Monthly Archives: January 2010

What is the Civil Religion of the Orthodox? Models of Relgion and Society

Philip Gorski, Professor at Yale offers three attitudes at the immanent frame toward the relationship of religion and state in America.

Liberal secularists believe that the religious and political spheres should be radically separated; religious nationalists believe that they should be tightly integrated; and civil religionists believe that they should be overlapping but independent.
The governing metaphor of religious nationalism in the United States is blood: blood as in blood sacrifice on the battlefield, and blood as in the blood purity of the nation. The deep roots of this tradition are to be found in the bloody wars and priestly sacrifices portrayed in the Hebrew Bible.

The governing metaphor of liberal secularism is autonomy: autonomy as in individual choice and institutional separation. The deep roots of this tradition are to be found in the atomistic and anti-religious creed of the Epicureans. Faint echoes of it can be found in, say, the writings of Thomas Jefferson.. Its most complete—and virulent—expressions today are Randian libertarianism on the right and soft-Nietzschean post-modernism on the left.

The governing metaphor of civil religion, finally, is covenant: covenant as in collective commitment to a set of sacred principles and collective responsibility for their realization. The deep roots of this tradition are to be found in the Biblical covenants between the Ancient Israelites and their God. Its more immediate roots can be traced to the New England Puritans

For the religious nationalist, America is a “Christian nation” or, perhaps, a “Judeo-Christian nation.” In this vision, religious and political communities should be coterminous.

For the radical secularist, America is a liberal society comprised of autonomous individuals. In this vision, religious and political communities ought to be completely distinct.

For the civil religionist, finally, America is a moral community that seeks to balance solidarity and pluralism. In this vision, the religious and political communities inevitably overlap with one another.

Now how would this apply to the Orthodox community? They seem to use the religious nationalism model when dealing with Israeli society. But it seems that the majority of Centrist Orthodoxy follows liberal secularism in America. Why? They keep their religion and their Americanism bifurcated. Yet, there are selected groups and rabbis in the community that do accept civil religion. But which? On the other hand, some parts are beginning to identify with American religious nationalism and identify with Republican or Christian right values.

Can we conceptualize the community not as right and left but based on which of these three models they follow? Or to keep things closer to the way people think now- which model does Open Orthodoxy follow? (The latter may be a much harder question than it looks.) Which does the yeshivah world follow?  How about a supporter of AIPAC? Which does Chabad follow? Which does Aish Hatorah follow taking into account their production of the movie “Obsession” on their view of terrorism? Or do the  various blogs follow? And in these distinctions, one’s age and generation does matter and will change the results. Among orthodoxy, who is a libertarian, who a covnant thinker of values, and who a nationalist? Does it change the conception of orthodoxy?

The religion of the 1950’s was a Judeo-Christian covenant. At the end of the 1970’s Robert Bellah reoriented everyone and said civil religion was empty. “Writing amidst the collective funk of the mid-1970s, Bellah famously concluded that the American civil religion was an empty and broken shell” And it led many clergy to preach that one must turn to religion to reclaim society. Without religion one has the vacuous worship of the self. What does it mean when rabbis in 2009 are still saying that religion will save you from “Sheilaism”?

When Rav Soloveitchik writes in Confrontation that “it is quite legitimate to speak of a Judeo-Christian tradition…However, when we shift the focus from the dimension of culture to that of faith… the whole idea of a tradition of faiths and the continuum of revealed doctrines…is utterly absurd…” In the 1950’s he seems to follow the civil religion model? But does Lonley Man of Faith agree? Which of the three is he associated with now?
I was asked in the comments on an earlier post: How does all this evangelicalism relate to the thinking of thinkers like Taylor and Habermas. Gorski offer an answer:

.Now, there are plenty of people… who would disagree that civil religion is a necessary means to this end. First, there are non-theistic neo-Kantian rationalists—such as Rawls, Habermas, and Audi—who would be somewhat uneasy about the religious dimension of civil religion. Then, there are theistic neo-Aristotelian confessionalists—such as MacIntyre, Yoder, and Hauerwas—who would be somewhat uneasy about the civil dimension of civil religion. But each critique supplies an answer to the other.

Among Orthodox, are they more worried about the civil or the religion in American civil religion?

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill · All Rights Reserved

Catholic Schools and Jewish Day Schools

In the 1960’s the Catholic Ghetto walls came down. In the 1950’s Catholics went to Catholic school, lived in Catholic enclaves, and had all their social needs met by the catholic community.  One only left for graduate school or when certain professions required one to have non-Catholic co-workers.  In the nineteen sixties, everything changed. Catholics wanted in live in new locations,  new suburbs and exurbs, the idea that one should only live around Catholics declines and the cultural revolution of the 1960’s called into question the provincialism and parochialism of these enclaves.  Some of these Catholic Ghettos dissolved entirely – from near total allegiance to the Church to minimal attendance, and even then only by the elderly.

Catholic teaching taught that building a parochial school is more important than a Church and that one would lose one’s faith in public school.  Jews at this point were in favor of public schools, and many of the orthodox saw day schools as entirely unneeded for girls and a hot bed of Zionism.

The question is: Can the Orthodox Jewish community learn anything from the Catholic example? Are there things to learn about rapid declines of enclaves? Are there any reasons it wont happen to places like Teaneck? Will the young gen y- millennials share their parents Modern Orthodox provincialism?  What about when they move to new cities, new professions or disdain living with the gen-x’ers? Dont just say we are committed to our religion in a way that Catholics are not.  Catholics were more committed and  had a much longer tradition of day schools.

