Category Archives: social theory

Tzvia Greenfield and Judith Butler

Tzvia Greenfield, our haredi Meretz Keneset member, just published an appreciation of Judith Butler, the feminist literary critic, on Israel/Palestine.

My first reaction was one of treating it as an extreme posture. I mean, come on, one could not get almost any rabbi or Jewish communal figure anywhere on the spectrum to read Judith Butler. I thought of Leib Weisfish, who was on the speaking circuit in the 1980’s as a Mea Shearim dwelling Haredi Neturai Karta who was a passionate admirer of Nietzsche. Weisfish maintained a correspondence with Walter Kaufman, the translator and wanted the grave of Nietzsche to be transferred to Israel.

But my second thought was back to Greenfield’s haredism, which is not a sectarian culturally limited Haredism of Meah Shearim and probably should not be called Haredism. Her view seems to be closer to the older Rabbi Isaac Breuer influence world of Agudah from Germany where one can have a PhD in literature or biochemistry. But one holds that the Torah is above any politics, beyond any this worldly referent, and not subject to any personal choice- a radical separation of Torah and Derekh Eretz. Rabbi Breuer could discuss the secular world based on Nietzsche and Schopenhauer because the Torah was pure and entirely above society. He could also say that the Torah from a this-worldly perspective is biased against women but that is OK since Torah is to be considered from the eternal perspective. A few decades ago, there were still academics from the Poalai Agudah world that had such views.

(In 1990, Rav Shakh basically dissolved Poalai Agudah, telling them that “Torah only” was the only acceptable career, source of ideas, or worldview. The approach of Torah and a sharply bifurcated derekh eretz was no longer to be tolerated.)

So here is Greenfield’s article praising Judith Butler that the occupation needs to end because it would be the collapse of Israel as a democracy and as source of knowledge and talent. I am less interested in the political details as much as the synthesis of Meretz and Orthodoxy played out through Judith Butler. The reason for the sudden interest in Butler is because she passed through Israel a few months ago and obviously met with Meretz. In addition, Butler seems to at work on a monograph on Judaism, human rights, and Hannah Arendt.

Greenfield From Haaretz

Yet another terrifying possibility, of course, is that Israel would consciously renounce its own self-definition as a Western democracy. It would then gradually turn into a dictatorship that defines itself as Jewish. It would use armed force to continue to control all the territory west of the Jordan River, and would continue to deny the Palestinians’ right to either freedom or equality. A choice of that kind would destroy Israel as a modern state, and accordingly also its ability to defend itself and to develop as a secure, flourishing, 21st-century society.

In this case as well, it is clear that most of the country’s intelligentsia, and indeed anyone with initiative, would leave Israel. Israel would remain with its religious population and its rightists – some of whom are capable of defending it, but most of whom are devoid of high-level development and management skills. The Israeli-Jewish dictatorship would thus suffer from a substantive weakness that would eventually lead to its defeat at the hands of its Muslim enemies.

It is sad to think that this process has apparently already started: The collapse of education and higher learning, together with the political corruption and the tremendous growth of those sectors that are not prepared to share the social, economic and military burden, is encouraging the more talented and diligent Israelis to leave the sinking Jewish ship.

Even if treating Israel as the country that embodies the ultimate evil in fact expresses a new and ugly incarnation of traditional anti-Semitism, which always viewed the Jews as the representative of all the world’s ills, the truth is still simple, but difficult to face: An Israel that does not allow the Palestinian situation to be resolved has effectively announced its own inexorable death, via the gradual destruction of the resources of knowledge and talent that have enabled it to develop and defend itself until now. In order to save Israel, we must immediately separate from the territories and their inhabitants.

Butler in her own words
Judith Butler: As a Jew, I was taught it was ethically imperative to speak up 24/02/2010

Part one Part two

Philosopher, professor and author Judith Butler arrived in Israel this month, en route to the West Bank, where she was to give a seminar at Bir Zeit University, visit the theater in Jenin, and meet privately with friends and students.
Why Israel-Palestine? Is this directly connected to your Jewishness?

As a Jew, I was taught that it was ethically imperative to speak up and to speak out against arbitrary state violence. That was part of what I learned when I learned about the Second World War and the concentration camps. There were those who would and could speak out against state racism and state violence, and it was imperative that we be able to speak out. Not just for Jews, but for any number of people. There was an entire idea of social justice that emerged for me from the consideration of the Nazi genocide.

I would also say that what became really hard for me is that if one wanted to criticize Israeli state violence – precisely because that as a Jew one is under obligation to criticize excessive state violence and state racism – then one is in a bind, because one is told that one is either self-hating as a Jew or engaging anti-Semitism. And yet for me, it comes out of a certain Jewish value of social justice. So how can I fulfill my obligation as a Jew to speak out against an injustice when, in speaking out against Israeli state and military injustice, I am accused of not being a good enough Jew or of being a self-hating Jew? This is the bind of my current situation.

Let me say one other thing about Jewish values. There are two things I took from Jewish philosophy and my Jewish formation that were really important for me… well there are many. There are many. Sitting shiva, for instance, explicit grieving. I thought it was the one of the most beautiful rituals of my youth. There were several people who died in my youth, and there were several moments when whole communities gathered in order to make sure that those who had suffered terrible losses were taken up and brought back into the community and given a way to affirm life again.
So I agree with you. But I think we have to get over the idea that a state has to express a nation. And if we have a bi-national state, it’s expressing two nations. Only when bi-nationalism deconstructs the idea of a nation can we hope to think about what a state, what a polity might look like that would actually extend equality. It is no longer the question of “two peoples,” as Martin Buber put it. There is extraordinary complexity and intermixing among both the Jewish and the Palestinian populations. There will be those who say, “Ok, a state that expresses two cultural identities.” No. State should not be in the business of expressing cultural identity.
I think that the BDS movement has taken several forms, and it is probably important to distinguish among them

