Category Archives: Neo-Hasidism

Arthur Green- Radical Judaism #2 of 5 parts

The first chapter is on Green’s quest for God.

Continued from part 1- here.

Continue to part 3 – here. Continue to part 4 here.
part 5 here

Green writes that he is a Jewish seeker looking for a lone path. He discusses his atheist upbringing and that he is seeking a middle path between atheism and theism, which he finds in his poetic pantheistic reading of Hasidism.

Green wants to be both a seeker and the spiritual leader of our age. His calling himself a seeker is a bit much at this point when Green sets himself up  as an exemplar and leader of our age.  Someone who is seeking does not write an article called “On Being Arthur Green” implying that one should learn from his wisdom – it was published when he first got to Hebrew College. One can only write an article like that at a pinnacle to share your wisdom. In addition, Green has been in the public eye and noted in the newspapers his whole life.

As a spiritual autobiography of someone who was in all the important places, there was little on his teachers at JTS or Brandeis. Nor on his classmates David Novak, Reuven Kimmelman, and  Byron Sherwin. Nothing as doctoral adviser at Penn or his being President of RRC. Nor a mention of being invited as a young academic to Peter Berger’s “other side of God” retreats or being one of the youngest involved in the Classics of Spirituality and World Spirituality series. Nothing on founding Shefa quarterly with Jonathan Omar-Man and Adin Steinsatz. And most surprisingly nothing on the founding of the first havurah while in grad school Havurat Shalom in Somerville, where along with his buddies Danny Matt, Michael Fishbane, James Kugel and Michael Strassfeld they set out to create a new Judaism for a new age. As a seeker he can claim to “still haven’t found what I am looking for” and not need to survey the past. But if he is offering wisdom that he holds as truth then the disestablishmentarianism is a bit jarring.

Green himself attributes his title Radical Judaism to the radical “God is dead” theology of the 1960’s. He claims that the holocaust and historical criticism ruptured his faith. He found his way back through the non-personal pantheistic hiding God of Hasidism and Kabbalah. He attributes his salvation in the writings of  Hilell Zeitlin (H”YD) who went from freethinking journalist to fervent Hasid and was uniquely able to interpret Hasidism through the eyes of Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Tolstoy. Zeitlin created an urbane Hasidism for his urban newspaper readers.

As a side point, Green’s Tormented Master followed the interpretive lines of Zeitlin and portrayed Rav Nahman as struggling with doubt and freethinking.  When Mendel Pierkaz gave a negative review of Green as “Hasidism for a new world” since it was based on Zeitlin, everyone was furious and even more furious when Piekarz reprinted his review.  The sacrilege was that Green was considered in America as the true university interpretation of Rav Nahman. Now Zvi Mark is the regnant academic work on Rav Nahman and has a different reading of Rav Nahman than Greens, and more people follow the interpretation of Rav Nahman by Rabbis Kenig, Schick, Arush and Schechter et al than academic works.

Green accepts his involvement in the psychedelic age and quaintly defines post-modernism as the rejection of modernity by the counter culture of the 1960’s  They sought to transcend the rational into the realm of myth, drugs, pantheism, and poetry. (Go read Art Green’s early psychedelic works under the pseudonym Itzhak Lodzer.)

Green accepts as another side to his thought that of religious humanism- Kafka, Buber, and Hebrew literature.

After almost 40 years, Green is not claiming identity of his thought with Heschel anymore. He does claim affinity to Tom Berry (d 2009) visionary advocate of evolutionary ecological development of human consciousness, human lifestyle, and our life on the planet. Berry is the near forgotten theologian of the Age of Aquarius and moon landing, who barely got obituaries last summer when he died. Green reminds people of Berry’s positions on our sitting on the edge of a new evolutionary moment where religion will no longer be literal. Like in 2001 Space Odyssey, the world is being thrust into the future and mankind needs to evolve with it.  Religion will now be a mystical pantheism of energy flow that God providentially directs. Yes, he believes this but just not literal the way fundamentalists or orthodox believe. This God is not the theistic God of the Protestant era but “God” – the force of the astro, geo, bio, psych, realms.

Many years ago, Green wrote an article in Shefa Quarterly on the need for a new Jewish theology deserves reprinting for its quest for remytholization over rationalism. Not shattered myths but learning to make the myths of Pesikta, Zohar, and Rav Nahman come live again. For a sense of what this new volume lacks in its discussion of myth compared to older Green writings, here are some excerpts from a NYT interview from 1989 about the new RRC prayer book. They give a sense of the kernel of the birth his rejection of rational for myth and learning to see religion as a progressive force.

While the notion of a ”chosen people” is still excluded from the new liturgy, the mention of miracles, like the splitting of the Red Sea, have been restored. Dr. Arthur Green, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and one of the editors of the new volume, said the ”language of myth” speaks powerfully to many people, even if they do not believe in the literal details. ”As myth, the ancient tale of wonder underscores the sense of daily miracle in our lives,” he said.

Dr. Green, the president of the college, said the prayer book was molded by events that began unfolding in the 1960′s, and ”our view of religion and its place in society have drastically changed” since then. The nation, he said, went from debates over ”Is God Dead?” to seeing the power of religion in the civil rights movement and in the movement to end the Vietnam War. ”We learned from the 60′s that religion can be a progressive social force for change,” he added.

Continue to part 3 – here.
Continue to part Four here
Continue to part 5 here.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Menachem Ekstein Visions of a Compassionate World — A Post-Hasid?

I was recently recommended to read the volume Menachem Ekstein, Visions of a Compassionate World : Guided Imagery for Spiritual Growth and Social Transformation (Urim 2001) (Hebrew- Netzah 1960) based on the original Tennai Hanefesh leHasagat HaHasidut (Vienna, 1921).