Let’s turn to day schools. The Catholic system lost most of its attendees in the nineteen sixties. By the end of the decade they were down to 15%.  N ow 40 years later they find themselves as an unsustainable system strapped for cash and may have to close. What can Orthodox Jews learn from it? I am not sure but we should ask ourselves what we can learn.

The quotes below are from a variety of papers. Some are based on a 2007 Notre Dame Study and some from the Bergen county schools. One factor they cite is that without nuns they have to pay real salaries for teachers. Is anyone here old enough to remember when Jewish day school teachers were seriously underpaid? We cannot go back to hiring Holocaust survivors who don’t live in our communities or to being months behind on salary payments.

Also many Jews and Catholics went to parochial school to avoid the public school in immigrant neighborhoods. We don’t live in immigrant neighborhoods anymore and many public schools are of the same class and caste as the parochial schools. The article also points out that we expect more. We are not first generation college bound anymore. There are currently high expectations for a school. When parents were lacking in either general  or Jewish studies they expected less. Now what?

Many parents of children in Catholic schools attended these schools themselves and look back nostalgically at a day when Catholic schools, just a step past “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” were staffed by nuns, brothers and priests. Today, however, they account for a mere 4% of the staff, many of them in administration.

The glory days of the U.S. Catholic parochial school are gone, according to a new University of Notre Dame report, and the church must rethink its mission in order to recapture the school system’s lost luster.
The nuns and priests who educated generations of American Catholics are almost gone, retired or deceased.. Faculty salaries are too low while tuitions and costs are rising, the report says.

Catholic schools are in steep decline, their enrollment having “steadily dropped by more than half from its peak of five million 40 years ago.”Among the better-known reasons: 1) nuns and priests who once staffed teaching positions have retired and their ranks have not been renewed in the near-total absence of new American “vocations”; 2) as urban Catholics suburbanized over the past two generations, Church officials for various reasons did not choose to follow them out by establishing suburban schools in large numbers; 3) having fully entered the mainstream of American life, Catholics are less drawn than previously to separate institutions.

There was a time when parochial schools seemed almost omnipresent, when the daily migration of kids in plaid clothes seemed to fill every street. However, with enrollments plummeting and one school after another closing its doors, the torrent of Catholic school kids has become a trickle, and it looks like the days of Catholic education may well be numbered.

When it comes to Catholic education in America, the numbers are downright startling. In 1965, approximately half of all Catholic families sent their kids to parochial schools; today, roughly 15% do so. While there are numerous reasons for this, the big one seems to be that the cost of parochial school has vastly increased. Once upon a time, Catholic classes were largely taught by clerics. Today, however, fewer Catholics are choosing to enter the priesthood or the nunnery; in fact, one statistic states that there are presently more nuns over 90 than under 50 years old.

Another concern has been a reduction in religious definition. For many people, Catholicism has become less of an all-consuming lifestyle and more of a part-time identity. Where Catholic education was once a responsibility for Catholic parents, it is increasingly becoming an expensive luxury.

Furthermore, in areas where public education has improved, parochial education has suffered. For example, in Northern Virginia, where I grew up, Catholic schools once offered the best educational choices. However, as the area’s schools have improved, Catholic education has simply become a more expensive option.

You might have not seen the former paragraphs which were from NYT and other papers. But what about those who live in Bergen county? Did you not see the Bergen record two months ago? Has anyone called any of the Catholic parochial schools to see if anything can be brainstormed together? This article is on the remaining 15% of Catholics still going to parochial school having to leave because of the 2009 recession. They closed 40 out of 137 schools in the last few years. In addition, the local public schools which uses licensed teachers are currently seen as offering a superior education.

Bergen Record – Catholic schools enrollment drop blamed on economy
Friday, November 13, 2009 BY TONY GICAS

CLIFTON — The economic downturn has created frightening unemployment rates, forced many Americans to foreclose on their homes, brought sticker shock into the nation’s grocery stores and has even changed the way people plan their children’s education.

More specifically, many New Jerseyans have either decided to take their children out of parochial schools or send them to public schools because of the financial commitment required at most Catholic schools.

According to Brian Gray, a spokesman for the National Catholic Education Association, enrollment at America’s Catholic schools reached its peak in the 1960s with about 5.2 million students. By 1980 that number had dropped to approximately 3.1 million and last year the nationwide enrollment hit 2.19 million.

In September 2000, the Newark Archdiocese had 137 grade schools in Union, Essex, Hudson and Bergen counties. Now, it has just 97. The school population in neighboring Paterson jumped by 1,000 students this year, a 3.5 percent increase in the district that has about 28,000 students, the district reported.

“I think down the line if the economy continues this way the tuition at parochial schools will remain unaffordable to many and the numbers will continue to decline,” Tardalo said.

“Therefore they may desire a private education for their children, but if they have to they’ll opt to send their children to a public school.”

He said parochial schools offered “an equivalent educational experience” during his time as a Catholic school principal, however he did stipulate their teachers do not face the same licensing requirements as public school teachers.

I exclude from my discussion the wealthy Jewish prep schools like Ramaz becuase they are based on having a financial endowment  and have a different constituency. The question remains- Will the average Jewish days schools decline the way the Catholic schools did? Why not? Why do we think we have a more sustainable system than the Catholic schools? Even if everyone struggles to keep their kids in their current day school, will those 10  years younger than you want to enter this rat race? Will your kids want to continue this struggle? Anyone have good data about those moving to the new Sun Belt suburbs? I have no solutions, only historical questions.

