Monthly Archives: April 2010

Key findings of the Avi Chai report on young Jewish leaders

Here is a sense of the ideology of the leaders of the new organizations and they will someday head the established ones.
Any trends? Is it what you expected? Notice the day school graduates did not remain Orthodox, so that Orthodox who have the Avi-Chai definition of leadership remains at the 10% mark. We expected already the lack of Antisemitism as a drive and a lack of us-them relationship with the world. So this means that those of you under 40 who do have the us-them divide may feel alienated from the community’s leaders.

Key findings of the Avi Chai report on young Jewish leaders
By Jacob Berkman · April 12, 2010

A team of six researchers studied Jews between the age of 22 and 40, who serve as Jewish leaders, which they defined as those who have spearheaded new Jewish initiatives, direct existing mainstream Jewish organizations or somehow are thought leaders or activists on Jewish endeavors.The researchers interviewed some 250 leaders across country, but claim to have identified more than 3,000 who might be considered young Jewish leaders.

Among the key findings

* They do not feel threatened by Antisemitism.
* They prefer to reject us-them relationships with non-Jews and want to be inclusive of non-Jews in their programing.
* They hold strong views on the organized Jewish community and need for new ways of organizing it and are critical of federations, traditional synagogues and agencies that engage in protective activities.
* While many believe that most young Jewish leaders totally buck the mainstream of Judaism, the report suggests that a large segment actually involve themselves in those organizations such as Jewish federations, Friends of the IDF and AIPAC. “It’s not true they want nothing to do with traditional causes, especially those who are economically secure and relate to the networking core of traditional Jewish organizations.”
* Around 40 percent of Jewish leaders attended day school, only 10-11 percent of those are Orthodox.
* Two thirds attended Jewish summer camps.
* Half have spent more than four months of study in Israel.
* They believe that Jewish peoplehood means the celebration of diaspora Jewish culture that is rich, diverse and inclusive.
* Most do not see Israel as central to Jewish identity and peoplehood, and there is a broad range of how much criticism about Israel they can tolerate.

On a similar note we have to congratulate Rabbi Ari Weiss of Uri L’Tzedek who won a Joshua Venture Grant. Uri L’Tzedek is defined as created to “engage, empower, and inspire the American Orthodox Jewish community to enact social change both within and beyond its own communal borders.” For the other 2010 winners- here. For past years- here.

Menachem Ekstein Visions of a Compassionate World — A Post-Hasid?

I was recently recommended to read the volume Menachem Ekstein, Visions of a Compassionate World : Guided Imagery for Spiritual Growth and Social Transformation (Urim 2001) (Hebrew- Netzah 1960) based on the original Tennai Hanefesh leHasagat HaHasidut (Vienna, 1921).

I was told the book is an essential part of modern Hasidism along with the Piesetzna Rebbe. (In a recent PHD on the latter, there is a chapter on Ekstein.)

The book is a 1920’s volume of guided imagery – image the sun, the entire planet, the animal kingdom, see all the fish in the sea. Then see your place on earth. Open yourself up to growth and infinite potential, see the potential for change and overcoming one’s limits. Avoid negative thoughts and images that hold you back. The goal is to wake up the senses and this is defined as Hasidism. As I was reading it, I realized that I read these visualizations before. They are from Jean Huston’s The Possible Human: A Course in Extending Your Physical, Mental, and Creative Abilities (1982). Jean Huston is a 1980’s hero of New Thought incorporating many 1920’s classic visualizations in her work. There are similar elements in Alice Baily Shakti Gwain, and Warren Kenton. A quick google search of any of the visualizations yielded dozens of new age sites with the same visualizations. I do not know which works Menachem Eckstein actually read in 1920’s Germany, I could not find a list of German New Thought books online (I already tried Wiki in German.)

I have been told from other sources that the book is very popular in the neo-hasidic national- religious Habakuk crowd, especially the hilltop youth. There is even a CD to listen to the visualizations. This book offers a traditional Hasidic version of new age. It authenticates their individualistic spiritual quests.

It is hard to see it as a Hasidic work, even if the author is a son of a Galitzianer Hasid because the book is printed in Vienna using modern Hebrew and the last chapter is a vision of a restored state of Israel after the Balfour Declaration.