I was told the book is an essential part of modern Hasidism along with the Piesetzna Rebbe. (In a recent PHD on the latter, there is a chapter on Ekstein.)

The book is a 1920’s volume of guided imagery – image the sun, the entire planet, the animal kingdom, see all the fish in the sea. Then see your place on earth. Open yourself up to growth and infinite potential, see the potential for change and overcoming one’s limits. Avoid negative thoughts and images that hold you back. The goal is to wake up the senses and this is defined as Hasidism. As I was reading it, I realized that I read these visualizations before. They are from Jean Huston’s The Possible Human: A Course in Extending Your Physical, Mental, and Creative Abilities (1982). Jean Huston is a 1980’s hero of New Thought incorporating many 1920’s classic visualizations in her work. There are similar elements in Alice Baily Shakti Gwain, and Warren Kenton. A quick google search of any of the visualizations yielded dozens of new age sites with the same visualizations. I do not know which works Menachem Eckstein actually read in 1920’s Germany, I could not find a list of German New Thought books online (I already tried Wiki in German.)

I have been told from other sources that the book is very popular in the neo-hasidic national- religious Habakuk crowd, especially the hilltop youth. There is even a CD to listen to the visualizations. This book offers a traditional Hasidic version of new age. It authenticates their individualistic spiritual quests.

It is hard to see it as a Hasidic work, even if the author is a son of a Galitzianer Hasid because the book is printed in Vienna using modern Hebrew and the last chapter is a vision of a restored state of Israel after the Balfour Declaration.

After WWI, many Hasidim entirely left the tradition to become Zionists, Bundists, secular educated or just left to enter the modern world.
But there were also those, especially in Poland’s cities like Warsaw that remained somewhat Hasidic as they entered modern life. There were Hasidic journalists and authors, or least aspiring authors, and there was even a Hasidic boxing columnist . Some continued the traditional garb but living modern lives and other changed their garb but remained loyal in their hearts. The modern city makes all this possible. We could use a good study of interwar Warsaw. Hasidic story writers infused new vitality into Hasidic stories by using Rumi, the Golden Legend, and 1001 Arabian nights. Others advocated Kibbutz Hadati Torah veAvodah as a Kotzker holy rebellion against the establishment. This era rejected the stolid Hasidism of their parents 1880-1920, but still were sociologically part of the Hasidic world. Menachem Ekstein seems part of this world. He took the Western European NEW THOUGHT and metaphysical visualizations and cast it as the way of Hasidism.

If anyone knows more about him, then please let me know. I have just been informed that there is a someone working on him for an MA.

But should we call this inter-bellum period the post-hasidic?

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Arthur Green- Radical Judaism #1 of 5 posts

There is a new book from Arthur Green that is his mature vision for a Neo-Hasidic Renewal Judaism. I received a review copy as soon as it came out and have been grappling about whether this will be a short quickly review or a very long full study. In his introduction, Green quotes Arnold Eisen as telling Green that he should put out a definite scholarly version of his theology. The actual product is a version that is actually less scholarly and more personal than the prior versions and can serve as an eminently readable introduction to his thought.

In the interim as I continue to write up my own reflections, David Wolpe has put out a very concise and insightful review. Wolpe puts his finger on the pulse of the book as having a renegade provocative 1960’s tone. He also catches how a technical academic scholarly approach glides in Green’s hands into New Age mysticism. Green’s work rejects Biblical theism into a minimal theology of mystical metaphors. Wolpe calls it pantheist and animist but I think there is much more going on. Green’s God would feel comfortable on the shelf with Eliade as a myth and symbol, sacred cyclical time deity.

The view of God of Arthur Green, Michael Lerner, and others has been given a quite cogent philosophic and theological analysis by Michael Silver, A Plausible God: Secular Reflections on Liberal Jewish Theology (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006)

Those of us interested in Kabbalah and Hasidism have a much more complex relationship with Green’s work than does Wolpe because Green’s Tormented Master was one of the first works available in English. Green has had a presence in both the academic and theological use of Hasidism, and the field consists of his students. Nevertheless, many of the original readers of Tormented Master have either moved on to the works by the Breslov Research Institute and no longer turn to academic works or the readers turned to charismatic teachers by Aleph –Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

Those of us who teach Polish Hasidism, when dealing with Green’s works have to grapple with when Green is modernizing in a natural way, when he transforms it into his own renewal view, and when he just truncates away an essential element such as Torah study or halakhah.
Continue to post 2 of 5 posts on Arthur Green – here.

