Wednesday, July 25, 2007

C.S. Lewis on Mysticism

[thought it would be a nice followup on my 'Filtration' post]

"I do not at all regard mystical experience as an illusion. I think it shows that there is a way to go, before death, out of what may be called this world - out of the stage set. Out of this; but into what? That's like asking an Englishman, Where does the sea lead to? He will reply, To everywhere on earth, including Davy Jones's locker, except England. The lawlessness, safety, and utility of the mystical voyage depends not at all on its being mystical - that is, on its being a departure - but on the motives, skill, and constancy of the voyager, and on the grace of God. The true religion gives value to its own mysticism; mysticism does not validate the religion in which it happens to occur. I shouldn t be at all disturbed if it could be shown that a diabolical mysticism, or drugs, produced experiences indistinguishable (by introspection) from those of the great Christian mystics. Departures are all alike; it is the landfall that crowns the voyage. The saint, by being a saint, proves that his mysticism (if he was a mystic; not all saints are) led him aright; the fact that he has practised mysticism could never prove his sanctity." C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm

Passing reference was made to drugs in cahoots with 'diabolical mysticism'; Huston Smith, researcher into the religious significance of entheogenic and psychodelic substances also put the emphasis on whether altered states led to altered traits.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Rav Kook [and others] on Modern Biblical Scholarship

Largely amended by two recent posts on Biblical Criticism (I, II), and on the notion of laws previous to the commencement of Torah beginning at Sinai (I, II).

Original post of newly-onlined material of Rav Kook regarding Biblical Criticism, and a response post.

One thing I would suggest in trying to digest this Rav Kook piece is to look at a theory in the sciences that Rav Kook points out as one he does not unconditionally accept, but a theory which, even if it were true - he sees no fundamental challenge to Torah in it; evolution. Evolutionary theory is obviously not equivalent to textual critical scholarship in so many ways...nor am I equivocating them in any real manner - only as two modal fields accepted as secularized dogmas in modernism, which Rav Kook didn't consider posing devastating challenges for faith. For one thing (this may be really off), evolution deals with repeated processes bound to whole material we actually do find in the world at large, in an ever-recurring fashion from which we predict outcomes; Biblical Criticism rests on theories regarding one general 'species' (extant biblical texts), and assumes source material ancestors - for which no actual text-predecessors have been found "in the ground" as it were, predicting "outcomes' that lay in the past (i.e., a closed canon of books by the Time of Ezra, at least regarding the Torah).

Anyways, back to evolution. One interesting discussion of evolution I have found from Rav Kook regards Shlomo haMelekh as the 'builder' of the Beit haMikdash;

R. Kook answers: Just as we say “and then Solomon built [the temple for God,” Kings I 6:1] rather than say that Solomon gave the order to the ministers and the ministers in turn to their subordinates and they to the architects and the architects to the craftsmen and laborers, for this is as obvious as it is secondary. [Feldman, {Ed.}, Rabbi A.Y. Kook, p.7] Obviously it is the one who started the process and gave the order that is the builder [see R. Berkovits' God, Man and History on causation and creation, pp. 69ish-74ish]. So, too, it is possible to understand the creation story as implying that God gave the order and the world evolved through a process of evolution. R. Kook does not assert that this is what happened, as evolution is just a theory; he simply claims that it could have been what happened and this would not contradict the Torah [possibly making room for - if not fostering - human intellectual/scientific engagement with the world - something that itself has clear, direct source in Biblical presuppositions]. We do not have to accept theories as certainties, no matter how widely accepted [R. Soloveitchik on related meanings supposed for epic paradigms in Judaism;"Yet the consensus of many, however great and distinguished, does not prove the truth or falseness of a particular belief"], for they are like blossoms that fade. Very soon science will be developed further and all of today’s new theories will be derided and scorned and the well-respected wisdom of our day will seem small-minded.[ibid, p.6]"" [from here.]**

Of note for me is that (at least as R. Shuchat expresses it), we should not accept these theories without qualification not because the theory is entirely untrue, but because they remain human theories about reality, about truth - that are human in origin, humanly modified, amended, even swept aside at times by competing mortal paradigms. This is not how we regard Torah (which also speaks in the most appropriate language of man - and not simply the 'acceptable' loshon in science), where totally different rules of engagement apply. Such methodologically relative certainty, regarding mortal musings, is the only thing we can really achieve or expect this side of Galut and Olam hazeh (relative, i.e. bound to and through relationships held with actual entities and systems, not unlike how Deloria describes the nested emergence of wisdom in indigenous settings - not PoMo ambiguity or tamar Ross' 'non-foundationalism' nor mutually-exclusive language games), particularly in realms outside the purview of Revelation (the Non-emergent that we orient from, reckon from, that we received, not conceived...).

