated on top of an anachronistic belief system straight out of the Middle Ages, replete with a great deal of superstition, magic, animistic influences and threats of dire consequences for the smallest infractions. The Buddhist metaphysical system is no picnic to begin with, and it’s always involved threats of hell, but the Tibetans really took the idea and ran with it. As you probably know, their (multiple) hells aren’t eternal, but they endure for impossibly long periods of time and the Tibetans love to describe them in terms that would make a Christian or Islamic fundamentalist faint dead away – and they tend to go on and on about them at every given opportunity. To a point, it was to be expected – they’ve only recently come out of their medieval period, courtesy of Chinese aggression, and it’s glaringly evident – but they appear to be obsessed. An English professor who’d done some research told me he’d been unable to uncover a history of secular literature in Tibetan society and he felt their religious texts served one of the purposes secular literature does in the West – it acted as a catharsis and helped them to deal with the violent side of their natures, as well as the violence of their past (the Tibetans, like their Mongolian neighbors, went through what Thurman calls their “period of empire” during which they conquered about a third of Asia).

    Anyway, about thirty-five, forty years ago, the lamas began coming over, brought here by young people with more money than brains. As soon as they got off the planes, they were told, “Whatever you’re selling, we’re buying!”, so they said, “Okey-dokey!” (because they tend to love American slang, the more outdated, the better), and they climbed up onto the thrones and began to teach in the same manner they’d been teaching Tibetans for centuries. Apparently, few people complained, and those who did didn’t last long.

    The end result is that I’ve come out of the whole business with very strong opinions regarding Buddhism in general, the Tibetan variety in particular and the propriety of Westerners practicing it (or any Asian religion) – indeed, even its presence here in the West. In all of my decades of involvement, I’ve met only one person – possibly two people, but I don’t know the second guy well enough to judge – who, in my opinion, has been able to use the methodology and iconography of Tibetan Buddhism successfully for personal transformation, without descending into fanaticism and fundamentalism – and he warns people off of it. He tells them, “Unless, like me, you have a profound affinity for the language, the culture, the people” – I think he has more Tibetan friends than Western ones – “steer clear. It’s too culturally ‘other’, and you can find what you’re looking for elsewhere.”

    Do you still go for retreats?

    I never actually went on retreats. I have Chronic Fatigue and can’t engage in any sort of practice for very long, and theirs tend to be lengthy – and I am the world’s worst meditator! (Not that the Tibetans teach meditation as much as do teachers of the other two forms to begin with; either they don’t engage in it much themselves, which is characteristic of lamas of the Gelug sect, or they feel Westerners are too undisciplined to do it properly.)

    Oh, I was on a retreat once – but only because it took place while I was living there and I didn’t have to leave the house! And it only lasted for one weekend. And I wasn’t engaged in practice; I was the cook. And I didn’t even have to do all that much cooking, because they were fasting throughout nearly the entire thing!

    Do you seek the well being of all sentient beings?

    Well, let’s put it this way – in terms of the past, you could say that I sought to seek it. As far as the present is concerned…

    Did you find tranquility and peace?

    No. It’s a sad story. For about 35 years, I was on the obligatory “quest for meaning”. I went looking for “God” (another term I dislike and try to avoid), making my way painfully through the miasma that is the world’s faith traditions, studying it as best I could independently and outside of the academic arena. I came out of it empty-handed. I’m really quite bitter and angry about it. All of the religions have this promise they make you; the Christians express it as “Seek and ye shall find”, but they all say it in one way or another. It ain’t necessarily so.

    I once told our mutual acquaintance, Rabbi P. (this was early on in the relationship), “It’s the greatest lie ever told. It’s a bigger lie than ‘the check is in the mail’.” Rabbi P., being an erudite guy, ran with the metaphor and said, “But Jeff, many people have received that check and cashed it.” I replied (’cause I can also carry a theme), “That may be, but I was out there every day for years, waiting by the mailbox, and I didn’t receive it. Occasionally, I got what I thought was a check, but when I tried depositing it, it was returned, stamped ‘Insufficient Funds’.”

    The Buddhist center was my second-to-last stop on the religion train. Rabbi P. was the last (After a while, the lama at the center began encouraging me to practice Judaism; he felt I had karma with “Jewish God”. That’s what he told me, anyway; he might have just been sick of me and wanted to be rid of me!), but he wasn’t able to help me with any of this. It just isn’t his forte. In fact, he accelerated my egress. He’s aware of it – as much as he allows himself to be, at any rate – and it’s a problem for us. Frankly, it’s been a contentious relationship.

    So now, I’m just done. If you looked on my FB page, you might have noticed that under “Religious Views”, I have “Stereotypical Angry Atheist”. I didn’t put it there to be a smartass (well, not for that reason alone!).

