Monthly Archives: June 2012

Korach & Moses’ Meritocracy

Guest Post by Rabbi Avraham Bronstein
Rabbi Bronstein serves as North American Development Executive for Ohr Torah Stone. From 2006-2011 he was Associate Rabbi of The Hampton Synagogue. He tweets at @AvBronstein and launched a new blog, cloudpulpit.wordpress.com, where the following is cross-posted.

This is an adaptation of a sermon I delivered last week at a modern orthodox synagogue in the greater NY area. It is reworked slightly to include some material from other discussions and talks from Shabbat and beyond, and also eliminates some of the sermon filler. In conversation, I found that many people saw Korach as a sort of spiritual socialist, sort of a classic cold-war era sermon topic. I tried to make the discussion more contemporary.

Imagine a nation run as a meritocracy, where leaders rose to the top as they proved that they were brighter, more motivated, more assertive — true “leaders,” in every sense of the word. Things started well – there was a period of rapid growth and development, and everyone seemed to be sharing the rewards of the superior decisions and leadership that were coming from what was, by now, a trusted elite. Then, from out of the blue, something went very wrong. The leadership made a terrible collecive mistake, an epic misjudgment so out of line that the people assume they were collectively guilty of criminal negligence, if not outright corruption. As the grim, full reality of the disaster sets in, it becomes clear that all of the previous gains have essentially been erased, and the whole generation itself will go down in history as a wasted one.

Now imagine that, through it all, the meritocracy remains intact. The same leaders remain in charge, demanding the same levels of trust and of faith as though nothing had happened, with no effective safeguards in place to keep it from happening again. We would naturally expect the rise of popular movements to voice the people’s loss of confidence in the failed status quo. The truth is that this scenario actually happens quite often. In 2010, their motto was, “Don’t tread on me.” In 2011, they chanted, “We are the 99%.” And in last week’s Torah Portion it was Korach challenging Moses, insisting that “the entire community is holy, and God rests among them, so why do you lord yourself over the congregation of God?”

Continue reading

An Aspiring Mekubal-An Interview Part II

Continued from An Interview Part I- here
Now is your chance to ask questions on Tanya, science, magic, and kavvanot, but still within the frame of reference of his Lurianic tradition.

First, here are some gleanings from his blog. Here is a great story of his early meetings with Rav Kaduri.

[F]or the second time, I went to meet with Rav Kaduri. I had initially seen him when I was there on a Birthright trip, this time I went to his Yeshiva by myself to seek his blessing in my upcoming exams. When he found out that I was staying in a hotel, he insisted that I move into one of the apartments at the Yeshiva. It turned out that I didn’t get a lot of touring done on that trip, aside from one Shabbat away, and the days I took my exams, I pretty much stayed at his Yeshiva and learned, some with him, some on my own.

One day as I was learning Tanya from my copy of Chitas the Rav came over and stood by my shtender, just staring over my shoulder. After a short while, I realized he wanted to say something to me. I asked him if there was something he wanted or needed. He asked me what I was studying and so I told him. Then he said, “There are some errors in the sefer, if you want I will fix them(make a tikun sofrim) for you.” I knew there were possible errors in Tanya, after all the Alter Rebbe(or is it one of his sons) says as much in his own introduction. So I responded that I would be thrilled if he would correct the sefer for me. How often do you get the chance to have the greatest living Mekubal fix the errors in a Kabbalah sefer for you? He asked me several times if I were sure that I wanted him to fix it, and I continued to respond that I was.
He took the sefer and walked off. A half hour later he returned with it, handed it to me, and said, that it was now Kosher. It felt a bit light. As it turns out he sliced out entirely the Tanya and the Sihot of the Rebbe.

His image of a kabbalist as an ordinary individual is important for understanding his aspirations:

It never ceases to amaze me that on any given day you may walk right past some of the greatest living mekubalim in the street, or be standing next to them in the shuk, and unless you knew who they were you would never know it. When the Eipha Shleima(a major mekubal of past generations) first came to Eretz Yisrael to learn in Yeshivat Beit E-l, he had to hunt down the Rosh Yeshiva, at the time R’ Eliyahu Mani. He found him in the shuk, carrying his shopping home to his wife. He was amazed that a Rav of such stature should be dressed so plainly and doing such a menial task.

As a follower of the Rashash tradtion of the Ari, our aspiring Mekubal rejects the panentheism of Chabad, similar to the critique of the Vilna Gaon of Hasidism.

The Ben Ish Hai, Rav M. Sharabi, Rav Kaduri, Rav Darzi, Rav Attias, Rav Hedayya, Rav Shalom Shmueli and Rav Tzion Berakha all consider the Tanya to contradict the Eitz Haim.
The Arizal goes to great lengths to state that there is no connection between the Ein Sof and the created order. Nor is there any connection between the Or Ein Sof and the created order, rather only a “reshimu”(Eitz Haim Sha’ar 1:4). According to the Rashash(found on 14b of the Eitz Haim) states that even that “reshimu” known as the Kav Or Ein Sof, only extends to the world of Atzilut.
His grandson the Divrei Shalom(24d), and his chief student the Torat Hakham(72b) go on to explain all of this at length as to why even this reflection of the radiance of the Ein Sof, cannot descend below the realm of absolute spirituality. See also the Shemen Sasson’s commentary on Eitz Haim.
Kabbalists saw a great difference and separation between the One G-d, and the created order, so that even the means by which He interacts with the world is only through a hyper-spiritual created order that acts as a bridge of sorts between himself and his creation.
Regarding whether it is my derekh to search things out in Chassidic seforim, my answer to that is no. A qualified no, in that Rav M. Sharabi, Rav Hedayya and Rav Kaduri instructed their students not to study Chassidic works for various reasons. My first Rav in Kabbalah was Rav Kaduri, since then I have come to learn in Nahar Shalom(Rav Sharabi’s yeshiva) so in following in the instruction of my own Rabbanim, no I don’t open Chassidic seforim.

1) Isn’t believing that visualizations or kavvanot will cure people a form of anti-scientific superstition or a form of magic?

First and absolutely most importantly, this is all based in faith in HaShem. The Baba Sali used to say, that anyone with simple faith could perform the miracles that he did. Visualizations/Kavvanot of say a Pidyon Nefesh are complicated. In a simplistic sense, as much as they may or not be doing something in upper worlds, they are providing a very real crutch for a person’s faith. People used to come to Rav Kaduri for all kinds of things, and 9 times out of ten, yes he would pray for them, but he would tell them to drink Rosemary tea. I asked him once why he told everyone to drink Rosemary tea, the way he prescribed it, you would have thought that it was a cure all. He said, “Because if I told them simply to pray to a HaShem, they wouldn’t have faith, but they boil some rosemary in some water and drink it, they will think HaShem will answer them, and besides it’s good for the digestion.”

Kabbalah definitely teaches that these visualizations do barely comprehensible things in the upper worlds. The truth is you can do all the visualizations you like, without simple faith in HaShem, none of it will work. Is faith in HaShem superstition? My own faith bids me say of course not. However, as it is faith, I have no way of proving that assertion either.

2) What makes Rav Kaduri more real and less magic than many of the wonder workers out there who earned millions of dollars?

Rav Kaduri never took money for miracles. There were no miracles for a price by him. That may seem like a small thing, but it is a bond of trust between a Rav and a supplicant. I’ve seen chilonim, rationalists and chareidim, and everything in between come to visit Kabbalists in their time of utmost need. People are incredibly vulnerable then, and thus easily taken advantage of. I remember once a parent coming to Rav Kaduri, completely distraught, their child had been diagnosed with a horrible disease. Even before they had finished telling the Rav their tale of woe, they already had the check book out. Rav Kaduri held up his hands and said that he would not take their money, he couldn’t guarantee anything other than a sympathetic ear and some prayers and he could not charge for either. Whether that is more or less real… again that is a matter of faith. However, I feel it is more honest.

Kameaot are tricky things. A Kamea is, according to Kabbalah, a spiritual tool. It affects spiritual things. Thus in the very very narrow scope of things that we are allowed to write Kameaot for, and it is rather narrow, there are some prerequisites. First the person who is going to get the Kamea has to be completely shomer mitzvot. Second they have to have searched their own deeds to see if there is something there that can be causing whatever problem they want to remedy. Finally if we can determine that the problem has to be spiritual, then one may make use of a kamea. Then you need someone who will write a kamea, a true kamea, for you. Depending on the Kamea, it can require any number of added measures of prishut by the writer in order to attain the necessary holiness to write it. Generally speaking the writer will have to fast day and night from food and water and wear sackcloth upon his body the entire time. Then on the third day recite the viduy hagadol, and then write the kamea with all sorts of special prayers and things. Finally it has to be done entirely for the sake of seeing the person’s problem remedied and without any expectation of gain. So I say you have to be emotionally close to a person to do that, because that is the only way that you will fulffill all the stipulations.

If a person is charging you money for a Kamea, they are most likely a fraud. Most of what get passed off as Kameaot these days are worthless than the lucky charms found in the children’s cereal by the same name. At the least the latter are edible (and kosher the last I checked) and thus have some questionable nutritional value.

3) Isn’t the practice of kavvanot just an imaginary game like dungeons and dragons?

You know I used to be a dungeons and dragons fan when I was a teen… Anyway, the answer to that question is really a matter of emunah hakhamim. If you don’t believe the many many Rabbanim who said that the Kabbalah of the Ari was true, then I guess you could say that. If you trust in our mesorah on the other hand then you would have to say no, they are very real.


4) When you visualize shemot, is there an psychological difference between shemot and imagining anything else?

Yes definitely. The pure reverence that Jews afford the various holy names gives them an inherent subconscious value. If I were to say Chesed, that is just a word to you, even if it is also a sefira. However, if I symbolize that word Chesed with a holy name(or even several as the case is in the Kavvanot) now suddenly it has gone from the profane to the sacred, by merit of those holy names alone. Show a Kabbalistic siddur to someone who knows nothing about Kabbalah and they will look on in awe, and sometimes fear, because of all the holy names.

5) Should beginners use the kavvanah for the mikvah in the name of the Besht and Ari translated by Kaplan?

First let me say that you are touching on a rather basic machloket between various schools of mekubalim as to whether or not someone should use the various kavvanot before they understand them completely(if that is even possible). My own teachers have said yes, that they should.

As far as the Yichud of the Ari that Kaplan brings, it depends on which one you are talking about. The one he brings for the mikvah, is only for Erev Shabbat, and thus it is lacking half of the Yichud/Kavvanah which is the part that we do every day. It is written in the Kitvei, Shaar HaKavvanot Drush Erev Shabbat, that the kavvanot for the mikvah erev shabbat must follow the normal weekday kavvanot found in Shaar Ruah Hakodesh 9d, yihud 12.

As far as the next ten Yichudim that he brings, those were initially brought by Rav Dweck in his siddur to be performed every morning to purify the soul. I see no harm in doing them. The Yichud that is brought from the Besht, that seems to be more of a specific use Yichud to raise one’s prayers. In that sense it is a beautiful Yichud, and thus should probably be used accordingly. Meaning either after morning tefilot, or if one rises early to make private personal supplications before going to minyan, as part of that ritual.
(site editor- be sure to check Kaplan against the Hebrew, there are many typos in his kavvanot.)

6) When you visualize the kavvnaot, they are in the foreground of your mind, what is in the background?

When praying with the Kavvanot of the Rashash there are essentially three things that we are concentrating on. (1)The simple meaning of the word. (2)The various holy names and what they represent. (3) And the interaction that is caused or taking place by our saying these words and visualizing these names. Ideally, no other thought would enter your mind. Hence it is contemplative prayer par excellence.

7) On your blog you wrote: The Nefesh HaHayyim explains that since man contains within himself the energies of all the created beings, he has the capacity to draw Divine bounty down to them all by saying Perek Shirah (Nefesh HaHayyim, (1:11). What do you answer to someone who would consider that superstition and magic?

