Category Archives: spirituality

Wild Strawberries for Tisha B’Av

I just received an email that Drisha will be screening and discussing the Ingmar Bergman film Wild Strawberries at 4pm on Tisha beAv. I take this as another indication of our relating to God as a therapeutic deity.

In the 1970′s Conservative congregations spoke of Jewish history and the Holocaust on Tisha Be-av. Reading of Josephus and Ghetto diaries. During this time period, Rav Soloveitchik spoke of the ontic catastrophe of the destruction of the Temple and the existential state of acquiring emotions in a case of “old mourning” and turned it into a day of shiurim on mourning and the mikdash.
Flashy Rabbis gave lectures on “why do we still mourn now that we have a state of Israel?”

By the 1990′s Centrist Orthodoxy used the talks of Rav Soloveitchik to speak of Jewish History and the Holocaust, or discussing the halakhot of the land of Israel. Holocaust films were shown and protests are held at the UN and embassies. The halakhic God of Lonely Man of Faith gave way to a God of History, Land, and War.
On the more yeshivish side, there are lectures on hastening the geulah- either through not talking lashon hara or not doing any of the activities that hasten it.

In the last few years, there has been a shift to the brokenness of the world. Renewal announcements ask: How do we deal with the brokenness, trauma, and injustice in the world. Yeshivish announcements offer sessions on the destruction in our lives and restoring family and teens in trouble. And now Drisha is leading a discussion about Wild Strawberries, a movie in which the protagonist a retired medical professor sees his life as loveless and without meaning. He is haunted by memories, brought on by dreams and by people he meets, about the chances for love, family, and forgiveness that he messed up. Tisha Be-Av is a chance to undo psychic damage.

One path that is not being continued is the Tisha BeAv rally held several years ago in Jerusalem in which Rabbis Lichtenstein, Cherlow, Lau, and others as an occasion for justice. They denounced the lack of in Israel of worker’s rights, the human trafficking, the oppression of the poor, of the Arab other, of unfair business practices. The event did not have continuity. (Can someone send me the links from Haaretz, Ynet or the speeches?)
Rabbi SR Hirsch also emphasized the ethical since the prophets denounced Israel for its immorality.

As a side topic- Here is Reb Shlomo from 1992 asking for intimacy with God, to heal from the pain of the Holocaust, to rebuild the Temple. It’s longing is palpable.

It is possible to do everything G-d wants you to do and not to be intimate with G-d. You know, beautiful friends, Mount Sinai is where G-d told us what to do. But Jerusalem, the Holy Temple, is where we are intimate with G-d. The Holy Temple is the headquarters for being close to G-d and to each other. But when the house is destroyed, there is no place to be intimate anymore. And gevalt! Are we longing and crying to be intimate with G-d, with every Jew, with every word of the Torah, and, one day, with the whole world…On Tisha b’Av the Messiah comes. On Tisha b’Av until the Six Million you only heard the sound of the destruction of the Temple; you could not hear the footsteps of the Messiah. Today, the voice of destruction gets further and further away, the voice of the coming of the Messiah gets closer and closer. Let it be this year that the whole world will be fixed and G-d’s holy intimacy comes back into the world and into our lives. You know, beautiful friends, I’m so proud of our moshav and our shul because they are filled with prayers, with so much dancing and joy, but also with so many tears begging G-d for intimacy with every word of the Torah with every Jew, with every human being, with all of nature. I have a feeling it will be this year.

Shlomo offers an undifferentiated healing love- primordial and oceanic.
Viewing Wild Strawberries offers self-scrutiny of one’s wrong choices and how does one let go of hindrances that prevent healing. One sees that one’s choices are the cause of one’s meaninglessness, therefore a person needs to take responsibility, a therapeutic mussar.

Updated- One week later Drisha sent out an announcement that they will be showing a Holocaust movie and not Wild Strawberries.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

The New Metaphysicals Post #2

I had posted a few weeks ago about the new book by Courtney Bender called The New Metaphysicals about the current practice of new age in America.

My post received no comments even though it touches on many topics that come up whenever I post on Neo-Hasidism. Specifically, how the narratives of believers and those of historians or scientists do not match. Here is a review of the book by Andrew Perrin dealing with some of the issues from a different angle. First off, when do we say that these new age practitioners are loony? The 1950’s saw all kabbalah, hasidut as off limits and would scoff at negel wasser or Tu beshevat. But now that new age is everywhere and neo-hasidism is everywhere, when can you tell someone that his new explanation is daffy?

Perrin spends more of his time asking about authenticity. There is already a huge anthropology literature showing that practices revived in the 1980’s and 1990’s in the US, Korea, and Japan, are done in the name of authenticity, even when the performer has no claim to authenticity, even if the person has no continuity with the past, the practice did not characterize the past, and the practice is not done like the past. Perrin notes that even if the practitioner investigates the matter, evidence wont change anything because they have a Platonic idea of authenticity. A similar but not identical phenomena has occurred in Jewish law, where tradition (mesorah) is invoked by people with no direct link, only a theological link based on imagined institutional ones, no similar practice to the old country, and an explanation of the practice that flies in the face of the older interpretation.

Perrin’s question to Bender is how can university educated people not know the refutations to their positions and not understand that the very Ivy academies where they received their degrees would not accept this pseudo-science. Perrin concludes that Bender offers a glimpse of how people believe but not why they do and how they reconcile it with the world around them.

Perrin’s own start of an answer is that they think that not everything is known by the official standards of the academy and that they have access to an authentic source of knowledge. It is authentic because it comes from a different source, a truer source, and a truer conception of reality unharmed by empiricism.