March 30, 2010 Rethinking Judaism By Rabbi David Wolpe

Arthur Green, author of “Radical Judaism: Rethinking God and Tradition” (Yale University Press, $26), has been working to reimagine Judaism since his early days as a renegade scholar and theologian. The book under review is filled with interesting observations and sources. They are knit together in a neo-Chasidic, kabbalistically infused ’60s activist Judaism that claims Green as one of its pioneers and preeminent spokesmen. To rework a Divine self-description, this book will be persuasive for those to whom it is persuasive. Some will find it a bracing tonic; for others it will be Jewish learning sprinkled with heresy. Can “radical Judaism” speak to people outside the envisioned circle?
Most of Green’s book (a capstone to the trilogy, “Seek My Face, Speak My Name” and “Ehyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow”), is deliberately provocative. “Radical Judaism” should not be the title of a book that soothes. It is accessibly written, although occasionally with a kind of academic-cum-New Age mistiness that some will cherish and others will not: “Just as Y-H-W-H is not a ‘thing’ but refers to the transcendent wholeness of Being that both surpasses and embraces all beings, so is the soul to be seen as the transcendent wholeness of the person, a mysterious essence that is more than the sum of all the characteristics of that person we could ever name.”
Green’s approach is panentheist. God is not a separate Being who created and superintends the world. Rather God is in all things, shot through the fabric of life, but because the system as a whole is greater than its parts, God is also more than the sum of life. If this smacks of a kind of “Avatar”-ish paganism, that charge is one kabbalists have always had to combat. Green insists it is not pagan, as his predecessors always did. He is right; it is not worship of nature; it is rather a deification of the totality of all that is. For moderns, such a theology may be the only possible piety. To a classical taste, while this may not be paganism, it is at least in the animist suburbs.
Green wrests from this premise some very beautiful and inspiring imagery. Speaking of faith, he wisely says, “We can only testify, never prove. Our strength lies in grandeur of vision, in an ability to transport the conversation about existence and origins to a deeper plane of thinking.” This he seeks to do by insisting that we have to reconceive of God and the world. Everything is interdependent, connected and organismic — and together this vast, pulsing reality is what we can augment or diminish by our actions. In the modern world we have learned to look at systems, and his is a sort of systems theology.
For Green, our great task is awareness. The book is divided into classical categories — God, Torah, Israel. Within each, he struggles with the particularity and universality of the tradition. He struggles as well with the need, given a modern audience, to explain traditional concepts before he can offer a revisioning of them.
As one would expect of a leading light of the chavurah and renewal movements, Green’s book is also a call for Jews to be politically activist. Environmentalism, anti-war activities and other traditional causes of the left are seen not as political choices, but as spiritual imperatives. To criticize the book for this is foolish: One can agree or disagree with convictions and still esteem the courage to have them. For Green, a religious position that does not embrace his politics contradicts the heart of his theology of interdependence: As we are all bound together, universalism, environmentalism, radical activism in many areas is a concomitant of theological understanding.
Green writes several times that he hopes non-Jews will take up this book as well. Certainly much of his theology is not “specifically” Jewish: There is no chosenness, for there is no Chooser. Jews have special responsibilities arising from their history; yet other groups do as well. Green reads his beliefs from the sources of Judaism, and does so with deep knowledge and skill, but they are surely not the predominant reading. Other religious traditions can be read to endorse the same conclusions, as he readily acknowledges. Indeed, Green repeatedly encourages Jews to turn to other traditions, East and West, for insights absent or unacknowledged in our own.
In a pluralistic age, readers will have different feelings about such ecumenicism. Some will see it as a great strength; others as a disqualifying weakness. As one whose belief in God is more traditional than Green’s, I remain enlightened and provoked, but ultimately unpersuaded.

Rabbi Morgenstern and Meditation

When someone mentions Jewish meditation to me the first thing I think of are the Haredi Kabbalitic mediators. I think of Y.M Erlanger who in his Sheva Eynayim and in classes in Heimishe Yeshivos is teaching Hasidut combined with Abulafia and I think of Yitzhak Meir Moregenstern who is reorganizing early Kabbalah, Ramak, Ari, and Abulafia as Hasidut. Erlanger’s starts with the statements in Sefer Habesht al Hatorah and introduces ever more esoteric material and at the end of the last volume, he introduces Abulafia with a warning that the material that he is about to teach is not for everyone, and not everyone should enter the Pardes, and even if you do enter this may not be for you. In contrast, Rabbi Morgenstern called Rav Itchie Mayer Morgenstern starts everyone on the real stuff.

R. Morgenstern is a Haredi descendant of the Kotzker and lived most of his life in England and has moved to Jerusalem and set up a Beit Midrash. You can find videos of him teaching and singing with Anglos on the web. See here, here and here.
He has attached a real following. He gives weekly public shiurim in kavvanot, in Komarno, and Ramhal. He has an email list serve for his Torah, his kabbalah, and for assorted teachings (Hebrew, English, and Yiddish). Send an email here to subscribe tc7@neto.bezeqint.net

He seems to have read some generic books on “How to Meditate” or “Meditation for Everyone” and in his work Derekh Yihud he reorganizes traditional kabbalistic practices into an order that reflects the general mediation world. The topics are sitting, breathing, visualizing, creating an avir in front of one, colors, and a unified vision. He freely takes pieces of Abulafia, Ramak, and early kabbalah to create a Jewish meditation manual in line with the non-Jewish ones. The work Derekh Yihud opens up a new path of reorganizing the older materials based on modern principles.

I see him as potentially the future. Rav Ashlag wrote in the 1930’s and took the meditation, medieval worldview and fantasy out of the Kabbalah and replaced it was science, communism, Schopenhauer, and a closed system. Now everything from the Kabbalah Centre to Bnai Baruch to Michael Leitman are his spiritual descendents. Rabbi Morgensten is teaching the young grandchildren of the Rebbes and many in Kolel and he also accepts the varied pneumatics of Jerusalem as his students. When all those students take their positions as Rebbes, Ramim, and teachers then the meditation format of breathing and visualization will be the tradition. If the trend continues, in 2050 this will be mainstream Kabbalah.

I had originally planned this post before my computer crash when I received the following two weeks ago. It offers a concise taste of Derekh Yihud. Morgenstern advises to close the eyes and see the hidden lights in order to achieve bliss. One turns from this world to the airspace and achieves a vision of the Throne. Lights, then hidden mind, and finally the source of the soul and the Throne.

When a Jew spends time in hisbodedus before his Creator, he closes his eyes so as not to be enticed by the illusory pleasures of this world because he doesn’t want to be connected to them.
When he closes his eyes in this way, he is able to see the brilliant hues that are rooted in the “hidden mind” of Mocha Sesima’ah, and he begins to derive pleasure from spiritual reality, from the fact that Hashem is revealed through a myriad of shades and hues of dveikus. He starts to feel Hashem’s light and glory within himself, and how all of the pleasures of this world are null and void, are like a mere sliver of light, compared with the delight of dveikus that is a composite of all possible forms of bliss.

