Monthly Archives: November 2013

Some Modern Hindu Approaches to Judaism

Judaism as a religion does not fit into the Indian worldview. Jews are just thought of as another separate dharma like Parsees or in this case dharma yahud. We are not usually in their thinking about religion but when we are it is usually as a mis- characterization or a discussion of something else. So here are four Hindu leader to help us understand how they see us.

When you read these texts my question is: which of these statements are just like the opinions of Christians who did not know Jews used to have eighty years ago and will be self-correcting, which are linked to a modernist moment, which are self-defense from Christians in which Jews are safe target to defend themselves, and which need correcting. I am starting with this post before any post on Indian religions because I want my Jewish readers to get a sense that their knowledge of Hinduism is as well informed as the Hindu knowledge of Judaism. This is what non-academic Jews who discuss Hinduism sound like. So read these and help me process them. This post is not to criticize Hinduism but to gauge the initial gap between faiths.Bear in mind that Jews in India have never experience any iota of persecution or prejudice.

(1) Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan thought Judaism had been superseded by Christianity, (2) Surendranath Dasgupta- Judaism is primitive compared to Hinduism (3) Swami Vivekanda -Judaism does not see its own idolatry (4) Sai Baba- went from ignoring to synthesizing random thoughts.

The first author we will look at Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888 –1975) was an Indian philosopher and statesman who was the first Vice President of India (1952–1962) and the second President of India from 1962 to 1967.He was one of India’s most influential scholars of comparative religion and philosophy, Radhakrishnan built a bridge between the East and the West by showing how the philosophical systems of each tradition are comprehensible within the terms of the other. He wrote authoritative exegeses of India’s religious and philosophical literature for the English-speaking world. His academic appointments included University of Oxford (1936–1952).

Radhakrishnan was influenced by the Protestant thought of his time, painting Judaism as legalistic and primitive compared to Christainity.

The Hindu religion is marked by an eminently rational character…The Bramanical civilization is so called since it is directed by the Brahmin thinkers trained to judge issues without emotion and base their conclusions on the fundamentals of experience.

Jesus tolerated the inferior Mosaic law which was far less than the highest ideals.

Yahweh of the Old Testament was essentially a national deity. Israel remained God’s chosen race and the heathen nations who would submit to his authority and come to worship at Zion would occupy a position of subjection.

Jesus was much hampered by his Jewish heritage. Jesus already understood God’s immanence. Jesus’s message was to overcome the false [Jewish] antithesis between man and God. Man and God are akin “That art Thou”

Why did Hinduism not eradicate the idols? Answer: Because India is a immense country unlike the small area of Dan to Beer Sheva

The Hindu thinkers, while they themselves practiced a very high ideal, understood the un-readiness of the people for it and so took to careful tending instead of wild forcing. They admitted the lower gods, whom the masses ignorantly worshipped and urged that they were all subordinate to the One Supreme”
The extent of the country 2000 miles long and 1500 miles broad is not similar to that from Dan to Beersheva.

The second author Surendranath Dasgupta (1887 –1952) was a scholar of Sanskrit and philosophy who produced the basic first reference works on Indian philosophy still used in 2013. Like Joseph Klausner in Israel, people know Dasguta’s opinions even if many times indirectly. Dasguta is also know as the author who turned Eliade onto Indian religion. Eliade studied in India under Dasgupta at the University of Calcutta, but his relationship with Dasgupta became strained when he fell in love with Dasgupta’s daughter Maitreya.

Dasgupta’s approach is to show the primitive nature of Judaism and that it does not have any alleged superiority over Hinduism.

The Jewish God is always anxious that the sons of Israel do not worship other gods than himself and like a king who wishes to keep their subjects loyal to himself imposes the cruelest punishment on the disloyal and the rebel, and is ready to bestow His favor on those who are loyal to him and observe His laws and commands. He…demonstrates His miracles to stun them with awe and fear. But this only shows that the people at this stage were not capable of realizing the force of anything but fear. The God here is almost a materialistic god, the wind, the fire, the volcano and the sea, which would not for a moment forgive our transgression.

Thus among the Jews we find Abraham and Moses entering into a covenant with God, who acted as their ally, showed them the majesty of his power by His miracles, punished men with fire and brim stone for their misdeeds….
In the Jewish religion we find God entering into a covenant with Moses that He and His people should not worship stones, trees, and images but should worship only God and obey his commands. Most of these commands seen to have evolved from a due regard for man’s place among the members of a society… [meaning that it was social and not based a theology of the Divine.]

