Yeshiva U sponsors New Age Jesus speaker as Jewish values.

This Tuesday Shmuly Boteach’s  Jewish Values Network together with YU is sponsoring an symposium on Jewish values.  One of the main speakers on Jewish values is Marianne Williamson. I assume that no one at YU knew who she was or looked into it and now it is too late to change it. I don’t blame them. I assume that once they saw the conference had Michael Steinhardt, Dershowitz, Steinsaltz, and Tulushkin, then they could sponsor it, since these speakers represents Yeshiva University values. (This is an interesting topic in its own right.) But I find it quirky at the least but also disturbing since I know someone who almost converted out of Judaism because of her. full schedule here
Who is Marianne Williamson? The following account is all quotes from the web- so technically I should indent.

The story began in 1965 when Helen Schucman, a professor of Medical Psychology at Columbia University in New York, began receiving channeled messages from a speaker who would later identify himself as Jesus Christ. The messages began with the words, “Please take notes,” this is not optional. So Helen Schucman a atheist Jewish psychologist began writing and for the next ten years the voice is said to have dictated “in an inaudible voice” over 500,000 words contained in the three volumes. This was done through the process called automatic handwriting, (in which a spirit entity guides the hand )and clairaudience, (hearing from a disembodied spirit) Schucman wrote this hefty volume, and she claims the source of the words was Jesus Himself.

The primary reason for the Course is the “Correcting of the errors of Christianity…. To foster spiritual development through the study and practice of A Course In Miracles, a set of three books channeled by Jesus. …to teach the Course’s reinterpretation of traditional Christian principles such as sin, suffering, forgiveness, Atonement, and the meaning of the Crucifixion…” (Foundation for A Course In Miracles, “Forgiveness,” p.3- 4).,

Marianne Williamson’s full embrace of the Course led her to give talks and lectures on it, which eventually resulted in the publication of A Return To Love. The book A Return to Love, became immensely popular as an inspirational self help book. Here most famous new age quote which has been attributed to many:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

With the strong Eastern influence in self-help writing, the Christian stance of A Return to Love stands out, but it is best seen as a spiritual work that happens to use the Christian terminology of the Course. Williamson is quick to admit that all ideas about God are expressions of a single reality (she herself has a Jewish background), and that people do not have to consider they have a personal relationship to ‘God’ to be an advanced Course student. Its students proceed according to how they treat other people. So to even think the name “Jesus” is to be reminded of one’s essential nature and one’s essential power. A Course in Miracles also says “you do not have to personally invite Jesus into your thought system to aid you in your journey.” But Jesus can do more for you if you did.

What Marianne Williamson Believes About Jesus

Remember I’m not a Christian, I am a Jew. My conversion to Christ, and to me conversion means “a conversion in thought-forms and a belief system.” I don’t feel that I was born a Jew and was supposed to become a Christian. But I do feel I was born a Jew, I am a Jew, and I was meant to meet Jesus on my journey. It is, above all others, my most predestined relationship. I feel blessed to have met him as a Jew.

1] So did no one notice? Was it because Shmuly Boteach took charge? How are they going to spin this as authentic Jewish values? I assume that no one looked over the program.

2] Is all new age, self-help, and popular spirituality OK as part of Judaism?  How does anyone teaching 12-step, “The Secret,” or Course in Miracles manage to call themselves Hasidism and Kabbalah?

3] Is new age really the new cosmology, meaning that it is invisible and taken as a given by common sense, in which it is OK to say Marianne Williamson is kosher and muttar in a way that Biblical scholars or historians are  not be kosher?

13 responses to “Yeshiva U sponsors New Age Jesus speaker as Jewish values.

  1. You are totally on target with Williamson. Maybe the organizers are too young to remember when she was in her prime.

    Your question #2 is interesting. My view is that the teaching first has to be valid on it’s own, irrespective of prooftexts etc. Does it actually accomplish what it promises? Can it be disconfirmed or verified? Nothing less will do because the field is full of ganavim and shysters. I have a friend who is bald and read The Secret. He now walks around saying as a joke “I know I can. I know I can.” And this rule should be true even when the original formulation is in a language using traditional symbols. If I follow a neo chasidic derech what exactly is going to happen? How is such talk integrated with all else that we know about the mind?

    Assuming the first hurdle can be cleared one then has to show how these truths require bedavka this kabbalah language. Could the same ideas be expressed in ordinary language?

    Your question can be turned around. What does neo chasidus have going for it that is not already available in Eckhart Tolle?

    • Your question #2 is interesting. My view is that the teaching first has to be valid on it’s own, irrespective of prooftexts etc. If I follow a neo chasidic derech what exactly is going to happen? How is such talk integrated with all else that we know about the mind?
      Assuming the first hurdle can be cleared one then has to show how these truths require bedavka this kabbalah language. Could the same ideas be expressed in ordinary language?
      Your question can be turned around. What does neo chasidus have going for it that is not already available in Eckhart Tolle?

      To start at the end. neo-chasidism gives it a label as religion. And for those who need it it gives an air of authenticity. But there may be nothing offered in content. People are not into Neo-hasidism for merging into God or mystical prayer. Can they be expressed in ordinary language? In most cases, the answer to start is yes, but then then when we think about expression then it is more complex. To label it as hasidism gives it an aura, a patina, and a social function as something non-translatable. What will happen? It depends on the object labeled Neo-Hasidism. I get to opt out of rationalism. I feel there is a bigger scheme beyond myself. I get to be emotive. I get to practice magic or Avodah zara as part of Judaism.
      do you agree?

