Sacred Attunments —part 1

Prof Michael Fishbane spoke in our minyan one of the mornings of Rosh Hashanah.

Fishbane’s talk was based on his book Sacred Attunements, which came out one year ago.

He opened with the idea that we are awakened from below through the significant events of our lives.

Then the talk had three parts.

The need to find our sense of self, our groundedness.

The need to hear the call of the moment and the uniqueness of the mitzvah we are called to do.

The need to develop a God consciousness in our lives.

The conclusion was the idea that in Hasidic thought the Shofar is God speaking through us.

I read Fishbane’s book a year ago which was billed as the first major theological work in a generation. In the year, it has not generated much review except for pre-publication review by David Novak in First Things, which focused on Novak’s pet themes “why didn’t he engage Christianity and particularism more?” What not more the pure monotheism of Herman Cohen and how to avoid polytheism?” And to his chagrin Novak had to conclude that Fishbane is about God-Talk and awakening people to theology.

Since God talk and theology is my thing. I may write a review and this may help determine if I do.

As some first thoughts:

1] Fishbane seems to return the technical Kabbalah to Buber and Heschel. He assumes that his reader/listener knows the terms awakening from below (itaruta delitata) inner light (or penimi), Pardes, devekut, hokhmah, binah. He assumes that the current cannon includes required academic courses in an intro to the Zohar and an intro to Hasidut.

2] The minyan has gotten used to his talks. But the first times he spoke the questions afterwards reflected a more Lutheran inspired modern Orthodoxy. “We confront God and then recoil.” “We follow the law and do not have God directly in our lives”.We cannot trust the self”  “The experience of God can only be know though the normative law.“ Fishbane is comfortable with direct God talk and as a once born optimist he does not have the dark side of the twice born.

3] He assumes that everyone is looking to get in touch with themselves. Most people are not. He also assumes that his audience is transparent and psychologically aware in their religious lives. For Fishbane, the problem is habit not lack of reflection, denial, or placing the onus on the community.

4]  Fishbane calls Halacha as “the gestures of the generations,”  and thinks we need to avoid “spiritual plagiarism.”

He develops Scholem’s idea of Torah as organism into Torah kelulah: God’s ongoing presence. We have an opening to receive God’s word in everything if we are “attuned” to it.  The fullness of Torah Kelulah is unsayable.  What he calls the “Torah Kelulah” is a caesural opening in which God’s creative power issues forth into a manifest universe that includes a system of natural law and the moral reality of human existence. It is the “kiss of divine truth on the vastness of world-being.”

The Written Torah. Scripture. Is the “unsayable.”.
Torah she-be’al peh: the Oral Torah. This is the ongoing expression and development of the Written Torah  Religious life is not prayer or interpersonal relations as it was for Heschel and Buber, but religious life is in Torah study as reflected, imbibed, and present in the self. This process includes interiorization, centering, and silence

This seems to be a Heidegger influenced view of revelation. (It needs to be compared to Rahner’s mystical use of Heidegger.) Heidegger wites:

[T]o exist as Da-sein means to hold open a domain through its capacity to receive-perceive the significance of things that are given to it and that address it by virtue of its own “clearing”. Zollikon Seminars, 4/H4.

One of Fishbane’s students has already used a pre-publication draft to apply the theory “to Jewish education, particularly with respect to the characterization, development, and reinforcement of theological dispositions.” Daniel Marom Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 74, Issue s1 2008 , pages 29 – 51 I have not read the article yet.

3 responses to “Sacred Attunments —part 1

  1. The connection with late Heidegger is a clever turn; It says over the idea of hamshachas haorot which you find everywhere in chasidus in a nice way without using the energy concept, though you are now burdened with Being and its twists and turns.

    I am less clear and far from happy with this idea of getting in touch with one’s self and being centered. First it assumes that a non fragmented cohesed self is not only possible but is somehow related to mitzvot…I doubt this. And even if there is a centered self it requires a half a lifetime of psycho-analysis and inwardness, AND a deep connection with one’s body from the inside. Our most central experience of self is via body narcissism as anyone who has been seriously ill knows all too well.

    This easy conflation of self and sefirot/orot comes from thinking the phenomenological location of the sefirot as mental objects, or as abstract metaphysical entities, similar to Plato’s forms, existing outside the body in some suitable heaven.

    • This easy conflation of self and sefirot/orot.

      He would probably attribute it Hasidut, or at least the University understandings of Hasidut.

  2. How does Fishbane deal with the Metaphysics?

    What is their ontological status? That would appear to address your concern about the use of Kabbalistic and Chassidic terminology.

    I suspect that most people in America who take theology very seriously are more in touch with themselves than the average Baal Habayis.

    Your question about trusting oneself and being twice born is really a question about the nature of the religious lives of American Jews. As most Jews these days, for better or worse, are born into communities, we do not have the extreme spiritual journeys in other communities.

    Granted that there is plenty of “seekers” and people who spend their youth sampling all sorts types of Judaism, but most end up not far from where they started.

    I think that a Judaism which encourages them to trust their intuition would help create healthier religious beings.

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