Judaism’s revelation was of prohibition and not revelations of God’s nature or any kind of spiritual experience

Dasguta continues the passage below demonstrating that the Upanishads were already superior to this primitive Jewish position. He also shows how Jewish ritual is as primitive as Hindu ritual.

Often in the scripture of older people such as that of the Hindus, the Parsees, and the Jews regulations regarding food and drink and defilement appear to have the same moral force as those regarding social offences of a moral nature. It seems that from an original sense of mischief accruing in consequence… gradually the idea of sin grew… The primitive idea was that it was some sort of material that corrupts a person, produces sickness, makes one amenable to bad fortunes, and may also stick to the person and produce misery even after death in the ghostly conditions of the soul or in Hell.

Durkheim explained that on the feast of Tabernacles the Jews do ritual in which the motion in the air causes the rain to fall based on correct performance.

And to show that Biblical culture is anti-science compared to the rational Indian culture.

The theory of evolution thus strongly repudiates the idea that the old testament is the word of God who is an omniscient being, for, the doctrine of creation as found in the old testament, is definitely false by modern scientific investigations. Now if the Bible is not regarded as a Holy Book revealed by God, the validity of most of the teachings of the bible and the promises contained therein as reward and punishment to the obedience and transgressions of the commands of God, would fail. Modern man of science is not shaken before Jehovah the god
Galileo was put in a cage and Bruno was burnt alive” “people believed in all kinds of superstitions and regarded them as parts of the Christian faith. Many today don’t believe in evolution.

The third thinker is Swami Vivekanda (1863 – 1902), the Indian Hindu monk and chief disciple of the 19th-century saint Ramakrishna, and is responsible for bringing Hinduism to the West. He was a key figure in the introduction of the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world and is credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the status of a major world religion during the late 19th century. He was a major force in the revival of Hinduism in India. He is perhaps best known for his inspiring speech in which he introduced Hinduism at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893.

If one pursues history of the religion of the Jew, it becomes quite clear that actually the Jews were idolatries in the beginning.
By degrees, circumcision took place of human sacrifice; and prostitution and image worship etc gradually disappeared.

Among the Jews, Idol worship is condemned but they had a temple in which was kept a chest which they called an ark, in which the Tables of the Law were preserved and above the chest were two figures of angels with wings outstretched between which the Divine presence was supposed to manifest itself as a cloud.

The religion of all the Semitic races, with slight minor variations was almost always the same…Almost every God was called Moloch… [ He relates the concept of kingship and ruler with child sacrifice]

Vivekanda’s main message was that mystics in every religion speak the same tongue and teach the same truth. He asks in several places the question that Indian may have not solved its primitive religion but the Biblical faiths have not produced advanced religion. We may have idols but you don’t produce great spiritual swamis. It is worth tolerating idols if we produce such great mystics

The fourth position we will look at is Śri Sai Baba (1926 –2011) an Indian guru who was also considered by his followers to be an avatar, spiritual saint and miracle worker. Sathya Sai Baba claimed he could materialize small objects such as rings, necklaces, and watches, along with reports of miraculous healings, resurrections, and clairvoyance, which sceptics viewed them as simple conjuring tricks.

Sai Baba attached many Jewish followers including Rabbi Dovid Zeller, and Sai Baba brought Rabbis Shlomo Carlebach and Zalman Schachter for an guru conference. Sai Baba sought to help the individual be aware of the Divinity that is inherent in him and to conduct himself accordingly; To translate this awareness into practice in daily life, divine love and perfection; and to fill one’s life with joy, harmony, beauty, grace, human excellence and lasting happiness.

Sai Baba includes the oneness of all religions as part of his teachings and several of his Temples have a museum display teaching about the world faiths. Originally , Sai Baba could not understand no matter how many times it was explained to him that Judaism and Christianity are not the same religion, and they do not share the worship of Jesus and the symbol of the Cross. Eventually, he understood and wrote a 33 page booklet about Judaism. (feel free to read the whole thing)

He used the following sources
1. Religions of the World – Judaism by Kenneth Atkinson.
2. Judaism, Third Edition, World Religions by Martha A. Morrison, Stephen F. Brown.
3. The Everything Judaism Book – by Richard D. Bank
4. Judaism for Dummies Rabbi Ted Falcon, Ph.D., David Blatner
5. History of the Jews by Paul Johnson
6. The Oxford dictionary of the Jewish religion, Oxford University Press, 1997
But what went wrong in his summary? What needs to be corrected in this thought pattern that can produce these paragraphs that would not be written by Jews? What is he missing that creates these summaries? where is his tonal quality off?

