Monday, April 26, 2010

Nine times out of ten...
...the coarse word is the word that condemns an evil and the refined word the word that excuses it.
-Chesterton, The Victorian Age in Literature

In darkness of recent events - and yes [x50] these things don't typify authority in the observant Jewish world - I just wanted to reiterate the importance of occasional outbursts of anti-authoritarian punk rock (Rollins remake in honor of the West Memphis 3);

And if my above admission of atypical nature of these individuals and events is still not enough and earns me a "Don't judge Torah Judaism by Torah Jews", I direct you here and more recently here for additional context.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Rav Kook on Heresy
From David Guttman;
When one speculates about God without [secular] knowledge and without Torah, one develops in one’s mind a dark image, full of emptiness and confusion. When that person now turns to divine worship based on this previous empty concept, man slowly loses the splendor of his existence, because he becomes attached to empty and confused ideas. When this goes on for several generations, it is inevitable for Kefirah to show itself culturally[1] with the goal of eradicating the memory of God and all the trappings of God worship. But ultimately, what is it eradicating? It is eradicating nonsensical and hopeless ideas that truly interfere between man and the light of the true God. It is upon these destroyed ruins trampled by Kefirah, that God’s supreme wisdom builds its temple!
(Shemona Kevatzim volume 1, page 31).

Newly-Published Rav Kook; Religion
From here (my emphasis);
The fact that God is perceived only through religion has caused the world to fall into the lowest depths. God should be known from all of life, from all of existence [specifically not, seemingly, only as a result of having applied religion, i.e., mitzvot, to life to "kasher" it], and thus He will be known in all of life and in all of existence. Religion is a means to aid one in attune one's actions, traits, emotions, external and internal social order, in a manner that will enable life and existence to attain the knowledge of God. God is revealed from within religion only to the extent to which religion itself is hewn from that which is above religion. "Religion" is the proper name used by every nation and tongue, but not so among Israel. The "living Torah" is not religion alone; our living Torah is Divine revelation, which is revealed from within it as from within all of existence. The Torah and existence, in being one, reveal God in life, within the individual and the collective soul. The holy and the profane are divided from the perspective of religion. Religion places guards over matters of sanctity, while leaving profane matters alone. This is necessarily a concept that comes from religion. [But in the living Torah,] God is revealed from within everything, from within the holy and from within the profane.
(Kevatzim Mi-Ketav Yad Kodsho, vol. 2, pinkas ha-dapim 1, p. 59, par. 20)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Self-inflicted Dhimmitude in lieu of Captors

A further take on the use of perpetuated, "unexpurgated" unredacted views of - and in this case from - non-Jewish neighbors and the consequences for self-definition. Bat Ye'or, renown scholar on Dhimmitude;

The civilization of dhimmitude does not develop all at once. It is a long process that involves many elements and a specific conditioning. It happens when peoples replace history by myths, when they fight to uphold these destructive myths, more than their own values because they are confused by having transformed lies into truth. They hold to those myths as if they were the only guarantee of their survival, when, in fact, they are the path to destruction. Terrorized by the evidence and teaching of history, those peoples preferred to destroy it rather than to face it. They replace history with childish tales, thus living in amnesia.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Rambam, Reward & Punishment
Twix boyscout commercial

G MySpace Video

I remembered this commercial the first time I'd heard it argued that Rambam did not believe in reward or punishment as generally understood by Chazzal (for now, just the link to Kellner);

-Comes David Guttman to take Rambam & The Things That Cometh After along his route.

-Aish, however has 'cleared' things up a bit in what is billed as an exposition on Rambam's 13 Principles), by stating that indeed, a soul cannot receive reward or punishment in an afterlife, nor a body, so only literally conjoined can there be something called reward. Nor is it even hinted how, or if, the 'other' 99.5% of humanity (non-Jews), are rewarded without bodies, since from time immemorial it was established that (presumably from the time of Sinai), they do not receive a full reward for their deeds, nor do they experience Tehiat haMaitim (not discussed in the Aish piece, but roundly accepted; see Way of God - Derech Hashem, Feldheim Torah Classics Edition, p. 416, notes 59-61);

Resurrection signifies that man in his totality, body and soul, is immortal. The relationship of body and soul is like that of a blind man and a lame man (Sanhedrin 91b). The lame man sees delicious fruit in a nearby orchard but can't reach it. The blind man can reach it but doesn't see it. Thus, the lame man instructs the blind man to carry him across the field, with the lame man directing him to the fruit. The blind man happily agrees and anxiously they advance into the orchard and take the fruit.