After WWI, many Hasidim entirely left the tradition to become Zionists, Bundists, secular educated or just left to enter the modern world.
But there were also those, especially in Poland’s cities like Warsaw that remained somewhat Hasidic as they entered modern life. There were Hasidic journalists and authors, or least aspiring authors, and there was even a Hasidic boxing columnist . Some continued the traditional garb but living modern lives and other changed their garb but remained loyal in their hearts. The modern city makes all this possible. We could use a good study of interwar Warsaw. Hasidic story writers infused new vitality into Hasidic stories by using Rumi, the Golden Legend, and 1001 Arabian nights. Others advocated Kibbutz Hadati Torah veAvodah as a Kotzker holy rebellion against the establishment. This era rejected the stolid Hasidism of their parents 1880-1920, but still were sociologically part of the Hasidic world. Menachem Ekstein seems part of this world. He took the Western European NEW THOUGHT and metaphysical visualizations and cast it as the way of Hasidism.

If anyone knows more about him, then please let me know. I have just been informed that there is a someone working on him for an MA.

But should we call this inter-bellum period the post-hasidic?

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Justice Stevens and the Jews

If you want a good topic to discuss this week, the legal decisions of retiring Justice Stevens would make for good conversation. He was narrow on free exercise when at the expense of something else and liberal on free speech. He has many angles that would make good Jewish conversation. I expect an op-ed from someone in Jewish paper in the next few weeks.

Stevens wrote against allowing a yarmulke in the Air Force, and was against the Kiryas Yoel redrawn religious district. He was against school vouchers and anything that would lead to religious indoctrination. Yet he allowed preaching and outreach in public place and full freedom for Santeria. He is against crèches in town squares and a few years ago Noah Feldman took him to task in the NYT’s for this.

Justice Stevens religion clause jurisprudence is reviewed in the following articles: Eduardo M. Penalever, Treating Religion as Speech: The Religion Clause Jurisprudence of Justice Stevens (SSRN, November 2005); Christopher L. Eisgruber, Justice Stevens, Religious Freedom, and the Value of Equal Membership, 74 Fordham L. Rev. 2177 (2006);

Ht/Religious Clause

But regardless of Stevens views, we should be appreciative living in a country with an establishment clause, freedom of religion and freedom of speech. More importantly, we should not abuse it. In the last few years, I have seen and heard arguments that run like this: Our preschool should not have to meet OSHA guidelines or health department rules because that would take away our ability to learn Torah. There is a sense that if we have religious freedom then that means we don’t have to follow other laws. I have also seen these arguments quoted in the papers to defend the various Jewish criminals of the last three years.

From our own perspective, have we created an appreciation for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, or freedom of religious conscious in our Judaism? Are these valuable rights only to receive and not to give? Can Judaism formulate anything close to modern views on these topics? Rav Herzog somewhat tried to create such an approach in Israel based on the need to follow world opinion and the dictates of the UN. Recent poskim, however, have rescinded Rav Herzog’s attempts. Now what? What about here in America?

From another angle, Justice Stevens is being called the last of the non ideological justices. Now everything is ideological. In the late 1950’s, there was even an essay on the end of ideology.
Would Rav Moshe Feinstein be the last of the non ideological poskim? Are all sides now ideological? (Let’s acknowledge that the sanctimonious on all sides, would see their leaders as non-ideological. But that is not an argument. ) Are we at a point of change, unlike the 1950’s, where are all halakhic positions are ideological?

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

‘Sephardic’ Halakhah? The Attitude of Sephardic Decisors to Women’s Torah Study

Here is a nice article summarizing the state of the field on the relationship of Sephardic Jewish Law and modernity. It is one of those article that one can read and then pretend to know what one is talking about. Fuchs summarizes those who see the Sefardi world as more lenient and the critics of the position. He presents the work of both Binyamin Brown and Zvi Zohar. Bibliographies are also given for the state of Rav Ovadiah Yosef studies and the attitude of sephardi poskim toward women. It has the liberal Rav Mesas and the the stricter Rab Batzri.

The article is from the legal perspective but we still lack a good article from the historical perspective. We successfully situate the challenges of German poskim in German history of the enlightenment, this topic needs a similar approach. From the 1880’s until the 1950’s the Islamic modernists were in the forefront creating many very liberal fatwa, especially in Egypt. Then there was a return to more conservative opinions and women started wearing the chador again. Egypt was a center of modernism, other countries less so. When Rav Ohana was alive and when Rav Ovadiah started it was the era of modernism. Yet, the latter disliked the laxity of the Jewish modernists in Egypt but was very liberal with the North African development town Jews in Israel. The article does not deal with Israeli sociology.