Orthodox Judaism: As a response to the growth of Reform Judaism in Europe, Moses Sofer (1762-1839), a rabbi from Bratislava, in the area now known as Slovakia, called on all traditional Jews to make no compromise with modernity. He summoned them to keep themselves separate from reform-dominated communities if they did not want to lose their Jewish identity. Orthodox Judaism is the traditional form of Judaism. Although Orthodox Judaism has changed over time to adapt to historical events and new circumstances, it has always remained firmly rooted in tradition. It attempts to follow many of the ancient laws that were preserved in written form in the Jewish Scriptures, as well as other laws that were passed down orally through successive generations of Jewish religious leaders called rabbis. Orthodox Jews rest on the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, as commanded in the Jewish Scriptures. Hebrew, the language of the Jews, is still used in worship. Women in Orthodox Judaism must cover their heads and sit apart from men during worship. Men are required to keep their heads covered at all times to remind them that God is above everything. Orthodox Jewish men traditionally leave their beards and the hair in front of their ears uncut, in accordance with the Jewish Scriptures (Leviticus 19:27).
Many Orthodox Jewish communities use Yiddish in daily life, and speak Hebrew during worship services. Because Orthodox Jews follow strict dietary laws (Kashrut), they have traditionally lived apart from other people.

One Jewish mystical tradition teaches that Elohim is the One, manifesting as the many. In this sense, YHVH refers to the Totality (the transcendent, which contains everything), and Elohim refers to the Immanent, that Spark of Divinity which awakens within each and every expression of the One Being. It’s another way of reminding people that what they see as lots of individual forms (people, animals, plants, rocks and so on) is, behind the scenes, all part of the One.

In addition to the Ten Commandments, God gave Moses many other rules and regulations. For example the Hebrews were forbidden to eat certain kinds of foods, such as pork, which God declared unclean. The biblical books of Exodus and Leviticus contain extensive commentaries Unity of Faiths – Judaism on each of the Ten Commandments and how to fulfill them in daily life. The extensive code of laws was designated to remind Jews of God and to help them behave properly. Because all religions have beliefs, rules and regulations that set them apart from other religions, many scholars say that the religion of Judaism begins with Moses and the Torah. This is because Moses is the traditional source of Judaism’s unique lifestyle.

The Orthodox – Conservative Split and Rabbi Solomon Goldman

In its time, the Cleveland Jewish Center case in 1927-1929 was considered the Scopes Monkey trial for the Orthodox community, fully covered by JTA and the Jewish newspapers, generating a public reaction of creating lasting denominational sides.

Rabbi Solomon Goldman a graduate of RIETS and JTSA and a follower of Mordecai Kaplan was challenged by a fraction of his congregation that did not like the direction that he was taking his 1500 family synagogue. They started a court case to force the rabbi to abide by old-time Orthodoxy.

Before proceeding it is important to not confuse denominations and deviant practices. A denomination is a fixed self defining group with a common name, structure, and doctrine. They have separated themselves from competing groups and are know as their own group. A deviance is a practice done within a single denomination. An Orthodox rabbi who advocates the abolition of Yom Kippur is a deviant not a denomination. Or the 1960’s case of the Conservative rabbi who substituted a frolic in the ocean for immersion in his conversions was a deviant who received censure; he was not now a Reform rabbi.

In addition, it is important to note as a premise that the United States does not interfere in the creation and definition of religious groups; hence the US is unique in its multiplying and contractions of denominations. In the real world, property is one of the biggest criteria for the stability of denominational structure. Who owns the land? Episcopalians despite declining numbers survive because they own vast amounts of property. Most other groups like Methodists who only own paltry converted homes, sell them and decline.