More Butler from this Spring

Lastly, let me say this. You may feel fear in voting for this resolution. I was frightened coming here this evening. You may fear that you will seem anti-Semitic, that you cannot handle the appearance of being insensitive to Israel’s needs for self-defense, insensitive to the history of Jewish suffering. Perhaps it is best to remember the words of Primo Levi who survived a brutal internment at Auschwitz when he had the courage to oppose the Israeli bombings of southern Lebanon in the early 1980s. He openly criticized Menachem Begin, who directed the bombing of civilian centers, and he received letters asking him whether he cared at all about the spilling of Jewish blood. He wrote:
I reply that the blood spilled pains me just as much as the blood spilled by all other human beings. But there are still harrowing letters. And I am tormented by them, because I know that Israel was founded by people like me, only less fortunate than me. Men with a number from Auschwitz tattooed on their arms, with no home nor homeland, escaping from the horrors of the Second World War who found in Israel a home and a homeland. I know all this. But I also know that this is Begin’s favorite defense. And I deny any validity to this defense.
As the Israeli historian Idith Zertal makes clear, do not use this most atrocious historical suffering to legitimate military destructiveness–it is a cruel and twisted use of the history of suffering to defend the affliction of suffering on others.

Here is a video of further musing of Butler about on Hannah Arendt And Israel delivered this past fall.
For those interested, here is also an online discussion between her and Agamben on human rights.

I am less interested in the politics and more interested in the cultural weave. Haredi religion as entirely a choice of the heart without any social, cultural, or political ramifications. Rabbi Isaac Breuer influence? Prof Yeshaya Leibowitz? In the 1950′s Orthodox Rabbis separated between Torah and American democracy- keeping them apart. Greenfield claims to be following a diaspora model. Can it it be reformulated for a half century later?

Citizen Ethics in a Time of Crisis

An important booklet on social justice and religious social justice just came out in the UK, called Citizen Ethics in a Time of Crisis.
Authors include Michael Sandel, Rowen Williams, John Milbank, and many others. Many of the articles are snippets from other speeches and books but collectively they are the start of the new values and justice movement of sustainable economics and will sure to be copied and quoted by Jewish authors (think Jonathan Sacks 2011).

I will post more about it after I work my way through it.
Here is the full down-loadable text. If this does not work, then it is available from several other sites. Make sure it prints in a large enough font for reading.

Here is their website.

Blurb from movement website.

How do we decide our values?
How can we do economics as if ethics matters?
What kind of politics do we want?
What sort of common life can we share?
There is a widespread concern that the winner takes all mentality of the
banker, and the corrupted values of the politician, have replaced a common
sense ethics of fairness and integrity. Many worry that an emphasis on a
shallow individualism has damaged personal relationships and weakened
important social bonds.

What’s required is a vigorous debate about who deserves what, and the
ethics required for humans to reach their full potential.
The Citizen Ethics Network exists to promote this debate and to renew
the ethical underpinnings of economic, political and daily life.

Robert George and David Novak

I was going to post this in December and never got around to it. I taught David Novak today so it was important. The question is how much the Tikvah fund, A Jewish version of the Witherspoon institute, under Novak will create Jewish cadre of natural law theorists? Will this effect Jewish denominational lines? Will it create conservative Jewish thinkers who accept intermarriage because it is biological? I ask again – How much are Jews reading Novak?

The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker (Here are some selections)
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK NYT Published: December 16, 2009
Robert P. George, a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence and a Roman Catholic who is this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker.

George had drafted a 4,700-word manifesto that promised resistance to the point of civil disobedience against any legislation that might implicate their churches or charities in abortion, embryo-destructive research or same-sex marriage.

Two months later, at a Washington press conference to present the group’s “Manhattan Declaration,” These principles did not belong to the Christian faith alone, the cardinal declared; they rested on a foundation of universal reason. “They are principles that can be known and honored by men and women of good will even apart from divine revelation,” Rigali said. “They are principles of right reason and natural law.”
Even marriage between a man and a woman, Rigali continued, was grounded not just in religion and tradition but in logic. “The true great goods of marriage — the unitive and the procreative goods — are inextricably bound together such that the complementarity of husband and wife is of the very essence of marital communion,”

FOR 20 YEARS, George has operated largely out of public view at the intersection of academia, religion and politics. In the past 12 months, however, he has stepped into a more prominent role. With the death of the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran minister turned Roman Catholic priest who helped bring evangelicals and Catholics together into a political movement, George has assumed his mantle as the reigning brain of the Christian right.

As the first systematic rebuttal to Mario Cuomo and other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, the letter kicked off a now-familiar debate inside the church. “Whenever I venture out into the public square, I would almost invariably check it out with Robby first,” Myers, now the archbishop of Newark, told me. Many of the bishops, Myers says, rely on George as “a touchstone” and “the pre-eminent Catholic intellectual.”

Last spring, George was invited to address an audience that included many bishops at a conference in Washington. He told them with typical bluntness that they should stop talking so much about the many policy issues they have taken up in the name of social justice.
Conservatives, in contrast, speak from the high ground of nonsectarian public reason. George is the leading voice for a group of Catholic scholars known as the new natural lawyers. He argues for the enforcement of a moral code as strictly traditional as that of a religious fundamentalist. What makes his natural law “new” is that it disavows dependence on divine revelation or biblical Scripture — or even history and anthropology. Instead, George rests his ethics on a foundation of “practical reason”: “invoking no authority beyond the authority of reason itself,” as he put it in one essay.Aristotelians, like St. Thomas Aquinas, hold that there is an objective moral order. Human reason can see it. And we have the free will to follow or not. “

In practice, George and his allies have usually found the rules of sexuality quite absolute, while the church’s teachings about social justice come out more contingent. That may be why he is almost uniformly popular among evangelicals but controversial among many of his fellow Catholics, particularly those who prefer the church’s peace-and-justice liberalism to its conservative bioethics.
On the question of capital punishment, George says he is against it but he considers it a matter of interpretation about which Catholics can disagree. The intentional killing of innocent civilians in war is as grave a moral crime as abortion, George says, but what constitutes a “just war” is a more complicated judgment call.