Soon afterward, the outraged orchard owner appears and begins to question them. The blind man says, "I couldn't have taken the fruit -- I can't see." The lame man says, "I couldn't have taken the fruit -- I can't walk."

The owner thinks a moment and then forces the lame man to hop onto the shoulders of the blind man. Only then, when they are together, has the owner found his culprit, so he beats them both.

Just as there could be no punishment for the lame man alone, there can be no reward or punishment for the soul. Alone, it cannot sin. A soul only sins in its body. Reward and punishment can only apply to the entity that is the person, the body and soul together. Only thus can justice be meted out. The soul cannot enter the World to Come without the body. Is it possible that once the entity of body and soul achieves a place in the World to Come, the body is discarded?

Rambam, however, makes no distinction in these matters between Jews and non-Jews (Menachem Kellner "Maimonides on Judaism and the Jewish People", ch. 4);

Maimonides's discussions of immortality, in his halakhic works as well as in the Guide, simply ignore the whole question of Jews and Gentiles. Immortality, like providence and prophecy, depends on intellectual perfection. Jews have the advantage of the Torah to be sure, making it more likely that they will achieve both moral and intellectual perfection...In principle, however, Jews as such, as opposed to human beings who behave morally and perfect their intellects, have no advantage when it comes to immortality.

To add insult to injury, Aish now leaves up to question whether or not non-Jews have Tzelem Elokim ("of course they do Adam haRishon did and all are from him" - though only Jews are called 'man', and all nations come from Bavel and are further lowered after Sinai happened only for Jews...);

A soul is not an image of God. A body is not an image of God (both of which, it is alleged, non-Jews have). The soul doesn't have free will. Only the two together have free will, only the two together are the image of God.

As I recall, the general response is something like; "Non-Jews receive no eternal reward, their reward is in this world, where they both are both body and soul, and are thus Tzelem Elokim...but nudge-nudge, this world is all they really care about anyways...if you know what I mean"...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Revelation to [Members of] The Nations, Cont'd.

Rav Kook [notes mine];

"Infinity is the mighty foundation of all cultural life in every aspect [1]. The striving to glorify infinity conquers death and wipes tears from all faces."
Arpelei Tohar, p.36

"...and because the connection between the human thought and feelings and the divine, unlimited and highest light must be of many and varied shades, for this reason [2] each and every people has its own distinctive spiritual life" Orot ha Kodesh, vol 3, p.15

"We glorify in the Lord of the Universe who created all of man in His image, in the image of God He created him. Each branch goes its own way, this one to the right, and that to the left, some higher, some lower, but in their essence all will rise to a single place [3], all will transcend, to reform the world in the majesty of God, and all flesh will call on You".
Manuscripts, Small Collection, p.97

Benjamin Ish-Shalom, Rav Avraham Itzhak HaCohen Kook; Between Rationalism and Mysticism, ch.5

1)...Where and what is built from that foundation is obviously another matter...

2) Diversity is intended and not merely accidental nor incidental - there are numerous peoples and paths for this reason, not vice versa (again as is proclaimed by kiruv), any more than Israel emerged its path.

3) Each has its essence through which it will rise; and it is not a temporal, empirical mere "golden rule", a specific doctrine shared by all agree to agree upon in a here in now. The polemicists and apologists for the various religions are correct that a search for a theologically-formulated 'unity' cannot be found among what are the deliverances of the human mind - the source of such a unity is not human. There is a dividing line between faiths drawn by God, beyond which the source and resolution is found - but it is within a domain not navigable by comparison of pluralities, which will evidence and reiterate to the mind the differences and unities more or less obvious. It is through the plurality, via them (through one, via one more precisely) that a unity can be found. But for the most part - to what end? Exoterism is quite reasonably and logically the perspective for the great number - the fullness of reality aside. The first schema on this page is an image that might help (interesting content, but not why I linked it).

