Category Archives: theology

Marilynne Robinson and the Emergence of Ethical Man post 3 of 3

Marilynne Robinson claims in Absence of Mind that we overcome the materialist worldview of T.H. Huxley (exemplifying the new atheists) by appreciating the deeper sense within us. I started thinking that I have heard this before Yes indeed, it is the basic position of Rabbi Soloveitchik in the Emergence of Ethical Man. We need to overcome the materialism and selfishness of Huxley’s worldview by accepting the Divine command and emerge as moral beings.

Robinson is at the forefront of changing the popular image of Calvinism Calvinist defender Jonathan Edwards’s description of man as a “loathsome insect” held over the fire of Hell by God, such a task seems ripe and even overdue. In all of her works Robinson moves the emphasis to Calvin’s idea of a God given religious consciousness. We can sense where our life has gone astray and needs the word of God.

Such warring against historical miscomprehension, however, while effectively waged by Robinson, is not the main task of her essay. Instead, she seeks to describe the religious and spiritual experience of perception in Calvin’s theology, the experience by which seeing the world leads to loving it, and witnessing mankind brings about acknowledgment of man’s infinite beauty and potential. For Robinson, “wickedness is not the only inhabitant of man’s soul. There also reside stores and stores of grace, beauty, and holiness, stores that shine forth when we truly and lovingly look at our fellow man. Created in the image of God, mankind is filled with his divine presence; it is only in comparison with this potential for sanctity and goodness that Calvin so painfully denounces man’s wickedness.” – for more on her Calvinism-see here.

According to Robinson, we have to overcome a material bestial life and learn to appreciate our life stories filled with a wide ethical range of sin and beauty. In her novels, from what I have been told, we find ourselves confronted by God’s vision of human life.

Rabbi Soloveitchik starts with the same need to overcome the scientific materialism and amoral selfishness of Huxley, he also starts with the same Protestant pessimism about human nature in its natural state. So, his solution is the need to accept the divine command of being in the image of God and accept moral responsibility for our actions. Unlike Robinson for whom this is a natural faculty, Soloveitchik treats it as “a redemptive sacrificial act” or as a need to be “confronted by God’s revelation.” We need revelation of Genesis to give meaning to our lives. We rise from our nasty brutish existence to a life of morality and intellectual integrity. He presents this rise from materialism to ethical existence in several works including The Emergence of Ethical Man, Confrontation, Kol Dodi Dofek (in shortened form), and in Ubekashtem MeSham. We gain meaning to our suffering and cognitive gestures through revelation and then as Jews we have a double confrontation in that we also have a second confrontation with God in which we are transformed into the Jewish community of Torah.

Soloveitchik lacks a natural faculty but requires a revelation; this form of revelation is called a dialectic theory. All revelation is about how God communicates with humanity. A dialectic theory concerns itself with how we are redeemed from natural existence; it is not about receiving a corpus of doctrine. Nothing can be known in a dialectic approach without revelation so revelation is about one’s basic anthropology. (for more info google Karl Barth and revelation)

As a side point, much of the blog world not trained in theology is not used to distinguishing between revelation and Torah from Sinai. The former is where the divine breaks into the human condition and the latter is the Jewish concept of what occurred at Sinai. Rabbi Soloveitchik was always interested in the former – how we go from materialism to ethical and then to halakhic. He clearly writes that he was not interested in apologetics about the latter. The former was the more serious question.

Marilynne Robinson reminds us why revelation is the more important question. How do we understand human existence that helps us transcend skepticism, materialism, and man’s brutish nature? She answers with a God given sense of the sublime and Rabbi Soloveithcik answers with a double confrontation of man before the Divine.

As a useful contrast, David Novak in Azure set up the problem the same way but offers a different answer. Novak offer a single confrontation. Like Soloveitchik, we no longer use natural theology to know God as a first cause or His involvement in the natural order. We only know God as the commander who creates our moral standards. Novak answers the skeptics and materialists by saying, of course as modern we cannot compete with you and do natural theology that gives values to the natural order. Instead, we have to acknowledge the commander and know that he gives us a natural law to guide us. Whereas Soloveitchik has a double confrontation – our universal meaning in life and then our obedience in halakhah. Novak has a single confrontation and our universal moral sense of natural law should be used to generate a natural law halakhah.

We could say that statements about God are not scientific hypotheses at all, since we are not speaking of God as a cause operating within the natural order, which is the sole order about which natural science can speak with any cogency. And, even when we do speak of God as the creator of the universe and all it contains, we are not speaking of a God whose existence has been inferred from human experience of orderly nature. Instead, we are speaking of a God who commands our community, through his historical revelation to our community, to acknowledge his creation of that natural order in which our historical relationship with him takes place.

A neo-Hasid sees God glory in all things, and does not worry about the science. None of the three thinkers, however, allows nature to prove anything because then the materialists and skeptics win. Today, only fundamentalists conflate religion and science. These are not the only three approaches but Marilynne Robinson has given us a angle to bring together several dialectic thinkers.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Absence of Mind- Marilynne Robinson 1 of 3 posts

Friends recommended that I read Marilynne Robinson’s writings, especially her Pulitzer winning novels. She is touted as a master craftsmith of the written word, theological believer, and creating her own form of Neo-Calvinism. So I decided to pick up her recent response to the skeptics.

Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self, by Marilynne Robinson, Yale 158 pages

The book is her answer to the new atheists in which she argues that we have humanism, subjective self, and human experience. She does not respond to their claims as much as say that there is more to the world. She claims that they are creating a lack of mind, a lack of self. And that they are only creating a “para-scientific literature”

She quotes Dennett’s definition of religion “as about social systems avow with a belief in a supernatural agent.” Dennett is not talking about private religion, religious experience, religion as meaning in life or creation of moral order. Maimonidean rationalism, Buberian dialogue, and new age renewal is not religion for Dennett.

Robinson shows that the problem of materialism, scientism, and behaviorism are not new problems. She claims that the Materialist position is separated from the wealth of human insight. The subjective human mind is what gives us knowledge of the human experience.

She opens her book with a description of how scientists feel a sense of discovery, accomplishment, and fulfillment when they solve a scientific problem. From a human point of view, science is not just facts in a text book.