The “rights” to education and health care are another matter, George told his seminar. “Who is supposed to provide education or health care to whom?” George asked. “Health care and education are things that you have to pay for. Resources are always finite,” he went on.
But the argument for banning abortion and embryo-destructive research is “straightforward,” George told me several times.
He admits the argument for marriage between a man and a woman can require “somewhat technical philosophical analysis.” It is a two-step case that starts with marriage and works its way back to sex. First, he contends that marriage is a uniquely “comprehensive” union, meaning that it is shared at several different levels at once — emotional, spiritual and bodily. “And the really interesting evidence that it is comprehensive is that it is anchored in bodily sharing,” he says. The second step is more complicated, and more graphic. George argues that only vaginal intercourse — “procreative-type” sex acts, as George puts it — can consummate this “multilevel” mind-body union.

It is safe to say that not many contemporary philosophers — whether secular or Catholic — agree with George’s marriage argument. Many balk at the mystical “unitive and procreative” qualities George ascribes to sexual intercourse. The idea of “one flesh” union seems far less obviously intelligible than other “basic goods” like friendship, knowledge or religion. Even fellow Catholic Thomists who oppose same-sex marriage question the esoteric quality of George’s argument.
George and his wife, Cindy, who is Jewish.

As a side show, over at the blog of predominately law professors, Mirror of Justice there were some blog posts about Novak and a letter from him and then a cat fight of posts betweeen Jan 29th and Feb3rd that were quickly taken down (I saved copies from cache). David Novak wrote a blurb for liberal pro-abortion theortist Martha Nussbaum. One of the bloggers questioned the hypocrisy and Robert George came to the defense of Novak, which lead to accusations of special pleading. By the time it was over, there was a new blog RelgiousLeftLAw.

The Radicalism of Legal Positivism [in Halakhah]

Now that everyone is running from Legal positivism into all forms of situational thinking, Brian Leiter reminds us why legal positivism seemed so radical at the time. It undid all the Hegelian need for situational organic thinking, it undid social realism, and it undid moralism. The law is the law. The law has no external sources and there are no external implications. Now, legal positivism seem stolid and unresponsive. Along the way the anti-liberal Leiter gets in his critique of critical legal studies as not realizing that they were returning to Hegel.

Once upon a time Brisker inspired positivist approaches to halkahah seemed radical, now people are returning to values, [imagined] community, social realism. This article give some of the framework for the comments on the ideal versus real debate in halakhah and why the positivism once seemed attractive.

The Radicalism of Legal Positivism
Brian Leiter, University of Chicago Law School
Guild Practitioner (forthcoming 2010)

Abstract:
“Legal positivism” is often caricatured by its jurisprudential opponents, as well as by lawyers and legal scholars not immediately interested in jurisprudential inquiry. “Positivist” too often functions now as an “epithet” in legal discourse, equated (wrongly) with “formalism,” the view that judges must apply the law “as written,” regardless of the consequences. Lon Fuller, Ronald Dworkin, and the Critical Legal Studies writers have all contributed in different ways to the sense that “positivism” is either a political conservative or politically sterile position. This essay revisits the actual theory of law developed by positivist philosophers like Bentham, Hart, and Raz, emphasizing why it is, and was, understood by its proponents, to be a radical theory of law, one unfriendly to the status quo and anyone, judge or citizen, who thinks obedience to the law is paramount. To be clear, the leading theorists of legal positivism thought the theory gave the correct account of the nature of law as a social institution; they did not endorse it because of the political conclusions it entailed, and which they supported. Yet these theorists realized that the correct account of the nature of law had radical implications for conventional wisdom about law. We would do well to recapture their wisdom today.
(The ful article has much more than the abstract)
Full article is available here

On the same trajectory of legal positivism and sittlichkeit

I finally got around to reading -Lawrence Kaplan, From Cooperation to Conflict: Rabbi Professor Emanuel Rackman, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and the Evolution of American Modern Orthodoxy Modern Judaism Volume 30, Number 1, February 2010. The article was good for clearing up the retrograding of the 1970’s tensions back onto the 1950’s when Rackman was indeed an official spokesman for Rav Soloveithchik. I thank the author for the generous shout out in the footnotes.

In that spirit, I must add to the article and move it more to legal theory. Rackman as a lawyer and political science professor was influenced by Chief Justices Holmes, Brandeis, and Cordozo, by the emergent world of Mishpat Ivri and the rulings of the Warren court. Rav Soloveitchik thought about the rules of science and philosophy, Rabbi Rackman thought about a telos approach using legal categories. The emergent Conservative movement spoke historical approach to law of von Savigny, John Salmond, and economic judicial activism. It is worth considering that some of the YU “young poskim” with JD’s may have more philosophically in common with Rabbi Rackman that with Rabbi Soloveitchik.

Why would Rackman switch to Judaism? Milton Konvitz was one of the three editors and was encouraging Jewish Legal thinking and Jewish Human rights thinking. (And Konvitz was a fan of both Leo Jung and Jacob Agus)- see his Nine American Jewish Thinkers.

The article by Brian Leiter will offer some terms for understanding the Rackman-Soloveitchik positions and return of sittlichkeit in our time.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

R. Bernard Lander, Officer Krupke, and Rav Moshe Feinstein

Rabbi Bernie Lander A”H died last week. He was from the G.I Generation also called the Greatest Generation. They lived through the depression, WWII, and the rise from the tenements of NY to middle class. They tended to seek solutions in social sciences and thought of law as social realism. He came of age in the Judaism of the 1930’s atheistic and Communist fleeing from religion. His writings followed the Chicago school of social science, which looked at society based on class, caste, and place of immigrant settlement.

Lander’s Phd and book was on what to do with juvenile delinquents. The short films Dead End Kids and Bowery Boys were intended to portray what downtown Jews were like. The Chicago school considered that juvenile delinquency portrayed in these films was due to the breakdown of the social fabric of family, school, religion, and community. Think of the song “Gee, Officer Krupke” from West Side Story where the kids are blamed by judge, social worker, psychologist, and police. Lander in his Towards an Understanding of Juvenile Delinquency blamed the breakdown on inter-group conflicts, like between the Sharks and the Jets. Bear in mind that West Side story was originally to be Jews and Irish in a rumble. Lander always thought in terms of class and social structure. He advocated education for the lower classes. In the 1960’s, he followed the ideas of alienation. “My conclusion,” he said, “was that the rioting was a reflection of how students were being treated as automatons. There was no relationship between students and university anymore. They were rioting against the depersonalization of American education.