‘Sephardic’ Halakhah? The Attitude of Sephardic Decisors to Women’s Torah Study: A Test Case

Ilan Fuchs
Tulane University, Jewish Studies Program December 31, 2009
Bar Ilan Univ. Pub Law Working Paper No. 02-10

This paper examines Sephardic rabbinic attitudes to women’s religious studies, and more specifically, advanced Talmud study. I draw on Halakhic texts written in the second half of the 20th century by leading Sephardic rabbis that immigrated to Israel. I first examine the terms Mizraxi and Sephardic and explain on what grounds I find reason to compare the rabbis discussed. I argue that there is no monolithic Sephardic halakhic tradition and that the rabbis discussed hail from diverse communities that experienced and reacted to western and secular influences in unique ways. I then describe how these rabbis reacted to changes in women’s religious and secular education, changes they were forced to confront as their communities were exposed to changing values and social realities. Examining how Sephardic rabbis have responded to the challenge of women’s Torah study allows us to test the claim that the Sephardic halakhic tradition is more flexible and tolerant of change than the Ashkenazi orthodox halakhic tradition.

ht/Religious Clause

One could compare some of these tensions to the fatwa of Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy, the recently deceased head of Al-Azhar University and grand Imam of the al-Azhar Mosque in Egypt. He was against female Imams and mixed events. Yet, he issued a fatwa allowing Muslim girls in France to take off their headscarves while attending school.
In October 2009, Tantawy launched a campaign against the Niqāb (the full-face veil which covers the entire body except for the eyes, increasingly worn by women in Egypt) by personally removing the Niqāb of a teenage girl (after she failed to remove it) at a secondary school affiliated to Al-Azhar University, He had asked the teenage girl to remove her veil saying: “The Niqāb is a tradition, it has no connection with law” He then instructed the girl never to wear the Niqāb again and promised to issue a fatwa against its use in schools. He then told the girl “So if you were even a little beautiful, what would you have done then?”

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Arthur Green- Radical Judaism #1 of 5 posts

There is a new book from Arthur Green that is his mature vision for a Neo-Hasidic Renewal Judaism. I received a review copy as soon as it came out and have been grappling about whether this will be a short quickly review or a very long full study. In his introduction, Green quotes Arnold Eisen as telling Green that he should put out a definite scholarly version of his theology. The actual product is a version that is actually less scholarly and more personal than the prior versions and can serve as an eminently readable introduction to his thought.

In the interim as I continue to write up my own reflections, David Wolpe has put out a very concise and insightful review. Wolpe puts his finger on the pulse of the book as having a renegade provocative 1960’s tone. He also catches how a technical academic scholarly approach glides in Green’s hands into New Age mysticism. Green’s work rejects Biblical theism into a minimal theology of mystical metaphors. Wolpe calls it pantheist and animist but I think there is much more going on. Green’s God would feel comfortable on the shelf with Eliade as a myth and symbol, sacred cyclical time deity.

The view of God of Arthur Green, Michael Lerner, and others has been given a quite cogent philosophic and theological analysis by Michael Silver, A Plausible God: Secular Reflections on Liberal Jewish Theology (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006)

Those of us interested in Kabbalah and Hasidism have a much more complex relationship with Green’s work than does Wolpe because Green’s Tormented Master was one of the first works available in English. Green has had a presence in both the academic and theological use of Hasidism, and the field consists of his students. Nevertheless, many of the original readers of Tormented Master have either moved on to the works by the Breslov Research Institute and no longer turn to academic works or the readers turned to charismatic teachers by Aleph –Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

Those of us who teach Polish Hasidism, when dealing with Green’s works have to grapple with when Green is modernizing in a natural way, when he transforms it into his own renewal view, and when he just truncates away an essential element such as Torah study or halakhah.
Continue to post 2 of 5 posts on Arthur Green – here.