The New Metaphysicals offers a peek into a world that I found at once pedestrian and strange, and the information that it gives us about so-called “spiritual but not religious” people is invaluable. The new agers, mystics, yoga instructors, and other metaphysicals whose words animate The New Metaphysicals seem quite foreign at first blush, and it’s to Professor Bender’s enormous credit that she theorizes the milieu without undermining the authenticity claims and struggles in which her subjects engage. At the same time, I found myself wanting more of a critical stance, a more thoroughgoing interrogation of the epistemologies that these subjects espoused.
Authenticity is a constant struggle for Bender’s subjects, amongst whom a common theme is the sense that their metaphysical pursuits offer something more real, more genuine, than the routine life of urban Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Bender conducted her fieldwork. Hans, for example, had developed an extensive theory of ethnic authenticity, applied as “the coloring, the embellishment” of generic shamanism, and had sought vainly for a sufficiently authentic Germanic shamanism to match his ethnic heritage. Along the way, though, he laments the fact that Native Americans, who constitute for him a kind of Platonic ideal of indigenous authenticity, don’t really seem that interested in his shamanic group
I found myself wanting more of this sort of critique. While I admire the self-control that enabled Bender to restrain herself from dismissing her subjects as just plain loony, many of them do go through remarkable rhetorical contortions to make the elements of their narratives fit together adequately. Many of these contortions map onto terrain that has been covered over the past century or so by sociological, anthropological, and cultural theorists agonizing over precisely the same chimerical authenticity that seems to motivate many of Bender’s subjects. Why do these academic critiques not carry the same weight among the metaphysicals?
Philippa, an astrologer, uses recognizably scientific language (gamma rays, matter, Pluto, Prozac, Ritalin, even “a wobble in Mercury’s orbit”) all to establish the reality of the planet Vulcan. Each of these individuals engages in reasoning that strikes me as essentially post hoc, selectively deploying observations, likely random in origin, as evidence for a predetermined conclusion.
I assume that, were Philippa to take her talk to the Astronomy department down the street, the evidence she mounts would be unlikely to convince the faculty there that Vulcan exists. So why the attempt at a common language? Why not just adopt a dismissive attitude toward observational evidence, claiming spiritual, metaphysical space for themselves and leaving material, physical space to the scientists? Bender’s narrative provides great insight into what the new metaphysicals believe and how they engage that belief, but why they believe it and how they reconcile that belief with the outlook of less-metaphysical friends, neighbors, and family, are open questions.
Read the rest of Perrin here.

Nahmanides’ appeal in his introduction to the Humash commentary to the 49 gates of wisdom known only to Moses, the traditions of the Torah as black fire on white fire, and one long name of God, and the scientific traditions known to Solomon and King Hizkiyah serve many of the same functions of undermining the science of the day and creating an alternative authority and authenticity. The widespread use of Nahmanides in late 20th century Judaism has helped foster and coalesces with this deeper authenticity.

So, why does the Jewish community accept pseudo-science? And what are the alternate forms of authenticity?
I know one neo-Hasidic haredi author who writes complete pop-psych but claims he is authentic because he tangentially copies Idel’s footnotes (And mine and Aryeh Kaplan’s and Scholem’s). There authenticity is his claim to know texts, even if not these texts.

How do our Jewish new age practitioners ignore Western canons and also claim Torah authenticity?

There is still much meaty discussion of the book at The immanent Frame- we will return to the book again later in the week.

An interview with Courtney Bender- New Metaphysicals

New Book on Spirituality- Courtney Bender, New Metaphysicals I have not read it yet, but it is on my list for the summer.

Bender paints spirituality as in process, looking forward, and created in places in do not ordinary consider religion. Spirituality is created at the intersection of several realms we ordinarily consider secular such as art, health, and vacation. Spirituality is entangled in daily life and in many relams that we demarcate as special. And it also exists in the house of worship- Spirituality is now offered as yoga classes or healing circles in traditional institutions.

Activities like Yoga can show up as secular, as spiritual and as religious. Journal writing or many forms of healing have that same spectrum. People ask me about Yoga and Judaism and I am beginning to see that the issue is more complex since the same practice can be presented or interpreted in multiple forms and the forms keep changing.

Bender also deals with how spirituality embraces fragments of neuroscience with a theosophical veneer creating an unorthodox science. The practitioners know that it is indeed unorthodox and violating conventional science but they continue to use it .

Bender notes that the new spiritually avoids placing itself in a historical context of the history of American theosophy and New Thought, but it also does not like any analysis of its ideas relative to the sources it works with. She notes that contemporary spirituality does not see itself in the scholarly literature written about it. I certainly find this true. Neo-Hasidism does not see that it is not teaching the original Hasidism anymore not does it want to know the pop-psych and culture -culture that it has let into Hasidism. Kabbalah Centre practitioners assume that all kabblah is a science taught by Moses about getting what you want in life, and kiruv Torah would not see itself in a work comparing it to Evangelicals.

An interview with Courtney Bender
posted by Nathan Schneider
Courtney Bender is an associate professor of sociology at Columbia University. Her latest book, The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming in June), emerged from her research in Cambridge, Massachusetts among people whose “spiritual but not religious” practices and outlooks have been unaccounted for by conventional methods used to identify and study communities of belief.

NS: How do you do scholarship—and, in so doing, take account of history—about a community that denies its own historicity? I was struck by your claim that “the puzzle of spirituality in America cannot be solved by locating it in a history it refuses.”

CB: But what is puzzling about spirituality is that, even as the number of monographs on the topic grows, these histories don’t seem to resonate with contemporary people who call themselves spiritual, or with most scholars who look at its present manifestations. One reason for this is that the living practices of spirituality allow people to cultivate ways of being in time that are future-focused, or that situate practitioners in perennial time. All religious practices place people in time and in space. In this case, the spiritual practices that I trace do interesting things to the kind of narrative history that most historians write, so paying attention to these practices, and chronicling how they unravel and decouple from most recognizable historical narratives, is just as important. That’s what I have tried to do.
Looking at all of this, I embraced a study of entanglements because it demands different starting points for analyzing religious life: experience, discourse, meaning, and practice. We can ask how religious practices are produced or carried in secular contexts, and we can think about how to conduct research on religion in those settings in ways that do not presume that everything is sacralized, but that recognize that things are often a bit more complicated than we have made them out to be—I’d say a bit more interesting too.