Court cases about denominations determine who owns the property based on the court assumption that founders wanted a certain denomination. Between the 1930’s and the 1950’s the number of topics of contention between the Conservative and Orthodox denominations got whittled down to mehitzah as the division between denominations since a judge could visually rule on the topic. A study of these extremely important court cases and the testimony on both sides is a disideratum and would make a great dissertation. Because of these cases the Young Israel movement had a clause that they can claim your synagogue property if they disagree with them. The recent repeal of the clause is one of the most important under-reported changes in Orthodoxy in the last few years. Legally, it allows the congregations to go their separate ways.

Back to our story:

In 1924, some of the old-timers in Cleveland took Goldman to court to say he is deviating from Orthodoxy. There were blow by blow dispatches from court.

Testimony to Establish What is Orthodoxy’ Will Be Presented in Courts November 4, 1927
Celebrated Cleveland Case to Force Decision on Orthodox vs. Conservative Issue
The friction on theological grounds obtaining throughout the country between strictly Orthodox congregations and those termed Conservative, affiliated with the United Synagogue of America, is being aired, preparatory to a trial which will begin in the Cleveland courts on Nov. 15.

The taking of depositions by rabbis and laymen, leaders of the Orthodox and Conservative wings in New York, began yesterday at the Manhattan Square Hotel for the forthcoming trial in the suit of a group of Orthodox members of the Cleveland Jewish Center against Rabbi Solomon Goldman, spiritual leader of the congregation.

The conflict between the Orthodox group and the Rabbi dates back two and a half years. The congregation, which has been in existence fifty years, has built the Jewish Center in which it was stated a million dollars was invested. A committee of the Orthodox members… filed a suit against Rabbi Goldman, alleging that he has diverted from the constitution of the congregation which provides that as long as ten members will insist on the Orthodox ritual, the congregation is to remain Orthodox. The committee insists that the Center continue to adhere to the Orthodox ritual.

The present board of the Center and Rabbi Goldman contend that the mode of worship, ritual and practice introduced by Rabbi Goldman is in accordance with traditional Judaism.

The trial, the first of its kind in the United States, will thus have to be decided on the question of what constitutes Orthodoxy. So far the testimony of Dr. B. Drachman, Rabbi Leo Jung, Rabbi M. S. Margolies, Rabbi Eliezar Silver of Springfield, Rabbi J. L. Selzer of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis, Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein of the Union of Orthodox Congregations and Mr. Gedaliah Bublick, editor of the Orthodox “Jewish Daily News” has been taken.

The witnesses are asked to answer to 33 questions which pertain to the charges brought by the Orthodox committee against Rabbi Goldman. Among the charges are that Rabbi Goldman had denied the Sinaitic origin of the Torah and the Decalogue, that he had permitted men and women to sit together in the synagogue, that he abolished the saying of grace at public dinners, that he had abolished the priestly benediction at the synagogue services and that he kisses the brides after performing the marriage ceremony.

According to Jacob Joseph Weinstein author of the biography Solomon Goldman: A Rabbi’s Rabbi other complaints included he eats with an uncovered head and does not say grace, that the Rabbi carries his books on the Sabbath, that he removed pitom haketoret and other parts of korbanot, that he read from progressive authors from the pulpit, that he invited left-wing radical speakers.

In his theological writings, Goldman declares he is not a deviant from Orthodoxy but that he is an entirely different denomination willing to make sweeping changes nationally and locally. In later years, he distributed newsletters of comprehensive changes needed in the Shulkhan Arukh. The changes are based on viewing the tradition as understood in American Protestant Congregational terms, the low-church ability to say that each and every church is independent and can make its own application of the tradition as found in Congregationalists and Methodists. Later in life he moves closer to Reconstructionist positions based on peoplehood. Goldman views Orthodoxy as the deviant:

A new Judaism dubbed Orthodoxy was unconsciously but dangerously approaching Catholicism. Whereas the reward of a mizvah was considered to be the performance of another mizvah now it guaranteed salvation-personal salvation in the world to come…Many a maggid emulated revivalist and evangelist and he cracking fires of hell lent force to many a sterile derasha.(81)

Goldman himself took the stand and gave a lecture on the history of Judaism and denominations.

Defendant denies that the term “traditional” is synonymous with “Orthodox,” as applies to Judaism. Defendant avers that there has been no governing body of Jewish churches for the past eighteen hundred years but that each congregation makes up a separate entity, responsible alone to itself and without control by any other organization. Among the Jews, the word traditional is used in connection with Jewish law, and in Judaism from time immemorial there has been recognized the existence of both a written law and a traditional law.