For that I would have to ask then what is the purpose of man? Why did HaShem in that view create man? I know it is a bit of a logical fallacy, but in a way the automatic rejection of anything metaphysical is a slippery slope, as HaShem is purely metaphysical. HaShem put Adam HaRishon in the garden in order to tend it. The Rabbis further tell us that it did not rain because Adam HaRishon had not prayed. Now the question naturally becomes whether that was physical rain or describing a metaphysical reality. Most Kabbalists look at it as a metaphysical reality. Not just through Perek Shira, but through all mitzvah observance. Perek Shirah is simply one example of that.
As far as it being against science, I am not sure how you can actually say that. Especially given that there is so much that science doesn’t know. I find it curious that there are people who will in the name of science make very broad and strong declarations about what simply cannot be, when science itself is relatively silent on the issue, and there is so much that science simply does not know about even its most basic laws.
So to say something is against science simply because science has yet to find a way to measure and quantify it, seems to me to be against science. Take for instance the atomic bomb. If you were to tell people even just two hundred years ago, that if you collided two marble sized rocks, even to very special and specific types of rock, together at sufficient speed you could create an explosion that would level an entire city, people would have told you it was magic, superstition, even nonsense.

8) What are the top 3-5 English books not in Kabblah that have left an impression on you?
Uh oh another of those questions that could seriously affect my children’s shidduch and schooling prospects.
Les Miserables, Don Quioxte, The Count of Monte Cristo, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Grapes of Wrath.

Review of Benny Brown’s book on the Hazon Ish by Etkes

Etkes has done a review of Benny Brown’s book on the Hazon Ish focusing on the historical elements, not the halakhic. Etkes picked out from the nearly 1000 page tome how the Hazon Ish gained his following, what role he played in the construction of simple faith and unscientific theology of Haredi Judaism, and how he related to Ben Gurion. Etkas has a great line in the review that gedolim tales “do not have the power to transmit true greatness. Readers are meant only to internalize the pat moral lessons derived from these rewritten lives, without doubting their veracity.” Etkes also points out the moral lesson of Brown that people want rabbis to address their halakhic issues and to be sensitive to the world they live in- lenient or strict is less important that sensitive and understanding. Hence, the need for contemporary hagiography to falsify that he was understanding of the need for physical work, an essential part of life in the early years of Israel.

Hehazon Ish: Haposek: Hama’amin Vemanhig Hamahapekha Haharedit ‏(The Hazon Ish: Halakhist, Believer and Leader of the Haredi Revolution‏), by Benjamin Brown (Magnes Press ‏(Hebrew) ‏951 pages,

Rabbi Abraham Isaiah Karelitz, popularly known as the Hazon Ish ‏(meaning “vision of man,” the title of his most well-known book‏), played a highly significant role in shaping ultra-Orthodox Jewish society in the second half of the 20th century. Benjamin Brown’s book, however, is the first comprehensive work to examine this formative figure in ultra-Orthodox society in a critical and scholarly light.

An intriguing question is how this Lithuanian religious scholar, who lived from 1878 to 1953, became a “gadol hador” − literally, one of the greats of a generation, meaning that he is a widely esteemed authority on Jewish religious law who attracted a large following… The process was gradual, with no indication in the early stages of Karelitz’s life that he would become so renowned. Until he was 55, the Hazon Ish never left Lithuania, where he devoted himself solely to the study of Jewish texts and halakha (religious law).

The revolution in Karelitz’s life began when he immigrated to Palestine, in 1933. Make no mistake about it: He was not a Zionist and he had reservations, if not downright hostility, about the Zionist movement.

The first thing that concerned him upon arrival was the resolution of halakhic doubts about legal strictures related to life in the Land of Israel. At the same time, the move awakened him in a way that led to his involvement with public life.

At first, he served as a religious authority for farmers in communities organized by the Haredi workers’ political party Poalei Agudat Yisrael, giving guidance on questions about, for example, milking cows on Shabbat and adhering to the religious restrictions of the shmita ‏(fallow‏) year. His rulings tended to be strict. He did, nonetheless, become sensitive to the difficulties facing religious farmers, and tried to be of assistance. After a few years, when he had won a reputation as an independent and authoritative arbiter, he began to make rulings in a variety of fields.

Still, it was only after World War II that the Hazon Ish really became a public leader. The destruction of centers of Torah learning in Eastern Europe and the death of leading rabbis, whether naturally or in the Holocaust, created a vacuum in the ultra-Orthodox world. The Hazon Ish attempted to fill the vacuum by building yeshivot anew in Palestine
ironically, of the sort that characterizes the way Hasidim relate to their rebbes. Masses of people crowded his doorstep seeking advice about work, health and matchmaking.

Why the Hazon Ish? The answer appears to be simple: He was seen as truly brilliant. That blazing intelligence, combined with a humble lifestyle and a willingness to receive all comers, bestowed on him an aura of righteousness.
On the other hand, he was a pragmatist, who knew how to be flexible and distinguish between goals that could be achieved and those that could not.

Karelitz’s pragmatic flexibility can be seen clearly in his willingness to work with adherents of the Musar movement after he moved to the Land of Israel. Karelitz was highly critical of the movement, which was founded by Rabbi Israel Salanter in the mid-19th century and focused on improving one’s ethics and suppressing the “evil inclination,” because he argued that Jewish law should be the sole deciding factor in whether moral conduct was good or bad. All the same, the Hazon Ish worked with followers of the Musar movement, including its most extreme adherents, to rebuild yeshivot in Mandatory Palestine after World War II.

There were also other character traits that may have contributed to the Hazon Ish’s ascendance. He was a scholar with tendencies toward intellectual elitism, but he also showed compassion and understanding in his relations with the public. Another quality that may explain his appeal is his profound inner conviction of the righteousness of his way, and the perfect congruence between the religious ideal he represented and the way he lived.

As Brown makes clear, for all of Karelitz’s abilities as a scholar with a deep understanding of Jewish texts, he was not much of an original thinker and was not particularly interested in theological questions. At the same time, the Hazon Ish did have a religious worldview − what Brown calls an “unscientific theology” that wasn’t made explicit or applied methodically but that is nevertheless the key to understanding his inner world and public works.

Neither philosophy nor mysticism − two approaches that greatly influenced Jewish thought and the Jewish sages − held much appeal for the Hazon Ish. So what does characterize his religious thinking? Brown’s answer: “simple faith.”
The only religious conclusion demanded by the Holocaust was the obligation to rebuild the centers of Torah study that had been destroyed.

Over the last few decades, dozens of such works have been published about the lives of people called, in religious parlance, “gedolei Yisrael” or “the gedolim,” the great Torah scholars. This is a continuing effort to create a pantheon of great rabbis by mythologizing their lives. The process is connected to an idea that has taken hold of the ultra-Orthodox world in recent generations and expressed in the term “da’at Torah.” According to this concept, these Torah scholars have the power and the insight to tell their followers what to do even on non-halakhic matters, without having to cite the basis of their instructions in halakhic sources. Moreover, these instructions have the force of Jewish religious law.

And so the writers, editors and readers of these biographies are completely unable to plumb the depths of their subjects or understand their considerations and motives. Those books don’t have the power to transmit true greatness. Readers are meant only to internalize the pat moral lessons derived from these rewritten lives, without doubting their veracity.

Since the Hazon Ish has come to be seen as one of the great rabbis of the Haredi world, it is no wonder that one of the high points of the mythology surrounding him is his conflict with someone perceived as a dire threat to the ultra-Orthodox community − none other than Israel’s first prime minister, the secular Zionist David Ben-Gurion. In December 1952, when the ultra-Orthodox were conducting a campaign against national service for women, Ben-Gurion visited Karelitz’s modest home in Bnei Brak and presented his host with the following question: “How can we, religious and non-religious Jews, live together in this country without having it explode from within?”

Ben-Gurion did not receive a real answer. But nonetheless, the religious biographical literature has made a choice meal of this meeting. Although there were only three people present ‏(Ben-Gurion’s aide Yitzhak Navon was the third‏), ultra-Orthodox sources provide details of the heroic stance of the Hazon Ish against the Zionist enemy. These include the story that when Ben-Gurion entered the room, the Hazon Ish removed his eyeglasses so he would not have to look evil in the face.

One mark of Brown’s success is the sharpness of the Haredi response to his book. It seems that more than anything else, the ultra-Orthodox cannot forgive Brown for saying the Hazon Ish − whom they consider one of the inspirations for the creation of a “learning society” in which Haredi men learn Torah all day instead of working, regardless of their scholarly aptitude − never believed that men must do nothing but study Torah, and that he was not opposed to army service or participation in the workforce.

Prof. Immanuel Etkes is a historian of religious movements among the Jews of Eastern Europe in modern times.

Everybody talk about pop Jewish, Talk about, pop Jewish

In our age of cruise ship Judaism and rock and roll shabbat, we have a new website called Pop Jewish:Hip Rabbis Weigh in on the Zeitgeist. There are so many interesting things about it. First, the pulpit rabbis are half Orthodox and half Conservative or other. We see that the word Jewish applies to all Jews back the way it was in the 1980′s. We no longer have several discrete denominations that do not, and cannot, work together. Second, we have pop culture as the new medium to reach Jews, unlike peoplehood of the 1950′s and 1960′s. The different denominations do not have different traditions and understandings of Snooki and Lebron James. The pop culture shiur has replaced the medical or business ethic shiur. Third, issues of the age represented such as GLBT Jews. Fourth, it will shift the balance of power back to pulpit rabbis from Roshei Yeshiva or seminary spokespersons. Finally, some of the representatives were the candidates not hired at WSIS or Beth Jacob, but are still seen as the live wires for pulpit rabbis today. “Shoobie doobie do wop, It’s all around you; Pop pop shoo wop, Gonna surround you…pop Jewish.

From their about page

The PopJewish Blog: Where Jewish Wisdom and Pop Culture Meet

This blog focuses on Jewish ideas and themes from television, movies, music, art and sports. All blog posts contain pop culture references and Jewish wisdom from the perspective of 21st century rabbis.

Popular culture affects us all. It permeates the air we breathe. Though certain segments of our Jewish brethren shun pop-culture to preserve Jewish values, we will take a more integrative route. Instead of enjoying pop-culture strictly as escapist entertainment, we will merge it with our religious sensibilities in holy matrimony. Our mission entails extracting and infusing Jewish wisdom, theology, and lessons in popular culture and sharing these ideas and dialogues with you. So continue to consume the gifts and enjoyments of pop culture, (as long as it’s something you enjoy and does not compromise your spiritual growth) and we will, with you, infuse; better yet- we will lift out the Jewish wisdom found within all spheres of pop-culture.

Any thoughts? Let’s talk about it.

Now, listen
Talk about,
Pop pop pop pop Jewish

TECHNOLOGY NEWS REPORTED THROUGH THE LENS OF KABBALAH

And for something completely different:
I received in my email this morning a broadcast from someone “inspired by the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh” who sends out reports taking technology news and applying kabbalistic metaphors to it. Now, one can read Wired or other tech news and claim it is Torah.

From here
One way to expand our understanding of events is to show the commonality between two seemly distinct happenings. As we’ve stated previously, the word “Kabbalah” itself means to parallel one thing to another. Our blending exercise this week will include two ingredients from the recent news: Microsoft’s new line of Windows 8 hardware offerings and a functional Apple 1 motherboard that sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $374,500.

While Apple first started making computers commercially in 1976, Microsoft’s recent foray into hardware has brought about similar sentiments. Once there is a revelation of God’s concealed essence, there is a drawing down of physical plenty (i.e. the product that cases the concept). But after we receive the physical, we immediately revert back to its source in God above.

In order to bring light to the city of technology, there needs to be a revelation of God’s essence. Each of us has the potential to reveal this essence. Whether we find ourselves drawn to a computer made in 1976 or 2012, the dream of Steve Jobs was a vision of a connected world. While he sought to take creativity to every home, our role now is to take the lights of the city of technology, and return them back to their source within God’s essence.
While the term “computer” relates to Wisdom (Chochmah), the start of manifest creativity, the final expression is Speech (Kingdom/Malchut). Ultimately the outcome of our “personal computing” concept is that we should all be connected by means of communication.

Keeping the above lesson about revelation vs. essence in mind, say we were to approach an influential person (e.g. celebrity or a wealthy individual). If we view them as merely someone who is lit up with these external revelations, then it is doubtful that they would give us the time of day. But if we try to connect with them, with who they are, and maybe try to assist them in someway, then already they may start to take notice.