Relative certainty also being a hallmark of modern science, is it not? That many LWMO may flippantly suggest a sweeping acceptance of every passing scientific or academic whim and notion does not mean they are being 'adaptive' or 'relevant', just as the religion wed to the whims of 'now' is a widow tomorrow (see asterisk note below). It often sounds as if they are fulfilling the comical misunderstanding of how something is 'kosher'; someone perceived to be a religious 'authority' says over it "kosher, kosher, kosher".

SO...This same metaphorical understanding of the building of the Beit HaMikdash has been applied by R. Solomon Netter to the question of Moshe's role in the transmission of the Torah...;

"Netter explains that the statement "Moses wrote the Torah" is comparable to statements in I kings 6:10 and 9:1 that Solomon built the Temple. In other words, Solomon need not have literally participated in the building for him to be credited with it's construction. Similarly, a few post-Mosaic prophetic insertions do not alter the fact that Moses is to be regarded as [']the['] author of the Torah."(from here; pp.201-202)

This idea would make even more sense with the discussion of pre-Mosaic sources in some of Torah (along with a GREAT recentish piece from R. Shubert Spero, "'Torat Moshe / Torat Hashem' : exploring their respective roles" BDD Bekhol Derakhekha Daehu 13, 2003, pp.5-3), and offer another confluence of the Torah and 'critical' approaches - only in so far as the possibility that one individual was not the sole conduit of Torah into the world. But does this, along with many other discussions from Torah Tradition (Sifrei Avot, Post-Mosaic sources, etc) accumulate to anything like the conclusions of various Documentary Hypotheses - of which there are many (some not entirely "Documentary", for that matter)? Over the millenia, many verses have been found that appear (from 'modern' perspectives, often uninformed by Tradition, archeology, etc...see below sciences in isolation of each other), most fully understood as problematic (in a 'critical' modality); while it increases the "a few" to many - from a Revelation-friendly perspective accepting this "Moshe as author/builder" suggestion - it doesn't tip the scales against a textual Revelation. This is especially so if the integrity of mitzvot in the text are treated differently than sections that are historical narrative ("Furthermore, in his first comment in Lech-Lecha...[Ibn Ezra] states that ‘do not add to it’ was only said with regard to the commandments, meaning, that when the Torah warned us not to add, it only warned not to add to the number of mitzvoth or to their fundamentals, but not about adding words. Thus, if a prophet added a word or words to explain something about which he had a tradition, this is not considered an ‘addition’."-R’ Yosef Tuv Elem on Ibn Ezra to Bereishit 12:6; also Heschel's "Heavenly Torah", section 32), and we keep in mind the different purposes in recounting historical events and detailing laws (though Isbell in the previous link is discussing primarily NaKh, to a certain degree this could apply to the pre-Mosaic Sources supposition from our Mesorah, and the difference of their nevuah before it became Torah [commencing] from Sinai). Can any equivalency be made between that which has its source in human theories, presupposing the exhaustive explanatory power of materialism, and the fruit of engagements with the Divine, our Mesorah, Divrei Chazzal, reflecting on all Creation as having a divine source? As has been said ad naseum, everything begins with your presuppositions. The varied fields of Biblical Criticism are themselves made up of an awful lot of counterarguments and deep paradigm shifting, etc, not unlike how Rav Kook and Rav Hirsch saw as the situation of evolution in their day.

Here are links to some great pieces offering support for primary Mosaic authorship and Torah as revelation. and disputation in the field of Biblical scholarship around specifically the Documentary Hypothesis [I, II, III, IV], and this one on recent disputations in the field of Biblical Criticism. It's a christian website, so I will not stand by everything on the pages (nor the website itself, obviously). Criticism could be made about against one of my main suppositions - suggesting that my belief in "difficult verses in the Torah" is really "difficult verses became the Torah", the academic supposition that belief in textual revelation, like text, is a product of judaism, not the beginning of it. We know people wrote in the time of the Avot and since...I'm not sure how - assuming the rational possibility of Revelation (sources from Novak and on Strauss, etc), text couldn't have been one of the means of revelation! That writing and texts have proved to be of epic consequences in history (duh?!), would seem to support it's usefulness in channeling revelation, in implementing huge changes in history swiftly and thoroughly.

