Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Watches over the Converts..."
I was recently reminded of a question I raised in a post I did a while back on Aish's claim we are in a "spiritual holocaust", a statement I thought more powerful and pregnant than they intended it to be.

What about the Converts who have cast their lot with the Jewish people - amidst a profound spiritual Holocaust?

A tremendous question about what and who we value as Jews (money, ambition, finesse...sorry, had to say that). Given the reality that many, many Gerim do not have it 'easy' in a community that takes more seriously "[Secular Jew] ben Aharon Mendel from Slutsk" than "Convert ben Avraham Avinu" - I think it's a real point as well. A point to...point out to The Real, from our side of reality; shouldn't their struggles...maybe MEAN something to You, God? males, we say every day bunches of prayers and psalms that include the claim that "Potayach et Yadecha u'matzbiah l'hol hai ratzon", that You avenge wrongdoing, Execute justice, Watch over the Gerim [and the widow and the orphan], as well as lots of other challenging ideas and statements women are free to refrain from filling their minds with.

Well? You just...STARE at Gerim, at those who have joined at among the WORST moments for the Jewish people, if not the worst given the depth and scope of assimilation (and breadth and dimension of OTDers - which may be more significant than raw numbers)?...Maybe You are staring at Gerim - and in a sense BTs - in complete incredulity at their Goyishe sense of timing?

Shouldn't their faith in You and Your people count for...SOMETHING????? Unlike born Jews, their name is not based where they genetically came from - which in bigoted terms could be phrased as "Convert ben Goyim [who display bad middot and Goyishe Shtus, evidencing the zuchama of the Nachash..]" - it is "Son/Daughter of Avraham/Sarah OUR Father/OUR Mother". what? What do Avraham and Sarah mean to us, to a certain number among us and our own children who doubt even the existence of the one couple most Jews are distantly related to. To the Gerim, Avraham and Sarah are their direct spiritual fore-bearers, more significant than mere biology, than genes, than the people as the means to deliver the Message of Torah...when Jews lose faith in even the existence of their shared distant fore-bearers, imagine how this looks to people for whom the denied ones, the "archetyped" ones, Avraham and Sarah are their ONLY PARENTS - who are denied and or disregarded literally by a noteworthy number of God's people... there...anything...else You're thinking of maybe doing with such people, other than shaking ropes or whatever to get rid of them in the end-times of your creation, along with all those others who BOTHER to try to hold on, while they watch others go to the beach on a lovely Saturday afternoon or on to normal lives instead? I know, it seems a leap from the emunah of converts to the famous rope narrative - I understand the intent is not to cast away converts and BTs as such - but they're among many with the weakest grip, who feel pushed away by so many others grasping at the rope with the added genetic strength of religious and/or Jewish forebearers - but many take the parable as if it's down from Sinai.

"Enough with the Charedi moshels", the 'rationalists' can say. But Gemara itself repeats several times that Gerim should be treated differently, cautiously - because they're vulnerable to lapsing into their previous behaviors (with no seeming regard for where they're going - mostly fixation on where they're from?...even to the degree of referring to the descendant of gerim as a Ger himself - though I can't recall where I'd seen it), which reappears as an attitude current rabbis of authority display in a wonderfully-disgusting manner about "non-Jewish Genes".

I think Gerim are vulnerable - not so much due to some tempting quality of 'teumah' they came from (I think more projecting on the part of Frummies than anything else, given how many BTs had lives of deprivation they may quietly wax nostalgic about; how many BTs came from ethical, moral Evangelical Christian backgrounds compared to Gerim?!?) - as much as that they left WHEREVER they came from to join the Jewish people and their God - period. Does anyone who hasn't made such a decision have ANY IDEA what that decision means in the Modern Era - which has no concept of tribes, of community, of peoplehood to really speak of?...

What do they mean to You, Borei Kol ha Neshamot - the single Convert, the Convert without family, without community? - does it mean anything that even so many born Jews, so many FFBs, lack "community"? But Gerim are radically different in that BTs and FFBs affirm something very fundamental about themselves in personally continuing with a collective that is a radical self-affirmation. Gerim engage in a radical self-refutation from community, from tribe and even one can be compared to the Ger except Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu. Right or wrong, God?