She is an advocate of the writings of William James and his radical empiricism. And treats the new atheists as rejecting James. She reduces much of their materialism and the selfish gene to the nineteenth arguments of T. H. Huxley. (more on this in later post- post #3) And she uses Freud as her example of psychological reductionism.She finds ever new ways of showing that these new writings do not add anything to the debate of the last two centuries. (Except that a generation of science trained religious fundamentalists are discovering them for a first time. They trade the absolute claims of their material religious fundamentalism for a secular version.)

She thinks they are bypassing Donne, Bach, the Sufi poets and Socrates. She considers as essential to human life metaphysics, imagination, human experience, and in turn these are to be considered a revelation from God

Even in the social realm, she finds their obsession with Fundamentalists misleading. She asks: what of the religion of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or her own cultured Calvinism?  She does accept  from the new atheists that some of the fundamnetalists were equally bad for the soul since they are just as materialist and not concerned with the self as the new atheists.  They are also obscurantist and anti-education. She suggests and I agree, “that some of the new atheism is a reaction to militant religious fundamentalism.”

She agrees with Harvard popularize of science Stephen Gould, that religion and science have nothing to do with each other. Gould used to be assigned at YU and the subject of frequent public lectures by the Bio dept.

Pinker considers that religion offers the answers to the ultimate questions, but since the ultimate questions are unanswerable then we dismiss the whole activity. To this  she answers, no, no, no. Questions that are deemed unanswerable has driven the thoughts of humanity. The history of civilization  answers these questions in ever new answers and forms. From the Library at Alexandria  to the Library of Congress we have collections that enrich our lives- ideas, texts, human experiences, quests for meaning.

She is defiantly preaching the choir. She assumes her reader has read, or at least can read, Grotius, Calvin, Spenser, Emerson, Jung, Searle and Putnam. Those who cannot are the very materialists swayed by the new rhetoric. And those who defend against the new atheists through materialist apologetics and trying to refute scientific method wont find comfort here either.  Religion is not in the scientific realm. Yet, Robinison as a committed non-liberal Calvinist does point in the direction that future discussions of a viable religion position needs to take.

Quotes from reviews:

Robinson makes a strong, unapologetic case, not for mystery but for self-respect.

We look in the mirror, Marilynne Robinson writes in “Absence of Mind,” and we see an untrustworthy, self-interested creature with an untrustworthy mind. No wonder a philosopher such as Tolle, for instance, who offers the idea that we aren’t so bad after all, that we have a right to believe in the value of experience and the mystery of the universe, might be clung to like a floe that a polar bear has finally found to rest upon.

Winner of a Pulitzer Prize for her novel “Gilead,” Robinson in this new nonfiction work questions the authority of science, not its methods, which she sees as evidence for the capacity and beauty of the human mind. She is annoyed by the arrogance of modernist thought, which has entrapped us for so many generations: “After Darwin, after Nietzsche, after Freud, after structuralism and post-structuralism, after Crick and Watson and the death of God, some assumptions were to be regarded as fixed and inevitable and others as exposed for all time and for all purposes as naïve and untenable.”

Robinson, however, affirms her own “very high estimate of human nature”: “We have had a place in the universe since it occurred to the first of our species to ask what our place might be.”

But positivism and modernist thought have had the opposite effect: They encourage the “exclusion of felt life”: We are discouraged from making explanations about our place in the universe. Subjectivity is not allowed; instead, there is what Robinson calls an “absence of mind.”

Guardian Review by Karen Armstrong

Washington Post Review

Arthur Green – Radical Judaism #5

Time for the final chapter. Continued from here and here.

Green asks: What Does God want you to do? or as Green puts it Who are you? What does it mean to be human?

For Green, the answer must come from our sense of Creation that includes all of humanity, we need to internalize a universalist concept that man is the image of God. (We don’t get an ethicist’s or jurist’s list of ethical principles.) There is an evolutionary human development toward greater universalism. So rather than giving us a theory of justice, we get a discussion of how can we still use the kabbalistic language of soul as a basis for universalism. Green strength is his personal honesty to state that he is hesitant to use the word metaphysical word soul but then turns it around to preserve the holy language of the soul by stating that the soul is the recognition that we are a holy being enjoined to remember to respect and rejoin the pantheistic source of all being. Immortality is the acknowledgment of the circle of life. There are new babies and new flowers and eternal renewal. (What I get is a sensibility more than universal values.)

Green places the current debate among Israeli Religious Zionists about universalism in a footnote but does not enter the fray. What did Hazal do with the universal principles of image of God and Love thy neighbor? Alon Goshen-Gottstein sees these ideas as too universal for Hazal while Yair Lorberbaum shows how Maimonides and Nahmanides retained aspects of these ideas to create metaphysics. [As a contrast to Green, when Rav Cherlow asks this question of what God wants from you– he responds with a compassionate Jewish law of values.]

Green states that he is not worried over who is a Jew, and other discredited nineteenth century ideas like race and peoplehood. He feels that there is too much emphasis in Jewish life on the insecurity of our existence and not enough on our status as seekers. Choosing of Israel does not mean rejection of other people. The Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War created a lasting impression on Jews. But Israel and the law of return is still bound to the Nuremburg laws. Jews are seekers, not a race. (echoes of Avraham Burg, but the later advocates ethics.) For Green, between the universal seeker and tribal Jew is the Jewish seeker.

Green does not consider the way the Jewish seeker plays itself out in real life. Two common forms of the Jewish seeker are (1) the tribal seeker, who has a universal Judaism and hates other faiths or commitments. he Bu-Jew with a hatred of Christianity and Islam. (2)Or those so tribal that they say anything she touches is Jewish. This second Jewish seeker is adamant that any fragment of Buddhism or Yoga that they like is a fulfillment of Judaism

Green describes himself as a religious Jew and secular Zionist. There is no religious or messianic status to the land of Israel. But essentially he remains a diasporist.

Green has a nice section on his differences from Heschel. For Heschel, one actually gives to God when performing a mizvah- there is real theurgy. Heschel had a Biblical personalist image of with mystical overtones, and Green admits that he is a pantheist with personalist overtones A pantheistic God as energy that offers blessing – meaning an energy that adds value and meaning to the world. Heschel was God’s partner- he translated prophetic and kabbalistic language into personalist language.Heschel has traditional views of God, Torah, Israel. Heschel approach to the law was apologetic combined with a plea for more compassion and decency. Green approach is heterodoxy. Green acknowledges that Heschel has both a progressive approach, which Green likes, but also a strong conservative trend.

Well was this book a vision for the 21st century future of Judaism or was it just the spiritual autobiography of a baby-boomer?