Lander had been working on social issues since he worked for Mayor La Guardia to serve on a Civil Rights commission in 1941 and “from 1961 to 1969, Rabbi Dr. Lander researched poverty at Notre Dame, a Catholic University” He researched the juvenile delinquents and poverty of Spanish Harlem. His answer was education [and the Church]. He wrote a report on the need for government funding for education and housing for the Lavanburg Corner House for delinquents. “Dr. Lander pioneered no-frills education when adult education for the working class was in its infancy.”

So when he created Touro, he was thinking in terms of class and caste and creating a school for urban ethnic lower class Jews. “Touro, which was created in part on the model of more than a dozen small Catholic colleges interspersed throughout New York, was Lander’s way of enabling tradition-minded Jews to acquire a college education without having to go through the secularizing and depersonalized university machine.” Currently, Jews have forgotten about the class issues and see everything as religious ideology.

Lander as a member of the Greatest Generation saw things in terms of class, while the silent generation who were the major leaders of Modern Orthodoxy saw things in terms of the stable suburbia of the 1950’s. The Silent Generation catered to the middle class, spoke of liberal arts, and avoided getting their hands dirty with [gentiles or] social problems. By the 1980’s, modern Orthodoxy was already catering to a predominately second generation college, while Lander, still aiming at first generation college, understood that in social terms without an education then you don’t have social stability. If one is not thinking about religious ideology but about class, then there was little difference between his schools in 123st and Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blv in Harlem and his Brooklyn campuses.(If anyone from Touro is reading this and wants to commission a full 20 page article, then let me know).

Rabbi Lander dealt with more American social issues, had more exposure to gentiles, and had a more dynamic vision than the younger YU products who assumed the 1950’s would last forever. Most of the thinkers of the 1950’s Conservative movement were forged in the Greatest Generation, while modern Orthodoxy was more of a Silent generation movement (except for the older rabbis such as Rackman and Israel Miller).

The last time I saw Rabbi Lander was March 2009 was when the Catholic Cardinals came for their annual visit and were hosted by Touro. The topic was to “train young believers in modernity, to train young believers in tradition.” There was a tour of the Holocaust museum and a plan to work together on Holocaust education, a discussion of current issues, and then speeches over dinner of fellowship and working together. It was a far cry from the responsa of Rav Moshe Feinstein from over 40 years prior. (I have the teshuvah at hand, as well as Aleksandrov and the Dali Lama in Hebrew, as part of my forthcoming BOOK TWO)

19 Adar I, 5727 – March 1, 1967 To my honored friend, Rabbi Dov Ber Lander
Regarding the matter that you promised to attend the meeting on the 23rd of Adar I where Catholics and Protestants together with Jews from the Synagogue Council of America and Rabbis from the Rabbinical Council of America will meet. Even though you will only speak general words, it is obvious and clear that this is a severe prohibition of appurtenances of idolatry.

For a plague is now spreading in many places because of the new pope (Pope Paul VI) whose only intention is to move all Jews away from their holy and pure faith to accept the Christian Faith. For it is easier to accomplish this through these methods than through hate and murder that previous popes have used. Therefore any dealing with them even on general matters and all [the more so] actual coming close for a meeting is forbidden with the severe prohibition of “coming close to idolatry.” There is also a prohibition of enticing and leading astray.”
Even if you and the other rabbis who go there will be careful with your words and you will also not flatter the priests and their faith as do the Reform and Conservative rabbis, who entice and lead others to go astray, many people will learn from them that it is permitted to go to the events such as the lectures of the missionaries.

Furthermore, you should not even send a letter there expressing what you planned on saying for any interaction with them further assists their evil plans. It is also forbidden to participate in any manner in meetings like these for I heard that they want to have in Boston and Rome. Anyone who joins with them will be considered one who entices and leads astray the Jewish people. For this that the Catholic missionaries tried so hard for all these years and had very little success, but through these rabbis who lack knowledge who want to join with them, it is possible that many will apostate. We cannot justify the one who entices by saying this was not his intention; he is guilty of a capital offense in this act and all that consequences. .

Therefore, do not be concerned with not keeping your promise to attend and speak. For on the contrary, perhaps through this that you do not go on account of the prohibition, perhaps others will not go and you will bring merit to the community. Your Friend, Moshe Feinstein.

Based on David Ellenson, “Two Responsa of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.” Chronicle of Hebrew Union College, Volume LII, Nos. 1 and 2, Fall 2000-2001.

When reading Rav Moshe, did you agree with his visceral reactions? Do you think that Rabbi Bernard Lander who had been working for Notre Dame thought that all Catholic clergy were out to convert the Jews? Do you think that he thought that in 2009 when hosting the Cardinals

When the septuagenarian Orthodox Rabbis who proudly proclaim that they follow Rav Soloveitchik, were busy flattering the Cardinals and discussing how they have been good friends for decades and how much they trust the Cardinals- were they still in the apprehensiveness of the 1960’s? Were these senior Orthodox rabbis, for whom the Catholic clergy are old and trusted friends, still viewing the meetings as a hidden missionary agenda? When those Jews who work in community organizing are continuously working with Catholic clergy in social projects, are they still waiting for the conversionary speech? What about when Orthodox rabbis or Orthodox organizations state that Catholic social theology and Halakhah are the same on marriage and that they should work with their Catholic friends in banning same-sex marriage? Are they still expecting missionary activity after the joint worldview statement? How about when Orthodox rabbis eagerly listen, and then applaud wildly, when Pastor Hagee tells them that God will bring the Jews to Israel where they will even convert after the wars of Gog and Magog?
Is the change just due to the Culture Wars and new found Islamophobia or is there something more?

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

New issue of Sh’ma – DIY Judaism

Marshall Sklare’s classic work Conservative Judaism (1955) declared Orthodoxy dead because orthodoxy means Yiddish derahsas not English sermons, it means old world customs, it meant rabbis without a secular education, it meant no college and no professions. What about the rising modern orthodoxy of the 1950’s? They were few in number and most importantly when Jews who moved to suburbia in 1950 viewed their live options and their memories, it was the Orthodoxy of their childhoods. They forever visualized Orthodoxy in those terms, which justified their choices even into the 1980’s when their original vision of Orthodoxy was no longer reality.