People buy Apple 1 motherboards and Microsoft Surface tablets for a similar reason. What does it means to envision a “computer in every home”? The same Steve Jobs who helped to personalize computers, years later reinvented the music industry with iTunes. While computing relates to Chochmah (the start of conscious creativity), the end result is communication (Malchut). The end-result of our drive to express creativity is that it should reach clear verbal articulation. The idea behind this concept is a term we call Natural Consciousness.

From here- he also has a parallel website were marketing and leadership books are given a kabbalistic veneer.

An Aspiring Mekubal- An interview- Part I

There is a blog called Aspiring Mekubal by someone studying in a traditional Sefardi Kabbalistic Yeshiva is the tradtion of the Rashash (Rabbi Sar Shalom Sharabi, 1720–1777). He studied under Rav Kaduri, Yeshivat Beit El under Rav Hedayya, and in Nahar Shalom (Rav Sharabi’s yeshiva).

The author, Michael El-Kohen describes himself as follows: “I am a good Jewish boy from New Jersey, a cousin to the Baba Sali and a descendant of the Ari Z”L amongst others, that after obtaining semicha made the daring leap of seeking to learn Kabbalah.” His actual story is much more of a journey.  He was raised secular/traditional in New Jersey.  He went to Temple University where he majored in Psychology. There he fell in love with Judaism through Chabad and acquired semicha in a Litvish yeshiva. He then had a very rocky period shaking his life, his observance, and his sense of self and future. He then found his way to Israel, sofrut, and a new life.  For interested, he has about a dozen confessional blog posts in a series called “Journeys of Life.” (for those who need a taste- here and here.)

To understand his basic orientation here is his list of how to get started in Kabbalah: Yosef Ergas, Shomer Emunim (hakadmon)-here, Eliyahu Manni, Kisse Eliyahu (a basic intro to the Rashshash world-here), Ramhal, Da’at U’Tevunot and then one doe the Ari–Otzrot Haim, Eitz Haim, and Sha’ar HaKavvanot.

If you want to discuss Kabbalah with him, make sure that you are not confusing chasidut, Habad, wonder-working frauds, or academia with his pristine Rashash position. Question will be answered within the thought of Eliyahu Manni’s Kisse Eyiyahu. Therefore: The rational rishonim agree with kabbalah, the medieval kabbalits agree with the Ari and Rashash, there is no development or periodization of the Kabblah in the academic sense. And the meaning of Emanation, Sefirot, inter-Divine structures, and Divien attributes is according to Ergas, Manni, and Ramhal- not your definitions from elsewhere.

[There will be a part two on science, amulets, Chabad, and the nature of the sefirot. so hold off on those topics]

1)        How did you decide to become a mekubal or study in yeshiva of mekuballim?

Kabbalah simply intrigued me.  It still does, so many years later.  If I were to analyze myself psychologically I would say it probably stems from my early association with Chabad, as well as my early reading of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.  The idea that there was an experiential level of the divine that was natural to Judaism, is what really drew me in.

2)         Why do you call it a “daring leap?” Shouldn’t it be a normal choice?

For ,many people it is a normal choice.  If you grow up in a religious home, and spend the majority of your life in cheder and yeshiva, then yes it is a normal choice.  For me it was a daring leap.  Why?  Mostly because I was a B”T.  Whenever I spoke to anyone about it, the most common answer was, “You are out of your mind, they’ll never take you.”  Getting into a Kabbalistic Yeshiva is not like getting into Aish, it is not something you can do via email and telephone.  So getting on a plane with the idea of trying to get into a Yeshiva that so many had told me would reject me outright… yeah that was I think a daring leap.   In a sense it is not so different from the stories we all hear of young kids getting on a bus to NY, LA or Nashville in order to become actors, singers and musicians.  It is a daring leap that is just as likely to end in heartbreak and failure.  From what I had been told at first, I didn’t stand any more chance than of those kids with stars in their eyes.

3)         You learned under Rav Kaduri, Beit El under Rav Hedayya, and in Nahar Shalom(Rav Sharabi’s yeshiva). What sedarim in kabbalah did you have at each Yeshiva?

Rav Kaduri’s Yeshiva and Nahar Shalom are much alike in this, in that they both learned Eitz Haim and Shaar HaKavvanot in depth, and the time was pretty much split equally between those two sefarim.  As in a two hours given each day to both in the Kabbalah Seder.  Beit El runs things a little differently.  They still have the Kabbalah seder which focuses on those primary texts, though they have added an additional hour to the morning(what would be Pshat seder in any other Kabbalistic Yeshiva) seder.  They still study Pshat(Shas and Poskim) for the standard four hours, however in that last hour they then learn bekiut the remainder of the Kitvei HaAri.  For instance Sunday would be Shaar HaGilgulim, Monday would be Shaar HaMitzvot, Tuesday would be Shaar Ruah HaKodesh, Wednesday would be Shaar Mamrei Rashbi, Thursday would be Shaar HaPesukim.

4) What do you tell the modern Orthodox person who thinks that kabbalah is a side show at best. They are say they are ideal Orthodox Jews and they don’t need it. What do you tell them?

Eilu V’Eilu devarim elokim chaim.  Belief in Kabbalah is not one of the 13 principles of faith, so you don’t have to believe in it. Truth be told, to be an ideal Orthodox Jew you need not study a single page of Kabbalah.   Kabbalah is only a path to help one grow into that ideal form of Orthodox Judaism, that doesn’t mean that it is the only path.  Rather it is the only path for me.

Now I want to address the “side show” comment.  First let me say that I understand how one could, unfortunately, come to feel that Kabbalah is a side show(or worse).  After all there are lots of strange things and happenings that are packaged as Kabbalah today that really have nothing to do with Kabbalah.  Whether it is Eastern mysticism dressed up in a Yarmulke, supposed Kabbalists who guarantee miracles for the right price, or back alley wizards, there are many things that today call themselves Kabbalah.  To the person who has no experience in Kabbalah, they have no way of knowing what is or is not legitimate.  For that I would recommend Rabbi Yaakov Hillel’s book Fatih and Folly.

Being a Kabbalist(or not) is ultimately a personal choice. Being a Dayyan is not obligatory, so why be one?  Being a Rabbi is not obligatory so why be one?  Because Kabbalah is so shrouded in mystery(whether for good or for bad) no one seems to know what the primary mission statement of a Kabbalist is.  Rabbi Haim Vital lays it out in his introduction to Shaar HaHakdamot, the Rashash and later mekubalim really pick it up, the primary purpose of learning Kabbalah is to aid Am Yisrael and Klal Yisrael.  They see themselves as sort of spiritual watchmen on the walls.  There that through their prayers, tikkunim and other things may guard Klal Yisrael and bring them spiritual good.

Hence the swine flu flight when mekuballim charter a flight for prayers as a tikkun that was unfortunately was leaked to the press.  While Mekubalim don’t make it a habit of going up in planes to perform tikkunim, they definitely make it a habit of performing Tikunim for their cities and nations.

More than a few avreichim join Kabbalistic Yeshivot, only to find out years down the line that they just aren’t built for it, and that their vocation truly does lie elsewhere.  It is sad.

4.      What do you think of the renewed interest in Abulafia? Even Rav Morgenstern cites Abulafian mediations. Do Abulafia and RaShaSh compliment or contradict each other?

Wow.  First I recommend Rav Hillel’s book and now I am going to argue with it in part, however I am following in the footsteps of my own Rabbanim.  I don’t see the renewed interest in Abulafia as a problem, in fact considering the amount of Abulafia that is copied over in the Kitvei HaAri. (Unnamed he brings several of his methods in the Eitz Haim.  By name he brings several of his methods in the fourth section of Vital’s Shaarei Kedusha.)

I see it as a logical progression.  I am going to say however, that would should have a pretty firm foundation in the Kitvei HaAri before progressing to the works of the earlier Mekubalim.  Much like we wouldn’t dump sophisticated Iyun upon a kid in a Beit Sefer who hasn’t even figured out Mishna yet, there needs to be a progression and laying of basic foundations. The Ari is a beginners step into Abulafia and other earlier mekubalim.  In practice I have found that it is much easier to understand the writings of the earlier Kabbalists once one has a firm foundation in the Kitvei HaAri.

5.      Why are so many people in Jerusalem turning to the Ari and Rashash? 

Are there really many turning to the Rashash?  I think part of it is that there is this new idea that everyone needs to learn all the time, and for some people a daf of Gemarra just doesn’t light their fire.

I think the biggest reason is that you can now find Kabbalistic Siddurim in your local Hebrew Bookstore. That was unheard of just 60 or 70 years ago, when they essentially were hand copied.  Another reason is that people are looking for spirituality. Some run off to India to seek it in another religion, some stay within Judaism, and decide to try their luck in a Kabbalistic Yeshivot.  Like I said there are numerous reasons that various people come to Kabbalsitic Yeshivot.  I’ve even seen some that want to learn because you can’t find a more chumradik style of Tefila(like I said, not all of their reasons are good).

6)      Y ou mentioned that you substituted for your teacher at Yeshiva. What seforim did you use to give a kabbalaistic shiur? In broad terms, what was the topic?

It was in the Eitz Haim.  We were in a rather difficult piece of the Eitz Haim in Shaar Arikh, dealing with various sofekot(uncertainties). Well the Eitz Haim obviously than it’s major commentaries.  I started with Beit Lehem Yehuda and the Kerem Shlomo.  From there I went on through the Shemen Sasson, Divrei Shalom, Eifah Shleima and Shem M’Shimon.  I finished off with the Remez, Torah Hakham and the Leshem.  Essentially progressing from what I consider to be the most pshat(simple) to the most Iyun(difficult and deep).

8.      Where can someone go to study with real kabbalists? What would it take to get in?

In Israel, especially in Jerusalem, it isn’t that hard, in some places there is a Kabbalistic Yeshiva on every street corner, literally every street corner.  Go to one of those.  As far as what it would take to get in, that would very much depend on the Yeshiva.  Some such as Yeshivat HaShalom, Beit El, and Nahar Shalom will take you so long as you are Orthodox, married, and can read Hebrew(speaking it will also be helpful).  Others are much more stringent on who many enter.  I would say the biggest key is that if you are turned away from one, don’t let that keep you from trying at another.

9)     Why do the kabbalists that you have studied under uniformly reject Gershom Scholem? Can you be specific?

There is a sect of living Kabbalists that one can go and interact with, see, hear, and learn from.  Rav Shalom Hedayya offered to instruct him, he declined.  (site editor- It was R. GershonVilner) He writes about sects/schools of Kabbalah that have either ceased to exist or have been subsumed within other schools.  It is hard at best to paint an accurate picture of what was going on there. Essentially bad scholarship. &nbsp.

10).     How long does weekday shaharit take with kavvanot? Shabbat shararit?

Average for a weekday Shacharit would be about 1.5-2hrs(that includes Korbanot and everything).  For Shabbat tack on another 45min to an hr.  Admittedly we also read the Torah at what most would consider a snail’s pace, so that slows things down considerably.  To give people a better idea, I would say that for the average person the Amidah takes about 20-30mins to get through.  . I prayed with a Minyan once that gave everyone a full 45-50min to do the silent Amidah and then the repetition was equally long.  That was almost painful.

The real marathon for us is Yom HaKippurim.  From Alot HaShachar until Tzeit HaKhokavim I think we have a total of an hour when we are not praying.  That really is an endurance event.  There have been times when I was so tired by the time we were done that I didn’t eat afterwards, rather I just went straight to bed.

To be continued in Part II- here

Part 2 of 7: Rav Soloveitchik- Religious Definitions of Man and his Social Institutions (1958)

Continued from part one here.

This lecture is probably the most important in the series, in that it explores paths and ideas not continued in later versions.  This one has the core of his presentation of existential loneliness. Existentialism says that humans experience isolation, meaninglessness, and death. These absolute given elements in the human experience cause all of us to suffer in our lives. Whether you believe in a divine power or not, we do exist, and in our existence, we all experience pain and suffering. Existentialism offers us a way to discover our true, authentic selves through the pain and suffering.