Arthur Green–Radical Judaism #4 of 5

Chapter 3 of Radical Torah is on Torah and revelation. Torah points to the oneness of all reality and mitzvah is our sense of what creates holiness in our lives.
Green’s radical views on Torah go back to some of his first public statement.

In the 1960’s, the pulpit Rabbi David Hartman raised money to host annual SEGAL retreats in Quebec. The invitation list included depending on the year Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, Elie Wiesel, Emil Fackenheim, and Rabbis Wurzburger, Yitz Greenberg, Berkovits , Jacob Petuchowski, and Seymour Segal. The responses to each other’s positions formed the backbone of 1960’s Jewish theology. (Forty years later, a cross denominational retreat like this might once again force theologians to articulate their differing and mutually exclusive positions ).

In 1969, a young Arthur Green spoke to these assembled elders as a representative of youth culture. And the June 23 1969 issue of the NYT gave a lion’s share of its write up of the retreat to Green, who set out a radical position that his generation was looking for the sacred but he does not know if the traditional answer of eating beef is more holy than eating pig. Maybe today God’s voice is for us to eat natural foods or not to use cellophane or not to use migrant worker grapes.

A decade later in the Second Jewish Catalog , Green offered a subjective guide to religious practice, and scandalized the establishment for a Conservative rabbi to accept free love

In his first version of Green theology in the book, Seek My Face, the section on revelation was weaken than the section on creation.
In the second version of the book, E-hyeh, Green calls himself heterodox to distinguish himself from any sense of institutional obligation of practice. This third version of Green’s thought is more mystical and pantheistic.

The message of the Torah, read with mystic eyes, is that God alone exists as taught by the mystics in all religions This mystic oneness needs reinforcement through the world of the symbolic sefirot. Hasidic readings of the text are clearly the most useful in this scheme.
We cannot accept the world of the kabbalists as real science anymore but modern science does not have all the answers. We don’t know everything about reality but we cant take Kabbalah literally.The greatest insight of kabbalh today is psychological teaching about divine oneness. Torah is a vehicle for mystical consciousness.

From an Orthodox perspective, it would be unfair to judge a proclaimed heterodox position on Torah, revelation, and law. But what is lacking here from any perspective is the role of kabbalah as meaning creating in a post-foundational sense (see my last post). Green moves between ascribing an intellectualist approach to medieval kabbalah and concludes that it is fluid and symbolic. However, there is no need to situate kabbalah in the science-religion debate in post-secular age. I am not comfortable when he says that science has gaps in its explanatory power so he turns to kabbalah. Why are science and kabbalah even in the same discussion from a liberal perspective? If science is weak in immunology, cosmology, or oncology then the solution will come from further laboratory work, not by turning to the kabbalah to show that we can accept mystery in life. And the kabbalah is not symbolic because we have physics but because it has nothing to do with science.

[If one want to deal with the kabbalistic science of the Gra, R. Moshe Shapiro, and the Kabbalah Centre that would be a completely different discussion and focused on Orthodox thought.]

His view of revelation is as mystic teaching in our hearts. He explains this using Hasidic texts- that they only heard the aleph of creation on Sinai, meaning the mystic oneness of reality.

Green acknowledges that he is far from any traditional view and discusses that he has a God of disbelief, silent in our lives, and at best a projection for our needs. But he says that he really does accept revelation, a revelation of a God who pulsates as a wholeness of being in creation – inward in all things, an energy for evolution.This silent existence of God is everywhere So mitzvah are from this silent inwardness of creation and self. A panentheistic commander of mizvot. Green admits that this needs “unpacking,” which is his term. Mizvot are not a custom or folkway but to produce holiness and opportunity for encounter. Mizvot are a set of symbols to address the soul. Israel’s myth of sacred beginning.

Green considers Sinai as a great growth in religious consciousness and human awareness for freed slaves and the immediate commandment of not to have idolatry makes sense in their not wanting anything that constricts our minds.
But there is No God who makes a covenant with Israel. Only the One who calls from the heart to make this people his own. Green acknowledges that this is too personified and particualistic since God is revealed in all hearts, of all people – all revelation is based on culture. Israel said yes in the Sinai of the heart and the mind- Jews respond to an inner call. Jews are a channel for divine presence and blessing. No matter how secular they seem, Jews are priests at the alter of God.

Green asks: But does this mean that Sinai was merely human ? His answer : No, God is in the human heart The covenant is mutual, God is bound to it and we are promised by God that He will love us, the more you give the more you get. He has faith in reward.

I do not recognize traditional concepts of Torah, mizvot, and Sinai in Green’s presentation But then again he is proudly heterodox and speaks to those who are spiritual not religious. For crucial questions of canon, authority, and interpretation, Halbertal- remains the starting point. And for the meaning of Kabblah, sod, religious experience and Biblical exegesis, Fishbane is the place to start. But Green offers openness to the spirit and the therapeutic deism that guides contemporary lives.

Yet, before I let this chapter go, and post this review -I feel not satisfied. The Hasidism is not historical hasidism, the response to Biblical criticism seems fluffy, and the definition of mysticism is self-defined as his own unity of being unable to hold up in a study of mysticism. I might be faulted for wanting things more academic. Is this chapter just that he likes haimish language of Torah and mizvot and his pantheistic oneness of being is a justification for haimishness? I dont know! Martin Buber was a serious heterodox engagement with Torah, rigorous in history and philosophy. I have a gut feeling that this chapter reads like the homiletic logic so common in Orthodoxy.

I do know that many people are performing searches for Art Green’s new book, few for Fishbane, and even fewer for Novak. So it must be speaking to people?

Do I have any heterodox readers to evaluate this?

Continue to part 5 here,

Meaning and Mystery: What it means to believe in God–David M. Holley

A book that is getting many good reviews from both academics and religious publications is David Holly, Meaning and Mystery. Holly approaches the question of the belief in God from a post-secular and post liberal perspective, God is part of our lives in a non-foundational way and the criteria for believe is whether God is part of our narrative. He takes from Charles Taylor the idea that we all create narratives or social imaginaries to make meaning of our lives. He also takes from all the new studies on evangelicals that people adopt Evangelical beliefs because it fits into their personal narratives. Hence, belief in God is non-foundational and based on our personal histories. God cannot be proved or disproved. Neither philosophy or science play a role in the belief in God. Someone who does not have God in their life cannot communicate with someone who does since they have different life stories. He does invoke Pascal and cheer for belief in ways that don’t fit with Charles Taylor, but many points of his are good. He seems to be working on a sequel on how the question of falsification is dealt with in a personal narrative approach.