We have a similar retention of an original childhood vision by modern orthodox who still refer to the Conservative congregations of their youth that were unlearned Orthodox synagogues without a mechitza, with a traditional rabbi paternally leading a semi-observant congregation. In those days, Conservative Jewish centers taught peoplehood and ethnicity.

The MO never ask: what is done today? What people do today is indie and DIY. When gen-y opts out of Orthodoxy for intellectual and cultural reasons -they are attracted to indie.

Well, the current issue of Sh’ma is an essential read to catch up on current affairs, especially for this snowy day. It describes the new world of Do It Yourself and indie Judaism. They want everything to be a co-op or a collective activity. They do not seek wisdom of the boomers or an organizational hierarchy, they are DIY.

[I cannot seem to create a direct link. It seems that you now have to sign up - It is still free but they get your email. Let me know if one can get in directly. Here are the links:
www.shma.com/shma-subscriptions
www.shmadigital.com/shma/201002/?u1=texterity

Steven M Cohen wrote a great article in the issue (It is on page 3) on “The New Jewish Organizing” outlining five points (1) indie and spiritual minyanim (2) culture- music, magazines, film, poetry (3)learning in LIMMUD format (4)social justice (5) new media- social networking. Cohen points out that the gen y calls themselves activists, not leaders. High quality davening is valued over building an institution. They don’t want to change the system like Boomers, rather they want to create opportunities for like minded people with similar sensibilities to gather. They don’t like the preoccupation with divisions and boundaries of the older generation. Cohen writes that they blur the boundaries of” education and entertainment., prayer and social justice, learning and spirituality.” They remain single into their 30’s and exist in a separate social realm than those settled. Religious experience is more important than numbers attending.

To develop Yosef’s comment, the younger gen y’s are moving out but not pulled by the Conservative movement circa 1975, which still lingers mainly in the imagination of the modern orthodox. It seems Yosef is affirming my original definition that the gen-y’s are in a new place. Yet all the gen-x and boomers can do is use the phrase post-orthodox and think of the issues of the 1980’since they have not visited the new minyanim. Some Boomers do not get that for the DIY movement, MO synagogues seem intellectually and cultural stagnant like a 1970’s Jewish Center. The gen y’s are pulled by the new indie vision. Yosef seems to be correct, the older generation may call them post-orthodox, but they are indie and DIY. The current issue of Shema is probably the best list itemizing what might be considered as post-orthodox to a Boomer and treated as natural to a gen y.

But just as I remember Conservative leaders were still telling people in the 1980’s that one cannot be Orthodox and go to college or be a professional. Even though no one who was mastering the halakhic world of Rav Soloveitchik students ever thought about Yiddish and the Lower East Side. I suspect that the older Orthodox will still think for years to come that the younger set is leaving to return to the liberalism circa 1978.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Modern Orthodoxy- Modern meant Moral Self-transformation

Ever wonder about the nebulousness of the term Modern Orthodox? Or why no one seems to be able to move the term or the ideology forward? There is a new book by Webb Keane called Christian Moderns, featured at the Immanent Frame, that may offer some tools for thought. (I ask in advance for people not to leave in the comments the usual homiletical pabulum defining Modern Orthodoxy fit only for day school mission statements.)

Webb does not define modern in a temporal sense, rather modernity is a moral issue of self transformation. One wants to raise oneself to a new stage of autonomy, freedom, and liberation from false beliefs.  Think of modernity as a form of ethical training to think a new way. One labeled those who accept different positions as lacking rationality. Modernity, as a Protestant virtue, also implies the lack of materiality, physicality, and externalization. But if one is not striving for self-transformation then one cannot call oneself modern.

This moralization of history—a largely tacit set of expectations about what a modern, progressive person, subject, and citizen, should be…I do not try to define modernity as an objective aspect of a period of history, but rather as a feature of people’s historical consciousness. Enlightenment thought about morality, autonomy, and freedom, which became central to later secular institutions and habits.

They are asking things like: Are we there yet? How do we get there? What will it cost us? How can we get out of it? Why are others not as modern as we are? Are they going to drag us back?

Modernity is a story of human liberation from a host of false beliefs and fetishisms that undermine freedom. Conversely, those people who seem to persist in displacing their own agency onto such rules, traditions, or fetishes (including sacred texts) are out of step with the times. They are morally and politically troubling anachronisms, pre-moderns or anti-moderns.

A great deal of contemporary academic and political work tends to presuppose the moral narrative of modernity. Arguments about agency, rationality, or freedom, for instance, are often tacitly informed by the assumption that self-transformation is not only a central aspect of historical progress, but also a good that exceeds local systems of value.

Those people who reject the claims of modern agency—those non-moderns who defer to (excessively material) gods, scriptures, or traditions, for example—are subject to accusations of “fetishism.” To accuse people of fetishism is to indict them for misunderstanding their own capacities.

Now to return to the Jewish community, those authors who used the term in the 1950’s and 1960’s specifically showed their modernity by their use of Kantian philosophy and existentialism. These philosophic movements stressed autonomy, freedom, and  responsibility. This helps explain their avoidance of the myriad of other viable theological partners that did not emphasize the modernist ethos. They wanted to remove the physicality of the mizvot and say that what counts if the fulfillment in the heart.

But what about now? What happens when people are not striving for self-transformation to autonomy anymore? This is where Webb may be the most handy. If one is Modern Orthodox and does not have a moral issue of transformation then one has no way to describe oneself.

One approach is to define oneself in the negative by saying that one is not one of those “non-modern” groups. But that may not be empirical about the negated group or even about one’s own group.  The Conservative movement has a similar problem In their period of triumphalism they were embracing the modern world and could say that Orthodoxy was not embracing the modern world. Now, they simple say they are the only ones making a hybrid of modernity and tradition.