March 30, 2010 Rethinking Judaism By Rabbi David Wolpe

Arthur Green, author of “Radical Judaism: Rethinking God and Tradition” (Yale University Press, $26), has been working to reimagine Judaism since his early days as a renegade scholar and theologian. The book under review is filled with interesting observations and sources. They are knit together in a neo-Chasidic, kabbalistically infused ’60s activist Judaism that claims Green as one of its pioneers and preeminent spokesmen. To rework a Divine self-description, this book will be persuasive for those to whom it is persuasive. Some will find it a bracing tonic; for others it will be Jewish learning sprinkled with heresy. Can “radical Judaism” speak to people outside the envisioned circle?
Most of Green’s book (a capstone to the trilogy, “Seek My Face, Speak My Name” and “Ehyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow”), is deliberately provocative. “Radical Judaism” should not be the title of a book that soothes. It is accessibly written, although occasionally with a kind of academic-cum-New Age mistiness that some will cherish and others will not: “Just as Y-H-W-H is not a ‘thing’ but refers to the transcendent wholeness of Being that both surpasses and embraces all beings, so is the soul to be seen as the transcendent wholeness of the person, a mysterious essence that is more than the sum of all the characteristics of that person we could ever name.”
Green’s approach is panentheist. God is not a separate Being who created and superintends the world. Rather God is in all things, shot through the fabric of life, but because the system as a whole is greater than its parts, God is also more than the sum of life. If this smacks of a kind of “Avatar”-ish paganism, that charge is one kabbalists have always had to combat. Green insists it is not pagan, as his predecessors always did. He is right; it is not worship of nature; it is rather a deification of the totality of all that is. For moderns, such a theology may be the only possible piety. To a classical taste, while this may not be paganism, it is at least in the animist suburbs.
Green wrests from this premise some very beautiful and inspiring imagery. Speaking of faith, he wisely says, “We can only testify, never prove. Our strength lies in grandeur of vision, in an ability to transport the conversation about existence and origins to a deeper plane of thinking.” This he seeks to do by insisting that we have to reconceive of God and the world. Everything is interdependent, connected and organismic — and together this vast, pulsing reality is what we can augment or diminish by our actions. In the modern world we have learned to look at systems, and his is a sort of systems theology.
For Green, our great task is awareness. The book is divided into classical categories — God, Torah, Israel. Within each, he struggles with the particularity and universality of the tradition. He struggles as well with the need, given a modern audience, to explain traditional concepts before he can offer a revisioning of them.
As one would expect of a leading light of the chavurah and renewal movements, Green’s book is also a call for Jews to be politically activist. Environmentalism, anti-war activities and other traditional causes of the left are seen not as political choices, but as spiritual imperatives. To criticize the book for this is foolish: One can agree or disagree with convictions and still esteem the courage to have them. For Green, a religious position that does not embrace his politics contradicts the heart of his theology of interdependence: As we are all bound together, universalism, environmentalism, radical activism in many areas is a concomitant of theological understanding.
Green writes several times that he hopes non-Jews will take up this book as well. Certainly much of his theology is not “specifically” Jewish: There is no chosenness, for there is no Chooser. Jews have special responsibilities arising from their history; yet other groups do as well. Green reads his beliefs from the sources of Judaism, and does so with deep knowledge and skill, but they are surely not the predominant reading. Other religious traditions can be read to endorse the same conclusions, as he readily acknowledges. Indeed, Green repeatedly encourages Jews to turn to other traditions, East and West, for insights absent or unacknowledged in our own.
In a pluralistic age, readers will have different feelings about such ecumenicism. Some will see it as a great strength; others as a disqualifying weakness. As one whose belief in God is more traditional than Green’s, I remain enlightened and provoked, but ultimately unpersuaded.

Passover Seder Through Muslim Eyes

It has been an annual sighting in the newspapers for the last four years, several Muslim appreciations of Passover. This holiday and the exodus from Egypt is discussed in the Koran. These human interest pieces allow modern Muslim to show their interfaith and tolerance credentials. The first is one of the best on the web, the second is the one that came to my attention as this year’s syndicated version, the third is a famous one from an Egyptian author 2007 that made the Israeli papers.

Out of Egypt By Prof. Shahul Hameed

Many Jews may be surprised to learn that Islam as preached by Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the same religion preached by Abraham, as well as of all other prophets mentioned in the Torah and the Bible. Muslims honor all the prophets of the Jews – Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David and Solomon among others – as their own prophets.

Here is how Allah ordered Muhammad to follow the religion of the Patriarch Abraham:

[And lastly, We have inspired thee, O Muhammad, with this message: Follow the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false, and was not of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God.] (An-Nahl 16:23)

In fact, the most important belief that unites Muslims and Jews is the faith in the One God as the Creator, Sustainer and Law-Giver of the universe. Both religions teach the need for establishing the Law of God on earth, so that there will be peace and harmony flourishing everywhere.

As Muslims have a Shari`ah (Law) to live by, the Jews have their Halakha (a compendium of laws, based on the Torah).