Here is a review from a religious publication.

ONE of the myths of post-modernism is that we have entered the age of no meta-narratives.
Non¬sense. We are in the age of many meta-narratives. David Holley doesn’t even bother with the modern/post-modern question. He simply argues that it is these “life-orienting” meta-narratives that determine belief in God, or otherwise. This is the thesis expounded clearly and credibly in the first chapter, so that there is a certain inevitability about his attack on the “God of the Philosophers” who is the end point of a logical or empirical argument rather than an idea central to a life-orienting narrative that is accepted because it makes sense of experience, and is a plausible and practical guide for action.

Holley maintains that atheism is as dependent as theism on such life-orienting narratives.. Of course, such narratives require a degree of receptivity on our part if they are to be life-orienting, and it is in the nature of human freedom that they should be capable of being resisted.

Holley effectively exposes the worst excesses of rationalism and scientism that characterize many contemporary despisers of religion. Here he owes a significant debt to Alexander MacIntyre when it comes to seeing the very idea of virtues and values as incompatible with a purely naturalistic version of reality.
This leaves the way clear for him to demonstrate how narratives that include God are more likely to offer meaning to our lives than those that do not.
The final chapter deals with how we relate to religious and non-religious views other than our own. Holley contends that trying to evaluate various world-views from a standpoint outside any of them is impossible. We can address them only from within the life-orienting narrative we have adopted, and that way we can accommodate doubt and uncertainty without compromising the narrative that works for us.

From a scientific study of religion review interview:

What’s the central concern of the book, and why is it important?
DH: While the question of God’s existence is typically dealt with as a theoretical issue, I claim that it makes most sense to treat it as a practical question. Each of us needs what I call a life-orienting story, a narrative that relates a picture of what is ultimately real to individual experience in a way that makes a particular way of living intelligible and attractive. Some narratives of this kind include God and some explicitly exclude God. Reflective judgment about God occurs in the context of considering alternative narratives that might provide orientation for a way of living. In that context the issue is not only whether the understanding provided by a narrative coheres with what we take to be the facts, but whether or not it has the power to engage a person in a way of life she finds worthy.

And what is it that draws you (personally) to this topic?
DH: I am struck by the way religious claims and religious ways of life seem virtually unintelligible to some people. In the introduction to the book I cite one author who questions whether anyone actually believes in God because he thinks of the belief as a hypothesis that lacks any evidential support. Both believers and unbelievers are tempted to construe the issue in this way, and as a result the discussion gets sidetracked from the kind of belief intelligent religious people hold and the considerations that actually persuade them.

What sort of reaction do you hope it will get?
DH: I would like to persuade people that standard ways of thinking about God’s existence do not get to the heart of the matter. I’d like to reconfigure the discussion between believers and nonbelievers away from arguments about an isolated proposition to consideration of alternative narratives that might structure a way of life. I expect that some people will misunderstand my book, imagining that I am advocating some kind of disregard of rational evidence. Instead, I am trying to show what kind of reflection is appropriate for cases where we inevitably end up believing some practical narrative (naturalistic or theistic) that cannot be established on purely empirical grounds.

Beyond Theodicy- Sarah Pinnock

Clergy regularly publish op-eds and sermons about how we will never know why evil happens, nevertheless we have to rise to respond to the suffering. Many times these sermons are treated by those who quote it as brilliant innovation. Sometimes even the author praises himself in his own op-ed for his own deep insight and sublime rationality. Yet, as long as we have vocal clergy who blame earthquakes, volcanoes, and floods on the sins of the country, then it sustains these op-ed writers in their sense of superiority. However, the distinction between theodicy and our need to respond was a common theme of most existential authors. Sarah K. Pinnock , Beyond Theodicy: Jewish and Christian Continental Thinkers Respond to the Holocaust (2002) surveys this topic.

The book is eight years old, but I finally got around to reading it. Pinnock contextualizes nicely by surveying the deterioration of the belief in theodicy entering the 20th century and the new attempts by evangelical philosophers to restore theodicy. The majority of the book is on the four opinions of Marcel, Buber, Bloch (via Moltmann) and Metz. The book started as a dissertation and would not be good reading, to put it mildly, for those not used to academic reading.

The first position that she presents is Gabriel Marcel , who rejects theodicy but claims that we need to accept mystery of God without an attempt at justification. The goal is empathy and meaning in our lives; not to prevent suffering or protest. There are similarities to Victor Frankl and Erich Fromm.

The second position that she presents is Martin Buber, who has a greater collective sense than Marcel. For Marcel, meaning is personal, while for Buber meaning is to better the world. In the prophetic faith of Judaism one engages in moral acts, prayer, protest in the face of suffering which builds community. Buber introduces the discussion of how Job is a better source for today than Isaiah’s suffering servant. Finally, Buber speaks of how we rise from fate to destiny when we orient our lives around God. When we live in an I-thou toward others and build a community of destiny then even fate is transformed “Fate—with its eyes, hitherto severe, suddenly full of light—looks like grace itself” (102). (On the near complete reliance of Soloveitchik on some of these paragraphs of Buber, a different review would be needed.)

Pinnock’s goal was to compare the existentialists with the Marxists, so her next thinker was Bloch’s concept of hope as used by Jurgen Moltmann. Hegel downplayed suffering. The role of hope in Bloch and Moltmann is to bring the fate of history in correspondence with the destined redemption. Moltmann offers a mystical solidarity of man and God. For Moltmann, the Christian cross shows how to suffer in a meaningful way and shows the real possibility for redemption. The Marxist hope mandates a need for change or at least dignity before death.

Finally, Metz rejects the parallel of human to divine suffering. Human suffering is about painful despair, hopeless, and futility. It means broken shattered lives. To use a Jewish example, the pain of the slaughter of children in the Holocaust is not just an exile of the shekhinah or God crying. Metz introduces the theme of memory, where one has to integrate the truth of past into one’s life and in addition to investigate the causes of the suffering. The goal is to change the world, to protest, to investigate the socio-political causes of the pain, and to create a better society.