I do not expect - and Judaism no longer accepts - any voices from Heaven on such matters, but I'll keep talking to You about it. These Gerim with nowhere else to turn but a torn community - these little ones (no matter how experienced and forged in the trials of life some have been before Torah - they are by Torah considered new infants - having left family, friends and lifeways behind...You are shaking infants dangling from a rope?...could the 'Gedolim', whose advocates claim prophetic insight in their propagation of this 'rope' metaphor, have foreseen that Gerim, infants to Judaism...would be among those clinging to this rope (and not the maskilim they likely had in mind)?...their views of Gentiles are not even worth Gerim, entering their imagination - let alone "prophetic insight" - is a stretch.

To be authentic, Gerim abide the teachings of a Gemara that holds them suspect of lapsing out of predisposition, which casts their entire past and family as the most radically degenerate "Other" imaginable.

After so many Gerim have given up so much to join, and then have to wrestle with Your people, been "turned away with the left and brought in with the right" by them, and thus left spinning like tops -after converting...are You going to toy with them by granting them the 'honors' of being left orphans yet again in this generation...orphaned by - and seemingly of (H'V) - the very Creator and only Hope of Creation?...among all the other desperate 'clingers', dangling from a lifeline?

Maybe I shouldn't read what I write...ouch. Heed their prayers, God, just Heed them for the sake of the world they left and the world they joined - one world, Your world - Heed them.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

..."!?אם אלוהים ירצה"

Dave Draiman, lead singer of Disturbed, in a not-cardboard "Kotel kippah"?...He actually says in the interview "...if God Wants" about Disturbed playing in Israel? stars. This is weird cool news. I'd like to hear them cover "Mama Rachel", I sincerely think he could pull it off. I've ragged on them on and off for a while, but I should stop. I've only known of him through Jewish hearsay and the media, who've painted him as something of an atheist-leaning agnostic - hopefully he's more complex than that.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Academic Scholarship, Theodicy, Authorship & Revelation -Deliverances to the Heart
We challenge the sincerity of mortals who are empowered to alleviate the suffering of others, but only offer solace such as "my thoughts and prayers will be with you" - and yet we have such in the Psalms, other founding revelations from God Himself, the very font of Jewish theodicies - telling us that the righteous suffer, the wicked prosper - but "Oh, The Lord is with thee"... ("a later 'mono-theized Lord of one kind, nature or another, from one period or another" chime the academics...), and that's that - and another Psalm/pasuk of solace from Tanakh comes to declare unequivocally that there is clear comeuppance and consequence to wickedness, in this world and the next - and then from Rambam that there is neither substantive punishment or reward - even in death.

How do we not H"V consider either that there is some pluralism, some "democracy of the Divine", Divine change of Administration On High to explain the incommensurate revelations over the Biblical period (not varying interpretations after 'publication' - variations in the original submissions), within one book (and of course by extrapolation, with The Five Books)....or simply concede multiple human authorship of all of them, with an offhand hat tip to the idea of Divine authorship of some of them (Kugel)?

At the very least, inclusion of scholarship entails the "isolation" of the Torah, to some degree or another, from scholarship (by declaring it Prophetically authored and Prophetically closed and halachically authoritative - either by Moses entire, by consensus, etc) - as well as the acceptance of unambiguous human interpolation to some degree - "mi pi atzmo", not mere "creativity" - in the accompanying (or ensuing), Oral interpretive tradition. Many of these concessions at least can be justified by Halachic and Aggadic statements from Chazzal (that which is authoritative - where historical claims are not; which would put many of the BibCrit-accepting Orthodox scholars out until they integrate Heschel's "Torah Min haShomayim" or something), and within the Tradition - but to be honest are still troubling, depending where it's suggested and to what degree.

These questions have been asked academically by the mind for centuries now, I ask it of the heart, from the heart. What do to the accounts of scholarship do to the content of the revelations themselves, as counsel, as solace and salve (Kugel et al prattle about the 'meanings' each generation, within each group, apart from intent of authors as they suppose no significant authors or initial meanings), which though accounted (here, here and here), as revelations expressed through the content of prophets minds and worldviews themselves, measured out by HKBH - are yet for their generations and all eternity?

