Friday, December 31, 2010

I LOVE these stories, love Yitta Halberstam's books, I admit it. In general, they're based largely on research and verification, to the extent possible with such stories, and include those of the authors. The more I read such stories, truly, the more invigorated I am in my belief that God Cares, that our lives matter and He acts in this world, by whatever means.
What I do not appreciate, and never have, is the shoulder-patting "let me tell you a story" chizzukh, where the story teller is trying to give you not a factual example from life, or anyone's life, of Divine engagement with the world, of a world of meaning - but a religious or belief affirmation wrapped in a fictional tale in the psychological quasi-"story teller" tradition. Many Chassidim believe such stories, as taught by Reb Nachman for example, are some form of revelation (I have no idea why others would feel compelled to accept this). Such variations on the "therapeutic value of story telling" are fine for Baby Boomers and toddlers, but are truly lost on a generation that doubts there's any truth-claim value to religious affirmations at all - or that arguments for such affirmations can be even reasonably defensible. We have enough trouble believing that what is true is true - we do not need 'wondering' sages telling us that what is not true is true...or even more true than the truth...with a hug, cholent and contrived Old World accented Yiddishisms. They only feed the postmodern condition and subtly suggestion the adoption of fideism, the last refuge of a Judaism left defenseless by the cultural excesses and detachment from reality of the 60s, in pursuit of "higher truths" that were so often pipe/bong dreams.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

REPOST; Sept. 9, 2009
Morality, Torah & "How Now Shall We Live?"

I've had that passage from Yehezkel (33:10) lodged in my gray 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/organ-trafficking, 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? [and would probably garner ridicule from an inattentive Gemara rebbe] 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 unshakable 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 - secular and religious - and the dominant response is the making of appeals to 'tolerance', in the very face of the fact that the centrist Orthodox...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.

I realized at precisely 3AM this morning that I am a "Frier" (Israeli slang for pushover, milquetoast, exploited by others - often with unusual relish by the formerly-exploited), only an authority and source of information for irrelevant, inexperienced, unchallenged experiential data on irrelevant, untested or outmoded information - much of which we'll just call Judaism. It's simply irrelevant - even primitive in comparison. ALL OF IT. And before I go further - "Judaism" simply does not take in Israel and all things Israeli - as close to the Jewish heart as they may be, they are Israel and Israeli things - they're their own grown beasts now, something Olim and potential Olim learn very quickly.

And at the same time, I'm just the obverse for religious Jewry; I am an am haaretz - a source of irrelevant, untested beliefs, suppositions and perspectives from "the goyim".

Olim experience difficulties - once they've sufficiently acculturated not to embarrass themselves in Israel, when they visit America. Neither is their home. Coming to Torah at the time and place I did, had JUST this effect on me. Due to family circumstances and personal experience, I had difficulty with the drinking, drugs and promiscuity of college, and thus survived with a measure of innocence intact. Coward...I had a responsibility to beat and pimp on the street my innocence, but didn't - and would you believe I actually suffer for it? Of course you would! Because you, reader, don't exist. I then foolishly craved proximity to Torah and the Divine, and thus moved to a bigger city than where I grew up and again didn't quite acculturate to IT'S ways, THEN I became religious at what is actually a LATE age, rendering me useless for everyone except as aforementioned font of neb-ness. Fucking prove me wrong. There, my first profanity in 7 years of blogging. Prove to me anyone sophisticated in anything finds me sophisticated in anything to be called sophisticated (and religion, to put it lightly, does not count). That anyone worldly and an insider to anything finds me a worldly insider in anything.

I'm this 'old', and manage to get out-sophisticated and "worldly"-ied by coeds, on knowledge and experiences that are truly useless in the short and long term. Long term shlong term. What's now is what matters, money, power, drugs, sex. Challenge me this isn't how the world works. Even the 'religious' we see how riddled with wormholes and canals made by the flow and spread of the aforementioned Gang of Four.

The world is not run by and does not run on missionaries and converts as in times gone by, to ideologies and religions; it is run by matured, settled ethnic and subcultural, socio-religious/socio-secular enclaves that were indeed born of converts - as with Judaism - that then grew to 'adulthood' - as with the modern State of Israel, as with regnant Jewish Orthodoxy. I see in this an interesting way Jews have yet again influenced the world by introducing the concept of "ger", and then rendering it meaningless - Israel in introducing the concept of Oleh and homeland for Jews and in the end created "Israelis" and a homeland for them (many of whom, despite Jewish lineage and language, are not Jewish and have no interest in being so...), and then rendering it meaningless - with cruel, self-assured, self-defined pride. And GOD WATCHES ON.