So when a person seals his vision against the illusory nature of this world, he rises to the place of the “airspace” and its “membrane,” which is really the source of the human soul and its throne of glory. In that place it can be said, “From my flesh, I see G-d.” One begins to enjoy a vision of the ultimate Kisei HaKavod upon which the “form of a person sat.”
The final three plagues parallel these three states of dveikus:
First, a person must meditate and be misboded on the expansive Binah light of Hashem.
Then he must ascend to the place of the “hidden mind” which is the counterpart of the holy darkness of turning aside from this-worldly concerns to receive “light in all his dwellings.” With this, he destroys the klippah of the impure firstborn and rises further to the place of the “membrane of the airspace” and the “airspace” itself which correlates to the level of the Da’as of Atik and which reveals to him the source of his neshamah that “sits upon the throne.”
“It is revealed and known before Your Kisei HaKavod…” Meaning, through coming to the level of the Kisei HaKavod, we are able to subdue all of the klippos and utterly “smite Egypt through their firstborns.”

This past week he sent out a special Tu beShevat essay. He opens the essay stating that was asked why Hayyim Vital did not mention TuBeshevat and answers in the name of R. Haayim Cohen that it is a hidden quality. And when pressed why does everyone do it today? He turns to R. Aharon Halevi of Strashelye explaining that since we are lesser today everyone learns Kabbalah since they do not grasp the real depth anyway. The essay is a running account of his Torah and the questions he received Tu Beshevat-Shabbat Shrah. There are many interesting points in it including -We are told of the joy from the recent publishing of Vital’s alchemy and magic.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Hasidism and George Harrison: Living in the Material World

Hasidism, which is currently 270 years old, has gone through many changes over that long period of time.

Modern types look to Hasidism for new age and then find something else completely different when they look the eighteenth century texts. For example, the main literary disciple of the Baal Shem Tov Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye wrote the classic volume of Hasidic Torah, the Toldot Yaakov Yosef.
He presents the story of Yitro as our fight against materiality, luxury, and excess. I do not tend to hear many homilies against the physical anymore, and barely any against excess. Torah is no longer a means to get beyond the material world. Now, we get Hasidic homilies about the need to embrace the physical world and the earthly part of our lives.

“Yitro heard,” then he came to meet the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai. “What was it that Yitro heard that caused him to come?” “He heard about two things: the splitting of the Red Sea and the war against Amalek” (Zevachim 116 cf. Mikhilta and Rashi).
First, why should he have been impressed by these two miracles in particular? Second, why should that have led him to come to the Jews? [Third, why do we care what happened “What was was” The Torah is not a story. This verse has a moral lesson for every individual at all times.---- I will deal with this below]

A human being is composed of materiality and form: the body and soul. Our soul is constantly aflame to cling to our Maker. But our physicality interrupts that clinging with its desires for physical things, such as sex and food…. The influence of our physicality creates an obstruction between ourselves and God. When we sin, an additional barrier is formed since the physical grows stronger than the form and seeks excesses of luxuries, more than a person needs in order to sanctify himself.
Yitro represents the state of withholding ourselves from the excess (Play on the word yitro for additional). To remove the obstruction of our physicality and the barrier of our sins, we need the splitting of the Red Sea and the war against Amalek.
[Rest of homily is from Alsheikh and Olalot Ephraim on splitting of Red Sea and defeat of Amelek as representing a splitting of materiality and a defeat of our evil inclination.]
When we hold ourselves back from unnecessary pleasures, represented by Yitro–we overcome the two obstacles that divide us from God. Our physicality, which is represented by the splitting of the Red Sea, and we overcome our sins, which is represented by the victory over Amalek.

In contrast, 180 years later the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Basi Legani spoke about using physicality to serve God, there should be dirah batahtonim. As an example of the new type of homily on Yitro, here is one by my friend Professor Tali Loewenthal.

The Midrash is intriguing. It says this first word Anokhi is Egyptian, because G-d wanted to speak with us in the language we had learnt while we were in Egypt. G-d does not want to relate to us only on the sacred, spiritual level of our lives, represented by Hebrew, the holy language. He wants to reach the earthly “Egyptian” dimension as well. We should not try to pretend that we do not have this lower aspect. Rather, we should try to control it, then elevate it and ultimately transform it into something holy.

I could have done this post equally well with Mitnagdut. We do not give the homilies of the Vilna Gaon and other eighteenth century Lithuanians who were puritanical or ascetic, other-worldly, fasting often, avoiding sleeping and eating, hiding from the sunlight and seeking inner angelic guides. Herman Wouk stated that we are clearly not the Vilna Gaon anymore. Currently we seen to have effaced this difference and portray a GRA of our own presentism.

What happened to our tradition of transcending the physical? Maybe serving God with the physical has reached its limits for our age and we need to return to the Jewish tradition of getting beyond our physicality?

George Harrison: Living in the material world

I’m living in the material world
Living in the material world
can’t say what I’m doing here
But I hope to see much clearer,
after living in the material world

I got born into the material world
Getting worn out in the material world
Use my body like a car,
[skipped the middle of the song]

While I’m living in the material world
Not much ‘giving’ in the material world
Got a lot of work to do
Try to get a message through
And get back out of this material world

My salvation from the material world

To return to what I skipped above in the homily by R. Yaakov Yosef:
Third, why do we care what happened “What was, was.” The Torah is not a story: “The Torah of Hashem is complete” This verse has a moral lesson for every individual at all times.