Regarding what I personally believe - philosophically, I don't consider the general theories of multiple [temporal] sources or even seemingly conflicting sources to be sufficiently challenging to undermine either belief or praxis if the Ikkur of belief in the ultimate Divine unity of scripture is held (essentially belief in Revelation; "unity" of scripture in this discussion requires it's own post, but for now, here is a challenge to Conservative attempts at halakhah and parshanut without belief in this unity). I believe this to be the case because human theories are not only amended, rewritten, resupposed, new foundations 'built' for the same intellectual edifices, etc - they're also human. Their source is not Divine. When it is supposed by theories in Biblical Scholarship that the Torah came to be as a result of multiple sources, over time, has elements that superficially conflict when read outside of Mesorah-based exegesis, etc - these theories are in a real sense undermined by truths hinted at from our very Tradition (Sifre Avot, later Prophetic editing, etc), as well as facts 'in the ground', some of which I detail below. That doesn't entail belief in any general or particular theories, any more than the possibility that Rav Kook also didn't find certain scientific or modern Biblical theories problematic implies he believed in them (let alone as they presently are understood).

Assuming first a minimal, logical defensible possibility regarding a communicating Godhead (R. Novak, sources and R. Eliezer Berkovits; also some from traditional Conservative thinkers), if we consider the sheer antiquity of the belief in Torah as a historical event with a Given revelation (Halivni and other sources; R. Berman recently on suzerainty treaties, Covenantal documents and Hoffmeier in Israel at Sinai), the general integrity of the claim for the historicity of the Encounter at Sinai, the textual integrity of the resulting revelation (I,II with my other posts here and here), the sources from tradition regarding post and pre-Mosaic sources (even from within Torah and Tanakh!!), we have what to stand on when confronted with Documentary Hypotheses as a general overarching challenge to belief in Revelation. Without even having to play their game by their rules on their court.

Regarding the well-discussed positions that posit Moshe Rabbenu as the exclusive receiver of Torah (that which would be/comprises the text of the Torah), or posit that every Sefer Torah is an exact copy of that which Moshe Rabbenu received at/from Sinai, it's been presented extensively elsewhere that they are not challenged by what are ultimately mild emendations to popular beliefs; emendations which, it bears repeating, are not suggested first by critical scholarship - but by sources from our Mesorah.

Currently popular functional beliefs have not always been universally held ikkurim. Others also point to the situation of Rambam's "necessary" and "true" beliefs, where the integrity of Greater Truths is buttressed by the acceptance of more 'popularized' and easy-to-grasp views on the part of the masses. And again Rav Kook's words (also here, I think from R. Slifkin?), regarding the place of that which by modern eyes may seem to be even logical error derived from the senses and perceptions (if viewed exclusively from hyper-literal, hyper-materialist perspectives) as being accepted - and also the bracketing of even revelation to the prophets..."But how could such even be suggested about the Torah?! Moshe Rabbenu's nevuah was of a different order from all others!"...

This may not be contradictory if we provisionally accept the suggestion that some of Torah (mostly Bereshit, a preamble of sorts, and scattered verses occuring later), includes nevuah from others - nevuah that, it would logically seem, did not gain the special status of Moshe's prophecy until Torat Moshe, through the Encounter at Sinai and it's acceptance by Klal Israel (technically under Ezra?...), whereupon it was indeed Nevuah like no other.

Perhaps certain "necessary" beliefs are emergent beliefs (but only "emerging" from within the Divine system, the specific Jewish logic ,temporally-bound only by merit of occurring in history), that sustain, specifically for us, those very Truths which are always true. For example, that Sinai was an Encounter with HKBH and from that moment onwards we received Torah, revelation as text, by way of Moses, etc. There are Truths which all indeed have agreed upon (and must be agreed upon to be considered part of the System) - but each era needing its way of making them thoroughly clear to ‘us’ in each unique era, as ours - and perhaps that is where "necessary" truths - and the heated arguments and 'proofs' for them - come about. Our reception of Torah each era, each person. Again, the True, Torah truths are what precedes and what remains (hence the accruing examples of ‘bad’ science, questionable ethics, bantered over regarding Chazzal and science, etc).

Within the framework of actual evidence we can offer for our mesorah, and the shakiness of Doc Hyp as a meta-philosophical challenge to belief in Revelation as such, i suggest that we may need only offer we are called 'weak' arguments for Revelation, not trenchant positions.

