Thursday, September 17, 2009

"As a report about revelation, the Bible itself is a Midrash";
A Conservative Theologian Misreading a Conservative Theologian

"What the Documentary Hypothesis does entail, however, is that, as Heschel said, even the Torah itself is a midrash - that is, a human response to this sense of God in our lives [Heschel, God in Search of Man, p. 185].
Letters to the Editor, Conservative Judaism, 2008

"Rabbi Dorff declares that a contentless-revelation theology find[s] expression in Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's statement, in God in Search of Man, p. 185, that "the Torah itself is a Midrash;" the "midrash" being the result of the people's promulgation of Torah in response to the contentless revelation of God's "commanding" presence. But on that page of that work Rabbi Heschel writes something quite different, namely, that "as a report about revelation, the Bible itself is a Midrash" (the first emphasis is mine.) This means that what the Torah reports about revelation is midrash, because, as becomes clear in the context, to Rabbi Heschel revelation is so unique and beyond our normal congnition that the Torah has to resort to midrash to talk about revelation."
(Jerome) Yehudah Gellman, “Contentless Revelation – A Reply to Rabbi Elliot Dorff” (same issue)

I also hear the usual refrain, from R. Dorff, of that "sense of wonder" over what is in substance and essence human creativity (quite clearly, in place of wonder at divine activity in Torah; as if to say "Don't look for pause in wonder at the Divine in the Torah - look for it in yourselves"?), the Conservative-esteemed "responses" to the "sense" of God in "our lives". Our lives?...Is he calling midrash something that we could currently respond with, that God in our lives is no different than God in the lives of those at Sinai - at the collective moment ("our"...) of revelation? I know that, in part, it's an attempt to "draw" Jews into Judaism (in an itself, all well and good), by subtly suggesting that it's built by human hands, "but you too can create Torah", because afterall, Torah, the very foundation of Judaism, is itself not only in human hands - it's the "work of human hands".

Midrash, even for those authorities who have ascribed to them human origins - knew full well that their authors were not mere humans, anymore than great works of theology, art, poetry or scientific endeavor are produced by the untutored, untalented and uninformed; Midrashim were (at least), the work of the greatest authorities in our tradition, about or tradition. How can Conservative authorities regard even the finest of human endeavors with such capriciousness?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

R. Aryeh Klapper on Religious Zionism & Medinat Israel
I think that the feeling of gratitude which lies at the center of Religious Zionism, and which makes Religious Zionism necessary, can be sustained without claiming that Hashem miraculously intervened to create the state, and that we can deny miraculous intervention without stripping either the state or Jewish History in general of meaning.
When G-d exiles the Jews, he places us in a condition known as hester panim, hiding of the face [though He is indeed omnipotent and is capable of affecting what he wants in Creation, He limits Himself, by contract, with us and Creation {in Bereshit}]. He makes us subject to a lesser degree of Providence. Perhaps we deserved worse - perhaps He should have watched over us and made sure we never gained sovereignty again, or at least until we fully repented. But He chose not to, and this is cause for gratitude.
Furthermore, that we live in a time of hester panim does not prevent us from correctly feeling that we owe G-d gratitude for all the good things that happen to us, and our gratitude is greater for jackpot lottery tickets than for found dimes..
And statehood is not merely a national jackpot lottery ticket - it is qualitatively different. The greatest gift Hashem ever gave us was the Torah, and more than anything else, statehood enables us to truly experience, and hopefully fulfill, the responsibilities of the Torah. For me, the attraction of aliyah has never been the sanctity of the Land but rather the realization that halakhah can only be real when it relates to a society and not merely to individuals, when it must make possible police and industry and social order.
If we live up to these responsibilities, and bring the Messiah, he will have less to do when he comes - but in this view the state is in no sense Messianic. It merely affords a perhaps greater chance for our community to become Messianic.
And In this view we can judge the state not by its virtue relative to the past, or to the ideal, but as it stands. Here I recollect Rav Lichtenstein\ normally an outwardly controlled person, shouting in the midst of his sichah the shabbat after Operation Solomon, the Ethiopian airlift -
ועור אטום הוא הרי היום המדינה בזכות מכיר שאינו מי כל !
We can celebrate the mere fact that we have more opportunity to exercise our responsibilities than we have had for several thousand years. And we can celebrate the extent to which we have lived up to them, even as we acknowledge that we have not yet merited the end of hester panim.