All are struggling to form collective identities that exclude, to which you "just won't understand", can't understand, can't "convert" and be authentic, cannot belong. Even evangelical christianity has fomented an AMERICANism to itself, such that Southern Baptist missions exist in...Outer Mongolia?...AND GOD WATCHES can say religion offers transcendence from these enclaves, crosses such borders and aims everyones eyes skyward - but religion, Judaism in particular, is largely responsible for feeding them the delusion that identity and enclave have Transcendent significance and meaning...for example, once you say "a people chosen by God" - over time once a rubric forms in the aftermath, it's easy to let go of "by God"; once you put "flesh" and "sanctity" in the same sentence - even if you say "the flesh is sanctified by marriage - now you two kids go have fun" - you've left the door open for the notion that 'marriage' needn't be there at all. and why just "you two kids"?...

I took two Benedryl over an hour ago, and not a bit of drowsiness.Sleep, sleep, please come to me, and this time - I beg you God - take my soul and FINALLY leave an empty shell. God comfort my family and friends, and let the blog slip into the anonymity of the internet like every thought and hope and prayer I've ever made to You. You. AND GOD WATCHES ON. Just watches?...God, fucking prove me wrong. I beseech you.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Temple Grandin; Thought and Physics

Pertinent to constructive, focused thought, feeling and in a sense prayer, and their effect on the world of action;
In all the years I have worked in slaughter plants, I have intuitively felt that I must never misbehave near the kill chute. Doing something bad, like mistreating an animal, could have dire consequences. An entangled subatomic particle could get me. I would never even know it, but the steering linkage in my car could break if it contained the mate to a particle I disturbed by doing something bad. To many people this belief may be irrational, but to my logical mind it supplies an idea of order and justice to the world.
My belief in quantum theory was reinforced by a series of electrical outages and equipment breakdowns that occurred when I visited slaughter plants where cattle and pigs were being abused. The first time it happened, the main power transformer blew up as I drove up the driveway. Several other times a main power panel burned up and shut down the plant. In another case, the main chain conveyor broke while the plant manager screamed obscenities at me during an equipment startup. He was angry because full production was not attained in the first five minutes. Was it just chance, or did bad karma start a resonance in an entangled pair of subatomic particles within the wiring or steel? These were all weird breakdowns of things that usually never break. It could be just random chance, or it could be some sort of cosmic consciousness of God.
Many neuroscientists scoff at the idea that neurons would obey quantum theory instead of old everyday Newtonian physics. The physicist Roger Penrose, in his book the Shadows of the Mind, and Dr. Stuart Hameroff, a Tucson physician, state that movement of single electrons within the microtubules of the brain can turn off consciousness while allowing the rest of the brain to function. If quantum theory really is involved in controlling consciousness, this would provide a scientific basis for the idea that when a person or animal dies, an energy pattern of vibrating entangled particles would remain. I believe that if souls exist in humans, they also exist in animals, because the basic structure of the brain is the same. It is possible that humans have greater amounts of soul because they have more microtubules where single electrons could dance, according to the rules of quantum theory.
However, there is one thing that completely separates people from animals. It is not language or war or toolmaking; it is long-term altruism. During a famine in Russia, for example, scientists guarded the seed bank of plant genetics so that future generations would have the benefits of genetic diversity in food crops. For the benefit of others, they allowed themselves to starve to death in a lab filled with grain. No animal would do this. Altruism exists in animals, but not to this degree....

I do not believe that my profession is morally wrong. Slaughtering is not wrong, but I do feel very strongly about treating animals humanely and with respect. I've devoted my life to reforming and improving the livestock industry. Still, it is a sobering experience to have designed one of the world's most efficient killing machines. Most people don't realize that the slaughter plant is much gentler than nature. Animals in the wild die from starvation, predators, or exposure. If I had a choice, I would rather go through a slaughter system than have my guts ripped out by coyotes or lions while I was still conscious. Unfortunately, most people never observe the natural cycle of birth and death. They do not realize that for one living thing to survive, another living thing must die.
Thinking in Pictures, pp.200-202

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"He Said he Wanted Five Daughters...
...named for the expressions of happiness;
Gila, Rinah, Ditza, Hedva...and Ahava".
Ariel Avrech Memorial Lecture, 2010 (his parents do the fantastic Seraphic Press blog), Dennis Prager. I so need to give serious heed to this counsel. I am on my way to surrendering to despair, of the dimensional variety. I can no longer fend off the intuition that I will pass with no one to say kaddish for me. Screw intuition - time to pull a 180 a la "Prager" - whether happiness is a mitzvah or not, I'm taking something of Ariel's dream for mine.