[in process]
Add comments on recent Sommer piece and Gellman's responses to "contentless" Revelation. Heschel, Halivni, etc. Also note that DH has, over the years it has been assumed by various academics, had those who accepted it with no problems accepting Revelation, etc. Revelation is a claim outside of what the 'science' of DH would apply to (to which even James Kugel has stated - knowing full-well the import and meaning of Nevuah - "Of course I do believe in nevu’ah, in divine revelation..."). And in the same manner MANY scientists will claim that 'evolution' can neither disprove nor prove HKBH's authorship of the Book of Life because that claim is beyond the domain of their sciences, there have definitely been BibCrits who similarly distanced themselves from the question of Revelation in Torah. This is not a point for DocHyp, but for the philosophically non-challenging nature of 'similar' suppositions from within our Mesorah which don't go to the lengths DocHyp goes and hense doesn't require the foundations it does.
On the discussion of the question of Revelation and DocHyp, as well as halachic consequences, see David Novak's "A Response to 'Towards an Aggadic Judaism'" Conservative Judaism, 30:1 fall, '75 58-59. This article, as well as other historical Conservative approaches to the question of DH and Revelation echo much of the loshon attributed to some of Rav Kook's statements; 1)Israel's actual historical-event acceptance has a central role (not as simply a community over time agreeing to observer it - an event of acceptance which happened at Sinai and/(or?...) again in the time of Ezra under his nevuah, with great trepidation and a general grasp of what was therein contained - Torah Min haShamayim), 2) the date of delivery of Revelation is secondary to it being...Revelation! 3) it could not be mi pi atzmo, people writing letters to "themselves", merely echoing their times and prejudices.
All of these positions being based in the philosophical integrity of the belief in encounter and ensuing Revelation. At the time Novak wrote the piece, he identified with Conservative Judaism, though rabbi of a LWMO congregation (gotta check on their situation at the time). He has since left the movement with others and helped found the Union for Traditional Judaism (among the dissenters were R. David Halivni having authored several volumes and articles on Torah as Revelation (I, II, III), and Alan Yuter [bio does not note his role in the UTJ], some bits here and here). Address also Louis Jacobs/Tamar Ross' points about allegedly contradictory halachot (as opposed to narrative), in Torah, as evidence of conflicting, not cumulative, Revelation, etc, offering R. Breuer, R. Etshalom, et al as counters.

Here are some comments from those generally not considered Leftwing Modern Orthodox which I find mildly problematic, for Modern Orthodoxy;

"What difference does it make if part was written by Moses, part by Aaron, part by Mr. J, and part by Mr. E? I believe it was all divinely inspired. I believe the Talmud is divinely inspired as well, even though it is full of arguments among the rabbis." -Prof. Shalom Rosenberg

[here], author of In The Footsteps of the Kuzari soon to be published by Yashar Books

Of course Professor Rosenberg is speaking to a journalist, the piece itself being a translation, we can't be precisely certain what was said or what was meant. And in a manner, R. Tov Elem used the same 'what difference' loshon centuries before. More confusing;

"Judaism always absorbed foreign ideas, tales, customs and laws, shaping them in accordance with its specific needs, theories, and worldview. The influence of foreign cultures is evident in the first pages of the Bible and throughout Judaic literature. The ancient myths, epics and tales of Sumer and Akkad found their way into the pages of the Bible, but their pagan origin became only a faint echo." Yaffa Eliach, Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, Vol. 36. (1968), pp. 57-83.

None of the key terms or concepts is clear. I mean...what the BH are we to do with "Judaism always absorbed foreign ideas"..etc?" After that start, what are we supposed to think she means by influence? how do foreign myths, epics and tales "find their way" into what we consider as our Sacred Scripture, without simply being co opted? When you say regarding Torah "theories" and 'pagan origin' - you're no longer saying Divine origin!...Interestingly, Prof. Eliach's source for these comments is Umberto Cassutto, renowned as not-quite-Orthodox (also 'mashol-izes' the mabul and as I recall, states that it was not an event, etc), what would likely be called "rightwing Masorti" today.

**I'd also add this wonderful quip from Holmes Rolston;
The religion that is married to science today will be a widow tomorrow...But the religion that is divorced from science today will leave no offspring tomorrow.

It is radically irresponsible for a religion to divorce itself from engagement with whatever sciences prevail at the time. I mention this as even now there are fields that function in complete disregard of the factual evidence plowed up in other scientific fields. For example, quantum physics 'applies' to all reality...on a minute level - not practically speaking in the domain of most of the hard sciences, where cause and effect reign. The point is science contains perspectives, and statements about perspectives, that are true in one sense and not another while remaining generally scientific. And authorities in science have perspectives and makes statements about their perspectives that are orthogonal to their scientific endeavors, but not necessarily independent of each other. I think this is the case similarly, in the Torah world - though varying due to the Divine "tradition" context over the "human endeavor" context. But we must engage the thinkings of our days to remain relevant.[note needs editing...]

