Thursday, March 17, 2011

'Nature', Chassidut and "Eco-Torah"
Wonder piece by Jay Michaelson, "Hasidism and Nature; Negation and Affirmation". Read and discuss..Ready? Of course it isn't necessary to be in a community of Chassidim to witness such behavior among those who would seem (by the standards of "neo-Chassidut"...)duty/cosmology-bound to behave otherwise - as "Eco-Torah" abounds in Modern Orthodox circles - but it is such a clash for one who connects proposed intents of these sources, with the "nature"-oriented romantic "Eco-Torah" reading; the communities simply do not emerge such a lifeway, therefore the romantic reading simply isn't an authentic reading deriving from sources and lives of the Chassidic masters themselves - or (regarding particularly Chassidim), the living members of the community that (supposedly) perpetuate the traditions and interpretive frameworks of the Chassidim have not been reading it - or their own lifeways - like they "should be" i.e., the 'proper' way the given NeoChassidic authority or believer was informed of (usually ultimately by R. Shlomo Carlebach or one from his milieu).

I have indeed heard this amazing attitude in Neo-Chassidic circles, as I have heard the same in "countercultural" Kiruv circles about "not judging Judaism by Jews", etc, when criticizing institutional Orthodoxies for being insufficiently earthy, "tuned in" or frum enough (to which I highly recommend Faranak Margolese);

Based on my experience and the hundreds of off the derech stories I have heard, I am convinced that when people say "you should not judge a religion by its practitioners" they are mistaken. We say 'Torah lo bashamayim hi' - the Torah is not in Heaven. It is here on earth, in our interpretations of it, in our commitment to it, in our love for it. We believe that Torah is not a theory to be studied, but a way of life to be lived. Judaism is ultimately about the way we live it. The Judaism that exists in books may be intellectual stimulating and essential to our observant lives. But what impacts us most dramatically in terms of our commitment to observance is the reality we create with it here on earth. And what impacts us most in terms of our feeling toward Judaism is the relationships and experiences we have with observant Jews.

This was a great quote, especially for the context of 'nature', Torah understanding of it and it's utilitarian "uses" (especially in R. Soloveitchik's "Halachic Man"). That Chassidut "does not offer a reason to preserve the trees and streams" to me connects also with the common disdain for rationalism in popular Chassidut (outside of Chassidic communities as such - deriving from texts, Shabbatonim, classes and workshops), and entails a disdain for the kind of learning that appreciates science...the substantive source of ecology, etc. That being said, science itself is Biblical in origin, and indeed DOES emerge an ethic of environmentalism and a reason for preserving trees qua trees, streams qua streams! I see coorrelaries from popular Chassidut in how "Eastern Thought" is considered more "natural" and hense more "authentic" than Western religion/philosophy - but the science that has taught us so much about nature is not only deeply Western, it is deeply Biblical - skipping Chassidut entirely (and to a degree skipping Judaism entirely - it is well-argued that Biblical influence via Christianity - not Tanach influence via Judaism - that has had the substantive influence). How can Neo-Chassidim/Eco-Orthodox esteem a nature their Jewish sources most likely see a means to external, transcendental ends - or openly utilitarian ends - however hippy-dippy?


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