Sinai, Moshe Rabbenu and Revelation to [Members of] The Nations
R. Yoel Finkelman;
"What is often downplayed in understanding the notion of revelation is the universalistic element that accompanies the particularistic aspect of Sinai. For a great many Jewish thinkers, it is a mistake to focus exclusively on the fact that only the Jewish people received the Torah. Other nations may not have been present at Sinai, but they, too, are cared for by God, who might, in some way, communicate with them.

Take Rabbi Yehudah Halevi (Rihal) as an example. In his seminal work of Jewish thought, Sefer HaKuzari, he earns himself a well-deserved reputation for focusing on the particularistic side of the coin...Sefer HaKuzari emphasizes the revelation at Sinai as the linchpin of Jewish uniqueness, and as the ultimate source of faith. The Jewish people experienced a mass revelation at Sinai, the kind of revelation that could not be easily denied, either by the people who experienced it or their descendants, who have heard the story of that revelation passed from parent to child over the generations (I:83-86). Other nations have not experienced such revelation, and must make due either with the weaknesses of philosophy or the ineffective rituals they have invented for themselves. And it is not accidental that only the Jewish people experiences such a mass revelation, since only Jews have been blessed with the Inyan HaElohi, the psychological predisposition for spirituality and revelation (I:95). This Inyan HaElohi is passed on genetically from parent to child, and is present only among the Jewish people, who are the only ones who have the potential to receive divine revelation (even if that potential is not always actualized) (I:31-43).
Still, it would be a mistake, I think, to view Rihal as a strict particularist...examine the way Rihal constructs the story in which Sefer HaKuzari is embedded. The text of the book tells us that only Jews can experience prophecy and a genuine attachment to God [revelation does not militate for covenant...]. Yet, the frame story of the book involves a pagan king who receives a prophetic dream and finds himself searching for the truth of God and for higher spiritual meaning. How does that story fit with the claim that only Jews can achieve revelation? One might offer a technical answer to this question. There are extremely low levels of prophecy [why not say "other levels"?..."extremely low" may be R. Finkelman depicting the attitude of the Kuzari, but do texts describing levels of nevuah even speak this way about what comes from God?..], cast-off leftovers of genuine prophecy, that can, on occasion, accidentally [? ] make their way over to [?] gentiles. This is undoubtedly partially correct, but one also gets the impression that Rihal – the poet and master of irony – is hinting at a more universalistic approach in the subtext than he declares in the text.

Rambam, know to be much more of a universalist than Rihal, suggests a similar dialectic, in which some sources about revelation in general, and Sinaitic revelation in particular, point to the uniqueness of the Jewish people, while others point to something more universal...Rambam shares with Rihal the tension between universalism and particularism when analyzing the notion of revelation. Rambam works hard to distinguish Moshe’s prophecy from that of other [Jewish] prophets, which is why “there never has been a Law and there never will be a Law except the one that is the Law of Moses our Master” (Guide II:39) The revelation at Sinai is different from all other ones; it is unique and irreplaceable [this speaks of content, stipulations of a covenant; again, covenant, law prophetic expectations do not exhaust Divine/Human interaction]. In particular, Rambam explains that all other prophets experience prophecy with both their intellects and their imaginations. The intellect allows them to apprehend truths at a higher level, while the imagination allows them to express those truths in a metaphorical or symbolic language that can inspire, educate, and motivate the masses. Yet, explains Rambam, different people in different times and places respond to different metaphors and images (I, II, III). Hence, all prophecy is focused on a particular time, place, and audience. This implies that there is something transitory about prophecy, a position that if applied to the Torah would be in violation of Rambam’s own ninth principle of faith. Hence, explains Rambam,
Moshe prophesied only with his intellect; there was no imaginative [transitory, historicist] element to his
prophecy. Moshe’s prophecy – the very Torah given at Sinai – is eternal, and not time bound (Guide II:35-39; MT, Yesodei HaTorah 7:6).