Latest Delusion; become a locavore

I started a DIY blog that died before it began called Hombrew. This morning during my drive to work I caught Barbara Kingsolver on public radio talking about her new book, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle". Rekindled my desire to grow/live local. In Israel, locavore abounds. It's how life is done for many, many people. Home Grown Revolution

Locavores, one of the first organized efforts by name to encourage it.

I'd also read through the comments to Bryan Welch's piece "Why I Farm". some of them were comically blind to the environmental costs of an "international" vegetarian lifestyle, speaking of their U.N. meals of fruits and veggies from farflung regions as if it were teleported free of charge, as if every such meal were some lesson in cultural diversity and compassion and sustainability - for simply lacking meat. Before I even read his piece, I was actually turned off of their arguments as well as the dehumanization of package meat and imported produce (to which I still submit and contribute).

All of which reminds me further of the time I walked by the Art Therapy department of the university where I work. I had thought "art" for its own sake, as such, isn't something people lost touch with, but craft, making for themselves the necessities of life, being more directly responsible for their environment by design and construction - not merely by purchasing. So fostering DIY more than producing macaroni-art pieces or performance dance about ones daily stress seems more in order with whats missing. more, and more editing, later; working.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


TOTALLY unedited, work in progress, hopefully finished by 7/11/07

I want to suggest that there are certain modes of knowing (and the content accessible/filtered through them), certain paths of knowledge, that specifically because they are personal and specifically not collectively personal (Sinai encounter and the Encounter ‘remembered’ systematically by all; what of T’SH’B’P?...also the integrity of the Klal in Galut is of first importance; personal experiences not of strategic significance of it digestible by all?), and so often personally understood - are not relevant to processes and modes of knowing that MUST be available, testable and graspable by all. Nevuah no longer affects Jewish life, for example, not only because the Shaarei Nevuah are closed in Galut (?); we also no longer have the framework in which Neviim and Neviut ‘made sense’ (side note; we have in Tanakh the hope that in the future BHVA, we will all be Neviim[posukim] direct receivers of Nevuah - not simply sages?…)

We wouldn’t deny the existence of Nevuah or Bat Kol (or most wouldn't...), for which, admittedly, there is a Mesorah - based on the fact that we do not factor it into what is collectively comprehensible [Tradition piece on Bat Kol, Chida, etc]. So why is there general willingness to deny the ontological place of whole other categories of knowledge or their content (for which, admittedly, we may not have ‘consistent’ Mesorah; see criticisms of Kabbalah), based on the present situation - IOW, we do not allow them into the particular “language game” [Markham pieces, etc] of halakha (but could we marshal R. Yuter’s justification of “if there is no forbiddance?"...of course to his chagrin...if we can evidence that ASCs, entheogens, seeming-precognition, etc, have validity as ‘real’ phenomena (many of which have parallels in Yahadut, and have been defended as not beyond possible) - that though they should be given a place at the table of Jewish believed things (not doctrines per se - nor practical halakha), but not a vote in Halakha? Science is so often described as confining itself to the measurement of only that which can be measure by its tools (and thus has trouble justifying it's own existance based solely on those tools; the scientific method doesn't justify science - similar situation to Yahadut/machshava in Galut??) - and there are vocal 'rationalists' of Yahadut that claim how torah is a 'science' compared to other human endeavors (at times, I believe, because 'rational sells' right now...or is being well-marketed right now; mediocre atheist polemics easily refuted are given huge displays at bookstores and author interviews abound online, etc). Many religious scientists - explorers of the 'lifeway' of science, not merely lab apes - are also open to dimensions which the tools of science they know and handle so well - cannot measure. But their peer-opponents, missionaries of Scientism - are frequently condemned for propounding an essentially irrational assumption that what science cannot measure simply does not exist []. For the 'judaism is science' crowd often speak similarly "that which doesn’t fit within the codified four amos, within this [post-galut…] agreed-on practical legal structure, does not exist"? Rambam does state regarding certain entities-agents, etc, that they do not 'exist' (discuss maybe later what that means, in terms of relative 'existance'; we don't exist independantly either if "ein Od Milvado", etc). Many of them speak in precisely the same condemnatory tone about vaguely-defined 'superstition' and 'magical thinking' and Dennett, Dawkins, etc, do on the 'corrupting' affects of all 'religious' beliefs. They're literate, well-read people, this confluence cannot be accidental. Do these (mostly western Israelis and olim), academics perhaps see themselves as engaging in "emergency preparedness" by propounding ideas compatible with if not identical to - those of materialist, historicist, postmodern 'skeptics' in academia? How many of them are actually engaged in the sciences they give such standing (let alone the stances on certain perspectives within science they adopt)...and not the soft sciences, nay, Humanities (Literature, philosophy,etc) that so many write from?