She concludes her book with comparisons during which she asks: Are these existential answers philosophy, psychology, or pastoral care? Certainly, many of the clergy versions are sheer pastoral comfort and should not be praised as philosophy. (Hashem yirahem)

The best part of the book is now the ability to analyze the options of the theologians who write that that we respond to suffering in the real world. Does the essay state that we respond in personal meaning, in building community, in restoring dignity, or to actually change the world? What did the author stress and what did the author leave out. Do we change the world or ourselves? Do we have to empathize with the sufferer or only help them? These distinctions allow us to stand on their shoulders and formulate better responses and responses that actually address the suffering at hand. If the book would be expanded, I would have liked to see chapters on Camus, Tillich, Benjamin, and Ricoeur since these authors are already making many cameos. A full comparison would be helpful for fleshing out the existential ethic.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Arthur green – Radical Judaism #3 of 5 parts

Continued from here and here.

Chapter three is about the evolution of the Biblical God from a sky-god in heaven vertically above us to the 1960’s when we cannot accept that metaphor anymore. Other problems of this primordial Biblical God that need to be overcome is the existence of dark forces to overcome and the maleness of God.
For Green, Biblical myth consists of “ancient and powerful narratives that contain deep truths reverberating through human life.”The Divine personhood is presented as royal and paternal. But in later ages we have the bridal Song of Songs imagery, which becomes the hieros gamos of kabbalah.

Green states that Maimonides removed the anthropomorphic metaphors, but Maimonides’ religion of III 51 is limited to an elite.
Green credits kabbalah as the best thing to overcome Biblical theism by using mythic language of passion and intimacy combined with philosophic abstraction. Green see the Enlightenment as unfortunately overly rational and that it ignored our best stuff.. Hence, the time is now to recover Jewish panentheism. We need a Neo-Hasidic approach to see holiness in all things; we need to educate our lesser selves to the true (or is it just useful?) nature of reality. The Shema teaches us that there is no being other than God.

On the topic of the image of God, he quotes as to be expected Fishbane, Levinson, Liebes, Muffs, Boyarin, but Green’s approach is entirely about intereriorization, the linguistic turn of the aforementioned authors did not reach him. Green’s treats the Bible as basically one voice and then he breifly presents rabbinic and medieval imagery before presenting his own view does not leave a thick and resonant view of the Jewish God through the ages. Just reading Jack Miles, God: A Biography would be more helpful as a start.

Green regrets that Mordechai Kaplan could not appreciate Kabbalah. But from where I sit, First, Kaplan was a skeptic and rationalist not a homo religious of myth and symbol. Second, Kabbalah for Kaplan would have been its traditional magical approach of trying to effect higher worlds. Green’s poetic kabbalah was not invented yet.

Jay Michaelson who advocated a non-duality had a keener understanding that the God imagery will always be Oedipal and based on our psychology. Green seems to have the simple psychology where one moves beyond the psychoanalytic. One would find it hard to go from Green to the complex God poetry of Rilke, Levertov, or even Allen Ginsburg.

Closer to my tastes was the wonderful recent book by Julia Kristeva- The Incredible Need to Believe (Sept 2009) Kristeva looks at religion in the major psychological and philosophical literature (e.g., Freud, Arendt, Winnicot), fiction (e.g., Proust) and in private life (Kristeva makes wonderful use of Saint Teresa of Avila’s writings). She deals with the tension of the possibility of sharable knowledge of the inner religious experience. For Kristeva, God as father figure is the logos of civilization, on mysticism she follows Freud and finds a sensual autoeroticism of merging into the id. (One wishes for such unrepressed passion from Green’s Kabbalah.) “The problem of this beginning of the third millennium is not the war of religions but the rift and void that now separates those who want to know that God is unconscious and those who would rather not know this, the better to enjoy the show that proclaims He exists.”She as many others takes the Habermas and Ratzinger debates as religiously significant. And she notes that in the new millennium many are content with the mere promise of goods within their lives.

To return to Green’s original point about the loss of the Biblical God or for most of us, the loss of the God as King metaphor of rabbinic liturgy, What do we do when a metaphor fails? Green offers his kabbalistic pantheism – here is your God!

R. Shalom Baer, the Rebbe Rashab, is reported as lamenting on the overthrow of the Czar, saying “We have lost a metaphor.” The actual protagonist of the story is probably Rabbi Dovid Horodoker who wept when Czar Nicholas II was overthrown in the Russian Revolution of 1917. “Why do you shed tears over the fall of a tyrant?” he was asked. “I weep,” replied the hassid, “because a metaphor in Chassidut is gone.”
The question becomes: if we no longer have kingship then does that mean that all hierarchy, patriarchy, projected Father figures and authority is lost? For Green, it is lost. Yet from my perspective, do we not have situations of hierarchy in education and business? Or to use a non-personal metaphor of chi, in karate and Tai chi do we not have a clear hierarchy from white to multi-tiered black belts? I am not sure of the need to flatten everything to a pantheistic God of the self. I am not sure what happens to transcendence and aspiration without only Green’s pantheism As Kristeva points out, does transcendence become a mere promise of goods?

To be continued in part 4 here

Marc-Alain Ouaknin, Haggadah

One of the most interesting commentaries on the haggadah of the last decade was the one by
Rabbi Marc-Alain Ouaknin, Haggadah: The Passover Story (Paperback)

Ouaknin, a follower of Levinas and Lacan who teaches at Bar Ilan, when he is not busy writing profitable coffee table books, does some serious engagement with contemporary French thought, especially in his The Burnt Book. For him, the Talmudic project of the Eastern European beit midrash has no closure, ever changing, ever forgetful and driven by desire. He freely mixes R. Hayyim of Volozhin, Rav Nahman, Reb Zadok with psychoanalysis, symbolist poetry, and semiotics. Ouaknin has a reading of Judaism as indeterminacy. “Man must reject the illusion of thinking that life is already written and the way is drawn.” He are various fragments from the web that give some indiation of his approach to the Passover haggadah.

My favorite section is his explanation of Yachatz, breaking the middle matzah, as the Lacanian Real sending us on our quest through the seder for our ever receding Real , creating a symbolic order in the Lacan sense. Breaking the matzah creates an open space for our symbolic registry to occur. We are throw in the seder just as we are thrown into our quest for the recovery of the real.

On the telling of the Passover story, he writes:
“The words of telling emerge from that break, from the empty place left between the two pieces of matzah.”
The act of telling the story of the Exodus occurs through an exchange of conversation and ideas. We take the one whole matzah and break it in half because discussion and conversation occur when there is a minimum of two — me and the other.