The goal of Rav Soloveitchik’s project is to take legal norms and construct from them moral norms and religious experience.  Rav Soloveitchik arms himself with Emil Brunner’s Divine Imperative and Max Scheler’s On Sympathy, a pair of source books that are not on the shelves of his readers. From Brunner he receives the ideal that we need to reject Enlightenment individualism, but still keep the modern scientific dignity of man.  From Scheler, he took turning to God in our loneliness. He also takes his knowledge of Freud and critique of Freud.

Many years ago before I started a lecture,  I asked: What do Soloveitchik, Heschel, and John Paul  II have in common? Someone called out “They  were all born in Poland” which completely derailed my intended opening discussion of the fact that they all extensively used Max Scheler. In this lecture, we see Rav Soloveitchik considering positions closer to Heschel, such as the concept that the lonely God is in search of man and that there is a bond of sympathy. The difference between the two remains that for the latter the moment of sympathy is a prophetic peak, and for the former it reveals the depth of out suffering.  Here we have God as emotional and lonely; His very being is his aloneness. Humans reach out to the one being that can understand their loneliness. The later draft of Lonely Man of Faith does not entertain these ideas.

He developed his ideas on prayer in a series given the prior year of 1957 and in this talk we occasionally see the ideas from that earlier series breaking through. In my write up,  I collected these comments into a single section. There is a decent transcription of the prayer lectures floating around.

In this version, Rav Soloveitchik clearly cites his sources, albeit under his breath at times, and probably had full quotations with citation in his notebooks. However, there are unattributed citations in Lonley Man of Faith that are almost word for word. The question is where in the editing process did the text lose the quotation marks and then lose the citation?

To continue to drive home the sense of the era,  Thomas Clayton Wolfe (1900 – 1938) author of Look Homeward, Angel wrote an essay God’s Lonely Man (undated as an essay) Excerpt:

“The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence. When we examine the moments, acts, and statements of all kinds of people — not only the grief and ecstasy of the greatest poets, but also the huge unhappiness of the average soul…we find, I think, that they are all suffering from the same thing. The final cause of their complaint is loneliness.”

Once again, listen to it yourself here. Please post in the comments any useful observations on the Rav’s thought, the editing process, or explication. My notes are just tentative guides. First person here is Rav Soloveitchik. My comments have my initials.

Lecture #2

Part 1 The tension of the individual and community

Part 2 – The distinctive element of Judaism is our loneliness even in community.  Also anti medieval tangent

Part 3 – God is lonely

Part 4 Turning to God in our loneliness and suffering, Freud via Scheler

Part 5 Prayer

Part 6 Other psychologies

Part I The individual and the Community

The question that opens this lecture is the relationship of individual and community. Soloveitchik claims that In the classical period, they did not have community but only a universal philosophic sense. The Greeks were not about a state but rather the abstract principles of government.  His goal will be to try to interpret the Greek philosophy and classical influence asking translates into modern categories? And by modern I do not mean contemporary.

There are two doctrines of the relationship of the individual and community with which Judaism disagrees violently with both

The first is the Individualistic. For the Individualist, conceived by the Enlightenment, being is its own entity, the goal is freedom, and a person is not indebted to anything. (We hear an echo in the Declaration of independence.  In the beginning are the individual and people retain autonomy even after they join a community. The model is Robinson Crusoe alone on his island. Dilthey and Brunner have similar ideas and compare this approach to atomized matter and particles.

The opposite approach that we disagree with is idealism, a supra-individual.  Here the individual is subsumed as part of a bigger group-, class, mankind, or objective spirit of Hegel and Marx.

I developed last time that Judaism is not individualistic even if accepts logic of age of reason

[AB- Where is his characterization of the Greek polis from? Most books on Judaism in the 1960’s cite this critique of individualism in the name of Heschel. This explicit piece of Brunner is unattributed in Lonely Man of Faith.]

Part 2 – The Distinctive element of Judaism as loneliness in community & anti medieval

Judaism is a new idea. What are the distinctive elements in man?

The most important for Maimonides is the intellect. In Maimonides’ Moreh Nevukhin it is first and foremost the intellect. However, Medieval philosophy of religion- Maimonides, Saadyah, Halevi, Bahye, they were children of their time and their thought was colored by Neoplatonism. Maimonides was a mystic and Neoplatonist. “Sometimes you are dealing with Maimonides as a Jewish scholar and he vanishes and you have Maimonides the student of Aristotle.”

Therefore the sources are not reliable as a guide of Judaism, halakhah is the  only source that is reliable Extraneous influences did not reach it “as much.” But it is preserved as laws, and we need to construct religious experience and personality from it. From halkahic sources we need to create philosophy and religious experience beyond legal norms.

We have to be modest – Judaism has not given much to [Western] culture and not given much to world.

What we have given to the world and we should take credit for it is that man is a lonely being, humans are lonely, and this is what sets us apart from nature. In contrast, the Enlightenment Individual theory of being is atomistic and has no differentiation and does not differentiate experiences.

To be dignified, we need to be specific as people and differentiated into difference (Brunner). According to Thomas Jefferson, we are all equal. But this is false, Judaism greatness is the uniqueness of each person.

Image of god is that man is lonely

We have estrangement from creation and the natural order in general. Even on the social level- even in midst of crowded Time Square, there is a huge gulf of the individual and the community

[AB  Emil Bruner says many of the same points about moving beyond enlightenment reason to loneliness and community on pages 211, 487, 509, 703. Brunner concludes that individual reason is opposed to the lonely life of faith which joins with others on community.

Part III – God is Lonely

Judaism is monotheistic therefore the Shema means that God is not just a numerical one but that He is only one, unique and solidary. But the real meaning is that Shema Yisrael – The Lord is lonely

Medieval commentaries- understood it to mean unique, even moderns like Leopold Zunz- also translated it this way.  The “one” for Maimonides when translated into modern terms is best done as Rudolf Otto’s numinous, negative theology is the numinous. We cannot saw anything about God, it is called negative theology- see Maimonides’ Guide I: 60 – page 88 and I:61

The attributes of God are mostly not the same as ours.  If he is not like us, then he is alone and lonely.

Yahid means “only one,” In Deut 32:12 it means by God alone. God is the lonely one. He is a cloud-in Psalm 97 “Clouds and thick darkness surround him.”

[AB –Rav Soloveitchik translates Neoplatonism into Rudolf Otto’s- incommunicable. There was a parable written by Arthur Waskow, Before There Was A Before (with David Waskow, and Shoshana Waskow, Adama Books, 1984) about God’s loniliness, which he overcame through his chesed. Soloveitchik did not make any use of the rest of the verse in Psalm 97 “righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.”]

Part IV Max Scheler on Sympathy- Freud, Heschel’s God in Search for Man

Freud and other psychologists seek to cure suffering. But there is no cure.  Loneliness is not just negative, it expresses the depth of human dignity and greatness. Loneliness is part of human greatness. In Psalm 8,  “what are mere mortals, that you concern yourself with them humans, that you watch over them with such care? Leads to “You made him but little lower than the angels, you crowned him with glory and honor,

Suffering, the inner depth type bases on human loneliness, leads to religious experience, there is a need for suffering for religion.

If God is not hidden from humanity then there can be no social development for humanity. Therefore God must be hidden and remain alone and hidden. God is lonely.God reaches out to man and man reaches out to God. God searches for man. It is God’s search for man.

Drama of greatness of human experience requires suffering. Man is lonely. We have our disgust with life and everything the good life offers man. We respond in lonely silence and quietude in offering ourselves up to God.

Freud claims that religion is infantilizing  Freud is right that the experience is as a child toward a father – that is the one who takes care of you when you are helpless. But he is wrong about the underlying sorrow, the insecurity and the need to cast ourselves to God when we are downcast. It is not childish but the correct response, see Psalm 55:23.

Freud is wrong because turning to God is the correct way for dealing with suffering and crushing defeat. I find shelter in God. Man cannot turn to another person because a person is also lonely. He can only turn to God who reaches out to him. [AB- Max Scheler’s Catholic students used this point to justify the suffering and love of Jesus.]

[AB- In Civilization and Its Discontents (1930)delves into how religion is one of many modes of being that arise out of the need for the individual to distance and soothe itself in the face of the suffering that exists within the world. Freud claims that the 'purpose of life is simply the programme of the pleasure principle but the"displacement of the libido" - instead of satisfying our libidinal desires, we channel them into creative endeavors.

Max Scheler responds in On the Nature of Sympathy of the the capacity to apprehend the pain, suffering, or signs of negative emotions and to respond to these with appropriate negative feelings. What the non-suffering person does for the sufferer isn’t as important as the fact that they do it with as much love as possible.]

V Prayer – Tangents from the audience after the mention of loneliness and prayer.

What is prayer?  Without loneliness we have no prayer. Plotinus described the “alone to the alone,” the  loneliness of prayer.

The Greeks only have aesthetic hymns and odes, not prayer. There are hymns in Judaism but they are not the main form of prayer. Jewish prayer concerns the suffering of man.We have distress therefore  we call out to God. Prayer is selfish, it is for our needs We need depth distress for prayer [AB- Rav Soloveitchik speeds up and talks animated about prayer. There is a gap in tape in this section.)

Prayer is dialogue with the lonely man- only two people are present man and God. Liberal Judaism did away with silent prayer because they think no one is lonely  I don’t want to preach Orthodoxy but this is what’s wrong with the family pew. Why is family pew wrong? The modern man wants to be confortable. He does not want crushing defeat; he does not acknowledge that he is a lonely individual, that ultimately he is isolated and alone without family. Therefore, we never let a child and father sit next to each other in shul. (He was asked for the source for this.) He answered that it is the Ram”a , “that one should not embrace or kiss his child in synagogue is the source. We all sit as lonely and defeated in shul. The Synagogue is not family time and is not community time. We need a place to prayer but not in a community sense.

We have knelling and bowing  in prayer to show that we fall in complete defeat before God. [Another gap in the tape.]

Prayer can be recited in every language-, but should be in Hebrew since translation is hard

[AB-notice how not kissing children is used as the philosophic equivalent of not siting together.]

VI- Other Psychologies

The psychological idea of “peace of mind” is wrong. It requires that I am successful and can avoid suffering. [AB- Joshua Liebman, a Reform rabbi wrote a 1950’s bestseller Peace of Mind – claiming religion as a peace of mind and a good family life is the goal of religion- it was used extensively for the explanation of the commandments by both Maurice and Norman Lamm.]

We Jews believe two types of crisis: environmental and being. –The former is famine/war/pestilence and the latter is the permanent distress of being.

When someone dies there is distress of grieving – we don’t share with the mourner the pain and suffering, we are not real in our grief. One can be a rabbi and pay a shiva call and not share the pain at all. One can, however, have a smooth tongue and be a big liar. Every must personally experience loneliness by themselves.

“I am beginning to become a bore” but only humans have a depth reality. A stone only exists in relations to others. But man exists for himself. (AB- cf Levinas where man exists for others, and Heschel where we exist in sympathy with God.)

Behaviorism , is a school of psychology that defines man just as his activities. It equates man and chimps There is more to man than his behavior. There is depth existence, selfhood, personal experience,

Read Henrik Ibsen – man is weak, women stronger. They have the depth of self.

Man is not captured by externally watching his actions. One cannot communicate the inner self. This teaching of the self is Judaism. One never overcome loneliness

AB-From the poet Carl Sandburg during the same years

When God scooped up a handful of dust, And spit on it, and molded the shape of man, And blew a breath into it and told it to walk, that was a great day. And did God do this because He was lonely? Did God say to Himself he must have company And therefore He would make man to walk the earth And set apart churches for speech and song with God? These are questions. They are scrawled in old caves. They are painted in tall cathedrals. There are men and women so lonely they believe God, too, is lonely. *** Carl Sandburg

Memorial for Yoske Achituv by Yehudah Mirsky

Yoske Achituv who died two weeks ago was the last of the German born Orthodox leaders of the Religious Kibbutz movement. Most of the reigns of leadership had been pasted to others in the early 1990′s and most of Achituv’s colleagues, even younger ones, have already passed away. I first meet him in the 1980′s and in the last decades he was a known figure in the religious academic circles. His wiki page has a nice list of his writings and articles about him.