History of science gives us shining examples of scientists of all manner of "irrational/mystical" frames of mind - who were vanguardists of the most profound and pivotal developments in the human endeavors of exploring the world! Many of them still abound. The great number of whom Dennet, Dawkins - and LHVDL it seems Rambam would likely condemn as fruitless minded and "weighed down" by those views (...and Rambam would probably say they're worthy of execution, where Dennett 'mercifully' suggests institutionalization...), putting aside the possibility of Aristotlianisms hindering of scientific development - ideas which, given their context (IOW relative compatibility w/ 'rational' suppositions they held) we have evidence as giving their endeavors wings. [ex. from 'not in kansas anymore, others on 'magic thinking' and science, etc].

[add. snippet]

Though people frequently, B”H, experience several states of consciousness (you literally thank HKBH for granting sleep, removing sleep, etc), there seems to be a common consensus that only one state of consciousness is valuable - the “everyday thinking” state. This happens to be a classically-lamented state, the least desirable! This is the much-abhorred “Matrix” mind, the least focused, least trained and attuned. Sleeping - being only one example - is renowned among psychologists and neuroscientists, as being fruitful, as not being merely bitul zman [ariadne's web, committee of sleep, etc]. No disrespect to the rabbonim celebrated as warriors against sleep…a great number of scientific as well as artistic, philosophical, etc, chiddushim have come about specifically through dream and lucid dream states. Many great artists and thinkers perfected specific methods for harnessing and cultivating the particular states associated with dreaming []. David Gelernter's "Muse in the Machine" discusses the necessity of "artificial emotion" for Artificial Intelligence to be productive, and the place of metaphorical thinking, low-focus attention, etc, in our actual thought processes (as he has a target topic to work from (what?...), he might be missing the ongoing place for the spectrum of thought in history).


Other discussion of states in R. Aryeh Kaplan’s books on meditation, indications of ASCs in Tanakh, potential that, just as HKBH uses any part of creation that he wishes, as a pan-creationist, I propose that [seemingly?...] discrete states of mind are no-less created medium that HKBH can/has utilized. Perhaps some are in a hierarchical relationship to various kinds of Nevuah (independant of them in Shamanism, etc?) - just as gilgulim might be an upgrade of reincarnation, as Rav Kook compares Olam Haba to “afterlife”; similar, but [now] different in kind not degree. A ladder may reach one to a certainly precipetous height - but a rope lowered from above may take you the rest of the way.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Yes sir, that's me, teaching the "Shecht a bird on the wing" trick to a Chassid, Lag b'Omer 2007. You know, he stood near me giving me the earful, how 'thats not a real bow', etc, etc...the minute I offered to let him shoot it, he hopped right up and got into it. Maybe next year he'll have hunted himself up a new shtreimel.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"A Non-Orthodox Traditional Approach:
Reflections on the Authority of the Moroccan Rabbinate."

[a misleading title, as the Rabbonim he speaks of were stringently Orthodox in faith and observance; however, the disposition of the Hachamim of Morocco, under the present yoke of predominating Ashkenazi Charedi darchei Torah - would likely be considered "non-Orthodox" - much like a great number of current Charedi rabbonim deny the standing of even observant Modern Orthodoxy].

Prof. Marc Shapiro in the above audio link gives amazing examples of a different attitude toward halacha, as it manifested itself in the decisions of the Moroccan Rabbinate. A critic of the alleged contribution of the Moroccan Sages could easily point out the distinct time and place from which Dr. Shapiro implies we learn out a potential new direction in Halakha ("that was then, this is now"). But what differences exactly do the differences make? What if we ask the same questions of other Darkhei Torah? Time and place are obviously different between us in “The West” (remembering that kehillot in Europe -sometimes even Canada - are literally and conceptually miles from America…), and that of the Sages of Morocco - but by the same comparison, how similar is 'our' situation to that of The Pale in Tsarist Russia, Pre-War Poland or other historical contexts of psak (both being "in the past"; I'm not saying ashkis follow sages only from that era/location), esteemed by many Ashkenazi Orthodox?...