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef .does not value treating the Torah as an accounts of the past or as a story of earthy matters. What was, was! The past is past. To matter the Torah has to be eternal and not in the past. The Torah is eternal wisdom beyond its story. In this, he undercuts those who treat the Bible as literary narrative or as history. Rather than fit the Bible into a modern category, it is treated as eternal wisdom for the adept. I do not hear much of that anymore either. But I do find a serious rejection of history.

This past Sukkot, while sitting in a Sukkah with many people, I mentioned that I can date a hasidic story to within about ten years. Especially since most of them are 20th century inventions, reflecting the issues of that decade. In an instant, someone sitting at the other end of the Sukkah declared: “That is just like a Bible critic. You cannot date Hasidic texts because that is what Biblical critic do.”

The Emergent Church and Orthodoxy

There are a variety of post-modern turns to religion: including Post-modern Christianity, post-liberalism, emergent church, weak theology, post-evangelical, theology without Being, minimal theology, Paleo-orthodoxy, and radical orthodoxy. (Personally, I  do not necessarily agree with, or accept, or identify with any of them  except post-liberalism) Some of the new turns are liberal and some are orthodox.  Some are academic and some are popular. Some are ideas and some are social tends. And some are for everyone. while others are only for gen x and gen y – leaving the baby boomers out.  We live in a fluid decade where a Jew raised in the reform movement who starts wearing Zizit, putting on tefillin, and keeping Kosher can still be comfortable in Reform and where those raised Orthodox are still part of the social entity Orthodoxy regardless of believe or practice. Even within Orthodoxy, an ecstatic breslov Carlbachian, a scholarly interested in academic Talmud, a baby-boomer fighting what they perceive as chumrot, and someone advocating GLBT awareness- may or may not have anything in common with each other. .

Since my blog post on post –evangelicalism has generated an interest- I will offer a bit more on a related topic- The EMERGENT CHURCH. But when you read it, the question remains to map out where Judaism is similar and where it is different than the Evangelicals. As I asked in the first post: What needs to be added in the Jewish case? Are Jews playing themselves out in the same way? Where are the differences?
Here is the WIKI definition of the emergent church – I am not sure how it relates to Jews.

The emerging church (sometimes referred to as the emergent movement) is a Christian movement of the late 20th and early 21st century that crosses a number of theological boundaries: participants can be described as evangelical, post-evangelical, liberal, post-liberal, charismatic, neocharismatic and post-charismatic. Participants seek to live their faith in what they believe to be a “postmodern” society. Proponents of this movement call it a “conversation” to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature, its vast range of standpoints and its commitment to dialogue. What those involved in the conversation mostly agree on is their disillusionment with the organized and institutional church and their support for the deconstruction of modern Christian worship, modern evangelism, and the nature of modern Christian community.

The emerging church favors the use of simple story and narrative. Members of the movement often place a high value on good works or social activism, including missional living or new monasticism. Many in the emerging church emphasize the here and now. The movement favors the sharing of experiences via testimonies, prayer, group recitation, sharing meals and other communal practices, which they believe are more personal and sincere than propositional presentations of the Gospel.

I am not sure how much the younger generation of Jews are using narrative, are doing good works, charismatic, or creating a new monasticism.

There was a good article a full three years ago attempting to unpack the Emergent Church that will be helpful in comparing Jewish trends to Evangelical ones.

Five Streams of the Emerging Church

Scot McKnight | posted 1/19/2007

Following are five themes that characterize the emerging movement. I see them as streams flowing into the emerging lake. No one says the emerging movement is the only group of Christians doing these things, but together they crystallize into the emerging movement.

Prophetic (or at least provocative)

One of the streams flowing into the emerging lake is prophetic rhetoric. The emerging movement is consciously and deliberately provocative. Emerging Christians believe the church needs to change, and they are beginning to live as if that change had already occurred. Since I swim in the emerging lake, I can self-critically admit that we sometimes exaggerate.

Brian McLaren in Generous Orthodoxy: “Often I don’t think Jesus would be caught dead as a Christian, were he physically here today. … Generally, I don’t think Christians would like Jesus if he showed up today as he did 2,000 years ago. In fact, I think we’d call him a heretic and plot to kill him, too.” McLaren, on the very next page, calls this statement an exaggeration. Still, the rhetoric is in place..

Postmodern: Mark Twain said the mistake God made was in not forbidding Adam to eat the serpent. Had God forbidden the serpent, Adam would certainly have eaten him. When the evangelical world prohibited postmodernity, as if it were fruit from the forbidden tree, the postmodern “fallen” among us—like F. LeRon Shults, Jamie Smith, Kevin Vanhoozer, John Franke, and Peter Rollins—chose to eat it to see what it might taste like. We found that it tasted good, even if at times we found ourselves spitting out hard chunks of nonsense. Postmodernity is the collapse of inherited metanarratives (overarching explanations of life)

Jamie Smith, a professor at Calvin College, argues in Who’s Afraid of Postmodernity? (Baker Academic, 2006) that such thinking is compatible, in some ways, with classical Augustinian epistemology.

Others minister with postmoderns. That is, they live with, work with, and converse with postmoderns, accepting their postmodernity as a fact of life in our world. Such Christians view postmodernity as a present condition into which we are called to proclaim and live out the gospel.

They don’t deny truth, they don’t deny that Jesus Christ is truth, and they don’t deny the Bible is truth.

From a theological perspective, this fixation with propositions can easily lead to the attempt to use the finite tool of language on an absolute Presence that transcends and embraces all finite reality. Languages are culturally constructed symbol systems that enable humans to communicate by designating one finite reality in distinction from another. The truly infinite God of Christian faith is beyond all our linguistic grasping, as all the great theologians from Irenaeus to Calvin have insisted, and so the struggle to capture God in our finite propositional structures is nothing short of linguistic idolatry.