Wait - if Nakh is indeed prophecy selected and canonized by the Anshe Knesset haGedolah, preserved for posterity in the language of their specific time and place, what is to be made of the interpretive frameworks we impose on them (midrashic, Kabbalistic, Chassidic, Mussar), where they deviate from the pashut peshat of "their day"? This is a part of Kugel's challenge for traditional notions of revelation and the role of interpretation as well as the above suggestions about certain historical contingencies of prophetic messages. May we, or do we unconsciously, presume the interpretive framework is in some sense a "filtering" prophet of interpretative modes - a time-bound and yet time-unbound means of checking proper analysis that itself changes over time, in lieu of actual delivering prophets who likewise expressed differently? We countenance reason over revelation in The Aftermath - but as is well established, what constitute reasonings, logics and rationalities have differed for everyone over time and place. Anyways...

I think the 'further' along in the Biblical period there is multivocality, change over time - noted as God's increasing "absence" in certain works of the past decade - but also a 'change' in Whom it seems the Jews were in relationship with (nature of God, etc, expressed differently in the measured-out words of the prophets, the chroniclers of the Ketuviim, etc, appropriate to the Israel and the Judaisms, of their days, etc) - as well as change in whom "the Jews" were. The further along in Jewish history that we stand in proximity to God (as long as we do so), the more we relate Jewishly personally (duh..but still listen), through our experiences as individuals, and specifically not communally (for millenia, the only 'kosher' mode of being "Jewish"), the wider our picture (as ourselves), we have of the scope of His reign.
Perhaps communities imposed certain limits on vision (as is obvious to us as individuals). So the plenitude of colors and other distinctions must be allowed for, the more means of His action - and inaction - we can see, ontologically - and share with others in new communities ('rank and file' oranizing, not "from the top down", in lieu of revelation and Temple), we share how He has acted, been present - and not been present - in our individual lives ("revelatory" triangulation of His transmissions in our lives?)- and not just accept where and how we'd seen it in agreed-upon codified texts, as codified texts depicted 'differing' realities, granted with common themes, etc (because we hadn't seen it until now, could not in a manner). But if were to dispense with the authority of the text, authority of communal revelations as revelations (or at the very least as agreed upon as "such"), we are more than lost - as we lose anything communal, and common language, mamash - given the degree of assimiliations and polar isolations occurring within the deepest of Jewish Judaisms - we can become very lost even within the tightest, thickest community.

My 'personal' heart wants to say that the smarmy, non-committal "My thoughts and prayers - but not money, assistance, relief or intervention - will be with you" is a way of saying our mortal thoughts and prayers can be supremely efficacious - in lieu of sacrifices, our historical and Biblical mode, which communal prayer is to replace. It does seem to also be conceivably ONE Divine mode within the tradition - B'KLAL ('ontologically' above; the revelations aren't revelations of everything as they are/were/will be - they're Measured out by God, and with the prophets capacity to express, and as certain of the Jews of the time could grasp) - regarding the Master of all Mastery, the one and only who can sway one and every event any way He so Chooses...

But my heart hardens, my worldview and vision narrow against "can", and sobs only that a circular reasoning has closed "as it always does", noting how so many mortal prayers for healing of the mortally wounded, terminally ill, tortured, despondent, etc, etc, etc, etc over the millenia have gone unanswered - but "I'll be there", just....WATCHING ON....watching the suffering, the resignation to despondence and despair, the submission to exploitation as it unfolds, life after life, eon after eon...chirps up my neshamah - wrestling free of my dilettante, but every-bullying mind - turns to mind and says, "But did you not say 'possibly a Divine mode within the tradition' - one administered at Divine discretion? HA, Mind! How can you prove or disprove it, even in history?!?! Miracles, as Lewis notes, have no history, only present and past...Tikva l'vad, I say; in your face, Mind! A hope that is at least informed by communal communal textual experience (or if further quarter must be given to academia, reconcilable experiences from several communities in Tanakh), as emunah is trust informed in communion, and a person personally transformed in prayer.