Here and now I will state that I AM NOT recoursing (or "discoursing", H'V...), to some claim of innate bias on the part of Sages based on their time, place, class, etc; I am saying that in addition to the potential of innovative, reactionary presuppositions in pasak - poskim also most wrestle with environmental contexts in which pasak is made; but there is vote and there is veto; the Divinely-Given Mesorah has the veto (and some of these environmental contexts have negligible right to even 'vote'...).

One of the main contexts of Yahadut in the West over the first part of the 19th Century has been having to face challenges by powerful, dynamic, new and open ideologies...

No such ideological challengers exist now.

Great numbers of Jews were tempted to leave then; the Great Great grandchildren of these assimilated millions are now long gone.

What are the current communal responses? In terms of competition with the contemporary world, what is dynamic, world-relevant and pertinent about the vantage point the now-dominant Yeshivishe world? I’m being serious in asking, not sarcastic in asking! Many things exposited among those who identify as "Yeshivishe" are beautiful. I’m obviously not criticizing limmud ha Torah (i.e., Gemara), which is incumbent on all who would call themselves observant - and which obviously does have its aspects that are intellectual ‘challenging’ (albeit ideologically-driven religious contexts are on occasion intellectually ‘challenging’ unintentionally…). Learning is only one facet of what is “yeshivishe” ideology - and is hardly exclusive to them; theirs is a range of ideologies that include ‘Torah only’, Kollel, "Daas Torah", ‘anti-college’, societal norms in dress, speech, etc.

Sure, there are kiruv yeshivas and Aish and all that, places that on the surface are indeed quite ‘modern’ and accessible. but those are Kiruv yeshivas...And someone in the aftermath of recent acceptance of general observance and yeshiva-time at such a place might say in response that "all the greatest minds are coming to Torah!...scientists, artists, etc, etc..".

Sit them down with someone on the front lines in Galut (of course, even in Israel), and see what happens. We are indeed in the throws of a spiritual Holocaust, where the likely numbers of those affected, by count, exceed those lost in the Shoah (this is Aish; not me). Such institutions will likely acknowledge that this young persons impressions are a response to the surface panache, as a response to the marketing; that the response is from engagement of Torah itself. Aish, Ohr, etc, also don’t consider themselves the end of the road - a life-way unto themselves. They will likely even say they’re “just the beginning” - and admittedly for many such as the young man, “just a taste”.

But for those who stay, they openly propound, and are transitional towards, a “Yeshivishe” lifestyle much like I ask on above - a lifestyle that is cultivated and thoroughly fine-tuned in its ideologically-based disinterest for the world and its wisdom (no matter how real or true or amendable to a Torah Derech), and the ways of life - no matter how halakhically adaptable they may actually already be - of the millions of potentially-observant.

"Back" to Morocco; Sages were given Community-wide authority (granted, it was 'given' by the Islamic government...but I hope to show later the clear differences between how certain Sephardim used secularly-granted authority and the manner that certain Ashkenazi Sages - with ideological descendants today - used them). There were no other means through which those who chose to “be Jewish” could address their issues “Jewishly”. But that was no license for the Sages of Morocco to be either tyrannical despots or 'monastics' cloistered away, defining themselves by their incongruity with the masses of Jews, or celebrated for their seeming lack of knowledge of the factors of life in the modern world (let us admit it - there is even today a certain amount pride in provincialism - even projected on those whose authority is sought at times on life-and-death issues!!). They had to be relevant if they were to be regarded by all in the community, to be a factor in the lives of the community (a community that in word and deed was comprised of the observant and non-Observant - instead of the subtle insinuation that "jewish community" is really meaningless if the non-Frum are actually included....)In such a context, they had to be considered reliable and capable regarding all facets of a diversely-observant community; and as they were willing themselves to be informed by the people, they were often considered legitimate informers to the people. Hardly exclusive to Morocco, this was a common approach in much of the Sephardic world - and taken as the proper form of Rabbinic authority throughout the ages.

A main end result of this factor (granted, one factor among many), is that the great numbers of Sephardic Jews are not utterly alienated from Torah - Torah has a very powerful seat in the “life parliament” of the great number of Sephardim (and a good number would likely fall under the definition of "Traditional Religious Jew" given here by R. Joshua L. Golding).