Monday, December 27, 2010

C.S. Lewis; Foreshadowings of Jesus,
"The Suffering Servant" and Israel
C.S. Lewis and to some degree the Early Church as well as Tolkien and others propose that "myth", or more particularly particular myths - of a dying and reborn "Corn God" of virgin birth, etc, foreshadow the historical occurance of Jesus, the non-mythical, the myth become fact. I'd like to shortly attempt a presentation of Israel as being the fulfillment of this myth; the Body of Israel, Yaakov become Israel versus Jesus becoming Israel, his claims to fulfilling all the law, etc, as he is all observant as Israel is, etc. We'll see.

Robert Pollack & R. Adin Steinsaltz; Purpose Praise and Prayer
From here;
The Lord, who has existed before time and the universe began, created both time and the universe in order to have, in time, creatures—the word means things created—with free will, who could then choose to say thanks for their and the world’s existence. For thanks to be proper and meaningful—the proper form of thanks is to bless the Lord—these creatures would need absolute free will to choose whether or not to do so.

Hence the unavoidability of randomness, accidents, and for that matter evil in religious terms: all must be allowed to result, whether by the wrong human choice or by truly random occurrence, because to allow any to be preventable by pre-determining human choice, would be to gut the purpose of the Creation. The absolute requirement of human free will in this religious vision shifts human choice into the foreground, and mechanisms of natural selection which yield a person who can make the unexpected choice into the background.
This line of argument is articulated beautifully in Adin Steinsaltz’s book The Strife of the Spirit, in the essay “Fate, Destiny and Free Will.” I had not yet read his essay when he and I first talked about these matters. I had just read an earlier article by Richard Dawkins, and was quite astounded by his capacity to reduce religious thought to an especially successful kind of ideational parasite. Rabbi Steinsaltz’s answer was to give me a reference to his essay, with the passing remark: “The Lord says, ‘Get Me a thinking creature, I don’t care how.’”

From that religious perspective, natural selection would be a wholly natural mechanism which would eventually yield creatures with the capacity to propagate ideas, but also the capacity to exercise free will, that is, to make a
choice of thought or action that is totally free of utility in terms of natural selection, either in the mental or in the physical sphere.

I think R. Steinsaltz remark is even more rich than it appears; Homo Sapiens Sapiens do more than 'merely' think - or analyze and sit about, being thankful via the rational 'arts' and sciences of philosophy, rhetoric and the sciences (oh, and watch also the interview here). In thinking, humans believe - and do so irrationally, as well as ways orthogonal to reason (which Dr. Pollack seems to completely ignore as a concept in the audio lecture; not sure if it's a matter of being in biology versus mathematics, as with Dr. Aumann) - we also obey, create, feel, hate, murder, rationalize, remember, repress, regret, etc, etc., - not merely "do X,Y and Z", nor even A-to-Z - but reflect on the decisions to do so and create whole grammars, whole languages, not merely linear processes and logic statements but also poetry, prose and lies and so much more; speak them, communicate statements and sharing reasonings, experiences, etc. I don't think all of these are variations on 'thinking' and resultant thanksgiving (Aleinu l'shabeach) - which, in line with the posts today, is prayer.

We are made for [at least one form of] prayer, human history randomly occuring such that an Israel comes to do so as corporate prayer (after 974 previous, random-selecting attempts at a Corporate Israel...), and the universe such as it is, within and over and time and space - that we do so, and teach mankind to do likewise.

More Polkinghorne on Prayer and Physics
Because I believe that there is an interconnectivity in things (holism again), I believe that alignment can have consequences for third parties also. In more conventional language, we offer our wills to be aligned with the divine will. A metaphor I often use is that of laser light. What gives laser light its unusual effectiveness is that it is what the physicists call "coherent". That means that the waves making up the light are all in step. All the crests come together and add up, and all the troughs come together and add down, to the maximum effect. Light that is incoherent has waves out of step; crests and troughs can coincide and cancel each other out. I believe that divine and human coherence in prayer is genuinely instrumental; it can make things possible that would not be so if we and God were at cross-purposes. Two consequences follow from this. One is that prayer is not a substitute for action, but a spur to it. If my elderly neighbor is tiresomely repetitious in the telling of the stories of his youth, I do not absolve myself from the responsibility of patiently listening yet again simply by praying for him. The second consequence of this picture of petitionary prayer is that it makes sense of an intuition we have that corporate prayer is a good idea - that it is appropriate to encourage many people to pray for the same thing. This is not because there are more fists beating on the heavenly door, but because there are more wills to be aligned with the divine will.
Serious Talk J. C. Polkinghorne p.88