A second approach is to define oneself as rational, but that falters because rationality is not defined, as Steve Nadler pointed out on Angel. And is hard to define in the age after modernity, unless one is using Habermas, Taylor et al. More importantly, rationality is no longer seen as a moral issue of transformation.  If being modern is a simply quality that one has naturally  then one is not modern. According to Webb, one would need to work to be modern, at least as much as one works to keep up with computer/web literacy.

A different point is that many of those who want to call themselves modern Orthodox stress how they are open, sensitive, or dealing with the needs of the people. This is a definition, but leaves the problem of gaining any traction in rhetoric or ideology. Open orthodoxy has a self-definition is that open and sensitive but that has nothing to do with modern. To be modern is to speak of autonomy and freedom. They are not looking to start accusing people of fetishism.

The new open Orthodoxies are not modern but have developed a new ethos. But they have not found a means of articulation.

For example, Rick Warren offers the language of the purpose driven life; the virtue is to build a meaningful life. Here is not medieval, but now lives in the post-secular post-modern world and functions with a new ethical scale of self-transformation based on meaning in a suburban life.  Open modern Orthodox, in contrast, keep calling themselves modern as if that is to have a resonance. And their rhetoric is off, since they keep citing as their exemplars 1960’s Orthodox about autonomy, when they are striving for inclusivism (feminism, GLBT rights, acknowledgment of handicaps and psychological difficulties).

I found that similar comments to mine about Rick Warren were made in a later post to Webb, “After Purification” by Philip Gorski. Engaged Yeshivish and Kiruv has much in common with Pentacostalism and are better are playing the inclusivism card.

But this process of purification is necessarily incomplete. Humans, after all, are social and physical creatures. Thus,  processes of purification inevitably give rise to new forms of hybridity—in this case, to new texts, rituals, incantations and so on, either directly, in the form of routinized religious practices or, indirectly, in the form of heterodox religious movements, such as Pentecostalism. Gorski notes that much of the critique of the modern position has been from those returning to the classical tradition.

For MacIntyre, Hauerwas, Elshtain, Milbank and Taylor critique modern liberal secularism not from without, but from within, by drawing variously on Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas.

Does this mean that prophetic critique is the only possible form that a critique of secularism can take? That one must be a theist to be a critic in our secular age?  By no means.  Political philosophers such as…Michael Sandel, amongst others, have elaborated a powerful neo-republican critique of modern liberalism Even Jürgen Habermas, that icon of Euro-American enlightenment, has recently urged his partisans to recognize the untapped “semantic potentials” and “moral resources” still contained within religious languages and communities

Do those who formulate other position offer any alternate to modernity? Centrist Orthodoxy offers a relinquishment of autonomy and the promise of living an idealized halakhic existence Mekhon Hartman offer the modernist vision of autonomy and freedom. What do those who want something else offer? In the 1950′s, there were many rhetorical devices that made people in the Levitttowns think they were into freedom,autonomy, and rationality. But there seems to be a gnawing sense that the idealized halakhah does not not correspond to otherwise observant suburban family life.

Update on Trude Weiss- Rosmarin and the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue

My post on Trude Weiss Rosmarin and the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue has taken on a life of its own outside of cyberspace.

Original Post on Trude Weiss-Rosmarin and the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue

So here is the full text of Trude Weiss-Rosmarin – Toward Jewish-Muslim Dialogue from The Jewish Spectator 1967

David Novak- The Jewish Social Contract- Part I

I will be working through several of David Novak’s volumes. I will return to Fishbane afterwards.

David Novak- The Jewish Social Contract, Princeton UP 2005

The book asks the good question:
“How can a traditional Jew actively and intelligently participate in my democratic polities?”

I will divide his position into units. For the full answer to his good question, wait until the next post on Novak.

1] To provide a Jewish social theory he will use “Theological retrieval, philosophic imagination, and political prudence.” Theological retrieval “searches the classical Jewish literary sources for guidance, and in which historical description is always part of the essential normative thrust.” Anytime Jews need to act beyond the four cubits of halakhah “philosophical imagination must be employed since here speech and action need to be justified to more universal criteria.” We need to find enough democracy in the Jewish tradition and not just a form of superficial apologetics for some current ethnic agenda.”

2] Novak’s imagination envisions that the definition of human nature, human rights, and human society are not natural but God given. We enter social contract not as isolated but from community. We accept the Biblical covenants – the Noahite covenant and the Sinai covnant – both are unconditional and interminable.

3] Novak uses “the law of the kingdom is law” “dina demalkhuta dina” to say we need to crate a civil society, as a social contract.

The very creation of a secular realm was a chance for many cultures to participate. (In this he seems to use Charles Taylor, who is only briefly cited later) Religious liberty was not for tolerance and to keep it out of the public sphere, but to allow us to have our individual covenants. (He explains the establishment cause based on Hutchenson not Jefferson, and freedom of religion as a Baptist not as Locke and Hobbes)We accept civil society and civil society in order to respect our covenantal community.
Novak is against Rawls, we do not approach things based on fairness and rationality.
(He blames the naked public sphere entirely on the Spinoza tradition, rather than the private religion of Jonathan Edwards and the Protestant America.). Novak claims that civil society is made up of many religious groups and the founding fathers of America planned it that way. (not empirically or historically true for the US). Civil religion is from Rousseau and is against traditional faiths and their authority, Novak cites Richard Neuhaus as his source.

He thinks that religious people can argue better in a democracy for cultural autonomy than liberals.
He thinks that religious people will show more respect for other faiths than liberals since every religion knows it is in its best interest to not abuse its self-interested or totalizing demands.

4] Novak does not think he is creating a synthesis of social theory and Torah, there is no confrontation. Social theory is Torah with philosophic imagination.
Jews were multicultural in antiquity since they had to get along with Assyrians and others.
And from the Bible to today Jews are multicultural. Even Haredim choose to be a minority in a multicultural Israel because they know that if they claim hegemony over the secular it will destroy the social contact of Israel !!!