Furthermore, Rambam (like Rihal) distinguishes between the experience of the Jewish
people at Sinai and the experiences of others who experienced miracles under other circumstances. One never accepts the validity of a self-proclaimed prophet based on his ability to perform miracles. Miracles are a weak proof indeed, since using slight of hand it is so easy for a charlatan to fool others into believing that he has performed a miracle...(Hilkhot Yesodei Hatorah 8:1-2)...
But, in another place, Rambam provides a radically different definition of divine law, one that opens the door for a much more expansive conception of God’s commandments, a conception that could apply even to the traditions of the gentiles. He explains that one can distinguish a divine law from a human law not in terms of its source, but in terms of its function. A human law serves to maintain a stable, safe, and equitable society. This is no easy task, but even when it is achieved successfully it elevates that legal system only to the status of a good and worthy human law. However, when a legal system not only succeeds in maintaining a well-ordered society, but also succeeds in teaching people true beliefs about God and the universe, then it gains the status of a divine law (Guide II:40). There is nothing in this definition that limits the notion of divine law to one particular tradition or nation. Since, according to Rambam, the basic truths of physics and metaphysics can be determined largely by human reason, there is no reason to believe that there is only one law that succeeds in teaching those truths, thereby qualifying as divine, even if that law never reaches the unique level of the revelation to the Jewish people at Sinai.

This might explain in part the willingness of the Rambam to praise Nathanel bar Fayyumi (author of the Bustan al Ukul), as he did, despite the "irrational" and shockingly universalist formulations (according to conventional, 'rationalist' readings of Rambam and traditional, particularist assumptions...), he expressed;

Know then, my brother, that nothing prevents God from sending unto His world whomsoever He wishes whenever He wishes, since the world of holiness sends forth emanations unceasingly from the light world to the coarse world to liberate the souls from the sea of matter — the world of nature — and from destruction in the flames of hell. Even before the revelation of the Law He sent prophets to the nations, as our sages of blessed memory explain, "Seven prophets prophesied to the nations of the world before the giving of the Torah: Laban, Jethro, Balaam, Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar." And again after its revelation nothing prevented Him from sending to them whom He wished that the world might not remain without religion.

But no other people are obligated, via covenant with God, to be a nation like Israel was and is (with their history, from their setting, etc) - and who else had claimed such before Sinai, and who since? No one could be Israel as Israel was, anymore than any child of a parent could claim to be first, second or thirdborn when they were not - the times and contexts that helped constitute the Jewish people are gone; only Israel remains, only their relationships and meanings remain as long as their dialogue continues. No one else, individually or collectively, is obligated as they are to have a relationship like they do - no one else can, by reason or Tradition, be penalized for 'failing' to do what they are neither obligated nor historically able to do (but leave it to much contemporary Orthodoxy to do precisely that in their kiruv and adherence to earlier modes of identity formation I, II, III). This perspective on revelation may also help explain R. Zadok haKohen's views on similarities between Kabbalah, Zohar and gentile esoteric doctrines while insisting on the exclusiveness of what is Jewish and what is Torah [my emph];

The truth is that there is wisdom among the nations of the world, and this is wisdom about the truth [hokhmat ha-emet]. However, that wisdom is not felt in the [Jewish?] heart, and isn't Torah to guide the heart, unlike the Torah of the Jewish people...where the most important thing is the feeling of the heart in the light of God....The account of Creation and the Account of the Chariot and the hidden activities of creatures and all the varieties of the learned wisdom of the Jews are identical with the divine [?...], natural and learned wisdom of the nations of the world, but [the difference between them] is only their flow from the understanding of the heart...I heard that all the wisdom of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in the Zohar they...also knew from the wisdom of the Greeks which was contemporaneous, zeh le-umat zeh, and the sephirot are identical with the ma'ammarot which are known the the masters of logic, only they are perceived through externals, and they are not divrei Torah.
Likutei Amarim (Bnei Brak; 1973), p.109.