Jews are obligated in communal prayer, ritual, etc., within designated times (using time as it were), ensuring that such corporate prayer and acts are engaged in simultaneously by many (in most given time zones). A basic assumption is that tefillot are offered in replacement for the thanksgiving offerings (korbanot), made in the Beit HaMikdash. Like the korbanot, Shemonei Esrei is circumscribed - we don't compose them ourselves, but the intention is our composition, as with an orchestra and a piece of music. But unlike the korbanot, Shemonei Esrei is largely petitionary. Given all this, what could be meant Jewishly to say "prayer is not a substitute for action"?...huh.

The Blessing of Mixed Blessings,
Cloudy Days and Cloudy Millenia
Mr. Polkinghorne: And, of course, there are all sorts of different forms of prayer. I mean, there's sort of worshipful prayer. And I think a lot of scientists actually pray in that way without knowing that they're doing it, because one of the rewards for what is actually a laborious business doing scientific research is a sense of wonder when you see the beautiful structure of the world or the way things work [no idea they've prayed, let alone have it 'answered']. And I think, though scientists don't use the word wonder when they write formal papers for learned journals, they use it quite a lot in their conversation. And it is, as I say, the payoff for all the labor. And I think that actually is a form of worship, whether the scientists know it or not. But I suppose the crunch question is can a scientist ask God to do something? A petitionary prayer in that sense.
Ms. Tippett: Knowing what you know about the laws of nature and, in fact, as you're saying, respecting that it works and how it works.
Mr. Polkinghorne: Well, that's right. Well, if the world were clockwork, then I suppose you'd have to hope [could only hope] that God had designed the clockwork and wound it up in such a way that things wouldn't turn out too badly. But 20th-century science has seen the death of a merely mechanical and merely clockwork view of the world. It came first of all through quantum theory. At the subatomic level, quantum events are not precise and determinate. They have a certain randomness to them. They have a certain cloudiness to them, so that that process isn't clockwork. And we've learned, of course, from chaos theory, the "butterfly effect" — very small disturbances producing enormously big consequences — that even the everyday world described by the sort of physics that would have been familiar to Newton isn't as clockwork as people thought it was.
So the world is certainly not merely mechanical. And I think, actually, we always knew that because we have always known that we are not mechanisms. We are not automata. We have the power to choose, to act in the world. It's a limited power. We can't fly, but we have the power of agency. And if we can act in the world, then I think there's no reason to think that God can't act in the world as well [He, however, is limited in His power, His own role in this world, by having convenanted with it's laws in willfully creating it]. So I think that 20th-century science has loosened up our view of the physical world. It's no longer a piece of gigantic cosmic clockwork. It's a world in which we can conceive ourselves as the inhabitants and acting in it and helping to bring about the future. And I believe also in God. So my answer will be that scientists can pray. Not, of course, as magic, but as cooperating with God, if you like, to bring about the best for the future [why this 'magic' caveat I am not sure; the very description he gives of prayer here is just what many 'magick' people would account as a very sound and thorough definition of magick!; power 'with' - not power 'against'; Magick, to be "efficacious" does not contradict the deeper laws of nature on which it functions - though it may appear on the given perceived 'surface' to be paranormal or supernatural].
Ms. Tippett: So — I told you this before we began to speak—I think it was about 15 years ago I first heard your voice on the BBC late one Saturday night. I was not a scientist asking that question, but I was a person who had been completely political asking that question. And you, in five minutes, gave me a way to think about that, make it such an interesting question, because you were talking about, again, your idea of how you understand how the world works and that, for you, all that we've learned in science — and I want you to correct me if I'm not saying this right — suggests to you — again, this is to repeat what you just said — that there are things that function in their essence and move forward all the time, like we breathe or like the grass grows. But there are also these places of randomness and little openings in reality, and you also imagined that that is relevant to the idea of prayer.
Mr. Polkinghorne: Yes. I think that the picture we now have of the physical world [the "best science of our day" as the "rationalists" like to say about Chazzal and science...]— I mean, the old 18th-century picture was a clockwork world. And there are, certainly, clocks in the world. The sun is going to rise tomorrow. We can tell you the exact minute at which it's going to rise. But we've also learned that there are lots of clouds in the world [and of course our senses can be clouded by our wills, our minds, even when we pray - by not praying with union of our wills with God's in mind and heart]. That's to say a process whose outcome is not clear and certain and is not clear beforehand what's exactly going to happen, [and what exactly happened matters - as the smallest details make for means themselves; butterfly effect, etc] so it's a sort of mixture of the two. And that means that that has a consequence for prayer. There are some things that it isn't sensible to pray for. An early Christian thinker called Origen, who lived in Alexandria, which is jolly hot in the summer, said you shouldn't pray for the cool of spring in the heat of summer. The seasons are going to be there. And of course, theologically, we think that the regularity of the seasons reflects, if you like, the faithfulness of the Creator. But there are other aspects of the world which are cloudy, and I think those are the areas where there is, so to speak, room for maneuver. And I think it's through exploiting that room for maneuver that we act in the world and that God also acts in the world. So there are other things that we can pray for. I mean, the weather, for example, is certainly not just clockwork. And so, though it might cause a bit of a shiver to run down some people's spines, I think we can pray for rain if we're afflicted by a drought.
Ms. Tippett: Well, give me another example, though. I mean, rain is one, but I mean, what would be another example of thinking about openings for human action? Even an example from your life.
Mr. Polkinghorne: Well, I think most of life, actually, is cloudy, and in these cloudy areas, things can, so to speak, go either way. I think recovery from illness. I mean, of course, there are clearly illnesses that are mortal illnesses. There is a clockwork side to illness, if you like. But we also know that illness is very much affected, prior to recovery, very much affected by people's personality and so on [increasing evidence on the role of mind, of 'placebo' and how 'attentive' and mindful of their own healing people are and it's role in health]. And I think that there we can pray that somebody may be strengthened or encouraged or given hope, and that may very well lead to a form of healing that might not have been possible without that. So there is this quite extensive area where we can't exactly — the point is, if God acts through these cloudy processes and we act through these cloudy processes, we can't take them apart and say, "OK, I can see that God did that bit," because we just can't itemize them. And so we can't perceive it directly, but, by faith, we may have the intuition that God is indeed working in that sort of way. I mean, there is going to be an ambiguity in interpreting these things.
Ms. Tippett: So this is kind of about ambiguity and variables that we may not be able to perceive at any given moment.
Mr. Polkinghorne: That's right. But life is like that. And we can't have it sort of cut and dry. And that enables us to be what we are. There's a very interesting scientific insight which says that regions where real novelty occurs, where really new things happen that you haven't seen before, are always regions which are at the edge of chaos. They are regions where cloudiness and clearness, order and disorder, interlace each other. If you're too much on the orderly side of that borderline, everything is so rigid that nothing really new happens. You just get rearrangements. If you're too far on the haphazard side, nothing persists, everything just falls apart. It's these ambiguous areas, where order and disorder interlace, where really new things happen, where the action is, if you like. And I think that reflects itself both in the development of life and in many, many human decisions.