From the Yehudah Mirsky tribute on Open Zion

Yosef Achituv, known to one and all as Yoske, was a slight man, whose unfailingly gentle soft-spokenness, vaguely luftmenschlich air and easy benevolence were almost comically at odds with the power of his intellect and moral clarity, and the depth of his passions. Born in Germany in 1933 he came as an infant with his family, studied in a Haredi yeshiva and religious Zionist high school, and, in the course of his army service in the early 1950s joined Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, in the south near Ashkelon, where he lived, worked and taught for the rest of his life.

Almost all the religious kibbutzim are inside the Green Line, and are regularly been lonely redoubts of moderation in the religious Zionist camp.

The religious kibbutz movement as a whole, Ha-Kibbutz Ha-Dati, is an insufficiently-known side of the Zionist story, one very much worth telling, even, or especially, now that Yoske is gone.

While religious Zionism was historically driven by the moderate, statist, bourgeois Mizrachi movement, and later by the redemptive messianism of the latter-day followers of Rav Kook, the Kibbutz Ha-Dati, founded in the interwar years, drew on different cultural sources: the moral pathos of Samson Rafael Hirsch’s German neo-Orthodoxy, the fervent existentialism of Polish Hasidism that stamped the Religious Workers’ Party, Ha-Po’el Ha-Mizrachi, and, later, (in the person of leading thinker Eliezer Goldman) a mix of Maimonidean rationalism and American-style pragmatism, all leavened with a healthy mistrust of authority. Yoske was shaped by all these currents, while reworking them by his own lights in endless teaching (to both young people and adults) one major volume, dozens of studies and hundreds of essays. I could go on at length about his ideas, but three key themes will have to do for now.

First, he understood Judaism, community-building and education in terms of one another. Thus Judaism is about forging a range of dynamic spaces that counter the “arousal culture,” as he put it, of consumerism, fostering individual flourishing and mutual responsibility, in a never-ending lifelong process of education that “creates the human atmosphere befitting the ability to serve God and keep His mizvot.”

Second, humility. Yoske’s personality was inseparable from his ideas, and he was as humble in lifestyle and deportment as he was about what religious teachings and Zionism could and couldn’t claim or achieve. In recent years, the traditional term for modest restraint, tzniut, has (in many circles) become a watchword for policing women’s bodies. But Yoske took on this discourse with patience, calm and erudition, arguing against the objectification of women by ad agencies and rabbis both. Modesty, he maintained, is moral education—It’s about how we consume as much as how we discipline our desires.

Third, he railed against the transformation in religious Zionism of the land and people of Israel into metaphysical abstractions that crush human beings. This was another front in his struggle with objectification. In a sense, he thought Religious Zionist theology went both too far and not far enough. Too far in essentializing, reifying living, breathing realities into inhuman abstractions, and not far enough in recognizing that Zionism is a genuine revolution, a new situation— one of Jewish sovereignty, internal and external diversity, and newfound power—that requires a critical deep reinterpretation of traditional concepts and categories in terms of human equality from within the halakhic process itself. Read the rest here

From Avi Sagi’s Eulogy:

Yoska was all about compassion and caring for others. He never asked anything for himself. He was content with his lot, and this contentment found expression in an absence of want. His unique goodness was demonstrated precisely in the way that goodness should be – giving to others and caring for them. Even during his illness, he always, always, thought about others – his wife Yaffa, may she live and be well, his children, grandchildren, friends, the kibbutz, religious Zionism, the State, and every person suffering. Because he was a loving, compassionate man. He thought about everyone but himself. He was the kind of man who was a rock for everyone during hard times and good times.

Yoska’s direct interest was to mend religious Zionism, which he was an integral part of him.
Yet his work strove towards an even further horizon: mending the entire society. He wanted to return the special synthesis between religion and humanism to Israeli society in general and religious Zionism in particular as well as the profound respect for all of God’s creatures regardless of religion, gender, political or national orientation, or skin color. This respect was not an empty concept, and if it was empty then it is we who are empty.

This respect is demonstrated in his recognition of the equal value of all mortals, and a courageous stand against attempts to exclude women, or to hurt non-Jews, strangers, and those who are struggling and suffering. The man was a Jewish religious humanist. And as opposed to Leibowitz who saw a contradiction between humanism and Torah, Yoska believed that humanism is the very foundation of Torah and any other position is a desecration of God’s name.
Read the Rest Here

Tributes in Hebrew   זכרונות עמיתים

(יאיר אטינגר, עיתון הארץ, יוני 2012)

Guidelines for Conversations between Evangelicals and Jews

This year was the 4th annual U.S. Jewish/Evangelical Encounter. One of the senior Evangelical participants Prof. Jay Phelan, formerly President and Dean of North Park Theological Seminary, posted his talk on his blog. The paper is long, I posted the relgious aspects and left out most of the political aspects; you can read the rest at his blog. Any thoughts and feedback for him? Any observations?

How Not to Criticize Israel: Guidelines for Conversations between Evangelicals and Jews
John E. Phelan, Jr. North Park Theological Seminary

Evangelical Christians have for years been dependable supporters of the state of Israel. Dispensationalist interpreters saw the reconstitution of the state in 1948 as a fulfillment of prophecy and a clear sign that the return of Jesus was at hand. Throughout the following decades Israel could count on Evangelicals to support the state in the voting booth as well as from the pulpit. This support, of course, was not new. Zionists found support for their cause in the late 19th and early 20th century from Christian students of prophecy who were convinced the fulfillment of God’s purposes required a Jewish state in their ancient homeland. In the early decades of the 20thcentury pastors, theologians, and Christian politicians enthusiastically promoted the cause of a Jewish homeland. In many circles to this day it is unthinkable for an Evangelical to criticize or question the state of Israel.

In recent years things have begun to change. Many Evangelicals have been sensitized to the sufferings and struggles of the Palestinians—particularly Palestinian Christians. At the same time, Dispensationalism has fallen into disfavor in many Evangelical circles. For many the state of Israel is no longer necessary for the fulfillment of prophecy and the Jews’ return to the land is no longer seen as a reason for celebration. Evangelical Christians committed to social justice have joined their colleagues in mainline Protestant churches in criticizing Israel over the plight of the Palestinians. Its Christian critics now frequently depict Israel as just one more oppressive colonial power in the Middle East. Supporting Israel has become as unthinkable for some Evangelicals as supporting cuts in government support of the poor!

Israel is a state like any other. It has had good leaders and poor ones. It has made wise decisions and foolish ones. It is as subject to criticism as Egypt, Iraq or the United States… Conversations between Evangelicals and Jews over the perceived failures of the state of Israel are fairly new. In what follows some principles of engagement are proposed that may enable those conversations to be helpful rather than hurtful.

Principle One: Evangelicals should not criticize the state of Israel by questioning the legitimacy of Judaism itself.

Some Evangelical criticism of Israel has come by way of a critique of so-called “Christian Zionism.” Such criticism is intended to break the hold that Dispensationalist thinkers have had on Evangelical conversations about Israel and Judaism. Unfortunately, when critics launch salvoes at the popular dispensationalist approaches to the interpretation of the Bible the Jews are caught in the crossfire. It is popular to argue against the Christian Zionists, for example, by suggesting that the Jews no longer have any right to the land of Israel in that Christians are now the sole heirs of all the promises to Abraham. Some have gone as far as to say this means the Palestinian Christians are the true heirs of the land of Israel—not the Jews (or the Muslims, for that matter).

In making their case against the Christian Zionists and for the Christian Palestinians these Evangelical critics of Israel have perhaps inadvertently launched an attack on Judaism itself. Their approach implies not only that Jews no longer have a right to the land of Israel, but also that they no longer have a right to interpret their own holy texts. Christians are now entrusted with the stewardship of the Jewish scriptures and their meaning. This amounts to a Christian colonization of Jewish texts and traditions. To many Jews this sounds like the Jews, not simply Israel, have no right to exist. This is not simply an attack on their homeland but on their core convictions about their identity and purpose as God’s people. Given the ugly history of Christian and Jewish relations such approaches sound a warning bell for even the most secular Jew!

Christian scholars have in recent years been engaged in serious discussions of “supersessionism” or “replacement” theories. In its crudest form supersessionism holds that the people of Israel have simply been superseded by the church of Jesus Christ and therefore have no claim on their own texts, traditions or future. This conversation is not a new one. The future of the people of Israel as Israel was an issue that deeply troubled the apostle Paul. Some argue that the entire book of Romans is dedicated to exploring this issue. When Paul discusses this directly in Romans 9-11 he begins by arguing “they are[note the present tense] Israelites. The adoption as God’s children, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship and the promises belongto them.” A bit later he insists, “God did not reject his people whom he foreknew.” He concludes his argument with the startling assertion: “All Israel will be saved.” It seems clear that Paul, at least, did not think that with the founding of the Christian church God’s promises to and love for Israel, as Israel had become passé. Paul, it seems to many of us, foresaw a future for Israel as Israel.

The upshot of all this is that Evangelicals would do well to avoid using theological arguments to criticize the state of Israel. Such theological arguments may be heard as at least indirect attacks on Jews and Judaism. This will, to say the least, not foster helpful conversations. It is certainly fair to criticize Israel where its actions are demonstrably unjust and contrary to its own laws and principles, but it is frankly anti-Jewish to criticize Israel by implying Jews, as Jews have no right to land or a future. Evangelical critics of Israel need to recognize how painfully this rings in Jewish ears. Evangelicals implying that Israel, as a Jewish state, has no right to exist will not improve the situation of the Palestinians.

Principle Two: Criticisms of the State of Israel must be grounded in an understanding of the history of the region and a fair assessment of its contemporary challenges.

The history of this region did not begin with the construction of the separation fence and wall or even with the foundation of the state in 1948. The conflicts between Israel’s Jews and their neighbors did not begin with the first Intifada. Israel’s critics need to remember that the Jews did not simply take the land in the war of independence but were promised a homeland by the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The British, anticipating the fall of the Ottoman Empire declared that they viewed “with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The declaration became part of the peace treaty with Turkey after the war. Following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire with the help of the British, Arabs, long under the thumb of the Ottoman Empire and European colonial powers, established several large states in North Africa and the Middle East. The Jews, in spite of assurances from the British, faced a long and bitter struggle to see their promised homeland established.

Years ago the American Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, a supporter of the creation of the state of Israel, argued that justice could only be relative in the Middle East…

Third Principle: Conversations between Evangelicals and Jews about Israel and Judaism must recognize and acknowledge foundational disagreements between and shared ignorance of one another.

Evangelicals should not assume they understand contemporary Jews and Judaism. They may know the Hebrew Scriptures well. They may be well versed on the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day. They may imagine that because they understand Paul’s critiques of his Jewish contemporaries, that they understand and may critique their Jewish contemporaries. Such assumptions are fatal to dialogue. The key to any useful dialogue is to let the dialogue partner speak for him or herself! It is not for Evangelical Christians to tell Jews what they believe. Nor, of course, is it the place of Jews to tell Christians, evangelical or otherwise, what they believe. Dialogue always begins with listening. Evangelicals should let their Jewish partners tell their own stories and vice versa. In these conversations the differences will emerge and be acknowledged soon enough!

Careful listening will reveal that there are many religious, political, and theological differences within the respective Jewish and Evangelical communities! There are a variety of opinions within both camps regarding the politics and practices of the state of Israel. There are significant disagreements regarding how the texts and traditions of Judaism and Christianity are to be applied to living in the modern world. But whatever the differences, there is in many if not most Jews a fierce commitment to endurance the Jewish people. A bitter history of pogroms and the Holocaust has bound many Jews, both religious and secular, to the land of Israel. Here, if nowhere else, in a Jewish homeland, Jews can be safe to live as Jews and practice their traditions well, poorly, or not at all! For many Jews the state of Israel is an assurance of a Jewish future. Evangelicals cannot pretend to understand fully or appreciate what it means to the survivors of centuries of violence and hostility to find a safe home in the land of Israel.