5] All of humanity is in the “Image of God”– defined as “a relational capacity for what pertains between God and all humans.” He bases this on Hermann Cohen and Psalms.
Judaism is a universal religion. Multiculturalism of Judaism is based on interreligious respect, and the respect for everyone’s image of God. As a contrast, Jonathan Sacks places the emphasis on Babel-there are no universals, all knowledge is limited. God chose one family, the Jews, to show that we need to celebrate diversity of families and religions. For Novak, we have a universal to follow and to argue for within the public sphere. For Sacks, absolute religions are the enemy of religion and public life. For Novak, liberalism that does not start with an absolute divine covenant does not allow a public sphere. For Novak, Jewish secularists are poor advocates of Jewish national claims on world!!! We need those with a covenantal certainty. It seems Novak has never heard of secular Zionism or any of many public advocates of Judaism.

6] The Bible shows us that we can only talk to covenantal partners who fear God. We can work with Malkizedek and not the king of Sodom. We can only make work with those who have the moral prerequisites. Therefore, Shimon and Levi could kill the men of Shechem since they are not moral, so we cannot enter into covenant with them. Does Novak notice what he is saying when he justifies killing them because we deem them immoral?

Covenant is n affirmation of creation for humans to make world inhabitable.. He cites as his proof Nahmanides’ introduction to the Torah – berit = bara – make the world inhabitable. But the original of Nahmanides was a praise of the mystery of God’s miraculous powers of creation. Novak transfers these powers man. Hermann Cohen’s universalism and man’s powers presented as Nahmanides.

7] Novak boldly states “Jewish and Christian ideas of human nature and community, which are most often identical” He thinks this is true even in medieval Europe.
Novak states that Jews lived in medieval Europe with integrity by knowing they shared values with the Christians. They had a social contract with medieval Christians based on trust His proof:
Tosafot states that a Jew can accept an oath from a Christian even though, the latter associates (shituf ) something else mentions with God. For Novak, this shows, that Jews share with Christians trust and social contract. They are not idolatrous, rather they are answerable to the same God so it is a social contract. Novak pictures the tosafot as conceiving the relationship as follows: “I have good reason to believe you will not change your word to me, I can trust you because of your Christian faithfulness. And Christians believe in God’s faithful covenant. I trust you because of your belief in God. This is unlike modern atheists and secularists whom we cannot truly trust.

I am not sure what to make of this. It is not halakhic – juridical reasoning from Shulkhan Arukh. It is not historic reasoning even though he cites Jacob Katz. (Katz saw the medieval situation as without trust and commonality, only exclusivism. These tosafot statements were only ad-hoc leniencies without theological power.)
This is Novak’s “theological imagination” using the tradition, having fidelity to halakhah but not to halakhic reasoning.

8] The bible is covenantal and rabbinical thought is all contractual. Rabbinic law is justified by Scripture and debated by scripture. – (All texts for Novak seem sibah ledavar velo siman ladavar). Rabbinic statements are mainly left as stalemate, continuous arguments. It is all open interpretation. (cf new book by Boyarin- I will get to later this season)Rabbinic law is contractual since it gives reasons (Novak assumes darshinan taama dekra) and since law can be repealed by a greater beth din

9] Babylonians were secular and not idolatrous> hence we respect their civil society. Novak uses “the law of the kingdom is law” “dina demalkhuta dina”  to say we need to crate a civil society, as a social contract.Rashba and Ran – right of kings to create secular law but since  we are not really into kings – today it means social contract.          [he damns with slight praise Lorberbaum on Ran, and his edited with Waltzer The Jewish Political Tradition. For Lorberbaum , Halbertal, Waltzer – these medieval texts show an opening to create a secular realm,  without the interference of Judaism and rabbis. A realm consisting of  kings, prime ministers, laity, populous] For Novak, these texts point to natural law and covenant Abarbanel’s critique of kingship is taken as the Jewish norm, cf rambam

10] Moses Mendelssohn  taught that religion is private and to be keep out of the social contract. There should be tolerance for religion. The secular state should tolerate religion because one’s transcendental warrant for one’s religion comes prior to the liberal state. One’s religion is one’s public persona. The secular state is a place to encourage multiple religions. The state is multicultural recognition of diverse religions.  Our Covenantal duties are stronger than Mendelssohn’s duties of conscience. Novak concludes that Mendelsohnn was wrong. We do not start as individuals and follow reason and conscience but we start as a covenantal community, which knows that the Noahite Laws are the natural law for society.  Mendelsohn not enough to bring religion into public sphere.

Novak does not seem to get that Mendelssohn had a very real fear of herem, seruv, beis din control of society and economics, rabbinical pronouncements on society, heresy trials, and an autonomous kehilah. Novak assumes that Mendelssohn’s rabbinical establishment would write op-eds and First Things articles, rather than put each other in herem.

To be continued and edited tomorrow night.
Galleys of my Book One are due tomorrow.

Symposium on Secularization at NYU

For those in NYC- See you there

This Thursday’s (10-22) public symposium with Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West.  The event will run from 3:00-8:00PM. The doors to the Great Hall (7th @ Bowery) will open at 2:00PM.  We expect this to be a full-capacity event, and we advise you to arrive early to secure seating.

3:00 – Welcome—Jonathan VanAntwerpen, SSRC

3:15-5:00 – Panel I
Jürgen Habermas, “The Political” – The Rational Sense of a
Questionable Inheritance of Political Theology
Charles Taylor, Why We Need a Radical Redefinition of Secularism
moderated by Craig Calhoun, SSRC and NYU

5:00-5:45 – Intermission

5:45-7:30 – Panel II
Judith Butler, Is Judaism Zionism? Religious Sources for the
Critique of Violence
Cornel West, Prophetic Religion and The Future of Capitalist
Civilization
moderated by Eduardo Mendieta, Stony Brook

7:30-8:00- Panel III
Craig Calhoun will moderate an open discussion between Judith
Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West.

Update:

Here is a summary of the lectures.

Determine Your Rabbinical Age

Here is a quiz for Evangelical Ministers to help them know their style: old fashioned, baby-boomer, or emergent.   I  invite all my Rabbinical readers to take this quiz to see where their pulpit style fits in. Almost all the questions are easliy adapted from the Church to the Synagogue. If you are not clergy but know clergy, then use it to evaluate your clergy. Let me know your results.