On opening the door for Elijah, Ouaknin quotes the story in which Elijah goes alone to a cave on Mount Horev in the desert. God brings a great wind, and then an earthquake, and then a fire—but God was not in any of these. Instead, after the fire, he finds God in ‘a still, small voice.’ (1 Kings 19:11-13) Ouaknin comments that one must reach the level of Elijah, self-forgetfulness in the desert.

One must have sharpened one’s hearing, to be led to the absolute level of attention, to become capable of perceiving such a tenuous breath. One must have sounded oneself, have explored oneself in the darkest places of consciousness, to the furthest of thoughts, to have made the circuit of one’s inner domain many times, in constantly growing but nevertheless tightening circles, so as to attain the intimate desert of self-forgetfulness, to be able to be stroked lightly, touched, visited by such an inaudible sigh.
The point of concluding the seder with opening the door for Elijah is to signify that this journey in ‘the intimate desert of self-forgetfulness’ is the ultimate intention of the seder. While we aim to find ourselves on seder night, to reconnect with the story of our people and see ourselves as having personally left Egypt, remembering who we are paradoxically requires losing ourselves at the same time.

For his approach to “my forefathers worshiped idols” he quotes J.L. Marion about idols as false forms that distort reality and fill in the gap between us and the divine.
What the idol tries to reduce is the gap and the withdrawal of the divine… Filling in for the absence of the divinity, the idol brings the divine within reach, ensures its presence, and, eventually, distorts it. Its completion finishes the divine off… The idol lacks the distance that identifies and authenticates the divine as such–as that which does not belong to us, but which happens to us. (Ouaknin, The Burnt Book, p. 65)

Atheist Convention

The Global Atheist Convention will commence this week in Melbourne, with speakers such as Richard Dawkins, Peter Singer, A. C. Grayling and Phillip Adams. A new blog Questions of Faith will provide coverage and analysis of the Convention as it unfolds.
Questions of Faith of the 2010 Global Atheist Convention. The Convention – titled The Rise of Atheism – begins on Friday 12 March and ends on Sunday 14 March.
From Tuesday 9 March the blog Questions of Faith will feature posts anticipating the Convention and its emerging program. It will then follow as much of the program of the Convention as possible and we hope to include pictures and audio excerpts.
The blog wilt be beyond skepticism and move into a more theological direction. As the blog as already noted the importance of atheism for faith, “this is why in the work of great religious thinkers – Kierkegaard or Milton or Dostoevsky – one can scarcely tell at times whether they are advocating belief in God or the most devastating atheism. The line between the two is often blurred.”

Since they will be posting a ton of material this weekend, let me know if anything is really good.

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.

Vattimo and Theology

There is a new series by Continuum Book that engages contemporary philosophy from a theological perspective. Adorno and Theology, Wittgenstein and Theology, Habermas and Theology,  Girard and Theology, Zizek and Theology. They are also offering new readings for the 21st century of Kant and Theology, Hegel and Theology, Kierkegaard and Theology. Most of them look good and will surely engage discussion.

This past week, I went to a book signing for Vattimo and Theology- Thomas Guarino

There is little good material on Gianni Vattimo in English but here is a book review in English and here is Vattimo’s blog (in Italian- Columbia UP has a link to the blog embedded in a translation program).

Vattimo translated Gadaemer into Italian, and took hermeneutics to a Nietzsche influenced extreme. Everything is just interpretation, there is no truth in the text.

Now, how can a catholic priest teaching in a conservative seminary use an atheist, nihilist, gay, anti-clerical, anti-revelation thinker as a basis for a book? The approach not to take is to call this is heresy and forbidden and violates what we were taught. So what does that leave? One can show how other contemporary theologians have rejected his thought. (There is an article in Modern Theology- that does that)  Or one can take Vattimo’s positive points and re-graft them onto tradition.

Instead the author of the new book attempted the following two approaches. One can use it as a self-corrective for how tradition is currently being presented. One can use it to understand what current intellectuals are thinking so that one can respond to the issues of our age

Some of the points in the book:

Cardinal Ratzinger – decried the dictatorship of Relativism, Vattimo argued against Ratzinger that dogmatic claims are the bigger problem and let’s have charitable tolerance.

Secularism, in the post-religious sense, should not be decried but treated as a chance to practice the weak virtues of charity-love without dogma and as a vibrant fruit of religion. Religion has been kept out of the public sphere, but now that it is weakened, it should be brought back into the public sphere.

Vattimo says “I believe that I believe” – meaning that I have faith in the human concept of belief not in an object of believe. So whereas the Enlightenment taught we cant know the truth of religion, Vattimo argues that “faith” is the acceptance that one is heir to a library of the textual tradition of faith and to a socio-cultural world of religion. Modern rationalist liberals want to treat religion as symbolism, or metaphor. In contrast, Vattimo has faith in faith so he takes religion at face values but know that there is nothing behind it. There is no one meaning, all is a fable, all is interpretation, there is no truth out side the cave.

  • “It is only thanks to God that I’m an atheist”
  • “I believe that I believe” (credere di credere)

Guardino argues that this is not theologically sound. We need for revelation, and belief but Vattimo gives us an insight into our age. Guardino best line: “Vattimo makes cultural liberals look like scholastic divines”

Vattimo recites the Latin prayers from the Roman Breviary three times a day, and he says it is not because he believes but as an acceptance of tradition. There was a wide range of opinions what to make of that behavior. Does that give him a weak faith? Does ritual without a traditional sense of faith count? What would Jews make of this ritual behavior?

Unfortunately, we have nothing similar from the Jewish community. We do not have a series like this. There is little Jewish theological engagement since the early 1960’s, except among a few academics. Why cant Jews put out a series like this?

We spend all our time discussing bad ideology about our denominations, maybe responses to actual philosophers might better clarify our beliefs? Maybe a Reform and Orthodox response to Vattimo might teach us more than a rehashing of denominational generalities.

What can Jews learn from Vattimo? Does it reflect our congregants state of faith? How would we respond to Vattimo? What corrective does it offer us?

How would an Orthodox author successful learn from a heretic?

As a side point: It is interesting to watch the major philosopher of our age Jurgern Habermas learning to use Twitter.

Update: Jürgen Habermas says he’s not on Twitter

Over the last several days there has been considerable hubbub around the fact that pioneering media theorist Jürgen Habermas might have signed up for Twitter as @JHabermas. This would be “important if true”, as Jay Rosen put it. Intrigued, I tracked him down through the University of Frankfurt. I succeeded in getting him on the phone at his home in Sternburg, and asked him if he was on Twitter. He said,

No, no, no. This is somebody else. This is a mis-use of my name.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Critical Theory and Religion

An interesting find on the consistently superb blog Mirror of Justice, written by two dozen law professors teaching at Catholic law schools.

