Monday, March 15, 2010

Chazzal and Social Sciences, cont.

If I am I
because you are you
and you are you because I am I,

then I am not I and you are not you.
However, if I am I because I am I,
and you are you because you are you,
then I am indeed I and you are indeed you

-Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk.

I had seen the above adage, with which I was familiar, hanging in a basement shul where I live. I'd seen it after a week of perusing a fascinating previously-posted book, "Jewish Identity in Early Rabbinic Writings" by R. Dr. Sacha Stern. A central theme of the book is that Jewish identity is profoundly and deeply wed to Jewish identification of non-Jewish identity - occasionally frightening in it's detailed, xenophobia and incongruity with empirical realia.

But considering the sanctity of the sources presenting this self-identification by whom one is not (Mishna, Gemara, Codes...Rabbinic Judaism), and the standing of The Kotzker, who must reconcile with the concepts behind the source material to not only be 'frum', but to claim any authoritative continuity with Judaism - it can't but mean precisely what it means; I and You in his formulation can only make sense as a Jew-to-Jew encounter. But what does it mean for descendants of Rabbinic Judaism, who in some ways have seemingly not been who they 'are' since at least Chorban Beit haMikdash, when non-Jews have not been "Rome", when Israel have been in a world of people who identify in as numerous ways as they number, not as "Edom" or (later), "Ishmael"?..

As I have finally had to come to terms with the aftermath of multiple earthquakes in the Jewish world, living with observant Jews of different philosophies - seeing this quote from the Kotzker on a wall was a un-welcomed reassertion of the cognitive dissonance between who may be a 'you' and who an 'I' in the modern exchange of an ancient faith fighting its own Divinely-Guided evolution in HKBH's world; this quote can only seem to presume a Jew/Jew exchange as You/I exchange - because if it accommodates a Jew/Non-Jew exchange as You/I exchange, it risks a universalism that does not sound faithful to Chazzal as we have them, as we interpret them.
I hope to do some future post that offers some reconciliation - based largely on Heschel and other non-'Orthodox' sources, as I'm not familiar with too many Orthodox authors who integrate their knowledge and acceptance of historical scholarship with their fealty to Judaism as a unified system of thought, belief and deed.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Chazzal and Social Sciences
Can a Judaism that claims to result from Rabbinic Judaism - have an anthropology, have a view of humanity at large, if the Rabbis did not have something we can call an anthropology? the closest we have to a description of humanity after Tanach is nowhere near a thorough, empirical science; there is Jew and non-Jew ("Jewish Identity in Early Rabbinic Writings", by R. Dr. Sacha Stern). As such, in the Jewish Canon after Tanach, there are very few instances of discretion between different ethnic and cultural groups, other than Jews and Gentiles, Us and Them. As Stern discusses, there is clear disregard (III.5.B), of the parameters of empirical observation in this, the closest we have to a Jewish social science from them - where at least in the hard sciences we could argue following Rambam, Avraham ben Rambam et al (as is done in the "Rabbi Slifkin" rationalist camp). Here, evaluation is base on the passing down of parameters that are fixed, as the non-Jews around them change - from the 2nd Temple period, changing in good part due to Jewish presence in the world, a 'science' that relied more on Mesorah than on verification. Phrased in that way, how dissimilar is it to the many pseudo-sciences lambasted by "Science and Torah" advocates? How might they respond?

Perhaps we should treat this situation like many want to treat the "Hard Sciences" of the Rabbis - discount their "social" sciences as well. Would this reduce "Halachic" Judaisms to mere language games? But of course, as apologists are want to say regarding incongruity between facts and halacha;

"DON'T WORRY... all halachic decisions deriving from this cultural language game are abrogated by current legal decision, they're not learned, let alone lived...and are definitely set aside in terms of pikuach nefesh"...

Excepting of course when it requires that Jews must live certain charades of the Rabbinic hard and soft sciences to their own neurotic relationships with empirical reality. Note how much this process and response has brought Observant Jewry to a footing shared with classical Conservative Judaism! This religion is definitely not for everyone.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Prof. Aharon Shear Yashuv

His father was in the Waffen SS. Was m'giyur with a bet din consisting of Jakob Petuchowski (HUC), David Hartman ('Orthodox') and Yochanan Muffs of (JTS). A Conscientious Objector in Germany - a Major in Zahal. Hosted by the Conservative Yeshiva in Israel.

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