The word “Orthodox” in the Christian Church has been used to designate rigidity and inflexibility in creed and was never applied to ritual or practice. In the Jewish religion on the other hand there has never been a rigid definition of creed and the term “Orthodox” has not had a meaning in the Jewish religion until the last century and then it has been and is used in connection with ritual or practice.”

The Orthodox Jews insist upon the rigid observance of Jewish customs and practices outside the synagogue as well as within. They insist upon eating with covered heads, in the ceremony of washing their hands before a meal and in the ceremony of grace before and after meals. The ritual forbids shaving. The Rabbis of the defendant congregation are shaven, as are the members and even the plaintiffs in this action. The synagogue has never had a central platform which is usual in Orthodox churches. The members, including some of the plaintiffs, eat with uncovered heads, and many of the members, including some of the plaintiffs, do not observe the ceremony of washing hands or grace before or after meals.

The customs, rituals, and practices of the defendant congregation have been largely in conformity with those of Conservative synagogues. During the reign of its first rabbi and since the present one, it has had a late Friday evening service, in conformity with other Conservative churches, as distinguished from Orthodox churches.(15-16)

In response, Reform Rabbi Stephan Wise wrote to Goldman:

So you are the Yiddisher Bishop Brown. I am sorry that I cannot get in the fight with you. It ought to be lots of fun, and I will pay you the compliment of telling you that I am rather sorry for your opponents. I think they are going to be very sorry that they tackled the thing at all before you get through with them.” (17)

The congregation replied in court to its challengers

Cleveland Center Leaders Reply to Orthodox Charges November 20, 1927
“We, the undersigned, members of Congregation Anshe Emeth Beth Tefilo, known as the Jewish Center, beg to declare: “On November first and second members of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis and the Union of Orthodox Congregations made reply to a series of questions contained in the petition submitted to the Cleveland Court of Common Pleas by a number of dissatisfied members of our Congregation against the congregation and Rabbi Goldman. These questions and answers received wide publicity in the Yiddish press, conveying the impression that the Congregation and Rabbi Goldman are admitting the truth of these charges.
In the meantime, may we be permitted to state the following:
1. “The impression has been giver that the Jewish Center has been an Orthodox congregation for fifty years and that Rabbi Goldman, with the assistance of a few newcomers in the congregation, have sought to reform it,
“It is true that our congregation was founded sixty years ago, but for more than a quarter of a century it has been moving in the direction of what is generally known as Conservative Judaism. As a matter of history, the Orthodox members deserted the congregation when our building on Thirty-Seventh Street and Woodland Avenue was erected more than thirty years ago, Some twenty years ago we engaged as our spiritual leader the late Rabbi Samuel Margolis, who was known to shave, to eat without a hat, and seldom if ever attended daily services.
Our congregation never pretended to be Orthodox. We have had late Friday evening service for more than a decade. We have had religious school and confirmation of boys and girls together for about fifteen years. We were never, for example, identified with the Mizrachi. Rabbi Margolis was known as a general Zionist and the congregation always followed him. Ours was also one of the first congregations to join the United Synagogue of America. In 1921 prior to Rabbi Goldman’s coming to our congregation we considered a merger with a well-known Conservative congregation in Cleveland.

“Rabbi Goldman was well-known in the city of Cleveland, where he had occupied the pulpit of the Ben Jeshurun for three years prior to his coming to the Center. He never pretended to be an Orthodox rabbi any more than our Congregation pretended to be an Orthodox congregation.

2. “It has been stated that a large clement of the Congregation has brought suit against the Center and Rabbi Goldman.
“This, of course, is equally untrue. The Congregation, which is the largest Conservative congregation in America, consisting of eleven hundred members, is supporting Rabbi Goldman and the Board of Trustees heart and soul. The official list which the opposition has thus far submitted to us consists of thirty-one names. Seven of these are non-members. Of the twenty-four others twelve have returned to the congregation and have ever since attended our services regularly.

3. “All the other charges brought either against Rabbi Goldman or against the Congregation are equally untrue.
“Rabbi Goldman has never ridiculed either Orthodoxy or Orthodox leaders. We have never refrained from inviting lecturers and speakers because of their Orthodoxy. We have not eliminated the saying of grace, the washing of hands at our Congregational dinners. Rabbi Goldman has made no practice of kissing the brides, he does not partake of non-kosher food, he never denied the divine inspiration of the Torah.