And such regions are the meat of the hairsbreadth that lies between kosher and treif, between one 'country' and another, between life and death. Life is very often unknowingly walking such a border, a fence-walk - but a religious life, though there be low-laying clouds, are navigated by faith (emunah, informed trust really); we live mamash - willfully and specifically reminding ourselves that however much we may be certain...we do not 'know'- when we 're actually living, we live without certainty, walking the narrow bridge we can 'create' - between who we think we are, what we think we do, what is the way of the world and what is Ratzon Hashem - walking on the fence, with trust from experience of having gotten this far (for what that's worth; I totally concede that many lives suck, and for all the "looking at the bright side", they ultimately are lacking an experience of God as trustworthy and I can't blame them for not trusting - having lived my own life of trust Betrayed and shattered, regained only to be Destroyed again).

As mortals who only create mortally, we cannot allow our selves the comfort of certainties, otherwise we've resigned to 'knowing' what we do not actually know, not knowing what we actually do know, living and thinking willfully, pointlessly and destructively, or not exercising will - resigning where and when we know we can act to change ourselves and the world for the better. Trust, hope, pray and walk.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Whether/Whither Judaism

At first this video had me laugh, the attempt of selling Judaism to a non-Jewish child with a Jewish father (Ross). But then I realized from my own life how my life must look to the non-Jews I know, many of whom consider me some kind of Utah Mormon farm-boy on the "facts of life" - having long ago left my pasts in the dust in coming to God. The pointless hopes and beliefs, the confining restrictions and observances that may lend "meaning"- but who wants THAT kind of meaning?...why not all the pleasures of the body, the full belly, the full bank account and the emptied bottle? Why bother with this entire silly scenario with its dumbed-down Jewish narrative (Maccabees and lights and war - not what they were fighting for), it's nostalgic Christmas one (even yet removed from Jesus, etc), and the subtext of a deceived next generation?