NS: If not in such traditional, formal contexts, where does one find the markers of spirituality?
CB: Well, first I should say that we do indeed find markers of spirituality in traditional religious institutions. In an early chapter, I focus on a variety of sites in Cambridge where spirituality is produced: alternative medicine, the arts (particularly amateur arts), and also various religious groups. There is a lot of interaction among these.

But in The New Metaphysicals, I followed a number of practices that are sometimes spiritual, sometimes religious, and sometimes secular. Yoga is one, but a more intriguing case, and a favorite of mine, is the transformation of medium- and spirit-writing, and automatic writing (popular in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Spiritualist circles), to “flow writing” and cathartic writing. An even more intriguing practice that sits at the core of the book is the emergence of “religious experience”—which is taken up in legal and psychological literature, then carried and reproduced in secular discourse about the self and private belief. In other words, these practices are not firmly or primarily located within “religion” or “science” or “health” or “artistry.” Part of their power for my respondents is in the ways that their multiple locations, and multiple linked sites of reproduction, add to the sensation that they are “everywhere” and universal.

Yes, some of their ideas are often uncritical mixtures of nineteenth-century Theosophical ideas, what they learned from any number of alternative health practitioners, and whatever David Brooks says about neuroscience in his New York Times column. But most Americans hold some combination of ideas about science that include heavy doses of misunderstanding, rumor, hope, and imagination.

NS: For many religious Americans, though, sins against science come rooted in suspicion and omission. Those in your book seem prone, instead, to an overzealous embrace.
CB: Perhaps it would be fair to say that the people I met in Cambridge are aware of the fact that they are drawing on unorthodox combinations of science, religion, and philosophy—probably more so than many others. The unorthodoxy of their expectations about science’s possibilities, and its relation to the character and quality of the universe as a metaphysical whole, makes them more aware than others that the science they think about is an imagined one. That said, the great majority of them also insisted that their views would some day be vindicated. As they see it, true spiritual laws never change, and given their universality and generalizability, they will someday—soon—capture the attention of mainstream physicists and neuroscientists.

NS: In particular, do you mean to offer a critique, as sociological accounts of American metaphysical spirituality often have in the past?
CB: Offering a critique is not what gets me out of bed in the morning, to be honest.

Read Entire Interview Here

Religious not Spiritual

Priest Religious, But Not Really Spiritual
May 5, 2010 | ISSUE 46•18

BOSTON—Father Clancy Donahue of St. Michael Catholic Church told reporters Wednesday that while he believed in blindly adhering to the dogma and ceremonies of his faith, he tried not to get too bogged down by actual spirituality. “I’m not so much into having a relationship with God as I am into mechanically conducting various rituals,” Donahue said. “To me, it just feels empty to contemplate a higher power without blindly obeying canon law and protecting the church as an institution.” Donahue emphasized that although he did not personally agree with those who pondered the eternal, he had nothing against them.

From The Onion.

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

Alan Lew Z”L – Between Paul Williams and Paul Knitter

Rabbi Alan Lew, (1944- 2009) was the spiritual leader of San Francisco’s Congregation Beth Sholom. He was in the forefront of attempting to cultivate a spirituality bridging Judaism and Buddhism.

Lew’s coming of age as a Jew actually happened as he sought to deepen his Zen Buddhist practice. Disillusioned by the Judaism he’d experienced as a child, Lew was considering becoming ordained as a lay Buddhist priest. But he found himself unable to sew a priestly garment while on a retreat in the 1970s at Tassajara, a Zen center in Carmel Valley. As he meditated on that resistance, Lew said that “there was some sense of conflict between my being ordained as a Buddhist with my being Jewish.” It became a turning point, leading Lew toward Judaism, and ultimately to rabbinical school.

Lew seems to have a Buddhist view toward reality, its root metaphors without the religion itself. Life is a great sea of Being, an endless flow, we are all interconnected, and feel other people’s suffering. He formulates Judaism as mindfulness using the metaphor of “layered grid of awareness” as a bridge idea, both Buddhism and Judaism have a layer grid of awareness. Jewish prayer is about energy exchange and mindfulness.

That we are afloat in a great sea of being, an endless flow of becoming in which we are connected to all beings.” (This is Real, 16)
We die to the world every time we breathe out, and every time we breathe in, every time our breath returns to us of its own accord, we are reborn, and the world rises up into being again. (Ibid, 17)

Every spiritual tradition I am aware of speaks of a kind of layered mindfulness, a sensibility that works up and out of the body, to the heart and then to the mind and then finally to the soul. The Buddhist sutra On Mindfulness describes this kind of layered grid of awareness, and the Kabala, the Jewish mystical tradition, speaks of it too. According to the Kabala, we start out with our awareness in Asiyah – the world of physicality, the world of the body, our most immediately accessible reality. Then we become aware of the heart, yetzirah – the world of formation or emotion, that shadowy world between conception and its realization in material form. From there we move on to the world of pure intellect, Briyah, or creation, and then to Atzilut, the realm of pure spiritual emanation. (Ibid, 190)

I would visualize the words as an energy exchange – the words going up to God and God’s attention coming down. Prayer began bringing me to the same place my Zen practice had taken me… Before I prayed, I would study, in a prayer shawl and teffilin, sitting in half-lotus (One God Clapping, 154)