Determine Your Ministry Age
Do your assumptions about leadership reflect the values of your generation?
Jimmy Long Monday, October 12, 2009

In recent years we have entered into lengthy discussions about how worship, spiritual formation, and evangelism are transitioning in the church. However, the most crucial area of transition, leadership, has received minimal attention. For more than 35 years, I have been overseeing the ministry of young InterVarsity staff and college student leaders. In that time I have seen a significant swing in how these young leaders view leadership. The emerging generation of leaders desires a context that fosters community, trust, journey, vision, and empowerment.

If we are going to transition the church to the next generation, both existing and emerging leaders will need to understand and appreciate each other’s values. This quiz, developed in conjunction with the editors of Leadership, is a helpful start.

Here is the Quiz

Good luck and report your results.

What does Clericalism mean in a Jewish context?

There was another Orthodox sexual scandal that ended in conviction.  On the journalism of religion site GetRelgion, they asked  about the application of the term clericalism to Orthodoxy.

None of the five women had spoken publicly before the criminal case, because, they say, it was understood that members of the modern Orthodox Jewish community — especially young ones — did not divulge errors by its leaders, let alone accuse them of impropriety.

Hey reporters, does any of this sound familiar to you? The story is describing a word that has become common in the context of the three-decades of scandal in Catholicism about sexual abuse by clergy — “clericalism.” Does the term deserve to be used in this Jewish context, in the context of a hierarchy that consists of a single powerful congregation and its niche in a larger religious community? Read the story and decide for yourself if this particular shoe fits. After you read the story, you may have questions pop into your mind.

The allegations all focus on abuse. Are there any allegations about sexual affairs? Did the rabbi have a line in his own mind that he never crossed?

Back in the 1950′s, Rabbis  Emmanuel Rackman and Leo Jung argued that orthodoxy cannot have clericalism. Rackman even argued that it would be unAmerican and communist to remove the basic equalities promised in Judiasm and in America. There are no special protections, authority, and insights available to rabbis.  Is this a return to traditional halakhic values with their implicit hierarchy, or is there  something new in the current community structure? What is the social and political theory behind this new Orthodox clericalism? What texts do they cite? As the author tmatt asked in his post: What lines will the Rabbi not cross that make this OK? How is it different than the Catholic Church? We dont use the term when Evangelical preachers sin, but why does it seem apt here?

More sources to decide if the usage is correct:  wikipedia article and from a Catholic blog

As far as I can see, the position of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales including our own Bishop Terrence Drainey is currently “let us have a culture that tolerates and even encourages clerical abuse, in which priests and bishops are free to abuse their power and authority and laypeople are expected to be co-conspirators or else face accusations of disrespect and disloyalty but let us make an exception for the sort of abuse that the civil authorities take seriously, that is, the sort of abuse that costs money and looks bad in the papers”.

This is like saying “stealing is okay, as long as you don’t steal anything somebody will notice” or “lying is okay, as long as nobody finds out”. Essentially, the Bishops are saying “it’s okay with us if priests abuse their power, as long as they don’t do anything illegal”.

What concerns me most of all is this: As long as the culture remains in place, the potential for harm continues. As long as the culture remains in place, the potential for “[hiding] behind a clericalism which is prepared to protect vicious behavior at the expense of defenceless innocents” remains in place.

This is simply unacceptable.

Sounds familiar? Why?

Walmart, Love and Universal Ethics

Pope Benedict of the Week

David Nirenberg a Jewish professor of (Jewish) history and social thought at the University of Chicago offers a review in the TNR of Benedict’s recent encyclical “Caritas in Veritate: On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth.” He likes the message of love over market values, but asks: Why does it have to be framed as Catholic and not universal?

Benedict’s teaching differs from that of his predecessors in at least two important ways. The first is evident in the key term in his analysis: “love,” rather than “justice,” “natural law,” or “human reason,” the terms that were favored by some of his predecessors

As Wal-Mart shoppers, for example, we must divide our attention between 1) a self-interest in the lowest possible price for whatever object we desire; and 2) the needs of that object’s producers, of the environment in and from which it was made, and of the moral and fiscal balance of global trade (hence “consumers should be continually educated regarding their daily role, which can be exercised with respect for moral principles without diminishing the intrinsic economic rationality of the act of purchasing”); and 3) an openness to the loving “spirit of the gift.” Benedict is not simply suggesting a moral yardstick for the marketplace. He is claiming that every commercial exchange needs to become a loving act modeled on the gratuitous gift of Jesus Christ.

And only Catholicism, Benedict tells us, can achieve the universal fraternity necessary for authentic community: “Reason, by itself, is capable of grasping the equality between men and of giving stability to their civic coexistence, but it cannot establish fraternity.

The problem is that Benedict is claiming to offer general answers to global questions that affect people of every faith (and sometimes of no faith), while at the same time insisting that the only possible answer to those questions is Catholicism. Such a suggestion might be a plausible prescription for global peace and development in a Catholic world, but the world is not Catholic.

In a de-secularizing age, and with our faith in self-interest shaken by economic crisis, we should want to draw on the wisdom in that ocean of thought. But if those teachings are to contribute to global “unity and peace,” they will have to be taught in a way that seeks to transcend the boundaries of the traditions that produced them. This does not mean, as Benedict fears, that Christianity (or any other religion) must become “more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance,” or that “there would no longer be any real place for God in the world.” Values are not a zero-sum game. God’s place in the world is not lost when one religion tries to translate some of its truths into helpful good sentiments for those of other or no faith

Full review

To which Michael Sean Winters replies at NCR and at his blog at America that he likes the perspective of the historian but disagrees with the need for universalism

his article is so refreshing and so frustrating. On the one hand, he understands that the advent of capitalism and its values represented a “reversal of a millennial moral consensus”

If Nirenberg truly believes that Benedict’s vision is narrowed by his insistence on truth to the point of preventing dialogue, why write a review of the encyclical? Nirenberg’s effort disproves his own claim.

Who is correct?

I think A Jewish Call For Social Justice by Shmuly Yanklowitz is closer to David Nirenberg in that he discusses social justice without any claims of truth or higher values. But is Jewish pragmatism enough? Is Winters correct that David Nirenberg, and most Jews, are more utilitarian than principled?