We have prospered as Jews, and suffered assimilation as Jews. We've prospered as religious Jews fallen as the same, away from being religious and prosperous. Prayers, than, have been answered, some yes, some no - (as if it were so simple as yes/no!), some 'no' to benefit, some 'yes' to sorrow - this I "know", God thank You for not bringing proximity to such sorrow - as I've seen in the life of one of your children - any closer than You already have.

And Orthopraxy?...many people believe as a forming community within the kahal, that communally their personal acts, convictions, etc, have no consequence - which reminds me of efficacy of prayer. That may be a perspective on "how things work" within the tradition, or may be a modern thing justifiable by certain historical and textual [prophetic] precedent, may be historically accounted - same with so many other views - but that's just the rub; other views evidence other consequences coming from such attitudes; and in fact, very often personal Orthopraxy has affected communal Orthodoxy - open Tanakh! see how many Prophetic voices have made a symphony (symphony - not cacophony - is the very language even of a prominent scholar of Biblical Criticism!), of counsel from different, divergent prophets, their [from mortal vantage point, temporally, i.e., academically, empirically incommensurate?] worldviews, perspectives and conditions (launched like so many arrows from so many positions in the divinely-informed direction of an invisible target, glancing off the truth but evidencing by their glancing some common form, common basis of critique) against such attitude! so many orthoprax, do I similarly doubt the temporal effects and efficacy of my personal prayer communally? In the personal lives of others?

God; prove me and humanity we are wrong in this intuition - because I know you've done just that in so many lives before, though what you gave were answers - not a proof for sharing.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Borei Kol HaNeshamot...A New Year...Please.

"When warm weather came, Baby Suggs, holy, followed by every black man, woman, and child who could make it through, took her great heart to the Clearing--a wide-open place cut deep in the woods nobody knew for what at the end of the path known only to deer and whoever cleared the land in the first place. In the heat of every Saturday afternoon, she sat in the clearing while the people waited among the trees.

After situating herself on a huge flat-sided rock, Baby Suggs bowed her head and prayed silently. The company watched her from the trees. They knew she was ready when she put her stick down. Then she shouted, "Let the children come!" and they ran from the trees toward her.

"Let your mothers hear you laugh,"she told them, and the woods rang. The adults looked on and could not help smiling.
Then "Let the grown men come," she shouted. They stepped out one by one from among the ringing trees.
"Let your wives and your children see you dance," she told them, and groundlife shuddered under their feet.
Finally she called the women to her. “Cry,” she told them. “For the living and the dead. Just cry.”

And without covering their eyes the women let loose. It started that way: laughing children, dancing men, crying women and then it got mixed up. Women stopped crying and danced; men sat down and cried; children danced, women laughed, children cried until, exhausted and riven, all and each lay about the Clearing damp and gasping for breath. In the silence that followed, Baby Suggs, holy, offered up to them her great big heart…“Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it… No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them! Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ‘cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it - you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed…What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give leavins instead. No they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it."
"This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And oh my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it, and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver - love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet…More than your life-holding womb and your live-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.""

Saturday, January 01, 2011

More Physics And Torah (To My Taste...)
From a review by William Kolbrener of "One People, Two Worlds". [emph. mine in bold];

Bohr’s classic experiments with light demonstrated how interpretive perspectives (what Thomas Kuhn would later call paradigms) “must affect their object by their very act of observing.”[24] Bohr had shown that, depending upon the experimental context which he employed, light behaved sometimes as a wave, and sometimes a particle. From these experiments, Bohr developed his conception of “complementarity,” in which complementary, though sometimes contradictory, descriptions of physical entities combine to describe “the complex of reality.”[25] Bohr was not giving philosophical license, as some humanists have wrongly deduced, to unbridled subjectivity; for in his experiments, the observer is still constrained by the phenomena which he observes. Light behaves as either a wave or a particle, not, however, as a vector. Indeed, the theory of “complementarity” could stand as a perush for the halakhic principle “elu ve-elu.” In both the contexts of Torah and science, “elu ve-elu,” emerges as not only an inclusive, but also as an exclusive principle. Indeed, Hirsch, in his appropriation of the “elu ve-elu” for Reform, fails to show himself proficient in one of the most basic modes of talmudic exegesis: the inference. Elu ve-elu does indeed imply an exclusion: “these and these,” but not those. [to claim "elu ve-elu" reads "elu ve-khaym -"those" - is to read what is simply not there, to speak on terms outside what the text clearly says, what the tradition emerging from it says] Bohr’s scientific reality, like Torah, does not license all interpretations. Engagement with a precedent reality, and proficiency in its interpretive mechanisms, are the pre-requisite for any interpretation which will fall under the aegis of elu ve-elu—in both the physical sciences, and in Torah.