Praxis-oriented

Worship: I’ve heard folks describe the emerging movement as “funky worship” or “candles and incense” or “smells and bells.” It’s true; many in the emerging movement are creative, experiential, and sensory in their worship gatherings.

They ask these sorts of questions: Is the sermon the most important thing on Sunday morning? If we sat in a circle would we foster a different theology and praxis? If we lit incense, would we practice our prayers differently? If we put the preacher on the same level as the congregation, would we create a clearer sense of the priesthood of all believers?

Orthopraxy: A notable emphasis of the emerging movement is orthopraxy, that is, right living. The contention is that how a person lives is more important than what he or she believes. Many will immediately claim that we need both or that orthopraxy flows from orthodoxy. Most in the emerging movement agree we need both, but they contest the second claim: Experience does not prove that those who believe the right things live the right way. No matter how much sense the traditional connection makes, it does not necessarily work itself out in practice. Public scandals in the church—along with those not made public—prove this point time and again.

Missional: The foremost concern of the praxis stream is being missional. What does this mean? First, the emerging movement becomes missional by participating, with God, in the redemptive work of God in this world.  Second, it seeks to become missional by participating in the community where God’s redemptive work occurs. The church is the community through which God works and in which God manifests the credibility of the gospel.Third, becoming missional means participating in the holistic redemptive work of God in this world. The Spirit groans, the creation groans, and we groan for the redemption of God

Post-evangelical --A fourth stream flowing into the emerging lake is characterized by the term post-evangelical. The emerging movement is a protest against much of evangelicalism as currently practiced. It is post-evangelical in the way that neo-evangelicalism (in the 1950s) was post-fundamentalist. It would not be unfair to call it postmodern evangelicalism. This stream flows from the conviction that the church must always be reforming itself.

The vast majority of emerging Christians are evangelical theologically. But they are post-evangelical in at least two ways.

Post-systematic theology: The emerging movement tends to be suspicious of systematic theology. Why? Not because we don’t read systematics, but because the diversity of theologies alarms us, no genuine consensus has been achieved, God didn’t reveal a systematic theology but a storied narrative, and no language is capable of capturing the Absolute Truth who alone is God. Frankly, the emerging movement loves ideas and theology. It just doesn’t have an airtight system or statement of faith.

Hence, a trademark feature of the emerging movement is that we believe all theology will remain a conversation about the Truth who is God in Christ through the Spirit, and about God’s story of redemption at work in the church. No systematic theology can be final.

In versus out: An admittedly controversial element of post-evangelicalism is that many in the emerging movement are skeptical about the “in versus out” mentality of much of evangelicalism. Even if one is an exclusivist (believing that there is a dividing line between Christians and non-Christians), the issue of who is in and who is out pains the emerging generation. This emerging ambivalence about who is in and who is out creates a serious problem for evangelism.

Political A final stream flowing into the emerging lake is politics. Tony Jones is regularly told that the emerging movement is a latte-drinking, backpack-lugging, Birkenstock-wearing group of 21st-century, left-wing, hippie wannabes. Put directly, they are Democrats. And that spells “post” for conservative-evangelical-politics-as-usual.

Now—where does this apply to the new generation of modern Orthodox Jews and where do they differ? Why? This is not Baby-boomer liberal Orthodoxy – so where is it going? Do not take this one article and treat it as the definitive word or as the best definition. Dont make it into a Truth. There are many other articles, books, and differing opinions on Emergents, especially since it is a conversation. It was chosen as a temporary quck -fix for clarity. But the question is where do Jews fit into the conversation? Which of these five points apply to Young Jews and which dont?

© Alan Brill 2010

The Lubavitcher Rebbe on Transcendental Meditation

Back in July 1979,  a rabbi sitting outside on a porch in the Catskils, with a friend or older bachur, he was listening to the Fabrengen. I was called over to listen to it because the Rebbe was speaking about Transcendental Meditation, he assumed that I would be interested.  I was not particularly enthralled since all I heard was “avodah zarah,”  “idols, incense and gurus” “worship of the sun and moon,” “it is OK for doctors to teach.” At the time, I felt that it did not reach the issues and was too removed, too Biblical, and was not really showing understanding.  Beyond that he treated TM as a pathology to be dealt with by physicians. He did not want any connection of meditation to Kabbalah.  Yet, for some reason I still remember the event, the cloudy evening, and my reaction, especially my disappointing mulling it over for some time that evening.

Yesterday, someone sent me a question on Yoga and Judaism, and after an initial email the response reminded me of the Rebbe’s sicha.

So here an audio- video of the original.

The Rebbe compares TM to the avodah zarah of the sun and the moon. The Rebbe does not address other religions but deals with the issue as part of the problem of cults. He wants the creation of something new called “Jewish meditation” to wean people away from TM. It should be seen as a medical problem and should only be taught by someone who  knows the laws of avodah zarah. It is interesting that the Rebbe is careful not to call all of it “ruah tumah” or “klipot nogah.” Rather, the problem is the incense, bowing, and the false gods or treating the guru as a deity. The patriarch Abraham is portrayed as engaged in solitude, yet the Rebbe does not want this new invention of Jewish meditation connected to Kabbalah, it should be done clinically by physicians.

Here are selections from the translation.

There in an issue, which is connected with the physical and psychological health of many Jews, that demands attention. It is quite possible that these words will have no effect. Nevertheless, the health of a Jew is such an important matter, that efforts should be made even when there is not a sure chance of success.

This issue is the idea of meditation. Meditation has its roots in the very beginning of the Jewish heritage. The Torah commentaries explain that Avraham and the other patriarchs chose to be shepherds so that they could spend their time in solitude.