So yoga and directed meditation became part of the practice I offered at my synagogue. The meditation group changed the whole tenor of the Friday night minyan. Suddenly the service had great density and feeling… My goal was to help Jews deepen their Jewish practice with Buddhist-style meditation techniques, (Ibid 287)
Meditation and Jewish practice lead us to experience the oneness of all beings. We are all connected; each of us is created in the divine image, and other people’s suffering is our own. (Ibid 296)
But the first noble truth is that everything is suffering, and both Judaism and Buddhism insist that the only appropriate response to this suffering is to turn toward it, to attend to it. Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, is “The Hearer of the Cries of the World,” and the Torah God is repeatedly described as hearing the cries of the oppressed. (Ibid 297)

I am used to the critique that Bu-Jews remove the religion from Buddhism and only leave the meditation However, I found in one review of Lew compare him unfavorably with Paul Williams, The Unexpected Way. So I read the latter work. Williams was a trained professor of Buddhism, familiar with the languages and the religion of Buddhism, who converted to Catholicism later in life. Williams study of Buddhism lead him to reject a religion without a theistic God, revelation, redemption, reward, and providence. He wrote a coherent, rational, and theological critique of Buddhism from a catholic point of view. The book was not one of those bad books for Jewish outreach kiruv that know neither Buddhism nor Judaism, and have little rationalism. This was a defense of theistic religion. Reading Lew in light of Williams, one is struck by the lack of any engagement with the theology of Judaism or Buddhism, beyond the metaphors. Lew comes off as more pragmatic than grasping the path of enlightenment, in either tradition. Or here is the debate in another context:

Rabbi LEW: It’s perfectly all right to use elements of one practice to nourish another, but you have to have a sense of what your central practice is, and you have to have integrity about following that path.
Nathan Katz practiced Buddhism for 15 years, and thinks there are irreconcilable differences between the two religions.
Professor NATHAN KATZ: I would say the fundamental difference between the two traditions is one is theistic and one is not. And even if you take the most esoteric, Judaic concepts of God, they still don’t reconcile with the Buddhist criticism of all concepts of God.

On the other hand, I just read Paul Knitter’s Without Buddha I Could Not Be A Christian. Knitter as a progressive catholic, ex-priest, boldly proclaims himself a syncretic who follows two religions. Knitter describes how his seminary students see it as adultery. Buddhism lets him give up the traditional categories of God, religious language, and revelation. The book harvests the last quarter century of American appreciation for Buddhism as a contribution for religion. Alan Lew avoided Buddha, Buddhist ritual, and Buddhist holidays and created what he called “Buddhist style” practices for import into Judaism. Knitter is not satisfied with Buddhist style and feels that accepting refuge in the Dharma does not conflict with being a Catholic.

Are there other solutions for Judaism? Are there other places to make the division between Judaism and Buddhism? For example, one of the sometimes readers of this blog who lives a haredi life in Brooklyn wants to write a book on non-dual Judaism from the sources of Judaism- Chabad, Rav Nahman, Nefesh HaHayyim, and Ramak. This would directly present Jewish thought, in a way that Lew does not. But at the same time, it would not reject the insights of seeing oneself in the Buddhist mirror. A Jewish theist who knows Kabbalah may not have to throw out the best that they see reflected elsewhere. Any thoughts?

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

My New Book Just Came Out-Judaism and Other Religions

My book Judaism and Other Religions is to be officially released on March 2nd by Palgrave-Macmillan. But it is already available in the warehouse and available for purchase, Be the first one on your block to own one. Buy it now:

Click here to buy it at Amazon

Editorial Reviews

“This wide-ranging but carefully organized collection of Jewish thought about other religions constitutes an indispensable resource for Jews and non-Jews engaged in interreligious relations today and for Jews seeking to develop a text-based contemporary Jewish theology of religions for our global world. Brill accompanies his lucid presentations of each approach with insightful critiques that will help guide their contemporary applications.”—Ruth Langer, Associate Professor of Jewish Studies, Theology Department Associate Director, Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, Boston College

“Serious Jewish engagement with other religions has substantially deepened and widened in recent years, both stimulating and responding to an increasing interest in Judaism from within the other world religions. Brill’s book provides essential access to the classical sources within the Jewish tradition relevant to this encounter.”—Rabbi Dr. David Rosen, International Director of Interreligious Affairs, AJC

“This is an excellent work: reflective, engaging, well-written, and perhaps most important—timely. Brill knows both the theoretical foundations for interreligious dialogue and rabbinic approaches to ‘other religions.’ It is a fine piece of scholarship, and it is also creative in bringing together three fields of discourse in a way they have not before been aligned. It blends both traditional and modern thinking about interreligious dialogue, and it analyzes these materials convincingly.”—Nathan Katz, Professor of Religious Studies, Florida International University

Product Description

With insight and scholarship, Alan Brill crisply outlines the traditional Jewish approaches to other religions for an age of globalization. He provides a fresh perspective on Biblical and Rabbinic texts, offering new ways of thinking about other faiths. In the majority of volume, he develops the categories of theology of religions for Jewish texts. He arranges the texts according classification widely used in interfaith work: inclusivist, exclusivist, universalist, and pluralist.

Judaism and Other Religions is essential for a Jewish theological understanding of the various issues in encounters with other religions. With passion and clarity, Brill argues that in today’s world of strong religious passions and intolerance, it is necessary to go beyond secular tolerance toward moderate and mediating religious positions.

Click here to buy it at Amazon

There is a forthcoming sequel volume Judaism and World Religions, which will be available at the end of 2010.

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

Contemporary Orthodox Death

Doreen Rosman in her book The Evolution of the English Churches: 1500-2000 describes the early modern concern of religion as death centered. She asserts, “People’s passage from this life to the next and their entry to heaven were…matters of major concern.” Inherent in Rosman’s assertion is the idea that since people thought that most believers did not enter heaven, they had to work very hard to earn their eternal reward through belonging to con-fraternities, appealing to saints and to the beyond, engaging in magical rites, and practicing esoteric wisdom. Modernity changed that major preoccupation.