This video came to mind again after reading three recent news pieces, one on the financial crisisstatus of Jews and Judaism in America, the third on the actual numbers of "Jews" in America. The video reminded me of the seeming religious-irrelevance of Judaism, of religion at large for so many people, the foolishness of the Orthopraxy of the parent; they're toying with the kid during the holiday season to implant positive notions one way or another into his head that he will form identities around; essentially what Orthoprax parents do. All have good intentions, and ultimately, Judaism does at least prove itself in the end as....something. And in one way or another, the only Jews present were
of establishment institutional Jewish life, another on the intermarried - Ross to his first wife, Monica who snuggles up with Chandler/Santa. But all along the way, circumstances are mistaken for something weirder than than are (Phoebe's suggestion that they've crashed the Easter Bunny's funeral, for ex). As I look at this data, as I experience my life and it's many voids, misunderstandings and failed attempts at...more life, I'm having to proclaim agnosticism - for what the term itself does and does not mean; the term 'agnosticism' says nothing about certainties regarding God as such, despite how often it's confined to that meaning. I simply don't know and neither can you - about the Jewish future, about the Jewish past. We have selective memory of everything from chronicled historical events, sacred texts, various editions of revelations, halachot...And memory, zachor, is the only thing sanctioned by Torah Judaism - not history. In considering such an accounted 'past' [historical sense] which we cannot survey objectively - having doctored our own family portraits, cooked our own books (as well as 'canonized' editions of them over time) - how can we consider the future? Whose future? Tikvah l'vad.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

From R. Yehudah Fine;

Life changes when you are the only person sitting in a hospital room late at night with a kid dying of AIDS. I learned more about forgiveness at death's door than any other place in my life. Often kids were saying to me at the end, "You know what my parents did to me. I can never forgive the horror that began when I was just a young child, but if they walked into the room and I saw some contrition on their faces and felt it in their hearts, I could find a place to forgive them."

But of course, they never came.

I could barely finish the article after that line, it finished me. I know kids die, I know kids die alone, I know kids die alone with no reconciliation with their families or loved ones - or die with few real loved ones. I know adults put themselves in life situations where they become so much like such kids, regardless of how good their lives may comparably be. But I can't stomach this knowledge anymore, as distant as I am from the reality of it as a safe reader of it.

Religion as a Cause of Violence
Mostly my emphasis;
"In god is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens offers a litany of contemporary examples of how, in his view, religion foments violence [examples drawn from his own anointed experience as a journalist and corespondent, rendering no other experiences or views ultimately legitimate for him as a secularist; meaning is a personal projection, and he has done so ?]...Dawkins and Harris offer examples of their own and the supposed take-home message is always the same: religion is a cause of violent strife, especially across "confessions". Where intractable conflicts are on for years, where group hatreds perpetuate intergenerational bloodbaths, at the root of it all we find...religion.

It is true that in some sense of the word, "religion" has been and continues to be a cause of violence. But there may be something important to learn from the fact that so much inter-group violence is perpetuated in the name of non-religious worldviews or ideologies, and that so much of this violence looks very similar to the paradigm cases of religious violence trotted out by the new atheists. It may be that all of these instances of inter-group violence, religious and non-religious, can be explained in terms of the same basic human motivations...When one racial group brutally oppresses another, we blame racism, not race. When people of different nations go to war out of misplaced pride, we blame nationalism, not nationality. When rival ethnic groups practice "ethnic cleansing", we blame ethnocentrism, not ethnicity.
Likewise, I would suggest that what we should blame for all the violence that has been done in the name of God is not religion, but what might be dubbed religionism. Behind each of these isms lies a common human tendency; the drive to divide humanity into in-groups and out-groups, to define oneself in terms of group membership, and to define one's group against rivals...