This post came from running into a neighbor HF in the grocery for whom this is a major concern. It is a write-up of a discussion that occurred by meat aisle. I do want to write this up as an op-ed at some point.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill · All Rights Reserved

On the Economy and on Sustenance: Judaism, Society, and Economics [Hebrew]

Al haKalkalah ve-al haMihyah eds Itamar Brenner and Aharon Ariel Lavi 2008

I just got around to reading another volume in the “Jewish Thought and Cultural Criticism” series, they reflect the thinking going around Religious Zionist circles Below are short summaries of the articles  without the details to give you a sense of the volume. I will focus more on the ones that deal with Jewish thought.

Section One
The opening essay by Rav Shagar Z”l presents two understandings of the Sabbatical Year Shmita- a functional one and a spiritual return to harmony with nature and the Divine. He presents an ambivalence of inner and outer views of society. Hazal were ambivalent on carrying on Sabbath- it is one of the 39 prime categories but also a melakhah gerua but one can make eruv. He says that Hazal were more concerned with outer bounderies with the natural order than internal ones with the camp. He applies that back to the Sabbatical year. But along the ride, he discusses Midrash, Zohar, Heschel, and Mordechai Breuer, He concludes “Shimita is a catharsis, a disengagement and a purification from acquisition and civilization.

Dov Berkovits offers a nice analysis of the agricultural laws as showing wealth as the blessing of God and we partake of God’s blessing. He compares this to John Locke where wealth is human initiative. For Locke, God mandates government and human are left free, while for Hazal there is an interaction of the Divine and the human.

Roni Bar-Lev, who is working for a PHD under Avi Sagi discussed wealth in the writings of Rav Nahman of Breslov.He shows how for Rav Nahman, a kosher Jews should be far away from money or acquisition. Money is vile. In the story “master of prayer” the wealthy are so delusional that they organize themselves into angelic ranks based on their wealth. Yet, it is needed in the world. Greed is the only vice that cannot be transmuted to good, but desire itself can be transmuted.

Motti bar-Or of Kolot also offers the distinction in zedakah between the functional and the getting closer to the Divine.

Aharon Lavi, an editor of the volume doing a PHD in economic gives us a long article that is a gold mine of playing Jewish thought off of economic concerns. He major thesis is that Jewish thought offers a model of giving and receiving (mashbia, mekabel) , a connected societal model which he contrasts with Utilitarianism. He cites Chabad, early Hasidut, Zohar, Rav Nahman to create his model, more Chabad than others. For him, the Torah is pro Keynes and against Milton Freidman He also explores other images of tikkun, from above and from below. He concludes by rejecting Naomi Klein’s ideas of NO LOGO because she does not get the cultural elements.

Section two
Israel Auman, the noble prize winner offers a Hebrew translation of his English articles on Risk Aversion. Yaakov Rosenberg offers a Richard Posner analysis of hilkhot nezikin.Julian Sinclair offers a translation of his English article on climate change and Judaism. The political Kabbalist Yitzhak Ginzburgh creates a kabbblah of management. And Yossi Zuriah (I am not sure if this is how he spells his name) ponders applying ideas of Shimitah to the high tech industry- “shareware” “open source” and why this would still keep the company afloat.

Section three

Articles from a current Israeli halakhic debate on not relying on heter iska today. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was against using it today. Some say we should use Arab banks. So this volume has Rabbis Yaakov Ariel and Yoel Bin Nun on the topic on minimizing the use of heter iska as much as possible. This is a VBM shiur by Daniel Wolf that gives the background. Some of these arguments could use a review of Money Supply before writing
The same section has an out of place article by Yael Wilfed presenting part of her Duke PHd comparing Roman and rabbinic concepts in philanthropy. Conclusion – Romans were concerned with the collective state and gave out bread, the sages were concerned on a personal level.
There is an article by Yosef Yitzahak Lifshitz presenting his libertarian anti-socialist views, seems a translation from Azure. (It should have been in part II). And an article of Meir Tamari and an article by Edo Rechnitz, from the Beth Din for money, on targeting Zedakah

Little prepared me for the afterword by Rabbi Menachem Froman Of Tekoa
He start off by discussing how people found Religious Zionism from decades ago as all socialism and secular at its core but observant only on top of that. He turns to hasidut to discuss how we have to do things leshem yehud, to unify God, to sanctify the everyday. Then he moves to Rav Nahman to discuss how everyday life and money is the evil side and that God wants us to enter the evil side to redeem it. We then get a homily on the Zohar in which there is a disjunctive inserted between Lo (DO NOT) and KILL (Tirzah) meaning that sometimes you have to do what is normally forbidden. We then move to the importance of making an offering to the evil side as shown by the scapegoat offered to the evil side, but Froman’s question is why the second goat? Answer- we need to return to the non-spiritual, the mundane. We need to bring the spiritual work into the mundane into the evil side of dealing with money.
Then he discusses Camus’s myth of Sisyphus and the Plague and concludes that Torah teaches us not to ask about the outcome; we need to do things lishmah. He concludes with a discussion weaving together the Zohar, that the world is the evil side and Doug Adams – Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
I read the Rav Froman piece last Shabbat and right after Shabbat I read a great article on Rav Froman in the religious section of MAARIV/NRG.