-p. 114, Sokol, Moshe. "Theoretical Grounds for Tolerance in the Jewish Tradition", Tolerance, Dissent and Democracy: Philosophical, Historical andHalakhic Perspectives, Moshe Sokol, ed. Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Chazzal and Social Sciences III
From a previous post on this theme;
The closest we have to a description of humanity after Tanach is nowhere near a thorough, empirical science; there is Jew and non-Jew.

R. Alan Brill has written on Jewish Orthodox perception of culture through the lenses of most all of contemporary Orthodoxy - which is to say, for the most part, 19th Century Protestant frameworks - regardless of the nature, degree or depth of secular education;

Despite widespread acceptance in college-educated [Gentile] circles
of Peter Berger's functional (and Clifford Geertz's interpretive) cultural framework, theories of Torah u-Madda continue to use nineteenth century understandings.

Even where, and as, Orthodox Jews immerse themselves in these and other frameworks. For example, Charedim who experience college or send their kids through such systems are quite proud of how stringently Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design are adhered to - regardless of the high grades such kids frequently make in their non-Jewish studies! Grades are frequently taken as an assent and understanding of the ideas being taught and graded. There is a conscious bifurcation where Jews are patterned as, in the Charedi case, creating nothing, consuming, perpetuating and manifesting only Torah and Torah values - and in the "modern" case only adopting "the best of what [gentile] culture has to offer". but clearly, by all modern concepts of 'culture' - there is Jewish culture! But unto themselves, it seems there are Jews and Gentiles - and Gentile "culture"...

For example, a recent work of Modern Orthodox historical theology is entitled Judaism's Encounter with Other Cultures: Rejection or Integration. The book assumes that culture is produced by the surrounding non-Jewish society: non-Jews produce culture whether philosophy, medicine, literature, or entertainment, and Jews can decide to accept or reject it. The book does not assume that Judaism itself exists within, arises from, and can produce culture. Goyim have the cultural problems that need to be solved, and therefore they create philosophy, social structure, healing techniques, professional achievements, or poetics. Jews on the other hand, are acceptors or rejecters of this culture: Jews can only choose whether or not to internalize this external knowledge; they are not among the producers...

While denying the intensity and significance of influences on Orthodoxy, the breadth of Orthodoxies that engage modernity have utilized a model that is thoroughly non-Jewish and significantly out of date;

Culture is not outside of Judaism but is the very plane into which Judaism is manifest. There is no pristine autonomous essence of Judaism outside of culture. If we consider Hirsch's model of Torah and general culture, in which culture is outside Judaism, we find that his theory was only reflective of a specific moment in history, during which Jews submitted to Western culture and formulated a nineteenth-century form of Judaism, in which the Torah is considered outside culture (unlike the integrated forms of medieval Jewish culture). However, rejecting philosophy and culture is itself a cultural decision, not an outside-culture decision. A religion of faith without culture is a nineteenth-century Protestant vision of religion, in which the secular reason of modern culture is opposed to a salvation through a faith that rejects culture. The nineteenth century theological vision rejecting culture was not historically accurate concerning sixteenth century Protestants and certainly it was not true for Jewish cultures before the nineteenth century. They projected this dichotomy onto the birth of sixteenth century Protestantism and claimed that Protestant faith was always against culture. Modern Orthodoxy has adopted a Protestant division between faith and culture. This modern dualism is projected by nineteenth-century Jewish ideology onto the past of Jewish history, postulating that obedience to Judaism stemmed from uncultured simple Jews following a mimetic tradition, while philosophic understandings of Judaism, including those of Maimonides, grew out of alien influence of a foreign culture. However, Aristotelian philosophy is not outside Judaism; in fact, according to Maimonides' own self-understanding, specified sections of [Greek] metaphysics are the essence of Judaism.

On the part of Modern Orthodoxy, the perception, again, is that Jews don't do their own culture - they've had only what is portable, what is transmittable - and ultimately, if all else fails us, we have only Torah. Thus we can always "count" on Torah-only approaches, even if we don't abide them. We need not fear the hegemony of Charedi hashgafot and ways of life, since we can always agree on their kashrut. All who call themselves orthodox would seem to by default agree that Torah is the only thing "Jewish" - is anything else really ephemeral and irrelevant unless it can be determined to lead to a mitzvah or an averah?...Still writing this.

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