Michel Vovelle in his La mort et l’occident de 1300 à nos jours (1983) and Ideologies and Mentalities (1990) traces the slow process by which people in the 19th century stopped referring to the afterlife, how tombstones stopped having acute references to the next stage, and people no longer related to the next life as the longer part of one’s existence. Shadal in the beginning of the 19th century was already of a modern mind, yet the American Reform movement was still producing English guides to the afterlife based on Maavar Yabok at the end of the 19th century. Maurice Lamm’s The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning oriented modern Orthodoxy away from the traditional concern with the afterlife and claimed that there are no Jewish teaching on the afterlife.

Recently, I went to a funeral and the rabbi spoke about how the deceased will return to be at the wedding of the children and at the wedding we will invite the deceased back.

The formulation for this idea is the Zohar.

Even though the father and mother have left this world, the joy of the [wedding] is attended by all of its partners.. Because we have learned, when a person joins Hakadosh Baruch Hu to the joy of his [wedding], then Hakadosh Baruch Hu comes to Gan Eden and takes from there the other partners, the father and mother and brings them with Him to the joyous event. All are in attendance, and the people are unaware.

But modern circles do not generally follow the traditional Kabbalistic customs; they are not listed in Maurice Lamm’s Jewish Way in Love and Marriage. I emailed a number of my older, and more rationalist, pulpit rabbi friends to find out how customary this was. The general response that I received was that this started at modern weddings in the 1980’s and at that time it seemed surprising to them. It has grown more prevalent since then. Let me know if anyone has any more information about whether it would have been heard at a wedding in the 1970’s or how it came back in.

This comes back because of our current vision of the family staying together after death. There were several studies a decade ago that the American vision of the afterlife is where the family stays together. This was one of the attractions of Mormonism in 1980’s and 1990’s because that is a specific part of their teaching and firmly grounds the idea of family values.

It also comes from our acceptance of the long and complex process of mourning, beyond anything in the halakhah, where mourning becomes a process of temporary magical thinking. People continue to relate to their deceased long after the death. The most poignant reckoning with our current worldview is Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (2005).

We claim to be rational and project magical thinking onto other religious groups, but we should first look at ourselves and the function the irrational has in our lives. (This may come up again when we return to Habermas’ critics who state that he does not give enough credit to the irrational.) The Zohar did not return because of the study of Kabbalah or haredi influence, rather from our own need to make sense of our losses.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Jewish Meditation 1995-2005

Here is an account from The Forward that parallels what I have seen in the field. In the early and mid nineties there was a great desire for the technical aspects of meditation and Jewish meditation. Then, after only 5 years it started broadening into all forms of spirituality especially musical forms and emotional healing. And finally right before our eyes, it all stops around 2005. People started coming to a class listed as Jewish meditation and assumed that it has something to do with guitars, bongos and chanting. In 1995, people wanted meditation and came with Zen or Vipasssana backgrounds and then flash it was gone by 2005, leaving revivalism in its wake.

Even the local Buddhist center here in NJ, gave daily and weekly meditation classes in 2000 and now only offers a once a month introduction to Happiness, saving any serious meditation instruction for biannual retreats.

Chochmat HaLev came to life in the 1990s… One of these teachers, Rabbi Avram Davis, proposed creating a Jewish meditation center that could be a community resource…. Chochmat HaLev was launched, first as a series of classes in 1992 to 1993, and then as a nonprofit organization in 1995… In focusing on Jewish meditation, Gefen and Davis were at the forefront of a wave of interest in training a generation of Jewish “spiritual leaders,” who could bring meditation to their own congregations and lead meditation retreats and workshops for nonaffiliated Jews. So in addition to holding its own retreats and workshops, Chochmat pioneered a year-long leadership program with an initial cohort of 40 students.

Something happened on the communal meditation cushion, however. Joined by their interest in Jewish spirituality, the initial group felt a desire to pray together — a development that took Gefen by surprise. Davis, however, had thought of offering services from the beginning, because for him, Jewish meditation could exist only as part of a larger practice.

From the start, Davis led Chochmat’s services, distinguished by the constant thrum of a six-piece band composed of guitar, bass, drum set, keyboards and vocalists, its musical direction owed in equal parts to Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, American rock and Moroccan beats. During a typical service, continuing today, participants dance in the aisles, clap, stomp their feet and sway with hands in the air, in an atmosphere most reminiscent of evangelical rapture

From 2000 to 2005, Chochmat HaLev functioned much like a cross between an institute for Jewish spirituality and an independent minyan.  Holding these two very different organizations together was a tight-knit, supportive community.

The year 2005 marked a crisis for Chochmat. The meditation school had essentially vanished. Aside from one year-long distance-learning program, the school was not offering more classes than an active synagogue. And because of its regular religious services, Chochmat was no longer seen as a non-denominational resource center: Its original mission was gone.

In 2005, the Chochmat board decided to become a functioning synagogue, and Avram Davis chose to leave.

Full version

Now Jewish meditation is once again for the few.People still do visualizations – part motivational part Neo-hasidic as a way to get psyched or as a means of bringing a moment of silence or a visualization into a regular service.  People are very sympathetic, “lets do it for a few minutes or a mini-course” and then let’s move on.

More on the year 2000 from the same author.

The year 2000 would see the establishment of the New York-based Institute of Jewish Spirituality, a Jewish meditation center run by Rabbi Sheila Pelz Weinberg; Makor Or, a San Francisco-based center founded by Rabbi Alan Lew (z’’l) and Norman Fischer; as well as a new emphasis on meditation at Elat Chayyim under Rabbi Jeff Roth and a burst of books on the topic (among them books by Gefen and Davis).

Ten years ago there was a meditation moment.

UPDATE – see the detailed rundown by Len Moskowitz in the Comments section. The comment shows that there is no diminution.
Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

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

Rick Warren’s new agenda:what we can learn from it?