Jews and Christians view differently the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. They view differently the role of Torah in the life of an individual and community. They regard the same texts as the authoritative word of God but read them through a very different set of lenses. Their sense of “peoplehood” is very different. Only if Evangelicals and Jews listen to one another and learn from one another over time will they begin to understand their varied convictions and commitments.

In spite of their many differences, Evangelical Christians and Jews still have a great deal in common and profound reasons to listen to and learn from one another. Evangelical Christians and Jews worship the same God—the God of the Jews—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is the God who calls all Jews and Christians, “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8b). And whatever their differences with Jews over Israel, Evangelical Christians who hold authoritative the words of the Apostle Paul should be concerned that the Jewish people have a future, believing the Jews beloved of God and that “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”

Principle Four: Evangelicals should criticize Israel as friends of Israel.

Criticism from those hostile to the state of Israel and critical of its very existence are certainly less well received than that of critics committed to a just a safe future for Israel and its Jews. Any criticism that is not founded on Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state may sound like an attack on the very survival of the Jews. Criticism grounded in love is more easily borne that criticism rooted in hostility.

Rav Soloveitchik- Religious Definitions of Man and his Social Institutions part 1of 7 (1958)

I checked my stats the other day and my post from six months ago on “Rav Soloveitchik to Mental Health Professionals 1978” has unbeknownst to me slowly turned into my most read post, with a score of readers every day. So, I decided to do a few more. Let me know in the comments, what is the attraction?

The lecture “Religious Definitions of Man and his Social Institutions part 1of 7 (1958),” was the start of Rav Soloveitchik’s working out his Existential thoughts. His early writings from the 1940s consisted of epistemology, a comparison of Torah to science, the creation of a Halakhic intellectualism, and ways to be this worldly. In 1958, Rav Soloveitchik started working out his response to existentialism, psychology, and the role of the individual. He did this by taking notes on books which he thought were important and offered his comments. The books he used will reveal themselves in the course of these lectures. These seven lectures were refined into the single lecture of Lonely Man of Faith (1966) and some of the material was used in other lectures from 1967-1974. For any future articles on Rav Soloveitchik and Lonley Man of Faith, these seven lectures are essential tools to show what motivated his thinking: they elaborate his thought, they explicate his sources, and by contrast they show what his final resolution in 1966 rejected.

This time, the year was 1958. Camus won the Nobel Prize in 1957; Existentialism was reaching the U.S. and the existentialism of film noir just ended. Existentialism grappled with many aspects of human condition including: anxiety, anguish, dread, despair, boredom, guilt, loneliness, forlornness, lack of meaning, self-deception, suicide, death, suffering, and finitude.
During this time, WSSW – YU’s social work school had just opened. Tradition, the Orthodox journal was just founded and sought to offer theological Orthodoxy to compete with the journals- Conservative Judaism, Commentary, and Judaism. Will Herberg together with Niebuhr started a rice of theology in America, a half dozen years prior to the Orthodox taking up the banner. Modernity as a problem of alienation and loneliness was already in the curriculum. The 1950 classic, The Lonely Crowd by David Reisman et al., was accepted and in it included its wisdom that society dominated by the outer-directed social oriented people leads to profound deficiencies in leadership, individual self-knowledge, and human potential. But Rav Soloveitchik is more literary. Albert Camus thought “it is in solitude and loneliness that we find the threads that bind us together in community.” For Kierkegaard, loneliness gave his soul depth. If we are willing to be present to ourselves in loneliness, then we will learn who we are. Lecture II in this series is entirely about loneliness. (If anyone know the exact details of to whom the lecture was given, please let me know).

We have to thank David Etengoff for transferring the lectures to mp3 and uploading them. Here is the lecture.

Don’t take my word for what the Rav says, listen to it yourself. If you have never heard a full shiur from Rav Soloveitchik then this lecture will show you what the Rav was. No Gadol in 1958 (or even now) would have spent his time grappling with the high culture and existential thought of the era. Notice how non-halakhic the lecture is and how he turns instead to theology. This lecture will remind you why people were attracted to Rav Soloveitchik. Please correct me if I heard anything incorrectly. I do not intend to mediate your direct encounter with his lecture so I have left many of his statements as first person and placed my commentary in brackets.

Part I- This talk is subjective. There is no truth or objectivity in Jewish thought and theology.
Part II-Every Religion needs a doctrine of man
Part III-God for us is both the hidden God and the God of closeness and dialogue.
Part IV-Need to bring this to the masses, too elite for most. Discussion of the Trinity

Part I- Subjectivity
Rav Soloveitchik opens with the drama of his role as a humble teacher. He requests to be interrupted and liked it when students had questions.

He states that he is not trained in theology or religious philosophy. But the questions of Heidegger – and religious philosophy were all around the university. He says that there are many theological problems but very few answers. Rav Soloveitchik admits that he is eclectic. He says, “I am not laying claim to any theological validity” and “I don’t know if it is true or not.” For theology, we cannot be right or wrong since we have no laboratory to test what we say or even any objective tests. He offers only his subjective thoughts, his subjective experience and his subjective understanding of modern man.

“I am not trying to convince anyone – I lack missionary zeal.” Whatever I do it is as a lack of confidence on my part. I am confessing and sharing. If it is not commensurate with your experience or incongruent with them. I will not feel hurt.

Whoever makes an authoritative statement about Jewish philosophy is wrong . We have no method to determine which Jewish philosopher is correct. It is all a matter of interpretation.

[Notice that right at the start he is not claiming his lecture is the truth, nor is he claiming it is a Torah intuition, or even any expertise. He says it is subjective and just his personal understanding. As you listen to the lecture, note that he is not introducing halakhah to the gentile world, nor is he introducing philosophy to Jews. His goal, as it was in many other lectures, was to raise Judaism to the highest levels of culture and to answer the intellectual problems of the age. In 2012, it would be Habermas, Taylor, and Levinas, globalization and the immanent frame of religion- not to teach 18th century science or fight segulot and other gedolim. To turn Jewish thought into halakah or as having a pesak or coming from the theologically untrained is not Rav Soloveitchik. see the writings of Walter Wurzburer for more details.]

Part II-Doctrine of Man
I will deal with the doctrine of man. Every civilized religion has a philosophy of religion, by this I mean Christianity and Islam.

Cognition is main motif that shapes religious experience. Homo Religious is a form of Homo theoretical
Homo Religious needs curiosity, needs to know how to save world. Many think religion is not a cognitive gesture- like Schleiermacher thought it was emotion, Kant- thought it was volitional-ethical

The Homo Theoretical is bound by finitude and formal equation whereas theHomo Religious is not about discovery, and not interested in the useful or knowledge of reality. Rather, he seeks to order to the universe. If the universe is not knowable then we have resignation. For the Homo Religious every aspect of reality and being – act of resignation
Religion is not to be equated with ignorance or uneducated. There is no ignorant religion since ignorance and elegance do not go together. However, Skeptic questioning against knowledge comes from arrogance and ignorance.

Existence that transcends the boundaries of finality must be in confines of temporality- this is Jewish. We meet find God in confines of time and space – unlike medieval Christianity

In the Mechanical order, Homo Religious still need to meet his creator and still falls into bottomless abyss. He struggles with absurdity with the unknown called existence.

Man rebels against god and his authority, then returns too God, who receives him like a child, and to whom his rebellion was like child.

Religious knowledge is not other-worldly, a leap into the unknown or anti-scientific. The cognitive gesture of Homo Religious is mainly concerned with the order of personal existence. He looks into – himself

The Greeks were theoreticians and lacked practicality. But when it came to what is man? They became practical. They tried to answer: how to be happy? They not did with struggle with self. They became practical and pragmatic.
But modern Homo Religious asks the theoretical question: Who is man? What is his Existential condition? His self awareness?

Different religions differ in their conceptions of the above described Homo Religious. “I have very little knowledge of Eastern religion, not even to mention it.”

Most religious systems were metaphysical and developed theosophy doctrines not anthropology. Aquinas had social philosophy and natural law, but no question of man for himself. Only lately Christianity began to develop – as religious existentialism started producing many books.

Judaism is a very unique position; it is intellectual and also focused on man. In Judaism, anthropology replaced man. Judaism is about the essence of man never the essence of God. Judaism is theocentric but anthropological oriented.

God is beginning and end of everything; – if we are not focused on God, then why spend so much money on our institutions?

[In Halakhic Man, the religious man and the cognitive man were separate. Here we have an assumption that religious man is a version of cognitive man. Notice the use of the term “theoretical man” which reflects his own view of Judaism.]
[His category formation is still early twentieth century, with its post-Hegelian concern for the triad of God, man, and world. If you want to know more, see the Baden Neo-Kantian, Richard Kroner, Speculation and Revelation In Modern Philosophy (1961). Similarity, pre-WWI is his wanted to definitely decide between thought, volition, and emotion. Works like Joachim Wach’s The Comparative Study of Religions dedicate their first chapter to stating that the phenomena of religion have all three, even if religious thinkers want to choose one over another.] [Notice how far this intellectualism is from Centrist emotionalism and volitionalism or skepticism toward theology.]

[ I was glad to see that in these tapes, the Rav distinguishes between medieval and modern Christianity. In contrast, his writings almost always use the phrase Christianity when he only means the medieval variety. This always bothered me since the very Christian books on his desk were rejecting and disassociating themselves from the medieval versions. I wonder where the editorial change came in?]

[After the existential revolt, Rav Soloveitchik does not envision anything Sisyphus or Promethean as one would expect from the Camus language. Rather, the Rav offers reconciliation with God like a parent accepts his child who went away. There are echoes of Christian reconciliation in that description.]

Part III- Rav Soloveitchik’s God
In Judaism, God himself is the hidden God, Jal Mistatar – unknowable and unknown. The Jewish experience of God (shared by other religions is antithetic, a polarity. it has both remoteness and intimate closeness. How is that possible? Judaism does not use Aristotelian logic of excluded middle. Unlike classic physic, modern physics uses both waves and particles; modern physics does not use Aristotle. God is both remote and close- in our encounter we are bewildered and comforted. Since Creation is also revelation, the every tree also incomprehensible strange.

When Jacob was wresting with God, just the night before he spoke to Him with intimacy. That is the dichotomy of greatness and magnificence followed by struggle and darkness. The Individual Homo Religious has a life of paradox. Judaism has the greatest book of the religious experience- and everyone agrees that the author of Psalms was a religious genius. We see the contrast in that in Psalm 23 God is comfort and security and then in Psalm 24. We are searching for God and cannot find Him.

[Rav Soloveitckik removes all kavod theories, therefore no kisse hakavod or shekhinah, no emanation or kabbalah. There is also no relationship based on the metaphors of king-subject, master-slave, or father-son. Nor is there any direct providence or life with God. Like the Kalam and Kant, we have lost our Chain of Being. Much of this sounds like Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans- the telltale sign was the literary importance of Psalms 23 and 24 used by Barth. Notice that the theology is entirely Biblical. (Wait until the next tape where he explicitly mentions his sources.)]

Part IV-But this is only for the Few! Let’s Look at the Trinity

Institutional religion can only be organized on a single idea of God without having a sense of polarity. There is no polarity on communal level. The religion of the few is not the religion of the many. It is Incompressible to the many. Some religions emphasize one side of the polarity over the other.

Christianity solved this issue with the Trinity. They have the distant Father and the closeness of the Son. The scheme of the Father-Son and Trinity was created by the Fathers of the Desert and then later by Augustine. This captures the closeness and distance of God. Son is on earth as mediator, prayer cannot reach God as Father.
In England, in the Anglican Church, everyone is part of the ecclesia, even if run by the few. Religion is not just for the few. Religion not just for philosopher

Means and ways must found to simplify it for everyone—this dichotomy is for the few.

[Wow, I would have never expected an explicit discussion of the Trinity and the comparisons to Judaism. Yet, it makes sense if he has Christian theologians open in front of him and is grappling with the material. We also have an explicit acknowledgement that his thought is for the elite few and he needs to solve it. ]

Go Listen to the Lecture

Prayer before meals

This is from GetReligion, a site that watches how the media does not get religion. Here they catch a piece of absurdity where the TV chef Alton Brown says that he is religious and the host Simon does not realize that it means he says grace before he eats. To be religious means one prays, studies scripture, and observes festivals. Most of the Christians that I have worked with or attend meetings with say grace before meals, that goes without saying. But what I find interesting is that religious Jews have the same flabbergasted sense when a Christian says they are religious that it may mean they prayer before eating, attend daily services, or say evening prayers. It seems Jews are wedded to the false dichotomy that Judaism is are deeds and Christianity is creed. Even modern orthodox Jews dont realize that the attorney, doctor or real estate broker who say he or she is a religious Christian prays before eating and attends services?