What Ladd has done, I think, it to pinpoint the basic ideological structure that underlies the most intractable and brutal cases of inter-group violence. Belief in God, as such, has nothing to do with it. A certain vision of what gives meaning to life has nothing to do with it. Clearly the ethico-religious hope has nothing to do with it.
At root, this kind of violence is motivated by a pattern of thinking that probably has its origins in the tribalism on which humanity evolved. Members of one's own tribe or clan were to be trusted and treated with respect. Other tribes were rivals and, more often than not, enemies...

Religious violence is not something special, with some uniquely "religious" motivation not discoverable in other forms of collective violence. On the contrary, it is but the same ideologies adapted to use religion - instead of race or nationality or political ideology - as the tool for division...[at least in the case of religion, violence can theoretically be avoided by at best reconciliation - pluralism - or at worst conversion - just as one may be able to avoid political violence by adopting an ideology where truth matters or forming coalitions; one cannot convert to a race or ethnicity, those complex matrices from mother's milk and language and melanin content. But prospects for ideologies are at great risk now in the postmodern era, where ethics, morality, etc, "without foundations", where any correspondence claims for truth value are anathema]...

When ideologies of collective violence entangle religion to create religionism, there remains at the core something whose essence is at odds with every ideology of division. Race cannot say no to such ideology, Ethnicity cannot say , nor can nationality. Only religion can [potentially].

Sweep religion from the world, as the new atheists dream, and the [scientifically-quantified "natural"] forces motivating collective violence [inclusive of all collective behaviors justified by appeals to naturalism; promiscuity in primates, seflishness and cooperation, etc] will close around other things - things like racial difference, national identity, economic ideology. But these other things lack religion's power to resist the clutching fingers from within. And so, the dark powers that the new atheists falsely identify with religion will finally be free of religion's moderating influence. Finally, the quiet light that has been keeping us from the abyss all these ages will be gone. The real root of evil, the poison of the world, will turn nation against nation, tribe against tribe, race against race - and since there is nothing in national identity, tribal identity, or racial identity that inherently says no to dichotomies [via appeals to ultimate unity] and to violence [by appeals to brotherhood of man], it will be the end of us all...
Excerpts from Eric Reitan, 'The Root of All Evil?' in "Is God a Delusion?".

Religions demand more of man than that they act in accord with merely biological drives deemed positive or negative, drives that connect them most to other animal species. Religions, as with ideologies, asks that man be more than animal, ask that we exercise freewill in life, in abiding contracts from Outside, stipulating obligations based on communications from the Divine. Asking humans to be more than simply as other creations (under modernism), more than as 'man' unto himself as self-defined, existential individual. But as noted before, with decreasing appeals to justification, disregard for truth being the reigning paradigm in ideologies. Perhaps resolutions deriving from interaction among matured religions who still quest for ties to truth, with the commensurate appeals (valid truth claims or not), to transcendent and imminent truth - not among ideologies, etc - are the only sufficiently deep pluralisms possible, the only possibility of getting along.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rav Amital on Religious Faith in the Face Annihilation

from here;

Did the fact that you’re a religious person help you to cope as a survivor?
After the war I was in contact with Abba Kovner a”h [a leader of the Vilna Ghetto revolt, and a kibbutz leader and poet in Israel]. Once we were both participants in a TV panel about the meaning of the Holocaust. He asked me, “Did you have problems with your faith?” I answered him, “I had problems? Your problems are even more serious. I believed in God; now, I don’t understand His ways. But you believed in man; now, do you continue to believe in man, after what you saw in the Holocaust? Truly, we both have a problem.”

Abba Kovner had a dream of creating a TV program. In one of our meetings he said to me, “People have become so far removed [from Judaism] – let’s do something with Judaism. I’ll discuss literature, you’ll discuss the Sages.” That idea lasted until one day he came and said, “Yehuda, the generation is lost to us. They don’t want to hear about Judaism.” That was our last meeting. Afterwards he died. He ate himself up.

And how long ago was this? we face something so similar within the Dati world, in all the spheres. Viruses of unlearned or deletante skepticism, desperation and spiritual desolation have infected all the "Jewish" species, leaving none unaltered.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Just a little Shatan's Advocate here;
I used to dream of making Aliyah, of fulfilling a mitzvah yes, but of a "something more" than just a black and white obligation - I can no longer think of a modality for Israel in a religious sense except as a means of fulfilling Yishuv Eretz Israel; I can't believe there is a religious obligation to be an "Israeli" in the ways that must be admitted now. One is 'yotzei' a mitzah having doe it "black & white" - but no one really lives like that; you gotta do it with a certain... something!...even if you can't say what exactly.