Someone in the comments mentioned that my post was similar to a NYT op-ed and said it must be a meme going around. It is not a meme but that we all subscribe to the same list serves of religion information such as the Pew foundation that study and conduct surveys of religion in America. Orthodoxy, except for the truly sectarian, follows these trends as much as any other group does. So if you want to know the range of positions available at a given time they provide the guidelines. Orthodoxy will follow other similar conservative groups. Chief Rabbi Sacks is closer to Pope Benedict. NY Centrist Orthodoxy is closer to certain aspect of the Evangelicals and the Kiruv organizations are closest to other aspects of the Evangelicals.
At the end of last month, Pew held an interview with Rick Warren to let journalists know where things are going. Rick’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, is the best-selling nonfiction book in American history – over 30 million copies. That was the first quarter century of his career and corresponds to the religious turn in America. He has now turned to broader concerns. These are some of the directions and causes people will want from their Orthodoxy. Whoever gets there first will claim them

We do training of what we call the three legs of the stool: business leadership, church leadership and public leadership in government.
We have over 4,500 small groups. They meet in every city in Southern California.
The second signature issue of our church we started in 1993, 10 years later, and it is called Celebrate Recovery. Celebrate Recovery is a Bible-based recovery program. It’s similar to AA but it’s built on the actual words of Jesus.
The third signature issue we began in 2002, and that is our AIDS initiative for people infected and affected with AIDS.
The fourth signature issue we began in 2003. It’s called the P.E.A.C.E. Plan. It’s a global humanitarian effort to take on the five biggest problems on the planet: poverty, disease, illiteracy, corruption and conflict. P.E.A.C.E. stands for Promote reconciliation, Equip ethical leaders, “A” is assist the poor, “C” is care for the sick and “E” is educate the next generation.

Notice his working together with lay leadership and government agencies. He divides his Church into many focus groups “parents with a Downs child” “parents of an ADD child” “parents of twins.”
His work with AA was done in Judaism by Rabbi Abraham Twerski and several elements of the Engaged Yeshivish world, not YU. Centrist Orthodoxy does not relish the thought of working with addictions as part of the rabbinate. Aids treatment is not part of the community at all. Finally, the community does not make as its mission to fight poverty, disease, illiteracy, corruption, and conflict. This last one is where the future of American conservative religion lies.

WARREN: the future of the world is not secularism. The future of the world is religious pluralism, and we must learn to get along. It is not secularism. There was the myth in the 20th century that if we just educate people they won’t need God anymore.
I was the keynote speaker for ISNA, the Islamic Society of North America, which is the largest convention of Muslims. It was here in D.C. on the Fourth of July. There were 25,000 Muslims here in town, and they invited a non-Muslim to be the keynote speaker.

This affirmation of religious pluralism from an exclusivist Evangelical Christian is where things are going. And unlike the 1980’s and 1990’s where Evangelicals said “woe is me- the secularists are after us;” Rick Warren is now boldly going out into the world and trying to put relgion in the public sphere (Don’t confuse his position with that of First Things and David Novak.) Many college students participate in interfaith events as part of the post 9//11 world, even Orthodox. We have had orthodox Jews and Muslims discussing difficulties in dietary laws and hair covering, Catholics and Orthodox Jews holding joint Friday night dinners, and groups of several faiths meeting to each talk about their experiences- not theology or doctrine but personal narratives.

I have many, many who are gay leaders across the nation who have worked with me on AIDS. Kay and I have personally given millions of dollars – millions of dollars personally – to help people with HIV and AIDS. We’ve worked with all kinds of gay groups on these issues. I wrote those guys apologies and said, you guys know I didn’t mean this. Oh, we knew. We knew it, Rick.
But all of the criticism came from people who didn’t know me – 100 percent. Not a single gay leader who knew me personally criticized me. Not one. All of it came from people who didn’t know me personally because I didn’t have the relationship. That goes back to this thing about if you don’t have the relationship, where do you know where that guy’s head is anyway? He said that. He didn’t correct it. Well, that’s not their fault; that’s my fault.

My message is to the individual, and that is, every individual matters. I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done, what you claim to be or – you matter to God and you are loved unconditionally. You can’t make God stop loving you. Here’s my philosophy of life: If God gives me a choice to reject him or love him – because it’s not love if I’m forced to love him – if God gives me a choice to reject him or love him, then I’ve got to give everybody else that choice too. And that’s why I believe in America. I’ve got to give everybody the choice.

This is his philosophy on GLBT issues as an evangelical. He does not support Gay marriage but would not support the anti-legislation either. The press and the blogs love to tear him apart from both sides. The web is filled with statements hinging on his every word to see what he accepts or rejects. In contrast, Rev. Richard Cizik who was Vice President for the National Association of Evangelicals and was leading evangelicals toward ecology and global stewardship (another role model for orthodoxy) expressed his support for same sex unions and that he was closer to supporting same sex marriage and was forced to resign from his leadership position.

Melinda Gates, who was a friend of mine said, Rick, I get it. The church could be the distribution center for health care. I said, not only health care, for everything else. You can use it for education, you can use it – all five things that we’re talking about in the P.E.A.C.E. program. I said, let me give you an example.Then we started teaching them more things like how to dress a wound, all the way up to how to administer ARVs. Today, right now, I have 1,400 trained community health care workers – it will be over 1,500 by the end of December – in an area that had one doctor a year-and-a-half ago.

Notice he is friends with confirmed agnostic Melinda and Bill Gates. And when he asks for money it is not to build churches or parochial institutions but to offer health care in Africa. Young Jews like AJWS and Hazon.

Third is I added up all that the church had paid me in 25 years and I gave it all back. I knew I was being put under the spotlight, and I never wanted anybody to think that I do what I do for money. I don’t. I do it because I love Jesus Christ. And I love people.
We’re not going to change our lifestyle one bit. I still live in the same house I’ve lived in for 17 years. I drive a 10-year-old Ford truck. I bought my watch at Wal-Mart. I don’t own a boat, I don’t own a plane, I don’t own a vacation home. I didn’t want to be a televangelist. The second thing is seven years ago I stopped taking a salary from Saddleback Church, so I effectively retired.