May 26, 2012 – SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This Memorial Day weekend, many Americans will fire up a grill to cook dogs or burgers, tuna, zucchini or tofu. That’s our focus as we begin the occasional WEEKEND EDITION series all about seasonal food and drink called Taste of Summer. Alton Brown joins us now, the food historian and scientist. He’s best known for his award-winning Food Network show “Good Eats” and for hosting “Iron Chef America.” He’s currently one of the celebrity chef mentors on the reality competition “Food Network Star.”

SIMON: Let me ask you a question that doesn’t have anything to do with grilling but has a lot to do with you, while we have the chance.

BROWN: OK.

SIMON: You say grace before a meal?

BROWN: I do. Yeah. I say grace. I’m a big believer in grace. I happen to believe in a God that made all the food and so I’m pretty grateful for that and I thank him for that. But I’m also thankful for the people that put the food on the table.

The people that grew the food, the people that got the food to me. I think that being grateful, being thankful, makes food tastes better, actually, and it’s something that we should take time to do. I do.

SIMON: Might be a good thing to remember on a weekend like this, wouldn’t it?

BROWN: Might be.

GetRelgion- I also got a kick out of how the host says the question doesn’t have anything at all whatsoever to do with grilling. (How does he know?) And then he says it does have a lot to do with Alton Brown.
But after the piece was sent along, it did kind of remind me how weird it can be to be a Christian — or religious adherent who thanks a deity in prayer — in this media environment. I mean, when I think of my family members, the people

I go to church with and almost every other Christian I know at the level of having eaten with them, we all say prayers before our meals. It’s something that happens before every single meal. It’s completely typical to the point that if I went over to a Christian friend’s house and we didn’t pray before eating, it would be seriously weird.

And yet the subtext in some media environments, I can’t help but notice, is that praying before a meal is the abnormal or atypical thing worth asking a question about. It’s just kind of interesting, isn’t it?
Get the rest Here

Jewish conversion to LDS in LA Jewish Journal

Mark Parades, the Mormon author of a column for the LA Jewish journal and friend of the Orthodox Union and promoter of Orthodox -Mormon dialogue claims that he is finally comfortable to bridge the most sensitive topic in the Mormon- Jewish encounter, that is conversion. He posts a 5000 word interview with a traditional Conservadaox Jew who converted to Mormonism. Her theology and attraction to Mormonism includes that they have Temples, prophets, and a serving priesthood- all things she knew from the Bible. She was also influence by the genealogies of Genesis to think of Abrham’s descendants and peoples of the earth. Like most outreach, she found those that reached her caring.She was attracted to the Mormon views of afterlife, a topic that Judaism tends to avoid.

Why should a Jew become a Mormon? Ask Marlena

Posted by Mark Paredes

The proverbial “third rail” issue for a Christian blogger on a Jewish website is Jewish conversion to Christianity. It is one of the few issues that unites practically all Jews, and well-funded organizations (e.g., Jews for Judaism) have been set up to keep Jews from converting.

A few weeks ago a prominent Jewish leader asked me why Jews decide to become Mormons. I decided to pose a series of questions to my friend Marlena Tanya Muchnick, a well-known Jew-turned-Mormon speaker, author, and researcher.

Q: How old were you when you converted to the LDS Church?

A: I often contemplated the gifts promised the human family in the Tree of Life mentioned in Genesis 2. The Hebrew life giving tree motif I found in a copy of Kabbalah (esoteric Judaic writings). It stirred in me a deep curiosity about the mysterious connections of all things in earth and heaven. I read of covenants, oaths, the patterns and behaviors of men –blessings received, curses endured. Always the connection of God to His children was tested and tried. The Hebrew people have always been engaged in a love story (often also a tryst!) with their Father/Lord. So, in a fashion, I was being spiritually prepared for my transformation at age 47 – from Orthodox/Conservative Jewess to a temple-attending Latter-day Saint.

Q: Jews believe the Abrahamic covenant still applies to them. Mormons also believe that the Abrahamic covenant is applicable today. Why is there a need for a Jew to become a Mormon if the Abrahamic covenant is still alive and well?

A: Being raised an observant Jewess, I trusted that the everlasting Avrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12, 15, 17, and 28) was the blueprint for every life. An agreement between mankind and God, it is unconditional in its nature to bless the tribes of Israel (see Genesis 12:2-3). Nations and kings were to descend from that patriarch who would become father of a “great nation”, receiving special blessings for their faithfulness, including the Mashiach’s (Messiah’s) return into their midst. Many Jews believe in these future events but have little idea of the profound meanings implicit in them. Spiritual truth often lies in mystery, but to ignore that tantalizing search is to remain dead to the potential for life that waits hopefully within each soul.

Fortunately for me, through the teachings of the missionaries, I discovered that Mormons understand covenants better than anyone, because they realize the importance and urgency of gathering members of the house of Israel through the restored, latter-day Gospel teachings as reintroduced through the Prophet Joseph Smith; his translation of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the restoration of the temples of God to the earth.

Jews are the “chosen” people according to God’s covenant with Abraham, but they became scattered and drifted into anonymity through intermarriage and abandonment of their traditions and religion. Abraham wanted to regain the true priesthood and gospel principles that had been lost through apostasy. But neither the Jews nor anyone else can be automatically saved. The Latter-day Saints have been charged with finding those who are lost and teaching them the essential news of the restoration of ancient priesthood powers which God has covenanted to them unconditionally on His part. But individual faithfulness and action are required to bring fulfillment. Judaism is the foundation of Christianity, not the final product.

Q: What was it that attracted you to Mormonism?

During my growing years as a female in a traditionally male cultural setting, I sought in the synagogues for a deeper and especially a personal solace. Jews do not focus on personal prayer. Synagogue prayers are praises to God and petitions for Israel – our traditional way of approaching Deity. But I needed a personal witness. Finally, pleading with God before the opened Torah scrolls, I challenged Him to bring me what He knew I needed; then I determined to find it myself, if it took this lifetime to do so.  It took several years longer.

My only sibling, a younger brother, eventually accepted the Gospel more or less against his will. Mark had married a Tongan whose father translated the Book of Mormon into Tongan for the country’s royalty. Mark’s wife and family were, of course, devoted Mormons.  In 1975, he brought me a Book of Mormon, to share the joy in the Gospel that he had found. I immediately rejected it.“I have Torah. Why would I need another book? No, thanks. I prefer to remain a Jew. Is this what our people have fought to become?  I think not.”

1. I found those Mormons I met and who befriended me to be genuinely caring about each and every person and were gentle and forgiving folk. They were genuinely kind to me and they related all their life experiences to faith and love of God and Christ. What impressed me so much was their close relationship with God. That gave them satisfaction I had only dreamt of finding. They listened to my denials of Christ, asked me about Judaism, and were genuinely interested in comparing religions through scripture and through their own understanding. And then there was the “look” in their eyes. Was it joy? True happiness? Their constant relationship with the mysterious Holy Spirit? I wanted it!

4. I was attracted to the notion that prophets and seers were once again on the earth. In Torah many prophets are mentioned, some true, some false.  The greater ones were usually disbelieved and hated for their unpopular messages. Some met with an untimely death. The last Hebrew prophet, Malachi, lived at the end of the 70-year Babylonian exile. Judaism today does not recognize anyone as having the voice to speak for them. But the Mormons claim Joseph Smith was a prophet and seer and that these chosen men of God will never again be taken from the earth. Thomas S. Monson is regarded as the current seer and prophetic voice among the Saints and he has two counselors. Together they form the First Presidency of the church. Their writings, in my mind, equal and often surpass those of many scholarly Talmudic sages.

5. The Mormon view of the afterlife attracted me greatly. Jews believe there is an Olam Haba – the world to come after death. Torah emphasizes immediate, concrete, physical rewards and punishments rather than abstract future ones. See, for example, Lev. 26:3-9 and Deut. 11:13-15. However, there is clear evidence in Torah of belief in existence after death. Indicated in several places the righteous with their loved ones will be reunited after death, while the wicked will be excluded. Ideas about resurrection and reincarnation are accepted, but there is much room for personal opinion, because Torah does not mention this subject directly, though the early temples practiced cleansing and vivifying rites. I was very concerned with what hope there was for mine and my family’s death. Mormons have revealed knowledge through prophets that explains and clarifies much about the spirit world before and after mortal life, and I found it reassuring.

Q: According to one of your websites, you engaged in five months of “secluded studying” of Hebrew and LDS scriptures before converting. What did you learn from this experience?

1. I learned about the priesthood of God, its purposes, duties and ministrations. See Exodus 40, a detailed account of Aaron and his sons receiving the Aaronic priesthood. After the fall of Herod’s Temple in 70 AD, that and the greater priesthood were lost, the Jewish nation scattered. In these latter days that most precious gift has been restored to the earth and all of us are blessed through the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood of God in these latter days.

7. The Book of Mormon opened my eyes to profound teachings, truths about the history of my Hebrew ancestors in the Americas, the true nature of the spirit of mankind, Jesus in America.

Q: You’ve written “A Mormon’s Guide to Judaism.“What is one thing that every Mormon should know about Judaism? What should every Jew know about Mormonism?

It is important for the Jewish people to understand that the ancient tribal identities and relationships have been restored; that those who are descendants of the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt, Babylon, etc. , and now scattered throughout the earth – are in the process of being gathered again, according to ancient prophecy (Isa 54:7, Ezek 11:17, Jer 50:4 and others). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pursues the literal gathering of Israel throughout the world and the restoration of all the tribes (families) of Jacob prior to the coming of the Mashiach. The fullness of the early Gospel taught by our first prophets is here upon the earth today and available to each of us. Without the birthright tribe (holding the priesthood keys through Christ and his church) of Ephraim, the lineage of Judah (protector of the temples and the people) is as a sword of undirected energy.

Q: You speak often on the symbolic connections between Mormon and Jewish worship. What is the most important connection?

A: That is an easy answer. It would be our holy temples, those that once stood in Jerusalem and those built by the Latter-day Saints. It was and is now Beit YHVH or YHWH, the house of the Lord. The history of the temple in Jerusalem begins in 957 BC with King Solomon’s construction. It was destroyed and rebuilt twice more. It was the center of Jewish civilization and all things in life revolved around that holy shrine built to God… The loss of the temple in a.d. 70 brought on the Diaspora of the Jews which has lasted to this day. Jews believe they no longer have a temple in which to worship, but that is no longer the case.

Q: Can a person be both Jew and Mormon?

A: To be a technical Jew, it is necessary to be born of the nation and ethnoreligious group that originated in the ancient Near East and which were once Hebrews and before that, Israelites. Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation. Having said that, anyone can choose to embrace the LDS faith (or any other) through investigation, prayer, personal feeling of “rightness” and a spiritual certainty. As we read in Romans 10:12, the same Lord is over all, both Jew and Greek, and they must call upon him. Specifically, I have found it logically and spiritually sound to progress from monotheism to an understanding of the Godhead, to realize the atonement of Christ stands as eternal, replacing the constant sacrificing of innocent animals. I see the progression from ancient to modern prophets, a restored priesthood authority, temples, revealed prophecies, and so on. I cannot deny it.

Read the Rest Here

Mormons, Leaving the Fold and the Web

Here is an article about Mormons with many affinities to Orthodox issues. If you gave you life to being Mormon or Orthodox, what happens when you have doubts? Remember last year’s Orthoprax Rabbi blog? The Mormon answer is to create online support groups. The financial pressures, the rising disinterest, the same-sex love issues, the feminism, the opposite sex issues, and the lack of transparency. We have church officials saying the percentages are small and the historians thinking that this is a major exodus. This is not a question of being in the group or out of the group, rather the many who have invested their entire life with the program and dont want to leave their lives broken. The article also notes that need for them to be able to express that they are not going to be written out of the faith no matter what the gatekeepers think.