If you do comment, please comment on ideas, not people. And please  do not arrive to offer scatter shot citations of articles on economics and Judaism from the RJJ and TUM journal and the like.

Fishbane – Sacred Attunment –part 4

Fishbane – chapter 4 continued from part 3 here —— and part I here, part 2 here.

Fishbane opens chapter 4 stating that reading the text is a spiritual practice in which “Each generation must produce the exegetical practices appropriate to its historical and intellectual situation.”

There are three levels of Torah, Torah kelulah, written Torah, oral Torah (This is a Neo-hasidic innovation to add a third.)

Torah kelulah is truly from heaven as a holy hieroglyph encoding patterns and forms of every form.
The written Torah is a specific shaping of the torah kelulah through the heart and mind of Moses and formulated in the style and idiom of the times.The written torah is a scriptural record of the “spiritual history of the covenant in its initial unfolding, as formulated by the like of Moses and those who spoke in his voice (and spirit) in the early history of ancient Israel.” “Others spoke in a similar voice and with similar concern, and challenged and guided the people to obey the teaching of the covenant in all their ways” such as Isaiah and Jerimiah. (Kingship and covenant as vasselhood are not used).
.The Oral torah capturs the spiritual vitalities inherent within the written Torah.It makes the Torah . personified and particularized. There is a vibrant paradox of Jewish covenant theology, in which the Torah is continuously rereading its formulations through the prism of its own forms of rationality and interpretive tradition.

“The strict halakhist will tend to see the external world largely through the prism of the Oral Torah….whereas the strictly natural self will tend only to see the world with a natural eye…But we should resist this dichotomy”

Jews are descendents of both Adam and Moses- we are both a natural and a cultural being
Torah kelulah is our hearts, written torah in our minds, oral law on our mouths.
The Torah kelulah is not given to our natural self but only to the Jew in covenant..

On faith—–“Standing before scripture in all its modes is emunah” faithfulness to the wondrous torah
We ascend to God and it unfolds in torah.
Emunah as mahshvah devekah and also a counterthrust of aught- noght fraught with the cascading and fragmenting of our world.

We need a prepared heart for the Torah. As kohelet tells us: the natural self is vanity
Covenantal self stands in awe before the divine and is faithful to the world at hand – it lives in wholehearted

This discussion of emunah, temimut, lev tahor sounds a lot like Maharal via hasidut.

The Torah was given in the desert according to Midrash. This means the realm of the evil side according to the Zohar. Fishbane explains this as the need to confront the terrors of life– the “howl of evil.”

We should pay attention to the terms in and out, near- far, with – before with our readings . They make us aware of our boundaries.

Finally, his concept of obligation, hiyyuv. Fishbane states that we are always under a hiyyuv- It is herut al ha-luhot (avot 6:2) but it gets explained by means of Heidegger –Gademer and our horizens.
He also explain obligation through Cordovero’s Tomar Devorah. We are always connected to Divine values and responsibility. (I know Fishbane taught Tomar Devorah over a year ago, if anyone wants to send me notes it would be appreciated. It would be like reading Heidegger on the history of thought.)

In the course of the above discussion, there is some nice Zohar analysis showing how the Zohar used midrashic tropes of Genesis Rabbah and how names are changes between the two texts. Rebbi (alternate R. Ami ) gets told over in the name of R. Abba

The book ends with a reminder of our hermeneutic finitude – and that forgetting this is hubris. We are finite, mortal, in the flesh and that “death is the final censura”

I found the book dealing with many of the same issues as the poet-singer Leonard Cohen
Natural Life peaks at love, birth, transformed moments, the natural censura of death, and a natural life pointing beyond- to something deeper. Cohen’s songs turn from the natural
to Zen, to a revelatory Biblical God, to the existential abyss.
Fishbane starts with the natural and does not give us the heightened speech of the poet rather he directs us to find the heightened words and meaning of Sinai as understood through the Bible, Midrash, Biblical exegesis, Kabbalah, and Hasidut
For Leonard Cohen, one needs to practice Zen meditation to awaken to the moment, and still keep Shabbat to please the Biblical God. For Fishbane, Sinai create a need for continuous God consciousness and connection to the textuality of divine values. We need Sacred Attunment.

Religious Experience Reconsidered

There is an interview with Ann Taves, professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa. Her latest book is Religious Experience Reconsidered: A Building-Block Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things.

Her first book was a great analysis of religious experiences from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century Fits, Trances, and Visions: experiencing religion and explaining experience from Wesley to James. “From the mid-18th to the early 20th century, believers and skeptics clashed over the question of whether God was supernaturally present in these experiences, or whether they were merely natural expressions of physical disease or psychological disorder. William James, who argued that charismatic spirituality was both natural and religious.” She showed how American charismatics waiting for grace to move their souls moved to a more external revivalism. She also showed that religious experience became identified with the psychological unconscious, which was opposed by those who believed we only have Locke’s conscious mind.

This was great because it helped explain in detail the unfolding of Eastern European Hasidut and Mitnagdut as the nineteenth and twentieth century progressed. Besht, Maggid of Mezerich, Kotzk, and Rav Kook could all be placed in a sequence in the domestication of the supernatural. The eastern European topics of devekut, a sense of providence, God as immanent in the mind each found a similar chapter in Taves. She was also very good for dealing with topics like the angelic visitors –maggid of the Vilna Gaon and the rejection of much of the Gaon’s thought by Neo-Orthodoxy and Modern Orthodoxy, the latter basically following Locke. The Jewish tradition had the supernatural ever present in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In her new book, she writes from the current perspective in which mysticism and religious experience are outdated terms. She wanted to reframe the discussion to special experiences that we frame as religious. In this book she is now theologian-theoretician. We do not have the traditional supernatural sense of God anymore, so what do we label as religious? She works on the psychological and the social together.