4. “It has also been stated that we refused to appear before a Beth Din of the Agudath Harabonim.
“This is true, but our Congregation felt perfectly justified in its action. The summons from the Agudath Harabonim was not sent directly to our Congregation, but to the few opposing members. The summons was photographed and printed as a paid advertisement in the ‘Jewish World’ of Cleveland. It was only after it appeared in the newspaper that it was delivered to us. We considered this act of the Agudath Harabonim un-Jewish and their Beth-Din prejudicial. Then again, we felt that the opposition should have brought the case either to the Rabbinical Assembly of which body Rabbi Goldman is a member or to the United Synagogue of America of which organization our congregation has been a member for the past nine years.”

The case was dismissed by the court because “charging deviation from the Orthodox ritual, will not end the fight between the Orthodox and Conservatives in that congregation.” The Orthodox plaintiffs said they would press the case further. January 20, 1928

In July 23, 1929, the Orthodox plaintiffs claimed before the appetite court

That the congregation was incorporated for the purpose of promoting traditional or orthodox Judaism in the worship of God, and to build a synagogue for a like purpose;
That this congregation was formed in 1917 by a consolidation of two orthodox congregations which at all times before accepted and promulgated the doctrine of orthodox or traditional Judaism, and in the church services adopted the rites, ceremonies and practices appertaining thereto…That by reason of the facts set forth herein above, a trust was imposed upon this church property, and that it should be used for orthodox Judaism only;
That the defendant Rabbi and the trustees are opposed and hostile to orthodox Judaism and the ceremonial observations pertaining thereto;
That, in 1924, a meeting of the congregation was had for the purpose of adopting a new constitution, where and when a new constitution was adopted, ignoring orthodox Judaism, but its adoption was contrary to the terms of the old constitution.

On October 1, 1929, the Court of Appeals, dismissing the suit as a strictly ecclesiastical question.
The case was not accepted by the Supreme Court. Rabbi Solomon Goldman, moved to head a synagogue in Chicago. He was succeeded in Cleveland by a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary. The opinion written by Appellate Judge John J. Sullivan, unanimously affirmed by his two associates, read:

The prayer for this court to adopt a rule by which the congregation in question shall abandon its present administration and conform to the doctrine of traditional orthodoxy and Judaism, even if this legal tribunal had the right to interfere in religious matters for which provision has been made as to the control within the church itself, is incapable of being granted for the reason that every member of the congregation of the church might have a different view as to what this doctrine is in all its various phases and it would be impossible to lay down a rule, with these conflicting opinions, which a board of trustees could follow, because in order to do so, the religion would have to be as definite as a science and even with respect to science it would be impossible to do so because of the diverging opinions that exist among scientific men upon scientific principles.

The judgement was reaffirmation of American freedom of conscience and freedom of thought before the encroachment of ecclesiastical bodies.

Two months prior in May 1929, there was a convention of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada [Agudas Harabbonim] and they submitted their own Communication to the Editor of the JTA. The president, Rabbi Israel Rosenberg attacked Conservative Judaism, as the greater enemy of Orthodoxy since it is “going about masked, making a false pretense at being traditional Judaism.”

The president of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis launched a bitter attack on some of the Conservative rabbis who, he asserted, are violating Jewish religious tradition by permitting mixed pews in the synagogue, by disregarding the laws concerning the purity of family life and the ritual bath, by taking upon themselves the authority to issue religious divorces in English, instead of the prescribed Hebrew “gett,” and by officiating at weddings contrary to the Jewish religious law, without the required presence of qualified witnesses.

He suggested the organization of a federation of Orthodox synagogues and rabbis and the formation of a young people’s league to be headed by the younger Orthodox rabbis. He put forward a proposal for the convening of a world conference of Orthodox rabbis to be held in Europe this summer to consider the part of Orthodox Jewry in the Jewish Agency, and pleaded for generous support on the part of American Jews for the maintenance of yeshivas in the United States and in Europe.