See any Orthodox leaders going this route?

We lowered the age of the leadership body in our church by 16 years in one week. We had a group of pastors who have been with me pretty much since the start that we call our elders. Most of us are in our 50s, mid-50s, and we have led the church all these years. All along we’ve been mentoring the next generation, which is what I’m doing. I’m spending the rest of my life mentoring the next generation. We had a group of young guys who were in their 30s and a couple reaching 40, and in one week we turned over the leadership.

This is important for the change in leadership style- see this quiz that I posted a while ago.Take the Quiz

Jewish Sufis in Iran

Siman Tov Melammed: (before 1793- 1823 or 1828, nom de plume Tuvyah)  was an Iranian Jewish rabbi, poet and polemicist. He was the hakham, the spiritual leader of the community of Mashad and had to deal with a variety of religious tension of the era including forced disputations with Shii Imams. In 1839, the entire community was forced to convert to Islam. They lived as relatively secret Jews until the 20th century. Raphael Patai wrote a book on them Jadid al-Islam.

We usually associate Jewish-Sufism with Bahye ibn Pakuda, Avraham ben haRambam, and other Egyptian descendents of Maimonides such as David Maimuni or Joshua Maimuni. (These have been published by Paul Fenton with French translation and have not attained a wide readership.) Melammed’s writings are the tip of a much larger world of Jewish Sufi thought in Persia and Central Asia. Melammed wrote, in Persian, a philosophic and mystical poetic commentary on Maimonides thirteen principles called Hayat al Ruh; a sufi commentary on the Guide for the Perplexed. Within the large treatise, he wrote a poem in praise of Sufis.  Vera Moreen translated selections in 2000, (Queen Esther’s Garden, Yale UP , 2000) Below are 6 stanzas out of 30 (not to run a foul of fair usage laws.).

Melammed praises the Sufis for transcending their physical bodies and the habits of ordinary life to become servants of God. They are radiant and contented from their devotion to God and they lead other back through a straight path to God.

Description of the Pious Sufis Roused from the Sleep of Neglect

Godly and radiant like roses

The Sufis are, the Sufis,

Whose carnal soul is dead,

Doused their desires, the Sufis.

Firmly they grasp the straight path,

Leaders benevolent, guides

Of those who strayed are the Sufis.

Drunk with the cup and soul’s sweets,

With love of seeing the Unseen;

Without reins in both hands are the Sufis.

Dead to the world of the moment,

Alive to the hear after;

Full of merit and kindness are the Sufis.

God’s love is their beloved,

God’s affection their decoration,

And that which veils Him from the Sufis.

The most contented of beggars,

Avoiding rancor and dispute;

Freed from the Day of Punishment are the Sufis.

The issue must have been seriously debated because there is also a poem by an unknown Jacob against Jews becoming Sufis. The poem says to follow Moses, and his father Imran and to avoid the path of the famous Sufi Majnun. One should not relinquish one’s status as the chosen people for a universal faith.

Jacob: Against Sufis

O people of “Imran’s son”

Let not Satan deceive you,

Lest you forfeit religion and faiths;

My life for Moses’ life;

Whoever abandons his faith

Becomes a sage like Majnun,

Roaming about, confused;

My life for Moses’ life.

Bravely he is called a friend.”

But he turns common instead of chosen,

[Now] what religion can he call his own?

My life for Moses’ life.

Michael Fishbane – Sacred attunements – part III

Sacred Attunements chapters 2 and 3 continued from part I here and part II here.

Chapter II – “Jewish theology begins at Sinai, but God was before this event”

Sinai is commitment, creation of scripture, prophecy. Divine presence and efectivity is the horizon. It takes courage to live in the light of the truth of the covenant.We want to enter the language of revelation.

(This is a great existential definition sharply removing Sinai from the symbolic and human, but not going as far into the experiential-mystical as Rav Kook. One of the times Fishbane spoke at the local minyan, he discussed Rav Kook and it seemed like he was using the or penimi without the or makif. he shows nice use of Ricouer)

“The decisive turn to Sinai is made by the solitary spirit..” First, we move out of habit into commitment, then attentiveness to encounter. We return to community to formulate a life of justice and righteousness. Our model Moses could endure censural vastness and then return to work in the community unlike Elijah and Job who were lost in silent submission and did not formulate a covenant with God.

Three cords of Torah, Sinai is an ongoing spirit of Jewish living producing the Oral Torah and behind all the Torah is a broader Torah kelulah, a openness to Being. Behind the Torah was Sinai is an even deeper Torah kelulah which pulsates through reality, through Being. (Nice ability to avoid Heschel’s dichotomy of Torah from Sinai and Torah from Heaven).

Texts unfold into life by means of interpretation

Peshat is subjugation of self to text. But there is no one peshat. It is ever constructed in the acts of reading and speaking. Peshat is attentiveness to details of the text.

Derush – contemporary ongoing meanings, relationship words to each other, conjoined words, oral words- this is the oral Torah. Drush gathers textual cations into a vortex of instruction.  It helps us become human and build character. Drush is a serious theological task. Mythic conceptions are not childlike crudities but creative imagination striving to grasp what is sensed.

Remez is finding the supersensual ideas of philosophy in the text. In great hands, like those of Maimonides he returns to the peshat and finds the openings to the higher truths in the text. Remez offer stairwells, or Jacob’s Ladder to high truths.

Sod – revealing and concealing of aspects of divinity. It seeks alignment with the language and energies of discussions of divine structures. We move beyond the text to a meta-communicative level. The eye for symbols, the ear for sounds, and the mouth for the recitation and mindful meditative life-rhythm.