I think he's echoing similar voices current in modern Orthodoxy that themselves seem to be reapproachments (finally!!!), towards classic Mizrachi thought - such as that of R. Reines and others, before the onset of Messianic Religious Zionism;

[the Zionist idea] "carries no note whatever of the idea of redemption, nor does it in any way touch anything that relates to it. In all the actions and endeavors of the Zionists, there is no hint of the future redemption...Ramban did not intend to say that conquest [of Eretz Yisrael] by war is a positive command, for the people of Israel stand under oath through all the days of exile to keep far from a planned rebellion and trespass, heaven forbid..."
(Sharei Orah veSimchah, pp.12-13, p.36)

Granted certain qualifications I believe R. Reines would give at least some weight to, in light of what God has allowed that we achieve. Note also R. Yehudah Henkin's "The Strength to Repent" on the place of even pagan kings over Israel and God Blessing whom He Blesses.

Morality, Torah & "How Now Shall We Live?"
I've had that passage from Yehezkel (33:10) lodged in my grey matter for years, it has come to fore this Ellul in my own life and in the greater setting of the Observant community I've been in, and how they've reacted to ongoing problems, intrinsic and incidental (Rubashkin, the abuse scandals, the NJ/Deal money laundering, Charedim in Israel, the current Non-Jewish worlds, Torah and the various sciences, historical consciousness, etc). I've added to my blog/link roll R. Aryeh Klapper and the Center for Modern Torah Leadership, as well as a link to lectures from R. Adam Mintz.

R. Aryeh Klapper raised some compelling questions for me during recent Yomei Iyun on whether Halacha needs some coordination with empirical reality. He elsewhere goes on to ask questions I couldn't have asked better myself - because I don't have smicha and can only blog in ignorance and silence, rather than have the requisite knowledge and skill to both ask questions and begin to answer them;

What should I do when my best and most honest reading of halakhic texts contradicts my deepest sense of right and wrong? Can I relate with reverence to talmudic rhetoric that, if used by a contemporary, would fill me with disgust or outrage? What should I think when I am intellectually convinced by historical or philosophic positions that seem to contradict significant elements of Jewish tradition?

Torah is the standard by which values must be judged, yet a person without values cannot properly interpret Torah. If Torah cannot anchor us against the winds and tides of moral fads, what use is Torah? And yet—how can we know that “Do not murder” is the norm, and “Erase the memory of Amalek” the problematic exception, unless we approach Torah with a prior unshakeable commitment to the value of all human life?

I have struggled with these questions since high school and emerged with an enhanced but clear-eyed commitment to and appreciation for halakha and rabbinic tradition. In that process nothing challenged my faith more than finding teachers who were afraid of difficult religious questions or whose character made it hard to believe that Torah improved the world. Nothing strengthened my faith more than friends and teachers who faced religious challenges without flinching, and whose character embodied Torah at its best—but they were all too rare.

...And for those very highlighted portions that give me chizzuk, I have issues. I lack peers and friends to even share on these issues. Many of them also kowtow to the very same Torah ideologies and ideologues responsible for such crises of faith and reason that have claimed some of their children. I know many Modern Orthodox rabbis and baalei batim who are also losing their children and communities to these very same morally problematic ideologies and figures and institutions they disagree with - and the dominant response is the making of appeals to 'tolerance', in the very face of the fact that the centrist Orthodox (and even to a degree the "Yeshivish Modern"), are in the minority and are themselves the ones being tolerated - at best. They now, through the deep hack of Charedi ideology, are the ones now "dissenting" from this NEW "historical" 'normative' Torah Judaism.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rav Soloveitchik and The World
I'm beginning to realise that one of my main bones of contention with 'modern' orthodoxy and orthodoxy is the conviction of the individual as self-constitutive, as 'making oneself', the individual. I believe we are human only as a result of contact and conviviality with what is not human; our perception, our beliefs our theories and the world that is around us, of nature and man. I believe there are other...beings. Why do I feel so strange articulating that? I cringe at the words of The Rav about the 'dead matter' of the world, of the "making oneself" - that's awful lonely. And it explains a lot from someone who authored, reflecting on religion in the Now..."The Lonely Man of Faith".

Prophecy and The Words of Prophets
Abarbanel on Jeremiah [Yermiayahu] 49:16. Powerful suggestion
for Sifrei Avot [and here]. Even more extrapolation from R. Shlomo Fisher here.

The prophets [other than Moses] perceived the general puport
of the matter communcated to them by the Holy One - Blessed
be He - and then related and wrote it down in their own
language. Hence when they perceived similiar matters, they
sometimes couched them in the very words that they saw in the
prophecies of other prophets, with which they were familiar.
...Isaiah said "For my strength and my song is Yah, the Lord;
and he has been my deliverance," - a line derived from [Moses']
Song at the Sea (Exod 15:2) ....Not that prophecies came to
[later prophets] in the same wording as to Moses our teacher
and in his degree; rather they perceived matters [in a general
sense] and on their own couched them in the language of verses
with which they were familiar. So [is the case of] this prophecy
of Jeremiah, which he couched in the language of Obadiah.
[Trans. by Moshe Greenberg]

LWMO Engagements With Biblical Criticism

-R. Adam Mintz, "A Critical and Historical Approach to The Study of The Bible"

-Moshe Halbertal, "Torah From Heaven - Rabbinic Interpretations of Sinai"

-Panel discussion with some interesting speakers (R. Shalom Carmy, Dr. Lawrence Schiffman, Zelig Aster, etc), on Biblical Criticism all from Orthodox perspectives - but some with interesting suggestions.