The sun, the moon, and the stars are necessary for life of earth. They bring about manifold goodness. However, they also have been worshipped as false gods. One might ask (as the Talmud asks): “Since they have been worshipped as false gods, shouldn’t they be destroyed? However, should G-d destroy the world because of the foolishness of the idol-worshipers?” The same concept applies in regard to meditation. Though essentially good, meditation can also be destructive. There are those who have connected meditation to actually bowing down to an idol or a man and worshipping it or him, bringing incense before them etc.

The cults have spread throughout the U.S. and throughout Israel as well.

They have called it by a refined name “transcendental meditation” i.e. something above limits, above our bounded intellects. However, they have also incorporated into the procedures the bringing of incense and other practices that are clearly “Avodah Zorah,” the worship of false gods.

Since we are living within the darkness of Golus, many Jewish youth have fallen into this snare. Before they became involved with this cult, they were troubled and disturbed. The cult was able to relate to them and bring them peace of mind. However, their meditation is connected with Avodah Zorah, burning incense and bowing to a Guru, etc. Since the aspects of idol worship are not publicized, there are those who have not raised their voices in protest. They don’t know if such a protest would be successful and since no one has asked them, why should they enter a questionable situation.

Two conditions must be taken into consideration: 1) meditation should only be used by those who need it. A healthy person doesn’t need meditation. On the contrary, if he begins to meditate he will hurt his psychological health. The only meditation that all should carry out is one which is part of one’s service to G-d, for the Shulchan Aruch states that before each prayer one must meditate on “the greatness of G-d and the humble state of man.” However, that meditation is done with a fixed time and a fixed intent. Its goal is not to calm one’s nerves. 2) The meditation must be based on a Kosher idea or a Torah concept e.g. Shema Yisroel, the meanings of the prayers. Thus, this will bring one to an awareness of the greatness of G-d and the humble nature of man.

Also, since as in all treatments, the healer gains a certain amount of control over his patient, we must take care that the professional who is leading the meditation have a clear and well defined knowledge of what is permitted according to the Shulchan Aruch, what leads to Avodah Zorah, etc.

Even in Yerushalayim, the holy city, such a center has been established. I, myself, received a brochure from such an institution. It was professionally produced, containing pictures and a description of how in Yerushalayim, a center for meditation has been set up. They purchase American addresses, and send them this brochure. It makes a powerful impression and arouses curiosity. Thus, we can see how serious the situation is.

In view of this situation, psychologists, psychoanalysts, etc. have a holy duty to advance their knowledge of meditation, and work to develop a Kosher program. Furthermore, since we live in a country in which publicity plays a large role, efforts must be made to publicize the treatment in the broadest means possible.

Furthermore, this treatment should not be connected with any side issues. There are those who maintain that meditation must be connected with the secrets of Torah. Meditation on the secrets of Torah is very important, particularly in the present age when the Wellsprings of Chassidus must be spread outwards. However, the subject at hand is different. There are Jews who are involved in “Avodah Zorah,” worship of false gods, who must be saved. This is the first priority. If one begins by teaching the secrets of Torah, it is extremely likely that the majority of them will not respond. Even the few who might show an interest should be separated from “Avodah Zorah” first.

We cannot sit and wait practically until someone asks to be helped. We have to approach those who are afflicted and speak their language, without mixing in any other Mitzvos. Our object should be merely the Mitzvah of healing their troubled psyches.

Each one of us knows such a doctor. We can interest a doctor in such activities, and he will find a way to attract those who have fallen into these snares.

In all the other exiles, the redemption did not involve the entire Jewish people. However, the Messianic redemption will reach every Jew. The prophet Isaiah (27:12) declares: “You will be collected one by one” from even the furthest extremes of Golus. These efforts to draw Jews away from the Golus of “Avodah Zorah” will help hasten the fulfillment of the prophecy. The Talmud states that all the appointed times for Moshiach’s coming have passed, and everything depends on Teshuvah. When the Jewish people do Teshuvah, they will immediately be redeemed.

In 1979, The Rebbe had a yehidus with a couple from Australia, where he said the same thing.

Already in the prior year in 1978, the Rebbe turned to a doctor to help him with this request to develop meditation without idolatry. It gets reprinted around the web as if the Rebbe was answering a question from the doctor rather, in fact, the Rebbe was seeking out the doctor. Notice the Rebbe’s citation of  the Federal Court case.and his assumption that much of this is already part of medical practice. I did include parts that are similar to the Sicha- full version here, and here. We can see the Rebbe’s thought in formation

By the Grace of G-d Teveth, 5738
In as much as these movements involve certain rites and rituals, they have been rightly regarded by Rabbinic authorities as cults bordering on, and in some respects actual, Avodah Zarah (idolatry). Accordingly Rabbinic authorities everywhere, and particularly in Eretz Yisroel, ruled that these cults come under all the strictures associated with Avodah Zarah, so that also their appurtenances come under strict prohibition.

Moreover, the United States Federal Court also ruled recently that such movements, by virtue of embracing such rites and rituals, must be classifies as cultic and religious movements. (Of. Malnak V. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, U.S.D.C. of N.J. 76-341, esp. pp. 36-50, 78)On the other hand, certain aspects of the said movements, which are entirely irrelevant to religious worship or practices, have a therapeutic value, particularly in the area of relieving mental stress.

It follows that if these therapeutic methods – insofar as they are utterly devoid of any ritual implications – would be adopted by doctors specializing in the field of mental illness, it would have two-pronged salutary effect: Firstly, in the view of the fact that these methods are therapeutically effective, while there are, regretfully, many who could benefit from such treatment, this is a matter of healing of the highest order, since it has to do with mental illness. It would, therefore, be very wrong to deny such treatment to those who need it, when it could be given by a practicing doctor.