  15. Thank you. Have you considered writing your story for the journal Killing the Buddha?

    So why direct your “angry atheism” toward Jewish sites? Why don’t you go after Buddhist sites? From your story, you would have the most to correct in people’s views of Buddhism. Therefore, what is the Jewish story here? There seems to be one and it seems to motivate your actions. (Once again, I prefer the long version.) What went wrong with Judaism? You are more angry at the Jewish faith than the Buddhist faith. It seems that you don’t consider liberal forms of Judaism or Buddhism, only dogmatic ones.

    Why spend your time commenting on blogs, especially Jewish ones, wouldn’t writing a productive article entitled “ I could not cash the check” be more rewarding? Finally, most people get the rewards of atheism, cash the atheism check and lead happy atheist lives. It seems you are not getting the payoff of atheism either.

  16. Alan, I didn’t think I was expressing anger toward this site. I thought we were just having a conversation.

    • I never thought you were expressing anger toward this site. We are having a conversation. I thank you and am appreciative of the long answer. But when I goggled you name, I got comments on many other sites, mainly on Jewish sites – many pages deep. I do think you should write your story.

  17. Funny, because I rarely use my name on other sites. I used to use it on my friend David Kelsey’s blog, The Kvetcher, which is no longer up and running.

    So why direct your “angry atheism” toward Jewish sites? Why don’t you go after Buddhist sites?

    I don’t “go after” Jewish sites. Frankly, I rarely read Jewish blogs now. The only one I read on a regular basis is Failed Messiah, because I know Shmarya through David – and I’m starting to go there less often, because I can’t deal with the strident Haredim and other deranged personalities he tends to attract. I look in here from time to time because you’re a specialist in meditation and mysticism, in which I used to have an interest. I came here yesterday because we’re FB friends now.

    I’m not really interested in Buddhist sites, either.

    It seems that you don’t consider liberal forms of Judaism or Buddhism, only dogmatic ones.

    This is rather loaded, and you’re drawing unwarranted inferences. You should have just asked me.

    Firstly, the terms “liberal” and “dogmatic” don’t really mean anything in Buddhism.

    There are, as you’re aware, three main forms of Buddhism available to Westerners – Tibetan, Vipassana and Zen (there’s also Nichiren, which is supposed to be widespread but I’ve never actually known anyone who was involved in it). Zen and Vipassana, as they’re expressed in the West, essentially are “liberal” forms – but each is either mostly or entirely comprised of meditative practice, and, as I said, I’m a terrible meditator. I have rabid ADD and OCD, and I simply can’t do it – so I didn’t spend as much time with these forms. Plus, as I said, Tibetan Buddhism was the form that presented itself to me the most often.

    On the flip side, there is no liberal Tibetan Buddhism. The way it’s taught here is the way it’s been taught in Tibet for at least the last 1300 years. The only concession they’ve made is that they’re giving teachings – and tantric transmissions – to laypeople that formerly would have been reserved for monastics (or laypeople who’d had many years of preparation). Once in a blue moon, you get a lama who tries to take a “kinder, gentler” view, who says the descriptions of lower realms are meant to be understood figuratively – but they treat him as Chazal would treat a lone rabbi with a dissenting opinion they all considered heterodox bordering on apikorsus – they largely ignore him.

    The Tibetan Buddhist blogs tend to be maintained and populated by fanatics – because, honestly, that’s pretty much all there is in Tibetan Buddhism. Even the academics (who are also practitioners) have caught the disease.

    Secondly, as far as liberal Judaism is concerned, there are a number of things going on:

    1. I do go to liberal sites, but they tend to be sites that focus on social justice, such as AJWS – and, again, I rarely use my name online. I logged in here with my Facebook account so you’d know it was I.

    2. The comment threads on liberal sites that aren’t social justice organizations have become water coolers for knee-jerk conservatives who try to outdo one another in expressing their contempt for the “mental illness” they consider Liberalism to be (political and theological liberalism tend to become blurred in their minds, as does so much else). If you’ve read an article at the Forward online during the past couple of years, you know what I’m talking about.

    3. As I said, I just don’t spend much time on Jewish blogs any more. I daresay the stuff you found was a few years old, at least.

    Why spend your time commenting on blogs

    To the extent that I do (which isn’t as much as you think) – I have some health issues, and I’m retired now and am home a lot with time on my hands.

    Have you considered writing your story for the journal Killing the Buddha?… wouldn’t writing a productive article entitled “ I could not cash the check” be more rewarding?

    No one is interested in hearing about this. People want happy endings, especially as they pertain to the “spiritual quest”.

    Also, as soon as you put it out there, verbally or in writing, that you tried and failed, the True Believers™ line up to tell you:

    A. You didn’t REALLY try;
    B. You didn’t give it long enough;
    C. You didn’t have the right teacher(s);
    D. All of the above.