-James Kugel. "Can the Torah Make its Peace With Modern Biblical Scholarship?". Blogger reviews from Google. A common complain is that they see Kugel as having led them to a philosophical position, whereby an integral belief is held to be defensible, but they want it to compelling, and also the culture-bound nature of Kugel's claim (one shared about R. Breuer); that aside from a philosophically-undefended predisposition to accept the idea of Revelation, nothing compels such a belief. But I think there is a precise strength in that position; that exact "predisposition" is what defines the Jewish people as the "culture" of boundedness! More significant that any proof he offers for BibCrit - whether valid or not - is the lived presence of his faith in Revelation, not in the face of, but apart from Bib Crit, a faith which of course is shared by those who do not agree with Biblical Criticism.

As usual, I give my caveat that I don't present these fragments as statements of belief in Bib Crit - I have my own resolution which, though not complete, I think to be consistant, faithful and reasonable. One frustration I have is that, among those lay people who claim to be Orthodox and adherents of Biblical Criticism, to a person, I have not heard a one of them, not once, propose or defend any way in which Torah comes from God. They are ready, able and willing to articulate the human part of this "divine communication", but agnostic about the Other participant...the frustration I have with Academics who claim to believe in BibCrit, Torah and observance is that they, almost to a person, write their 'reconciliations' almost exclusively in Hebrew.

It's one thing to take the position that critical scholarship proves itself logically and consistantly as the most reasonable explanation for the Torah text before us, and come to some faith resolution - at least that can be argued about. But quite another is the frequent, blanket acceptance of divergent, competing empirically-based, critical theories and suggestions (on the part of formerly-Orthodox people), on Biblical scholarship - simply because they are made by academics - who are held to be of quasi-religious authority specifically because they are not rabbis, and are unwilling to make theological statements of faith from their scholarship (though some are willing to make negative faith claims for their scholarship). It's almost an obfuscation of the concept of Daas Torah and "Elu v'Elu" - as if many secular "prophets" combine different voices to make one "text" - all receiving the imprimatur of "reason" and "critical scholarship" - and are thus not esteemed for a shared but contentious discourse - but are treated as if they're in blanket accord!!! "Divrei Elokim Haim" becomes "Divrei Critical Analysis" - where the only 'halacha' that is followed is that "Torah is in substance and essence a human creation". How would academics of Bible - who adamantly do not harbor a conviction that their empirical conclusions are Divinely supra-rational and transcend contradiction, regard this?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

.:atmosphere.peter murphy.trent reznor:.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

By The People, For The People
People speak of the Greatest Generation, not so common is discussed the unspoken assumption to invest time and self and even life as central to what made them The Greatest. That era spawned the re/birth of the Civil Air Patrol, the Coast Guard Auxiliary and the State Defense Forces, citizen volunteer capacities in which uniformed civilians gave of self and time during war, reconstruction and disaster, for the defense and welfare of the United States, without expansionism, "empire building" or regime change abroad. These bodies evidenced one of the most powerful concepts from Torah (one among many ingrained in the founding and perpetuation of America, just as the administration of Israel down from Sinai was comprised of many antecedents in laws, government, etc), the Citizen Soldier - where the fullest body of Israel was obligated in civil defense, and was expressly diverted away from standing armies. more later.

The Carrie [Prejean] Effect
Old news, but I believe still worth discussing, considering the near-inevitability of government-backed recognition of Same-Sex unions as marriage. As a selectively-libertarian (lower case), Libertarian, I agree on individuals and communities living as they see fit with limited government intervention - and most importantly, without infringing on other individuals. As a result, I question the government sanctioning of all marriage partnerships as institutions; mutual CONTRACT makes a marriage (also video of author here).
That being said, I cautiously offer this interesting quote in an otherwise-predictable conservative/Republican piece in National Review;

"Cultures that can no longer perceive anything special about unions of a husband and wife will succumb to those that do [i.e., religious the author!]. The future belongs to civilizations that commit substantial energy to generativity...Once our government is committed to the idea that two men in a loving union are a marriage, there will be no retreat from that idea in the public square. Marriage will mean adults in love, not children in need."

The Culture Wars, like them or not, include battles on many fronts that no one wants to fight - but battles that are indeed pushed on all of us. Here, Islamicist regimes will clearly prevail amidst democracies with shrinking birthrates, utter lack of collective sense of purpose and mission (next post?), and any concept of family and society that spans generations and binds them, bridging the past and the future.

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