The Cambridge professor of theology,  Denys Turner, has noted “in much continental philosophy, from Heidegger to Levinas and Derrida, it is  acknowledged, with varying degrees of unease at having to concede the point, that the predicaments of our culture have an ineradicably theological character.” Back in 2004, Paul Griffiths made a similar point in a First Things essay, titled “Christ and Critical Theory,” which explores the Christian yearning of the likes of Lyotard, Badio, Eagleton (then a disaffected post-marxist), and Zizek.

If one takes the Crits to be involved with a philosophical engagement with difference, then their connection to a form of Christianity has been noted by theologians for some time. Points of contact exist between apophatic religion and the philosophical concern for difference, religious skepticism, and lived experience. Apophaticism is a via negativa approach to the divine where God is nameless because, in the words of Meister Eckhardt, “no one can say anything or understand anything about him.” The Crits, in their veneration of difference, negate the hegemonic traditions, thus leaving a space for apophasia, since positive namings of God are a part of the negated tradition.

What remains paramount for the Crits is experience. The lived experience of moral sentiments substitute for rational discourse, since such discourse is viewed as hopelessly rooted in authoritative traditions of moral reason that must be de-centered. Some, such as de Lubac, Balthasar, (and recently Pickstock and Millbank), see a genealogy for this in Ockham’s nominalism–the separation of language from reality.

What would any of this mean for Judaism? Can any of this turn be used to create an ethical turn and moral sentiments toward love, fear, hospitality, and engaging the other?

Why Read The Zohar?

From this week’s issue of The Forward
Why Read the Zohar? By Alan Brill

(The Forward made a few rearrangements at the 11th hr, this was the version as of 2 days ago. Read this one)

For an alternate view to that of Melila Heller-Eshed, see the view of Daniel Abrams discussed 2 months ago here..

Demystifying Kabbalah For English Readers
By Alan Brill Published January 13, 2010, issue of January 22, 2010

The Zohar 5: Pritzker Edition, Volume Five (With Translation and Commentary)
Translated by Daniel C. Matt, Stanford University Press (Pritzker edition), 656 pages

A River Flows From Eden: The Language of Mystical Experience in the Zohar
By Melila Hellner-Eshed Stanford University Press, 488 pages, $60.00.

The Pritzker translation of the Zohar into English by Daniel Matt — the fifth volume of which has just appeared — should be greeted as a major cultural event. Yet, the publication of each volume has typically produced tiresome book reviews on the ownership of the word Kabbalah, comparing the academic approach of Gershom Scholem to Madonna’s New Age approach. The reviews do not answer the basic question: Why read the Zohar? Nor do they explain why the Zohar speaks to our age more than the myriad other kabbalistic works.

Melila Hellner-Eshed, in her book, “A River Flows From Eden: The Language of Mystical Experience in the Zohar,” provides an indispensible work that, finally, explains why the Zohar is an important and alluring work for our time. Susan Sontag taught readers to ask not what the art means, but rather “how it is what it is.” Hellner-Eshed follows Sontag and seeks to offer an experiential aesthetic of the Zohar.

Hellner-Eshed’s book is comparatively easy to read, despite being a scholarly work that assumes the reader has already read the terse prose of Scholem. Her work offers the nonacademic a chance to see the current state of Kabbalah study at Hebrew University among the students of Yehuda Liebes and Moshe Idel.

Liebes, who was Hellner-Eshed’s dissertation supervisor, claims that the Zohar was produced by a group similar to the group of mystics described in it. Accepting this approach, she muses “Who is this Rabbi Shimon who emerges from the quill of the Zohar’s composers?” Is he fictitious, or a legendary embellishment of a real historical person? Or maybe he represents the authors’ ideal figure? To these questions, she concludes: “There are of course no easy answers to these questions and perhaps this is as it ought to be.”

Hellner-Eshed’s book seeks to capture the life of the group of companions around Shimon, the stories of their wanderings and journeys, their study of Torah as a mystical quest and, finally, a description of their mystical experience. The book needs to be read cover to cover and then reread to integrate the concluding descriptions of mysticism back into the stories. This is because stories, experience and wisdom are not separate commodities for the kabbalists.

In Hellner-Eshed’s presentation, the companions around Shimon spend their time revealing the secrets of the Torah to each other as a collective form of mysticism. Instead of the usual reductionist discussion of sefirot (emanations of God), we are shown how the Holy Spirit pulsates within the companions of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai. We also meet wondrous characters — old man, young child, donkey driver — who reveal ancient secrets to the companions.

The Zohar’s name originates in the biblical verse: “The enlightened will shine like the brilliance (zohar) of the sky…” (Daniel 12:3). Hellner-Eshed shows how the image of light is used to indicate the presence of a God in the Bible and in rabbinic literature. The Zohar, in turn, expands the metaphor to include variegated colors and mixings of shades, and combines light metaphors with those of fragrance and fluidity. Her own book draws its title from another of the Zohar’s central images, the superabundant divine plenty portrayed as “a river [that] flows from Eden.” Hellner-Eshed does not treat this imagery as mere metaphor, rather as a description of the mystic life of the companions engaged in nocturnal entrance into the Garden of Eden. When there is an awakening by the mystics below, then there is a parallel awakening from above, shown as a river of divine plenty.

The Zohar portrays the experience of God as ecstatic delight through kissing, embracing and even intercourse. Hellner-Eshed’s original conclusion is that the mysticism of the Zohar describes the experience to be like a wave of water or A scent, where one enters into a period of heightened consciousness, sensuous pleasure, altered time frame and intuition of the secrets. According to Hellner-Eshed, there are three mystical states in the Zohar: when one drifts in and out; when one is “in the zone,” like a dancer or sprinter, and white light — a deep mythic level in which one enters into being itself. One can — using the terminology of less poetic scholars — call them shekhinah, tiferet and keter, but after Hellner-Eshed’s evocative exposition, that would show a tin ear for the drama.

Hellner-Eshed claims that the Zohar’s style is deliberately exaggerated and rhythmic to capture the experiential mood through trails of sensations and emotions. The rhythm of the Zohar offers many voices in which each sage continues and further develops the thought of the prior speaker. Hellner-Eshed compares the Zohar narrative to a jazz jam session, where a common melodic theme performed by the ensemble branches into solo improvisations that build to greater surprise, complexity and crescendo — the more virtuosity, the more wonderful and surprising the innovations.