I think Religious-Zionisms grocked this in adopting something of the secular early state's "New Jew" ideal, and many committed diaspora Jews adopted it as well in the post-6-Day-War fervor, the belief that Israel gave diaspora Jews spine and made us less nebish, gave us an Army (uhh, and a Navy?...and Air Force?...), some muscles and a great tan - but I do think it is a very important part of becoming more-than-halachically Jewish in the land of Israel that one have that certain something - just as being fully Jewish in a community b'chutz means more than rote observance and lifestyle. But I sincerely think it verges on delusional to see someone who emigrates out of their late teens as ever being "Israeli", and I think the essentially-successful American Experiment - one of the few other true "nation of immigrants" - reveals more of what that "something" is, or has become.

There is no mandate on the part of the secular Government of Israel, the culture and society of Israel, let alone it's citizens - to accept an oleh as an "Israeli" simply for being a Judaism-abiding, military-serving, high-tax paying, job-working patriotic citizen (though many of them DO think if you're "Jewish", you should cast your lot with the nation with the Jewish majority, that does not mean they'll accept your observance of the mitzvah as being done with that proper "something"...of being Israeli) - what is an outsider - a Ger or an American oleh to really think about this when invariably you cannot become Israeli - and thus authentically Jewish in all the ways an Israeli abides - but your children can?! I almost hear Yehuda Halevi - who famously differentiated between born Jews and Converts in his Kuzari - saying from the beyond the grave; "I told you so!"...until I note that even your cross-wearing non-Jewish [mostly Russian] children are becoming Israelis, mamash Sabras!! Being a Jew fulfilling a mitzvah isn't enough to put you among "Israelis".

Hearing a IDF Reserve General talking about the ethics of the IDF, I really began to realize what goes into the attitude of the Sabra and the children raised in Israel - a hardening, yes - but more a composite "concreting" - a battery of shared discipline, shared training and intensively shared experience that solidifies you with your peers, with Israelis as such - a willingness to lay this new life on the line - that puts point to ruminations of "older" olim about always being American/Argentine/French, not becoming Israeli - despite being Jewish and making Aliyah, contributing to the economy and/or even settling in the land. As a religious oleh, perhaps one is more truly a guest, a sojourner...a Ger...despite the actual fulfillment of a prime mitzvah many of the grandparents of the Sabras even ventured dying for - and here, their children are party to a culture and society who would so alienate those who seek to do likewise now. Even alienating, in the Land of the Bible, ways of life from the Bible that constituted the very critical difference that differentiated them from the Nations over the millenia, and yet bound so many disparite people as, more deeply, Jews. So much of society and culture is blocked to you by Jewish religion as such, in the very land of the Jews - while so much is selectively open to you - how can you possibly integrate as a systematically-Israeli Israeli? You simply can't - so many say this, but how many hear the different things they're saying when they say it?

In America, despite the reality of becoming American in the fullest sense upon gaining citizenship - multiculturalism so reigns that anyone can come here and be authentically...authentic! You can hang some national flag from your rear view mirror, use your language of national origin to distinguish yourselves from others, say to everyone "else" - "It's a Punjabi/Desi/Somali/Ghana/Albanian thing, you can't understand". In America, melanin moves mountains, breaks glass ceilings - truly! "Black" music, "latinismo", etc, all SELLS and sells big. Hardly the barrier it used to be (except inside communities that privilege fairer skin, etc), it grants authenticity, it's an inheritance of "struggle" you have access to without struggling.

And yet - "God Shed His Grace on thee" - a blessed irony is that EVERYONE understands precisely that same thing!!!! - rendering the pretension of exclusive specialness meaningless! Ultimately, authenticity remains (for now), a private past-time, it is not essential to the American experience; contribution to the economy, nation-building, etc, remain the hallmarks of being "truly American".

In Israel there is still bigotry against Sephardim and others who generally have literal and cultural "color" - and yet Israeliness to me seems to inherently harbor "colored" status, inherent "authenticity" - you can't join it! But your kids can, given adoption by the diverse-yet-authentic society at large there (one hopes their adoptive family will love them as much as you do) - and a proper tan. So many things that seem to challenge the unity of the United States of America - while thankfully not being at the core of being a citizen of it - seem pillars of being Israeli, the very thing an adult oleh - former builders of the modern nation of Israel itself - cannot be. An ironic inheritance from Holocaust Europe (think France and it's "veil wars" of French identity) - by a population that is more than half of Middle Eastern extraction -just counting Jewish Israelis!

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