The RCA came to be as a self-proclaimed Orthodox organization six years later in 1935. Their constituency and demographic was the same as the less influential Conservative congregations. Some of the RCA members took down mehizot in their congregations or conducted late Friday night services. They were almost all affiliated with Mizrachi and Poalei Mizrachi, both quite liberal and anathema to the Agudas Harabbonim. If they were lucky, they took Jewish Centers as pulpits with their implicit Mordecai Kaplan ideology of peoplehood, civilization and cultural centers. And in that very year, Rabbi Jacob Agus graduates RIETS and goes on to formulate the ideology of the liberal wing of the Conservative movement. In addition, he formulated the most liberal view on divine revelation considered to this day the liberal boundary of Conservative Judaism. However, he did not leave Orthodoxy until 1945. Rabbi Agus, the RIETS graduate and former RCA member, was to become the author of the famous responsa that allowed driving on Shabbat. The RCA was ceaselessly attached by the Agudas Harabbonim and spent more than 28 years trying to establish their positions.

In the 1930’s Conservative congregations were still called “modern Orthodox” but the rapid rise of recognition of the Conservative denomination in the 1940’s they predominately become called Conservative. President Belkin and his circle preferred the term traditional and to label Conservative and Ultra-Orthodox as non-traditional.The RCA called itself Orthodox and a small group of intellectuals revived the term modern Orthodox in late 1950s. But those are other tales to tell.

Update from Banares (Varanasi)– City of Lights

Last week the Faculty of Social Science of Banares Hindu University hosted a dramatic evening of performance. What made the performance interesting from my point of view is that men and women students cannot touch, so it was very much like a yeshiva day school play, one could profitability compare how to do shomer negiah dramatics in both faiths. The lead male role in the play was given to a girl so that she can touch and hug the heroine. A minor male role was performed by an actual male student, but the rest of the individual roles were women. The men acted as a dance troupe acting out selected events in the narrative as a group like night on the town, the allure of the world, or greed of the business world. All vocals were from a recording.

If the school was traditional old-time Brahman there would have been no mixing allowed and if it was modern then there would not be a question. But they are Orthodox without the old-ways. And like a day school, there was the awkward ending when the female students only received flowers and a shawl from the female Dean and the male students from the male Dean, which noticeably neither side found convenient.

As a school founded in the nineteenth century, the entire academic faculty until recently was Brahman. Certainly departments such as philosophy and religion, Sanskrit, or dramatics (Hindus have an aesthetic tradition ) are still overwhelmingly so, as are the students who take degrees in philosophy because their Brahman fathers and grandfathers did so. I have learned how to recognize Brahman instructors by their last names. The English word pundit is from the Sanskrit meaning learned priest, hence a Professor with the name Pandey is certainly a Brahman. The town of Banares is about 25% Brahman a much higher percentage than most cities.

Traditional students touch the hem or cuff of the professor’s pants and then kisses their hand as they bow to their Professor Guru Ji. They will even do this in subjects where the professors do not want such old-time reverence like women’s studies. As a traditional campus everyone certainly stands or half-stands when a professor walks in or leaves. Women in senior academic positions wear traditional garb. There is a new trend in this post-feminist age for young Hindu women to wear chadors over their faces like their Muslim classmates when they go into the street on their motorbikes. My informants say that it is both to be protected from men’s eyes in unsafe India and at the same time not letting friends and family see you hanging out too close with your boyfriend.

The women in the BA in philosophy & religion choose the text courses and kiss their sacred library books when they are done as is pious Orthodox custom. They also touch the bottom lintel as they go in and out of a room and kiss their hand.

I find frequently find myself creating historically anachronistic parallelism, like the Ibn Ezra who explains Biblical details with similar practices in medieval India. Oh look, they only use the earthenware (heres) cups once and then smash them and consider them non-cleanable. Or look the storm is starting, see the men borrow their wives overcoats to bring in the goods before get destroyed.

However, it is strange to be a world where everyone knows the molad of Rosh Hodesh. Both Hindus and Muslims use a lunar calendar. But Diwali was Sunday in the North-East of India and Saturday elsewhere. And Muslim Eid was one day in Arabia and a day later here. It is exactly the discussion by Rabbi Zerachiah HaLevi (Baal Hameor) in Rosh Hashanah explaining the arrival of the molad in india vs Jerusalem.