In the last 20 years or so that approach came in for sharp criticism. Many scholars wanted to get away from it because it seemed to suggest an experiential essence of religion and turned instead to analyzing discourses about experience. But I don’t think we can afford to throw experience out, because embodied experience is where culture and biology meet.

First of all, rather than “religious experience,” we can talk about “experiences deemed religious.”

Next, I locate experience under the broader heading of consciousness studies, ranging from highly reflective, self-aware meta-consciousness to unconscious processes. Once we can put experience in that kind of framework, it is possible to look at the interpretive processes, or what I call attributional processes, to understand how certain kinds of experiences in certain kinds of contexts come to be understood as religious.

In my “building-block” method, I distinguish between single experiences and the way that those experiences get caught up in more complex formations. I was challenged by Robert Sharf’s writes about a Buddhist ceremony in which an abbot turns into the Buddha. I compare it with the Eucharist in Christianity; in both of those rituals, there is an experiential dimension. But the wafer turning into Christ or the abbot turning into the Buddha, according to each tradition, happens regardless of whether a given person who is present at the ritual has an unusual sensory experience. The social dimension, therefore, cannot be ignored; the event’s significance can’t be understood by focusing only on individuals.

It is interesting to me, for example, that researchers are finding parts of the brain that they can stimulate to cause people to have out-of-body experiences. While probably everybody who has an out-of-body experience is going to think it is unusual and interesting—if not scary—they will probably interpret it differently if they know that they’re sitting in a laboratory having neurological tests done than if they have that experience in the context of a religious worship service.

I’ve agonized a lot about the second-order terms that scholars should use, and I finally came upon the idea of “specialness.” Specialness has to do with ascriptions of value. In other words, it signifies how important something is to people. In some cases these things have a kind of Durkheimian sense of sacredness; they are considered so valuable that they’re set apart and protected by taboos. Specialness is a term that allows us to investigate where people position things along a continuum of value rather than simply assuming that people consider things in terms of binary oppositions such as “sacred” and “profane,” or “religious” and “secular.”

The idea of specialness will capture most of the things that people on the ground would describe with terms like “religious,” “sacred,” and sometimes even “secular” as well.
There are, inevitably, some practices that scholars would think of as religious that are so much an everyday part of practitioners’ lives that they don’t think of them as special. But if we look carefully at how people behave in relation to those things, we might be surprised. For instance, the practice of crossing oneself with holy water when entering a Catholic church may be so habitual for longtime Catholics that it feels totally ordinary. But if the practice were challenged or questioned in some way, they would probably have a sense that, in fact, this is a thing that sets them apart from other kinds of Christians. It is thus a special sign, so to speak, of participation within that tradition.

OK, so what is labeled as special in Judaism? Where are the things or rituals that seem to have a specialness even if they seem mundane? For some negel wasser in the morning may be more special than saying blessings and prayer, for others learning Gemara in the beit midrash has that quality- but they do not get the specialness outside of the beit midrash. What are the habitual rituals of special importance? Which are the rituals that are “special” and used to demarcate the “tradition”? And to return to her first book, which of these are rejections of the traditional supernaturalism and which are transformations? I would suspect that some of the most halakhic have the least continuity with the traditional moments of religious experience. Does experience show up more now as magic and fetish? Do all the various groups of modern orthodoxy have the same or different senses of special moments?

Authorship and the Individual

Interesting book review on questions of authorship as applied to Dante. The critical theorists have already shown that medievals treated Aristotelian philosophy the way we treat the rules of physics, not something that needs an author. And they showed how some medieval texts were written with the reader in mind- either as images on the side of the page or only giving allusions and letting the reader apply them on his own. Medievals also wrote as a form of revelation, and treated cosmologies as revelatory and they considered the bearers of the scholarly tradition as possessing an immanent truth. Not everyone who wrote was considered an auctores.

This opens up the question of what rabbinic Jewish author were doing? The Geonim and Nahmanides were writing with the a Divine spirit, or at least legal decisions were guided by the Divine. Some Kabbalistic works are seen as transmitting ancient knowledge or ascribed to older figures. And the Guide for the Perplexed is just that, a guide for the reader. But what were the “authors” of Pirkei deRebbe Eliezer thinking?

To consider the modern issues: Judaism never bought into the idea of the individual author and still has trouble with intellectual property of an author. In many texts, Torah is seen as possessed by the collective or as eternally given. So when a posek writes a teshuvah: Is it his own authorship? Does he write as bearer of a mesorah, like a medieval kabbalist? Is there a revelation granted to the community? We tend to frame these questions using the anachronistic modern contrast of autonomy and authority. We need to ask: what is involved in an act of religious writing? Does one write ex cathedra, with immanent truth, with revelation, or for the reader?

But then it becomes more difficult- what happens when the written opinions of a rabbi are involved in petty squabbles or personal interests or manipulated by politics? Ascoli’s book on Dante asks that question directly – If Dante claimed to write with revelation then how can he till be involved in his petty squabbles? What happens when someone writes with immanent divine truth and also acts as an independent agent?