  2. This is turning into a race to the bottom.

    Whether this is avodah zera is a topic I expect you will talk about in the coming months in regard to Fishbain and myth. I personally am not bothered by anthropomorphisms, and I don’t see how anyone of this ilk can even think of taking a Maimonidean line.

    I am fairly certain that Arthur Green & Co. would not agree to labelling neo chasidus ” as giv(ing) it an aura, a patina, and a social function as something non-translatable.” He believes that kabbalah language is meaningful only as a psychological folk language describing inner experiences, and not as a cosmology which is hopeless, or as an abstract idea or language with no specific phenomenological location. Scholem and students refuse to be pinned down on this point. Green might agree there are other technical languages in other religions that are equivalent, but I doubt if he would agree that ordinary English would suffice. Even Zalman Schecter feels the language of kabbalah and the symbolic language of mitzvot are necessary for this gnosis. They all feel there are real secrets to be revealed. What these secrets come to are more or less the shocking recognition that ain od milvado mamish. On your reading they are all peddling pablum and they don’t feel they are.

    My view is that I cannot tie the teaching into anything else. Do you lose weight? Eat healthier? Have a better sex life? How do you know you got anywhere?

    • Oh My. I was not talking about Art Green or Reb Zalman. No , No no, I was only talking about the various Jewish versions of Marianne Williamson, the Secret, or 12 step. When someone teaches those as as neo-hasidism, then I see it as some aura. I also see these pop-psych as Hasidism as completely translatable. They help people feel healthier and happier. But I do think Art and Reb Zalman are actually connected to hasidism. So can we start this again?

  3. My suggestion for #1 is my favorite quote from Rabbi Y. Blau:

    “Never attribute to malice what can be understood as incompetence”.

    The whole conference sounds odd & I am trying to understand why YU is involved.

    If one substitutes “pop psychology” for “self-help” and “New Age” in #2 & #3 then that is obvious.

    Many in Modern Orthodoxy treat pop-psychology, and self-help as obvious and therefore that is the cosmology. Most people will ignore the New-Age or any other terms and ideas that they are not trained to hear.

  4. I agree with you on 12 steps as chasidus is silly. I also agree R. Green etc are talking and thinking about the original texts. And it goes without saying these people are scholars working leshem shamayim. I disagree with psychologizing everything and I believe if these Jewish Renewal movements are to get anywhere there must be real payoffs. Why? Because it is being combined with antinomian practice. Orthodox chasidim get a pass. Not these guys. And to be honest I don’t think there is a payoff.

  5. Do you think WIlliamson or 12 step have a payoff?

  6. NO (smiling)

  7. I think our difference is that I think they do have a payoff, as does psychotherapy. For many people 12 step and a purpose driven life do indeed help them. My only problem is when it is treated as authentic hasidic teaching. My neighbor, Rabbi Twerski has an ability to use hasidic stories in his infinite number of self help books without claiming the stories and the teachings are the same.
    On the Renewal point- the antinomianism is a side show for a community of many marginals. The point is the dividing line between a very free adaptation of Hasidism and then calling Americanism Hasidism. A creative davenology is one thing, back packing or journal writing as a form of Hasidism is another. The former is an outgrowth,, however free of the original, the latter is a not. (see my review in the Forward)

  8. As an aside, why is there emphasis on “authenticity” when teaching Hasidism?

    If Buber “authentic” Chassidism?

    Is Neo-Carlebach “authentic” Chassidim?

    Is Twersky teaching Chassidus “authentic” Chassidism?

    Is JACS?

    If the criteria is whether they study and teach texts, for many Chassidim historically & now, textual study of Chassidus is very marginal to their praxis & Hassidic way of life.

    That may be an arbitrary scholarly bias in paskening people and movements.

  9. Buber was writing as a Romantic and Fin de Siecle orientalist, and he was received as that.
    In the 1920-1960’s – the new products were not treated as authentic.
    But after the 6 day war and the Tel Aviv play “Ish hasid haya”, and the hasidic song festival we had a new phenomena. Song, dance, and story were taken to be authentic. Many of those today writing about hasidiism from a BT haredi perspective got started with Wiesel or Green. There is a direct quest for authenticity. Buber becomes re-contextualized as authentic. Here the dividing lines are blurry and it opens questions of aura, patina, tradition, and counterculture.
    As I ask people when they tell me they are “hasdic” because they sing and play guitar saturday night- who is your rebbe? which hanhagot do you follow? In the post 1967 world, hasidism has become an alter-ego for modern Judaisms when they want to talk about emotions and music.

    Twerski will be very careful in his referent and thinks that these are stories to learn from whoever wrote them – this works becuase he also quotes Peanuts, Readers Digest, and pop-culture. he calls them “stories we can learn from” and he does more mussar these days.
    Israelight on the other hand is teaching straight 12 step, the secret, Eckhart Tolle as Reb Zadok and Rav Kook. They bank on being authentic torah.

  10. Why is it unfair to say that neo Hasidism is a Hasidism, if we see that Hasidism undergoes a variety of historical metamorphoses in its “native milieu” such as it was? Why reify real Hasidism as “hanhagot, rebbe, etc.”?
    Is it the rupture of the holocaust that you are presupposing heavily, or is it your belief that you can separate out and create a criterion?

  11. Very interesting, why nobody wrote more since 2009???

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