One of her conclusions is, “The genius of the Zohar as a book lies precisely in its ability to capture the life of the experiences in Rabbi Shimon’s circle.” And thereby, according to Hellner-Eshed, it draws the reader into the mystical journey. She boldly claims that an academic attempt to understand the text should coincide properly with the attempt to induce a mystical experience.

What percentage of the Zohar fits Hellner-Eshed’s description? For that, we have to turn to the actual text of the Zohar. The Zohar corpus as published in the 16th century contains many reworked texts of ancient and medieval materials; there is certainly a large chunk of the Zohar that portrays the grand epic story of Shimon and his companions, but there are many segments that do not.

The fourth volume of the Pritzker edition of the Zohar (2007) was a diverse volume containing many texts that do not fit the model. It included a paraphrase of Philo of Alexandria’s ban on abortion, a Shiite style apocalypse of a messiah who is hidden in heaven, citations of 12th-century Ashkenazic theology, and selections from the rewritten biblical narrative of late antiquity.

The newly published fifth volume of the Pritzker Zohar exemplifies Hellner-Eshed’s thesis in the delightful story of the Old Man of Mishpatim, who teaches though riddles and paradox and then explains them with a chivalrous story of a damsel in the castle who reveals herself only to the worthy kabbalist. But is also contains the terse and bombastic Book of Concealment, which describes the primordial world before emanation. Hellner-Eshed does not explain how the latter gnomic work fits with her selections. In addition, Hellner-Eshed’s biggest lack is that her work does not discuss the huge number of Zohar passages about mitzvahs, Halacha, rituals or pietistic life, all of which are admirably represented in Matt’s new volume.

Armed with these books, one can now begin to appreciate a cultural and religious treasure of Judaism. No journalist or book reviewer should write about Kabbalah again without first reading Hellner-Eshed. Her work steers the English reader between the Scylla of Kabbalah as technical sefirot and the Charybdis of Kabbalah as the personalized New Age spirituality. Hellner-Eshed’s work treats the Zohar as a mystical fantasy in which the Knights of the Round Table are rabbis living in an eroticized Middle Earth and spurred to great deeds by their love of the damsel Shechinah. Then, the beautifully edited Pritzker translation allows the interested reader to travel on these mystical journeys, yet still return home safely.

Fishbane – Sacred Attunment –part 4

Fishbane – chapter 4 continued from part 3 here —— and part I here, part 2 here.

Fishbane opens chapter 4 stating that reading the text is a spiritual practice in which “Each generation must produce the exegetical practices appropriate to its historical and intellectual situation.”

There are three levels of Torah, Torah kelulah, written Torah, oral Torah (This is a Neo-hasidic innovation to add a third.)

Torah kelulah is truly from heaven as a holy hieroglyph encoding patterns and forms of every form.
The written Torah is a specific shaping of the torah kelulah through the heart and mind of Moses and formulated in the style and idiom of the times.The written torah is a scriptural record of the “spiritual history of the covenant in its initial unfolding, as formulated by the like of Moses and those who spoke in his voice (and spirit) in the early history of ancient Israel.” “Others spoke in a similar voice and with similar concern, and challenged and guided the people to obey the teaching of the covenant in all their ways” such as Isaiah and Jerimiah. (Kingship and covenant as vasselhood are not used).
.The Oral torah capturs the spiritual vitalities inherent within the written Torah.It makes the Torah . personified and particularized. There is a vibrant paradox of Jewish covenant theology, in which the Torah is continuously rereading its formulations through the prism of its own forms of rationality and interpretive tradition.

“The strict halakhist will tend to see the external world largely through the prism of the Oral Torah….whereas the strictly natural self will tend only to see the world with a natural eye…But we should resist this dichotomy”

Jews are descendents of both Adam and Moses- we are both a natural and a cultural being
Torah kelulah is our hearts, written torah in our minds, oral law on our mouths.
The Torah kelulah is not given to our natural self but only to the Jew in covenant..

On faith—–“Standing before scripture in all its modes is emunah” faithfulness to the wondrous torah
We ascend to God and it unfolds in torah.
Emunah as mahshvah devekah and also a counterthrust of aught- noght fraught with the cascading and fragmenting of our world.

We need a prepared heart for the Torah. As kohelet tells us: the natural self is vanity
Covenantal self stands in awe before the divine and is faithful to the world at hand – it lives in wholehearted

This discussion of emunah, temimut, lev tahor sounds a lot like Maharal via hasidut.

The Torah was given in the desert according to Midrash. This means the realm of the evil side according to the Zohar. Fishbane explains this as the need to confront the terrors of life– the “howl of evil.”

We should pay attention to the terms in and out, near- far, with – before with our readings . They make us aware of our boundaries.

Finally, his concept of obligation, hiyyuv. Fishbane states that we are always under a hiyyuv- It is herut al ha-luhot (avot 6:2) but it gets explained by means of Heidegger –Gademer and our horizens.
He also explain obligation through Cordovero’s Tomar Devorah. We are always connected to Divine values and responsibility. (I know Fishbane taught Tomar Devorah over a year ago, if anyone wants to send me notes it would be appreciated. It would be like reading Heidegger on the history of thought.)

In the course of the above discussion, there is some nice Zohar analysis showing how the Zohar used midrashic tropes of Genesis Rabbah and how names are changes between the two texts. Rebbi (alternate R. Ami ) gets told over in the name of R. Abba

The book ends with a reminder of our hermeneutic finitude – and that forgetting this is hubris. We are finite, mortal, in the flesh and that “death is the final censura”

I found the book dealing with many of the same issues as the poet-singer Leonard Cohen
Natural Life peaks at love, birth, transformed moments, the natural censura of death, and a natural life pointing beyond- to something deeper. Cohen’s songs turn from the natural
to Zen, to a revelatory Biblical God, to the existential abyss.
Fishbane starts with the natural and does not give us the heightened speech of the poet rather he directs us to find the heightened words and meaning of Sinai as understood through the Bible, Midrash, Biblical exegesis, Kabbalah, and Hasidut
For Leonard Cohen, one needs to practice Zen meditation to awaken to the moment, and still keep Shabbat to please the Biblical God. For Fishbane, Sinai create a need for continuous God consciousness and connection to the textuality of divine values. We need Sacred Attunment.

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