I am surprised by how much disdain there is for capitalism, work or globalization. The combination of Gandhism and Marxism leaves itself open to avoid dealing with social problems. For those in US who want a place without regulations, this is it. Uttar Pradesh, the state that I am in, has no nasty restrictions by health, education or welfare. No commerce or trade regulations. No one is providing education or work, or helping the afflicted. I have been told that it is completely different in the state of Kerala that has a 95% literacy rate but up here in Uttar Pradesh with a 40% literacy rate life looks different.

They are convinced they have no interfaith problem in the country because everyone is free to observe their own religion. Yet recently, a Muslim man harassed a Hindu girl and the girls two brother avenged her by killing the harasser. But the Muslim community then killed the two Hindu brothers. By the end of the cycle 17 people were killed.

The philosophy department library goes back to the founding of the school and contains a rare assemblage of personal libraries donated to the collection. Somewhat like the collection of retired rabbi libraries at the old Yeshurun Synagogue library in Jerusalem or the old Hebrew College library before they were dissembled. The library does contain Rev Michael Freidlander book on Judaism and even the more recent work Faith by Louis Jacobs. (They will soon have a donation of Scholem, Soloveitchik, Heschel, and Kook among others; we are encouraged to leave our teaching books).

The local academic bookstore that has everything you could want on India, Hinduism, and Buddhism, has two works of Judaica- Martin Gilbert, History of Israel and Shlomo Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish People.

Back in the 1970’s Americans noted how India still treats Whitehead as if it was contemporary, Well nothing has changed. Bradley, Bertram Russell, and Royce, are still studied as contemporary thought.

I was here for the Diwali, the feast of lights which every community and religious group interprets in its own way- even Indian Jews take part. But for the Brahmans at the University, it is only a business class/ caste holiday of external activity and public show. What kind of holiday is it where you eat sweets, have family gatherings and light fire crackers to make noise?


During my holiday boat ride to see the city lit up as the city of lights, I finally watched the cremation of the dead on the river bank. There were two ways of doing it, the old way with wood and the new way with a modern crematorium that takes only an hour. The wood for the old way is provided as pre-cut cords of wood, so it looked like illustrations of the offering of Isaac/the ram in kids books, a perfect box fire- flame ascending with pious supplicants attending. The new method of a crematorium facing the river – besides the Holocaust image of it- is of a professional maintaining the machine while fighting off the pariah dogs desperately driven by the smell- leaving one only with the after-image impressed by the dogs of their desire to acquire cooked meat.

On the tourist things I have little to say. There are many blogs with travelogues and pictures on the attractions- see here, here, and here for some good critical comments at the end.

Benares was a hub of American graduate students seeking degrees in South Asian studies in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Now they are senior professors with a love of this town. For the best and most comprehensive romantic account of every ghat, temple, street, and cow, see Diana Eck, Banares: City Of Light (Princeton University Press).


I wrote this post last week and did not have connectivity. Tonight, the phone company replaced my non-working portable hotspot for a new one and asked me to wait in a busy traffic circle for a messenger on motorbike for a one minute trade-off. While waiting, I notice on the left side of the side a billboard with a missing poster leaving only the uncovered re-bar looking like a monkey bars, the other side had a Samsung ad. Among comes a troop of monkeys who actually start to use it as a monkey bars swinging around bars. My phone trade-off occurs without problem, but then the neighborhood loses power- a daily occurrence. Since it was after nightfall and I was sweating from the wait, I figure I will sit out the darkness in a nearby American style coffee bar with emergency power. I drink my ice tea, light comes back on, I leave coffee shop situated on a second floor landing, but the same troop of monkeys has taken over the staircase looking for victims for robbery or at least the extortion of trading your laptop or eyeglasses back for some fruit. I am pointed to a back door to escape. Time for a bit of Shabbos shopping. Why is there in an OU on a product that says for local India use only? Most likely it is sold under a different label at many times the cost in the US. The shopkeeper offers me the raisins from Afghanistan to buy as better than those of India. Bananas are 12 for 50 cents, papayas are seedless and about $1.10, and little lemons are 8 for 30 cents.

After, I take an auto-rickshaw home. The driver noticing when I step out of the vehicle that I wear a kippah, asks with a point to my head covering: “You Parsee?” I say “No, I am Jewish.” He smiles and explains that he is Muslim. He desperately hunts his mind for some English words to ask a follow-up question. You can tell by his face and his long pause that he had many things he wanted to ask. There is a moment of frustration, I wished him a Salaam-Alaikum, he answers “Alaikum Salaam” and he speeds off.