Mormons struggling with doubt turn to online support groups
By Michelle Boorstein, Published: May 24

Brian Johnston was desperate. The pressures of raising six children on one accountant salary were crushing, but worse was that he was starting to doubt the entire reason he and his wife had created a big family with a stay-at-home mom in the first place: Their Mormonism.

Johnston’s wife had already left the faith after deciding it was a dangerous cult. He didn’t want to take it that far, but who could he confide in? Raised in a devout home, Johnston remembered rebellious Mormons who lost the right to be Sunday school teachers or to come to community events such as weddings, or who simply felt shunned at church.
His entire life seemed to hang by a thread.

Then late one night in 2007, while sitting at his computer in his suburban Atlanta, Johnston came across an article by a Mormon academic in Arizona whose wife had also left the church. Johnston, a burly former Army technician, e-mailed the man explaining his situation. I have no idea what to do, he said. There’s no one I can talk to. A response came back almost immediately: Hang in there. I know what you’re going through. Johnston’s blue eyes widen when he recalls the relief he felt. “Yes! That’s what I thought. I knew, there must be more, but how do I find them?”

Five years later, Johnston, who now lives in Frederick, has become a leader in an online Mormon world full of people just like himself — questioners. And in an extremely orthodox faith, that’s not a simple place to be.

The Web has become such an important part of Mormon life that Mormons call their social networks the “bloggernacle” — named after the Tabernacle, a famous gathering place in downtown Salt Lake City. With names such as feministmormonhousewives.org, newordermormon.org and Johnston’s stayLDS.com, the sites devoted to questioning provide a safe place for Mormons to grapple with topics such as polygamy, institutional racism and a scripture that teaches that Jesus visited the American continent.

Church officials say the growth of the sites does not point to a corresponding growth in the number of Mormons leaving the church, whose membership has burgeoned to more than 6 million inAmerica. “Those leaving the church are a fraction of 1 percent each year and it is a trend that is decreasing rather than increasing,” said Michael Purdy, a church spokesman.

And the church has acknowledged on other occasions that it has had difficulty retaining young Mormons, in particular, and has generally lagged in dealing with doubt — perhaps the largest challenge not only to Mormonism, but also to modern organized religion as a whole.

The official church historian Marlin Jensen made news last year when he said that the loss of members in the last five or 10 years has been greater than perhaps any period since Mormonism was founded in 1830.

The reasons? Society’s increasing secularism plays a role, Jensen said, but also the Mormon church’s failure to openly address questions about church history and doctrine.

Much of that evolution is taking place on the Internet. Every day when Johnston logs into stayLDS.com, a site for people in spiritual crisis, he says he feels he is saving his faith by encouraging the questioning of its adherents.

For Mormons grappling with doubts, the potential spiritual consequences can appear frightening… At times, the church can appear to respond harshly as well, tales about which surface on stayLDS.com, which receives about 700 visitors a day.

“Candlelight25” writes about his painful decision to leave his mission overseas rather than spread Mormon beliefs against homosexuality. When he returned home he says he faced a disciplinary hearing, for saying he didn’t believe church teachings and for having unrepented-for sex with a man. “If any of you have any advice for me or any comments that may help me now, I would appreciate them more than ever,” he writes.

He says he often feels like an outsider at church. On Mother’s Day, with one testimony after another about children and family, his wife and six children are no longer in the pews with him since his wife abandoned the church because she felt oppressed as a Mormon woman.

“I’ve put my whole life into this — I did a mission, I taught Sunday school, my family is Mormon, you’re going to tell me I’m not part of this? Just watch me.”

Read the Rest Here

New Order Mormon offers this as its homepage:

What is a New Order Mormon?
New Order Mormons are those who no longer believe some (or much) of the dogma or doctrines of the LDS Church, but who want to maintain membership for cultural, social, or even spiritual reasons. New Order Mormons recognize both good and bad in the Church, and have determined that the Church does not have to be perfect in order to remain useful. New Order Mormons seek the middle way to be Mormon.

Finding the Middle Way in Mormonism
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a complex religion with both inspiring and disturbing aspects. For those who learn about the disquieting aspects of the faith but choose to remain connected, this site offers support, information, and a community of like-minded people.

HOW ISLAM SAVED THE JEWS -David Wasserstein

Last year, David Wasserstein, the senior scholar of Islam became the holder of distinguished chair as Professor of Jewish Studies in Vanderbilt. His prior positions included Tel Aviv University. I had know his work as one of the best introductions to the world of the Golden Age in Spain, where he explained the world of poets and their patrons. I also knew him from his work explaining why the center of culture moved from Baghdad to Spain, paralleled by the decline of the Geonim and the ascent of Lucena. See, The Rise and Fall of the Party-Kings, Politics and Society in Islamic Spain, 1002-1086 (Princeton 1985);  The Caliphate in the West. An Islamic Political Institution in the Iberian Peninsula (Oxford 1993). In his new position, he was invited to give four lectures on Jews and Islam, which look like the first draft of a book. Unlike the older romantic approach that assumed that all was great under Islam as a golden age, Wasserstein now has to deal with the untrained amateur online historians who create a counter myth that everything was bad. Jews did well not because of liberal leadership but when the muslim community had moments of cultural creativity, Jews were inspired to do the same. His bigger new thesis is that the Talmud would have been unknown to Western Jews as long as the Persians and Byzantium were at war. His opening lecture was published by the Jewish Chronicle.

Islam saved Jewry. This is an unpopular, discomforting claim in the modern world. But it is a historical truth. The argument for it is double. First, in 570 CE, when the Prophet Mohammad was born, the Jews and Judaism were on the way to oblivion. And second, the coming of Islam saved them, providing a new context in which they not only survived, but flourished, laying foundations for subsequent Jewish cultural prosperity – also in Christendom – through the medieval period into the modern world.

By the fourth century, Christianity had become the dominant religion in the Roman empire. One aspect of this success was opposition to rival faiths, including Judaism, along with massive conversion of members of such faiths, sometimes by force, to Christianity…Great and permanent reductions in numbers through conversion, between the fourth and the seventh centuries, brought with them a gradual but relentless whittling away of the status, rights, social and economic existence, and religious and cultural life of Jews all over the Roman empire.

Had Islam not come along, Jewry in the west would have declined to disappearance and Jewry in the east would have become just another oriental cult

 The most important single work of Jewish cultural creativity in over 3,000 years, apart from the Bible itself – the Talmud – came into being in Babylon. The struggle between Persia and Byzantium, in our period, led increasingly to a separation between Jews under Byzantine, Christian rule and Jews under Persian rule.

Jewish life in the Christian world of late antiquity was not simply a pale shadow of what it had been three or four centuries earlier. It was doomed.

Had Islam not come along, the conflict with Persia would have continued. The separation between western Judaism, that of Christendom, and Babylonian Judaism, that of Mesopotamia, would have intensified. Jewry in the west would have declined to disappearance in many areas. And Jewry in the east would have become just another oriental cult.

But this was all prevented by the rise of Islam. The Islamic conquests of the seventh century changed the world, and did so with dramatic, wide-ranging and permanent effect for the Jews.

Almost all the Jews in the world were now ruled by Islam. This new situation transformed Jewish existence. Their fortunes changed in legal, demographic, social, religious, political, geographical, economic, linguistic and cultural terms – all for the better.

First, things improved politically… The result of the conquests was, by and large, to make the Jews second-class citizens.This should not be misunderstood: to be a second-class citizen was a far better thing to be than not to be a citizen at all… for the first few centuries, the Muslims themselves were a minority, and the practical differences were not all that great.

Along with legal near-equality came social and economic equality. .. Along with internal legal autonomy, they also enjoyed formal representation, through leaders of their own, before the authorities of the state. Imperfect and often not quite as rosy as this might sound, it was at least the broad norm.

Huge numbers of people in the new world of Islam adopted the language of the Muslim Arabs…The Jews moved over to Arabic very rapidly. By the early 10th century, only 300 years after the conquests, Sa’adya Gaon was translating the Bible into Arabic. Bible translation is a massive task – it is not undertaken unless there is a need for it. By about the year 900, the Jews had largely abandoned other languages and taken on Arabic.

The change of language in its turn brought the Jews into direct contact with broader cultural developments. The result from the 10th century on was a striking pairing of two cultures. The Jews of the Islamic world developed an entirely new culture, which differed from their culture before Islam in terms of language, cultural forms, influences, and uses. Instead of being concerned primarily with religion, the new Jewish culture of the Islamic world, like that of its neighbours, mixed the religious and the secular to a high degree. The contrast, both with the past and with medieval Christian Europe, was enormous.

The subjects that Jews wrote about, and the literary forms in which they wrote about them, were largely new ones, borrowed from the Muslims and developed in tandem with developments in Arabic Islam.

Much of the greatest poetry in Hebrew written since the Bible comes from this period. Sa’adya Gaon, Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Ibn Ezra (Moses and Abraham), Maimonides, Yehuda Halevi, Yehudah al-Harizi, Samuel ha-Nagid, and many more – all of these names, well known today, belong in the first rank of Jewish literary and cultural endeavour.

W here did these Jews produce all this? When did they and their neighbours achieve this symbiosis, this mode of living together? The Jews did it in a number of centres of excellence. The most outstanding of these was Islamic Spain, where there was a true Jewish Golden Age, alongside a wave of cultural achievement among the Muslim population. The Spanish case illustrates a more general pattern, too.

What happened in Islamic Spain – waves of Jewish cultural prosperity paralleling waves of cultural prosperity among the Muslims – exemplifies a larger pattern in Arab Islam. In Baghdad, between the ninth and the twelfth centuries; in Qayrawan (in north Africa), between the ninth and the 11th centuries; in Cairo, between the 10th and the 12th centuries, and elsewhere, the rise and fall of cultural centres of Islam tended to be reflected in the rise and fall of Jewish cultural activity in the same places.

This was not coincidence, and nor was it the product of particularly enlightened liberal patronage by Muslim rulers. It was the product of a number of deeper features of these societies, social and cultural, legal and economic, linguistic and political, which together enabled and indeed encouraged the Jews of the Islamic world to create a novel sub-culture within the high civilisation of the time.

This did not last for ever; the period of culturally successful symbiosis between Jew and Arab Muslim in the middle ages came to a close by about 1300. In reality, it had reached this point even earlier, with the overall relative decline in the importance and vitality of Arabic culture, both in relation to western European cultures..

In the case of the Jews, however, the cultural capital thus created also served as the seed-bed of further growth elsewhere – in Christian Spain and in the Christian world more generally.

Read the Rest Here.

Here are the Audio Files

HOW ISLAM SAVED THE JEWS

Audio files of each lecture are now available by clicking on the links below:

Opening Lecture: How Islam Saved the Jews

Seminar 1: The World Muhammad Made

Seminar 2: The Great Westwards Shift

Seminar 3: How it Really Was

Shavuot Observations

I attended the local Centrist congregation to learn in the Beit Midrash for tikkun leil Shavout. I had not been there for almost a decade because I was usually elsewhere or away. I was surprised that of those learning, 30-40% were women. I did not go into every classroom but it was at least 30%. There were co-ed hevrutot on the HS and college levels, there were wives joining their husbands hevrutas, next to me was a hevruta of two college age women preparing for an introduction to Talmud class, and even a grandmother learning breifly with her high school age grandsons. A friend who had agreed to learn with his college age son at 1:30, found that his son with learning with a group of  girls – dad did not want to discourage it. Many Baby-Boomers guys were quietly reading to themselves the CJF Shavuot-to Go as their tikkun.It seems that is their target audience.

Shavuot Cuisine is going in several directions. For many it is becoming a BBQ-grilled meat as holiday BBQ complete with hot dogs, Frisbee, and six packs.  For others, the custom of having dairy meals has turned vegetarian. The original custom of eating milk and honey as sweet blitzes or cheese cake has become defined as a non-meat/dairy meal as opposed to a meat one. So, for a no-meat meal one can serve entirely parve, entirely vegan. It’s Shavuot, so lets have vegan for the hag. If not, vegan then the dairy will be non-sweet such as lasagna.