In the Ashkenazic Jewish world, the factor of prevailing communal factionalism has fostered irrelevance (relative to the greatest number of Jews, who are utterly assimilated), on the part of those groups strongest in Torah. This (oft times prefered) isolation from the real, entire Klal Israel (all Jews collectively), effectively ensures only the given factions “Choir” is to even be addressed. To the degree that one defines oneself by certain life ways, I would not be surprised to find that many self-identifying Charedim, for example, feel a certain pride in being considered irrelevant and esoteric to the world - even, to a degree, towards non-observant Jews and their life-ways (again, no matter how kosher-compatible they may be). “Joy in Factionalism” effectively ensures the perpetuation of competing factions; when you disenfranchise others - it invigorates their factional identity...and create new franchises - something Moroccan Sages undermined rather than underlined (don't worry, I'm saying this across ideologies - all over the Western Jewish world this is the case; but many of the non-observant factions emphasize their openness, their relevance to the world - and many observant groups do not). This is factionalism that, in good part, resulted in reactionary responses to modernism in many different directions; oft times the response was indeed to “cut off” limbs considered incurable.* Rav Kook;

"[to] The great majority of [Torah] scholars in our times it is fitting to abandon those children who have been turned from Torah ways and the faith by the raging current of the time. I say emphatically, that this is not God's way...! R. A. Y. Kook; Selected Letters, Tzvi Feldman, 1986 pp.51-4

But all these factions - including much of the ‘spectrum’ of Ashkenazi “Orthodoxy” are increasingly irrelevant to a long-ago assimilated Jewish world (and as we all know - there are some rabbis still fighting any non-halachic modifications in their war with 'the Reformers'....). I use 'spectrum' specifically, since many in the "Yeshivishe" realm do conceive of it as a “spectrum”...where others are consider to occupy "less sound" (from Haredi ideology), gradational deviations from their ideology...which would be tantamount to halachic deviance!

The end result is that the great numbers of Ashkenazic Jews are utterly alienated from Torah. As before, this factor is not solely responsible for the situation - but I think the internal response to power and the implementation of practical halakha is a tremendous part of it.

With the power vested in our hands, instead of taking on the millennia-old responsibility of creating relevant, engaged Torah ways of life - life lived in HKBH's world (albeit less daunting, costume-conscious and provincial than we are used to – but also more accessible, livable and fleshed-out), deriving from an ever-relevant and multifaceted Torah[ r. Hazzan quote] - ways of life which have at the very least the respect of the masses of Jews (and not in that condescending way people respect the Amish), if not grudging public observance - there has been brought about the utter incomprehension of the great number of fellow Jews towards observant life-ways and those who strive to live them.

If we cannot live out, together (‘together’ meaning within inter-marriageable parameters of observance and belief), the multidimensional Torah that God Gave us to live out in the real, multidimensional world, in which God Gave us Torah to live out in - where are we to live?...and how? and why?...

Without the interaction of both Torah and the world that Torah grants us access to (i.e., engaging the world through the many possible ways of Torah is to engage the world not on the worlds many possible terms) - we are forced to ask those questions. In answer to those questions, others (lacking Torah), have created things called religions - with varying degrees of success in their relevancy to the God-Given Torah and the God-Given world.

There are those over the millenia who, given the choice, have sought to live Torah without the world and others who have sought to live in the world without Torah. These are part of what, over history, has made for the religions of others - sometimes out from us. And I think in part this is a problem with Torah Judaism; we have indeed generated other religions among us by using either HKBHs Torah or HKBH's a means to escape the other. We have a God-Given responsibility of transforming the world by our observance - not responsibility of transforming observance into a means of escaping the responsibilities of God's world.

*There will invariably be those self-identifying haredim (certain non-observant factions could be similarly charged for different claims) who would claim that if all those [millions] of Jews (adding on the children born from the generations effectively ousted), were not effectively - as an outcome of Rabbinic decisions (however unintended) - severed from “The Congregation of Israel”…they would have made it a mess for those who stayed in their seats in the yeshivas or in the place in the shtetl, etc (remember; this was before the Shoah where everyone and their children were lost). “And besides - look at the glorious world born from the few individuals [that are acknowledged…] that survived - to then survive the Holocaust?...Lakewood, Ponevezh, Bnai Brak…Could there possibly be greater proof that it’s ‘the Yeshivah way or the highway!’”?...could this have happened if more than those few survived?...perhaps there could have been no other way - since what happened...happened - and as history shows us, the only way to 'now' was 'then'" [a seeming deterministic, "Anthropic Argument" for the Yeshivishe World; "if more survived, those few Gedolim might not have been more effective, etc"..."HKBH did it this way - therefore that's the only way this could have happened, etc" which, THANK GOD I have never heard articulated] I can’t help but think of the Hungarian minhag of cutting the end off of the Challah on Shabbat because of some notion that the “end-bread” has some innate aspect that will make you stupid or something. There is the joke that, when challenged that the great numbers of others do not cut the ends off their Challot, they would respond “imagine how much smarter they’d be if they did…”

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