For Hirsch, as Reinman’s rhetorical strategies reveal, the precedent reality of Torah—the absolute—is a mere phantom, a remnant from an ostensibly totalitarian past, now vanished, thus licensing the interpretive excesses which Hirsch advocates throughout One People, Two Worlds. There is no absolute truth [or none accessible by studying Torah or abiding "revelation" as within text; not even the Conservative reconciliation of multiple auhtorship as "collection of accounts of Jewish interaction with the Divine"]—or less philosophically-stated, no commitment to the constraints of Torah—to limit his subjectivist excesses.[26]
Reinman certainly exposes the relativism of the Reform perspective—not without, however (given his emphasis on “absolute truth”), the risk of acquiescing to those who may wish to frame Orthodoxy as another in a long list of political and theological fundamentalisms. By emphasizing “absolute truth,” Reinman may be assured that a reader who actually does more than look at the cover of One People, Two Worlds will understand that Reform is moral relativism, and outside of the “umbrella” of authentic Judaism. But with that emphasis, Reinman may occlude the fact that a genuine Jewish pluralism—emphasizing interpretation, subjectivity, and the multiplicity of truth—does exist, but within Orthodoxy, that is, for those for whom the principle of Torah mi-Sinai is primary.

[here I am not at all clear what he means by Torah mi-Sinai; Torah min-haShomayim? All of Torah from Moshe Rabbenu coming down from Sinai? I don't know, but I will presume revelation, Revealing by the Absolute of something "Torah]

To be sure, the languages of Greek philosophy...are too sophisticated for many—if not most—of the potential readership of One People, Two Worlds. If, however, the languages or concepts of madda are to be invoked (and absolute truth certainly fits under such a rubric), they should be invoked with full awareness of their connotations. There are, of course, alternatives: one such alternative would begin not with the proclamation of belief in "absolute truth," but rather the non-philosophical assertion that certain beliefs are held absolutely. For it is less problematic to assert that we believe, absolutely, in Torah mi-Sinai, than to assert a belief in a philosophical conception of absolute truth. Indeed, the whole concept of "absolute truth" may be—even when properly contextualized—misleading. Ibn Ezra, in a philological note to Bereshit 24:49, asserts that Emet has the same root as Emunah—meaning that truth and faith are intertwined. From this perspective, truth emerges not as a function of philosophical speculation, but rather through a relationship created by faith [this is not to say 'faith' as colloquially intended under the reign of scientism; merely unprovable assertions; "emunah' is far closer in Tanakh to "trustworthy", to tested faith from relationship]. This relationship (what Levinas understands as the "proximity" to the divine) is antecedent to philosophical discourse, producing a conception of truth entirely different from the speculative efforts of the philosopher. [27] Put in other words, in a context where faith and truth are interdependent, "absolute truth" becomes irrelevant, as the languages of philosophy yield to a knowledge based upon a relationship—that relationship forged between God and the Jewish people at Sinai.[28]

Inserting such an option for relating to conceptions of truth may also reveal the "tradition-bound" nature of truth claims for the philosophies behind competing ideologies. They themselves have "faith" - place trust they believe to be, yes, ultimately untestable - but 'ultimates' are not considered within the domain of most modern philosophical schools and aren't quibbled over - and yet still maxims from which they prove, not to which they prove - ones they hold to have been indeed 'tested' in their acted-on relationships with their chosen maxims and the ensuing relationships with the world through their adherence to truth as perceived and how it is delivered by adherence to their maxims - Black Elk's supposition about life lived with through a modality that has untested and unstestable comingled with the self-evident, that "...if you think about it, you will see that it is true", beliefs regarding what they hold to be Radically Noncontingent (matter, typically, for secularists).

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