Chapter III “Living within the covenant, we are challenged to actualize the principles of Sinai at every moment, through the bonds we forge with persons and things in the course of life.”

Halakhah is the gesture of the generations – ongoing practices cultivated and inculcated for the various spheres of life.

Fishbane calls God –“the life of all life” from a neoplatonic piyyut of Saadyah. This is his preferred term for God.

The second half of the chapter is on prayer and has lots of insights. Many of the paragraphs are poetic insights strung together. I need to teach it once in the context of other exhortations to prayer (Hirsch, Heschel, Rav Kook, Rebbe Reshab) in order to grasp the finer points.

“The phenomena of prayer responds to the vastness of sounds and sights which surround us in the natural world.”

(Most studies of Jewish prayer have parroted the work of Fredrich Heiler who has two types of prayer- petitionary and mystical. Moshe Greenberg on Biblical Prayer, Heinneman on Rabbinic prayer, Scholem on Kabbalistic prayer, Soloveitchik on Halakhic prayer have all used Heiler’s typology. But most Jewish prayer is actually Adoration, in which we praise to the King. Our prayer gestures are based on adoration to the King, and the Psalms we use are not petition but adoration.) Evelyn Underhill has a great book on Adoration produced almost the same year as Heiler.

Fishbane moves into the world of adoration using Gademer, Rilke, and the Psalms.

He presents four levels, a PARDES of prayer

Peshat- yes it is submission to the text—but also the silence before response, the articulation of human needs,, and a realization of the gaps and gifts of the world.

Derush-meaning in the present.Remez  - higher wisdom and abstractions- he asks: what would they say?

Sod- reaching the unfathomable, toward the Transcendent, toward religious censura

He ends the chapter with a homily explaining gemilut hasadim as radical kindness.

(Great, contemporary Jewry can use a lot more on kindness and gemilut Hasidim)  but then returning to Heidegger and Rosenzweig –we get “”Ultimately, the phenomena of hesed is the practice of death….successively divesting oneself.”

(If one sees oneself in a tight knit community then Miktav  MiEliyahu offers a world of mashbia and mekabel were everyone is always giving and receiving. But if one is an isolated individual then there it is death to give.)

Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths: Eastern & New Age Beliefs Widespread

Last week, the Pew Forum has put out a report on how Americans believe in many contradictory things. Many Americans “Mix Multiple Faiths and that Eastern, New Age Beliefs Widespread”

Some 24 percent of U.S. adults surveyed (including 22 percent of those who identified themselves as Christians) say they believe in reincarnation — that people will be reborn in this world again and again. Other results of the Pew Research Center survey:

* Belief in Astrology: 25 percent
* Seen or felt a ghost: Nearly 20 percent
* Consulted a fortuneteller or a psychic: 15 percent

“The religious beliefs and practices of Americans do not fit neatly into conventional categories,” Pew analysts concluded. “Large numbers of Americans engage in multiple religious practices, mixing elements of diverse traditions. Many say they attend worship services of more than one faith or denomination — even when they are not traveling or going to special events like weddings and funerals. Many also blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs such as reincarnation, astrology and the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects.”

Nearly half (49 percent) said they have had a religious or mystical experience, defined as a “moment of sudden religious insight or awakening.”

Most this applies in equal percent, if not greater, to the Modern Orthodox community. There are several of us who have watched the local community list serve for several years and have noted the ever increasing magic and superstition.

To return to the discussion of rationality from below. If someone calls the Modern Orthodox community rational and the Yeshiva world superstitious then does it correspond to the facts? On one hand it does not since the modern community displays all the beliefs of the Pew Report. Are they saying they want to be rational and rather than engaging in rationality they say other are others are superstitious?  Or is it that modern Orthodox has reached a point where they have a rational public Judaism but a magical superstitious private life. Meaning that to treat Torah as irrational is no good, but to live a new age life is OK. Or is it just a denial of what people actually think?

Maimonides would not approve of any of these beliefs but he was willing to write off the masses or at least seek to change them minimally by fiat. But what is this rationality of modern orthodoxy that does not involve rational training. It is like the works of Chassidus that describe dvekus as a way to warm people’s hearts even if they are not having such an experience. (This is a whole Michel Certeau  discussion to be had here)

One way of looking at this is to return to the discussion of rationality of the 1970’s of Wilson-Barnes-Winch. who used the African Azande tribe described by EE Pritchard as their model. The Azande tribe knew that trees fall for natural causes but if someone is hurt it had to be witchcraft , this way they can speak of theodicy and meaning. But this case of the tribe of the Modern Orthodox is a bit tougher to unravel.. What is the first order causality and what is second order? Do they live in the world of their secular professions and suburban lives and then make a leap into a second order world of Torah and halakhah in order to make meaning in life and give order to a secular existence? Or do they live in the rational world of their professions and have a halakhah equally secular of the supernatural so they find solace in the supernatural, new age, and superstitious beliefs? Is Torah their primary cosmology or are the beliefs of the Pew study their cosmology? Do they get meaning that transcends their rationality from Torah or from superstition?

An alternate way to explain things might be to compare the orthodox community to religion in China, where Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism exist simultaneously.  As Rav Lichtenstein, and others, have noted, halakhah functions as a proper order of life, providing education, hierarchy, values, and respect similar to Confucianism. Here is a possible extension after the Pew study, the superstition and new age functions like Daoism- it provided “scientific” explanations of sickness, of power and of magic.. People live surrounding themselves with forms of Daoism like Fung Shui and Chinese medicine. And finally, only some people, those more monastic and meditative, seek the greater explanatory force of Buddhism. So too here, while everyone does the ordered life of halakhah, the Jewish magic and new age is ever present in the community, while only some people go in for either philosophy or spirituality, akin to Buddhism, with their greater explanatory power but their greater removal from ordinary life.