Albert Russell Ascoli. Dante and the Making of a Modern Author. Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 2008. Reviewed by Jan G. Soffner (Zentrum Cr Literatur- und Kulturforschung) Published on H-Italy (December, 2009)

By Which Authority Did Dante Write?

If one happens to talk by chance about Dante’s fourteenth-century masterpiece _Divine Comedy_, one can observe a strange phenomenon.

Dante seems to misuse God for his political opinions, by letting the divine justice condemn his enemies, and for his personal
pride or arrogance, by having all the best dead poets honor him (see, for instance, Inferno IV, 100-102). Moreover, isn’t it already quite
presumptuous to “know” the divine verdict about everybody who has ever died? All this seems to be even stranger, since this work is
evidently a literary text, not an inspired prophecy like the Revelation. So how could Dante attribute this authority to himself?
And did he attribute this authority to himself after all, or did he “just” write fiction?

This suspicion arose as soon as the _poema sacro–_the “holy poem,” as Dante himself calls it (Paradiso XXV, 1)–was written. Nearly
seven hundred years of “Dantology” (to use Robert Harrison’s brilliantly provocative term)[1] have not convincingly resolved this
doubt. In the fourteenth century cosmological representations in the _Cosmographia_ of BernardusSilvestris (ca. 1084-1178), the _Anticlaudianus_ of Alanus ab Insulis (1120-1202) and the _Tesoretto_ of Brunetto Latini (ca. 1220-94). They read the text either as a spiritual revelation and a dream, despite its literary construction and despite the claim to report a physical journey, or they interpreted it in a “modern” way, that is, as a fictional construction, despite the explicit claims of the _Commedia_to be a revelatory work.

Ascoli also has an excellent knowledge notonly of the works of modern theoretical thinkers such as Hannah
Arendt, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, and Mary Carruthers about literary authorship and authority, but also of the discursive
figurations of _auctores_ available at Dante’s time. Ascoli starts with an extensive analysis of contemporary concepts of
authorship, and of the manner in which Dante seems to be relating to them as a whole. Ascoli argues that the image of an author stemmed
from the trustworthy _auctoritates_ of the ancient and/or philosophical and theological tradition granting for an immanent
truth to biblical scribes and the true author, who is God. These traditional concepts refer to _auctoritas_ as both an individual and
impersonal power and knowledge. The _auctor_ thereby was not so much a creative agent, but rather a mediating power of knowledge. He was
one worthy of faith and obedience.

Hence Dante, modeled as an individual traveler in the _Divine Comedy_, “comes, paradoxically, to embody the canons of
impersonal authority” (p. 20). On the one hand Dante is thereby traditionalist and conservative, on the other, he is also provided
with the “transgressive desire to appropriate that attribute for himself, for the vernacular, and for ‘modernity'” (p. 20f).

How can a fictional work gain a revelatory truth? Ascoli shows convincingly how Dante assumes the traditional role of an
authoritative author without thereby relating to the pre-existing models of knowledge implied by these kinds of authorship.
The unease of us moderns when confronted with Dante cannot just be about the relation to an ineffable divine Being. Representationalist
modern authors work with a more or less Aristotelian concept of fiction, that is, with a concept of a poetic truth relying on
modeling possibilities and an emotionality that can be addressed playfully and without consequences. However, Dante tells us a
different story

Here is a sample of chapter one of Albert Russell Ascoli. Dante and the Making of a Modern Author.
Can we move beyond the dichotomies of authority/autonomy or submission/freedom and explain the act of religious writing or studying Torah or acting as a rabbi in terms of how they define authorship or role of the self in the process?

Copyright © 2010 · All Rights Reserved

Law and Religion

A Survey of Law & Religion Casebooks For Law Schools
from Religion Clause by Howard Friedman

here is a listing of casebooks and teaching materials on law and religion designed for law schools and law students available from major law book publishers (listed alphabetically by author):

* Ariens & Destro, Religious Liberty in a Pluralistic Society, 2d ed., (Carolina Academic Press, 2002).
* Belsky & Bessler-Northcutt, Law and Theology, (Carolina Academic Press, 2005).
* Berg’s The State and Religion in a Nutshell, 2d (West Pub., 2004).
* Brownstein and Jacobs’s Global Issues in Freedom of Speech and Religion: Cases and Materials (West Pub., 2008).
* Gey, Fonvielle & Hinkle, Religion and the State, 2d ed, (Matthew Bender, 2006).
* Griffin’s Law and Religion, Cases and Materials (Foundation Press, 2006) with 2009 Supplement.
* Loewy’s Religion and the Constitution: Cases and Materials (West Pub., 1998) with 2002 Supplement.
* McConnell, Harvey & Berg, Religion and the Constitution, 2d ed., (Aspen Publishers, 2006).
* Noonan and Gaffney’s Religious Freedom: History, Cases and Other Materials on the Interaction of Religion and Government, 2d ed. (Foundation Press, 2010) (available 4/2010, earlier edition currently available).
* Ravitch’s Law and Religion, A Reader: Concepts, Cases and Theory, 2d ed. (West Pub., 2004).
* Volokh’s The Religion Clauses and Related Statutes: Problems, Cases and Policy Arguments (Foundation Press, 2005).