    There is nothing so threatening to a True Believer™ as someone who tried it his way and failed, because if it fails to work for you, it could likewise one day stop working for him – and the prospect absolutely terrifies him.

    I don’t want to deal with it.

    You are more angry at the Jewish faith than the Buddhist faith.

    No. Again, you’re assuming. I’m actually angry at all religions. I have a profound hatred of conservative evangelical Christianity. You don’t even want to get me started. (There are a few secular humanist – and one ex-Christian – blogs I read and on which I participate occasionally that you wouldn’t have found by Googling me, because, again, I don’t use my real name.)

    I will say this, though – it could be argued that Judaism, as the tradition of my birth, and the Jewish people, as the community within which I’ve spent most of my life, owed me more.

    Boston contains slim pickings for Judaism. The offerings are severely limited. New York, it isn’t. For example, we have nothing like YCT-style liberal Modern Orthodoxy here.

    Also, as far as the communal aspect is concerned – well, let’s just say we deserve our reputation. I’ve been saying this for years: the Jews took New York and made it Jewish. Boston took the Jews, and turned them into Bostonians.

  18. You know, for example, I’ll occasionally leave a positive comment beneath an article posted by my friend Shmuly Yanklowitz, who was probably one of your students at YCT – but, again, you wouldn’t find it by Googling me. Not everything I say online is negative. A lot if it is, but not all of it.

    And to the extent that my comments are negative, the reason is that I despise fundamentalism. I have a real problem with it; I tend to take it very personally.

    Couple of things:

    There are young Orthodox rabbis who have spent years in the monastery or going to retreats.

    Would this include the boys at YCT? Do a significant number of them come from backgrounds in Asian religions?

    About the myth that there were lots of Jewish spiritual masters before WWIII and that Judaism had linages of mediation pre-WWII, I am not sure who started that myth. I think it comes out of Renewal circles.

    Why did the Renewal people start it? Were they trying to legitimate the practices they were developing and/or promoting?

    What was the situation regarding the teaching of Jewish meditation and Kabbalah prior to the past several decades? Was meditation, at any point in our history, as widely taught and practiced as some claim? What about Kabbalah? Were there “lineages”, and did they die out during the War?

    You may be interested to hear this. I know a young monk who is of Indian background but who practices Tibetan Buddhism. He grew up in India, but he came to the US to go to college. While there, getting a degree in Physics, he studied Kabbalah with a Reform rabbi. I asked him if he considered it to be a valid reality map, and he told me he felt it was. The impression I got was that he considered it to be as (or nearly as) valid as the map provided by Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, the Dalai Lama, who is his main teacher, wanted him to go back to school at one point and get a PhD, and he was considering doing it in Jewish mysticism, but we really don’t have a program for it here at Harvard and he didn’t want to move to New York (which I find hard to understand, because I’d leave Boston for NYC in the proverbial heartbeat).

  19. i am from albany myself, and i did not know that r’ kaplan was a rabbi at ohav shalom, a wonderful conservative shul in town. what a nice thing!

  20. I just found some notes I took about ten years ago when R’ Gedalya Fleer spoke about R’ Kaplan at our shul.
    1. the story about the stolen cake. (but no way would he say a bracha over stolen cake, so….)
    2. He would feed kids Jewish questions to “show up” the camp counselors
    3. a car bumped into his jalopy, and he got $200.
    4. he wore a toupee at one time
    5. he learned programming in two days
    6. he was Oppenheimer’s secretary for two years
    7. had beatnik friends in Greenwich Village
    8. had a 198 IQ
    9. he won 2nd place in a competition for his translation of R’ Nachman. On that basis, Moznaim got him to learn Ladino. It took three months.
    10. He would pick up a new hobby a year. Three were photography, cactus growing, and art.
    11. was once threatened by a rabbi to stop publishing
    (If any of these are a bit off, I’m totally open to correction.)

  21. I thought I’d add a few more tidbits from my notes, four years later:
    12. He got a plaque from President Johnson
    13. When he was 21, his rosh yeshiva compelled him to learn 18 blatt of gemara together from 4:45-6:45 AM. (The compulsion was necessary, because Kaplan tended to skip seder.)
    14. The Rebbe (Lubavitcher, IIRC) wanted someone to write a book on Jewish Meditation. First, Rabbi Kaplan had to learn avodah zarah.
    15. He answered “the impossible math question.” — I have no idea what Rabbi Fleer was referring to, sorry.

  22. Dear Phil. On the Rebbe and his relationship to R. Kaplan about Jewish Meditation, please see my article “The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Call for a Scientific Non-Hasidic Meditation.” B’or Ha’torah, vol. 22, 2013, 109-123, https://1drv.ms/b/s!AvQGdIpZHA5OomsjRwGy2Ovr7TSM or https://www.academia.edu/2503448/The_Lubavitcher_Rebbe_s_Call_for_a_Scientific_Non-Hasidic_Meditation

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