Secondly, and this too is not less important, since there are many Jewish sufferers who continue to avail themselves of these methods though the said cults despite the Rabbinic prohibition, it can be assumed with certainty that many of them, if not all, who are drawn to these cults by the promise of mental relief, would prefer to receive the same treatment from the medical profession – if they had a choice of getting it the kosher way. It would thus be possible to save many Jews from getting involved with the said cults.

It is also known, though not widely, that there are individual doctors who practice the same or similar methods at T.M. and the like. However, it seems that these methods occupy a secondary or subordinate role in their procedures. More importantly, there is almost a complete lack of publicity regarding the application of these methods by doctors, and since the main practice of these doctors is linked with the conventional neurological and psychiatric approach, it is generally assumed that whatever success they achieve is not connected with results obtained from methods relating to T.M. and the like; results which the cults acclaim with such fanfare.

In light of the above, it is suggested and strongly urged that:

Appropriate action be undertaken to enlist the cooperation of a group of doctors specializing in neurology and psychiatry who would research the said methods with a view to perfecting them and adopting them in their practice on a wider scale.

All due publicity be given about the availability of such methods from practicing doctors.

This should be done most expeditiously, without waiting for this vital information to be disseminated through medical journals, where research and findings usually take a long time before they come to the attention of practicing physicians. This would all the sooner counteract the untold harm done to so many Jews who are attracted daily to the said cults, as mentioned in the opening paragraph.

In conclusion: This memo is intended for all Rabbis, doctors, and layman who are in a position to advance the cause espoused herein, the importance of which needs no further elaboration.

More on Spirituality and secularization: Yoga, Jewish Yoga, and Hasidism

The Immanent Frame has a posting on     Taxing yoga: exercise or spiritual practice?

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported on a controversy that erupted over the decision by Missouri tax authorities to require yoga centers to collect and pay a sales tax on their classes. Yoga instructors have argued that they should be exempt from the tax “because the lessons include spiritual elements.” In this week’s off the cuff feature, we’ve invited a small handful of scholars to comment on the legal and cultural status of yoga and on the right of states to levy taxes on yoga centers.

Courtney Bender, Associate Professor of Religion, Columbia University

While the yoga teachers interviewed in the article are quite concerned that the state of Missouri considers yoga to be “entertainment” or “exercise” (unless, presumably, it takes place in a temple or a church), the category confusion surrounding yoga is nonetheless generative and valuable for those who teach it. The yoga teachers I met during a series of interviews I conducted in 2004 moved back and forth easily in spaces where they taught yoga as primarily exercise, primarily meditation, or primarily stress relief. These multiple capacities actually made it possible for yoga teachers to make a living. Likewise, it seems to me that they reveled to some degree in this possibility. They could argue that even if you didn’t “believe” in yoga it could help you.
Of course, not everyone thinks that this separation is possible—some teachers, and many outside observers, agree that it is not. But in this regard, yoga’s “spirituality” surfaces as a concern, or a danger. This Monday morning’s New York Post gives us a clear example. Several years ago New York City’s Department of Education contracted with an independent group to teach yoga and movement in dozens of elementary schools. When the Post got wind of this, it ran a story with a headline reading “‘Cult’ program in NYC schools.” Even though the techniques described seemed innocuous (if not downright silly), the reported dredged up fears of yoga as a plan to infiltrate the schools and brainwash innocents (not surprisingly, the article links the “guru” to a sexual harassment case). Within several hours of the publication of the story the city suspended this program.

1] How does this relate to our quandaries over self help and Neo- Hasidism? If I have any criteria for Hasidism of the eighteenth century  is an immanence that is enthusiastic, devekut, and mindfulness of God. The 21st century versions the immanence is about self, expression, exercise, and marketing.  Midpoints are more confusing.

2] There are now studios claiming to teach “Jewish Yoga” to emphasize that it is not foreign and to incorporate it under Jewish spirituality and Neo-Hasidism. They will do a renewal chant instead of a Sanskrit chant at the end.  I have no problem saying it is not Neo-Hasidism. But is it Jewish, Hindu or exercise (as Missouri thinks)? I ask becuase there are teachers of the dharma who find the term Jewish Yoga as offensive as Hindu Kabbalah or Christian Talmud. When the Swamis wrote to the Jews, they received a reply that this yoga is Jewish. The swamis are going Huh?!? it is our India tradition. The Jews respond it is Hasidism. My Jewish-Hindu encounter  article elicited emails to me from the Dharma side to help fight the degradation of their tradition.

Which brings us back to The Immanent Frame

Stuart R. Sarbacker, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Oregon State University

That there should be tension between the spiritual and material culture of yoga is not surprising, given its modern history. Modern yoga, especially the posture-driven variety that is popular in North America, is the product of a particular historical moment in which premodern forms of yoga (such as hathayoga) were merged with Indian traditions of martial arts and wrestling, European physical culturalist thought and callisthenic practices, Hindu universalism, and emerging ideas of “modern science.” The shift towards scientific and secular frameworks and the focus on the body (often through intense attention to the finest of alignments in posture, such as in the Iyengar system) broadened the appeal of yoga while often pushing its metaphysical moorings into the background. As a result of this, the contemporary yoga community in the United States represents a spectrum of traditions that extend from sectarian tradition-driven studios and ashrams to “free-floating” yoga courses offered at fitness centers such as Bally’s Total Fitness.

The fact that yoga brings together the exotic overtones of Indian spirituality with the more familiar exertions of Euro-American callisthenic and fitness traditions has certainly been a driving factor in the success of yoga in North America