Foodie Judaism, Solar Powered

I have a neighbor who is a physician who switched twenty five years ago from his Conservative upbringing to Orthodoxy because the latter offered a Yuppie lifestyle (bye bye Maneschewitz and chopped liver, hello Cheers Italian restaurant) and rational medical ethics (bye bye appeals to tradition).
So, what now?
Food has changed for many Americans, as Anthony Bourdain wrote in the NYT last week “Foodie Nation” (December 27, 2009)

Something important happened to my former profession in 2007. I’m still unsure what, exactly — but there was a shift, the world of food tilting on its axis. Dining rooms were busy with ever more food-obsessed, better-informed customers…Chefs were now trusted enough to persuade customers to try what they themselves loved to eat. Hence the hooves and snouts and oily little fishes that increasingly popped up on menus

Or Wikipedia states:

. . . foodies are amateurs who simply love food for consumption, study, preparation, and news . . . foodies want to learn everything about food, both the best and the ordinary, and about the science, industry, and personalities surrounding food.

So my question is: How will this play itself out in religious groupings? Not everything is theology or law, people like to live their lives with those of similar lifestyles. How will those who go to Fairway to prepare for Shabbat only when they cannot get to a farmers market play itself out? How will those who prefer cerviche to gefilte fish create demarcations? or artisan bread in place of sugary egg challah? (once upon a time – the move from Orthodoxy to Conservative included a switch from herring to lox.)
From the other direction- will those who crave the heimish cholent or the frat house buffalo wings create community distinctions? Parts of Orthodoxy have actually been going with this trend as the restaurant Solo has hired 2 of the Top Chefs as consultants and there will be a molecular gastronomy restaurant similar to the non-kosher WD-50 opening in Jerusalem.
These shifts are never single cause and involve broader lifestyle changes. If the person that I mentioned at the start found doctors becoming Orthodox (there was still unwritten quotas and restricted positions for Jews entering medicine before). Yesterday’s NYT said that some of the in new fields will be narrative medicine, high tech security, and sustainable energy-solar energy. Whichever group gets there first with the “torah of the imperative of solar energy” or “halakhot of security” wins them as congregants. This is not so far off since on linkedin – among the friends of my Israeli friends- the largest number work for NICE systems- which develops high tech security. Have you heard any shiur geared to that industry lately?
So which rabbi or community will the solar energy engineer who feels there is a vital need to make our homes and synagogues energy efficient and reduce our global footprint pick? What if the engineer is also a foodie?
Copyright © 2010 · All Rights Reserved

The Emergent Church and Orthodoxy

There are a variety of post-modern turns to religion: including Post-modern Christianity, post-liberalism, emergent church, weak theology, post-evangelical, theology without Being, minimal theology, Paleo-orthodoxy, and radical orthodoxy. (Personally, I  do not necessarily agree with, or accept, or identify with any of them  except post-liberalism) Some of the new turns are liberal and some are orthodox.  Some are academic and some are popular. Some are ideas and some are social tends. And some are for everyone. while others are only for gen x and gen y – leaving the baby boomers out.  We live in a fluid decade where a Jew raised in the reform movement who starts wearing Zizit, putting on tefillin, and keeping Kosher can still be comfortable in Reform and where those raised Orthodox are still part of the social entity Orthodoxy regardless of believe or practice. Even within Orthodoxy, an ecstatic breslov Carlbachian, a scholarly interested in academic Talmud, a baby-boomer fighting what they perceive as chumrot, and someone advocating GLBT awareness- may or may not have anything in common with each other. .

Since my blog post on post –evangelicalism has generated an interest- I will offer a bit more on a related topic- The EMERGENT CHURCH. But when you read it, the question remains to map out where Judaism is similar and where it is different than the Evangelicals. As I asked in the first post: What needs to be added in the Jewish case? Are Jews playing themselves out in the same way? Where are the differences?
Here is the WIKI definition of the emergent church – I am not sure how it relates to Jews.

The emerging church (sometimes referred to as the emergent movement) is a Christian movement of the late 20th and early 21st century that crosses a number of theological boundaries: participants can be described as evangelical, post-evangelical, liberal, post-liberal, charismatic, neocharismatic and post-charismatic. Participants seek to live their faith in what they believe to be a “postmodern” society. Proponents of this movement call it a “conversation” to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature, its vast range of standpoints and its commitment to dialogue. What those involved in the conversation mostly agree on is their disillusionment with the organized and institutional church and their support for the deconstruction of modern Christian worship, modern evangelism, and the nature of modern Christian community.

The emerging church favors the use of simple story and narrative. Members of the movement often place a high value on good works or social activism, including missional living or new monasticism. Many in the emerging church emphasize the here and now. The movement favors the sharing of experiences via testimonies, prayer, group recitation, sharing meals and other communal practices, which they believe are more personal and sincere than propositional presentations of the Gospel.

I am not sure how much the younger generation of Jews are using narrative, are doing good works, charismatic, or creating a new monasticism.

There was a good article a full three years ago attempting to unpack the Emergent Church that will be helpful in comparing Jewish trends to Evangelical ones.

Five Streams of the Emerging Church

Scot McKnight | posted 1/19/2007

Following are five themes that characterize the emerging movement. I see them as streams flowing into the emerging lake. No one says the emerging movement is the only group of Christians doing these things, but together they crystallize into the emerging movement.

Prophetic (or at least provocative)

One of the streams flowing into the emerging lake is prophetic rhetoric. The emerging movement is consciously and deliberately provocative. Emerging Christians believe the church needs to change, and they are beginning to live as if that change had already occurred. Since I swim in the emerging lake, I can self-critically admit that we sometimes exaggerate.

Brian McLaren in Generous Orthodoxy: “Often I don’t think Jesus would be caught dead as a Christian, were he physically here today. … Generally, I don’t think Christians would like Jesus if he showed up today as he did 2,000 years ago. In fact, I think we’d call him a heretic and plot to kill him, too.” McLaren, on the very next page, calls this statement an exaggeration. Still, the rhetoric is in place..

Postmodern: Mark Twain said the mistake God made was in not forbidding Adam to eat the serpent. Had God forbidden the serpent, Adam would certainly have eaten him. When the evangelical world prohibited postmodernity, as if it were fruit from the forbidden tree, the postmodern “fallen” among us—like F. LeRon Shults, Jamie Smith, Kevin Vanhoozer, John Franke, and Peter Rollins—chose to eat it to see what it might taste like. We found that it tasted good, even if at times we found ourselves spitting out hard chunks of nonsense. Postmodernity is the collapse of inherited metanarratives (overarching explanations of life)

Jamie Smith, a professor at Calvin College, argues in Who’s Afraid of Postmodernity? (Baker Academic, 2006) that such thinking is compatible, in some ways, with classical Augustinian epistemology.

Others minister with postmoderns. That is, they live with, work with, and converse with postmoderns, accepting their postmodernity as a fact of life in our world. Such Christians view postmodernity as a present condition into which we are called to proclaim and live out the gospel.

They don’t deny truth, they don’t deny that Jesus Christ is truth, and they don’t deny the Bible is truth.

From a theological perspective, this fixation with propositions can easily lead to the attempt to use the finite tool of language on an absolute Presence that transcends and embraces all finite reality. Languages are culturally constructed symbol systems that enable humans to communicate by designating one finite reality in distinction from another. The truly infinite God of Christian faith is beyond all our linguistic grasping, as all the great theologians from Irenaeus to Calvin have insisted, and so the struggle to capture God in our finite propositional structures is nothing short of linguistic idolatry.


Worship: I’ve heard folks describe the emerging movement as “funky worship” or “candles and incense” or “smells and bells.” It’s true; many in the emerging movement are creative, experiential, and sensory in their worship gatherings.

They ask these sorts of questions: Is the sermon the most important thing on Sunday morning? If we sat in a circle would we foster a different theology and praxis? If we lit incense, would we practice our prayers differently? If we put the preacher on the same level as the congregation, would we create a clearer sense of the priesthood of all believers?

Orthopraxy: A notable emphasis of the emerging movement is orthopraxy, that is, right living. The contention is that how a person lives is more important than what he or she believes. Many will immediately claim that we need both or that orthopraxy flows from orthodoxy. Most in the emerging movement agree we need both, but they contest the second claim: Experience does not prove that those who believe the right things live the right way. No matter how much sense the traditional connection makes, it does not necessarily work itself out in practice. Public scandals in the church—along with those not made public—prove this point time and again.

Missional: The foremost concern of the praxis stream is being missional. What does this mean? First, the emerging movement becomes missional by participating, with God, in the redemptive work of God in this world.  Second, it seeks to become missional by participating in the community where God’s redemptive work occurs. The church is the community through which God works and in which God manifests the credibility of the gospel.Third, becoming missional means participating in the holistic redemptive work of God in this world. The Spirit groans, the creation groans, and we groan for the redemption of God

Post-evangelical –-A fourth stream flowing into the emerging lake is characterized by the term post-evangelical. The emerging movement is a protest against much of evangelicalism as currently practiced. It is post-evangelical in the way that neo-evangelicalism (in the 1950s) was post-fundamentalist. It would not be unfair to call it postmodern evangelicalism. This stream flows from the conviction that the church must always be reforming itself.

The vast majority of emerging Christians are evangelical theologically. But they are post-evangelical in at least two ways.

Post-systematic theology: The emerging movement tends to be suspicious of systematic theology. Why? Not because we don’t read systematics, but because the diversity of theologies alarms us, no genuine consensus has been achieved, God didn’t reveal a systematic theology but a storied narrative, and no language is capable of capturing the Absolute Truth who alone is God. Frankly, the emerging movement loves ideas and theology. It just doesn’t have an airtight system or statement of faith.

Hence, a trademark feature of the emerging movement is that we believe all theology will remain a conversation about the Truth who is God in Christ through the Spirit, and about God’s story of redemption at work in the church. No systematic theology can be final.

In versus out: An admittedly controversial element of post-evangelicalism is that many in the emerging movement are skeptical about the “in versus out” mentality of much of evangelicalism. Even if one is an exclusivist (believing that there is a dividing line between Christians and non-Christians), the issue of who is in and who is out pains the emerging generation. This emerging ambivalence about who is in and who is out creates a serious problem for evangelism.

Political A final stream flowing into the emerging lake is politics. Tony Jones is regularly told that the emerging movement is a latte-drinking, backpack-lugging, Birkenstock-wearing group of 21st-century, left-wing, hippie wannabes. Put directly, they are Democrats. And that spells “post” for conservative-evangelical-politics-as-usual.

Now—where does this apply to the new generation of modern Orthodox Jews and where do they differ? Why? This is not Baby-boomer liberal Orthodoxy – so where is it going? Do not take this one article and treat it as the definitive word or as the best definition. Dont make it into a Truth. There are many other articles, books, and differing opinions on Emergents, especially since it is a conversation. It was chosen as a temporary quck -fix for clarity. But the question is where do Jews fit into the conversation? Which of these five points apply to Young Jews and which dont?

© Alan Brill 2010