It is particularly noteworthy that in the Quran, there is no story that is recounted as many times and with as much emphasis, as the story of the bondage of the Children of Israel and their subsequent deliverance from Egypt’s Pharaoh. The Quran quotes Moses as saying to his people:

[O my people! Remember the blessings which God bestowed upon you when he raised up prophets among you, and made you your own masters, and granted unto you favors such as He had not granted to anyone else in the world.] (Al-Mai’idah 5:20)

It was Moses, with the help and guidance of God Almighty, who led them out of Egypt towards a land of promise. Allah in the Quran says what means:

[O children of Israel! Remember those blessings of Mine with which I graced you, and how I favored you above all other people. And guard yourselves against a day when no soul will in aught avail another, nor will intercession be accepted from it, nor will compensation be received from it, nor will they be helped. And remember the time when We saved you from Pharaoh’s people, who afflicted you with cruel suffering, slaughtering your sons and sparing only your women — which was an awesome trial from your Sustainer; and when We cleft the sea before you, and thus saved you and caused Pharaoh’s people to drown before your very eyes] (Al-Baqarah 2:47-50)

The story is narrated elsewhere in the Quran, where we may read these verses:

[We took the Children of Israel across the sea: Pharaoh and his hosts followed them in insolence and spite. At length, when overwhelmed with the flood, he said: “I believe that there is no god except Him Whom the Children of Israel believe in: I am of those who submit to Allah.” It was said to him: “Ah, now? But a little while before, wast thou in rebellion! and thou didst mischief and violence! This day shall We save thee in the body, that thou may be a sign to those who come after thee! but verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our Signs!”

We settled the Children of Israel in a beautiful dwelling-place, and provided for them sustenance of the best: it was after knowledge had been granted to them, that they fell into schisms. Verily Allah will judge between them as to the schisms amongst them, on the Day of Judgment.] (Yunus 10:90-93)

The torments inflicted on the Children of Israel by the Pharaoh were continuous and harsh; and so God sent His prophets Moses and Aaron (peace be upon them) to warn the tyrant that he should stop the oppression of the Children of Israel and free them.

But he was arrogant and refused to free the Jewish slaves, until the last of the plagues God sent as punishment. The first-born of both man and beast were destined to fall down dead on that fateful night. Pesach, or Passover, means protection in Hebrew, and the name refers to this last of the plagues sent by God to the Egyptians. While the Egyptians suffered this plague, the angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites. To protect themselves, the Israelites had marked their homes with lamb’s blood so that the angel of death could easily “pass over” their homes.

Under guidance from God, the Israelites fled Egypt; while the Pharaoh and his men pursued them. It seemed like their journey would end at the Red Sea which prevented their escape.

But a miracle happened when Moses struck the water with his staff: The waves of the Red Sea parted and the Israelites hurried along the passage between the parted waves. Pharaoh and his soldiers followed; but by the time the Israelites reached the other shore, the sea closed in engulfing their pursuers. Thus the Israelites were delivered from bondage, and the Pharaoh and his people perished.

Muslims are in sympathy with the Jewish celebration of the Pesach, as the fast on `Ashura’ amply demonstrates. When the Prophet Muhammad came to Madinah on the tenth of the lunar month of Muharram, he found that the Jews there were fasting.

The Prophet asked them why they were fasting on this day, and they explained that it was the day that God saved the Children of Israel from the Pharaoh, and that Moses fasted in thanks on this day. The Prophet said, “We have more claim to Moses than you.” He fasted on that day and commanded Muslims to fast on the day. (Al-Bukhari)

Professor Shahul Hameed is a consultant to the Reading Islam Website. He also held the position of the President of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India. He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values. March 23, 2010
Passover Seder Through Muslim Eyes By Zafar Siddiqui

This past Sunday, I attended an interfaith Seder at the Temple of Aaron synagogue in St. Paul. It was a beautiful event. By the end of the Seder meal, I could not but come to a conclusion that the story of Moses (peace be upon him) and his followers’ struggle against the tyranny of the Pharaoh will continue to inspire countless people, communities, and countries in seeking the freedom and dignity that God bestowed on the children of Adam.

It may come as a surprise to a lot of people that Muslims observe the fast of ‘Ashura to commemorate the day when God delivered Moses (peace be upon him) and his followers from slavery. The day of ‘Ashura falls on the 10th day of the Muslim month of Muharram.

Moses is called Musa in Arabic. He is also called “Kalim Allah” (One who spoke with God). He is the most mentioned prophet in the Qur’an. The Muslim narrative about the exodus story is detailed and has a strong parallel to the Biblical narrative. Some excerpts from the Qur’an are given below.

Moses’ Childhood
“And We had already conferred favor upon you another time, when We inspired to your mother what We inspired, [Saying], ‘Cast him into the chest and cast it into the river, and the river will throw it onto the bank; there will take him an enemy to Me and an enemy to him.’ And I bestowed upon you love from Me that you would be brought up under My eye.

[And We favored you] when your sister went and said, ‘Shall I direct you to someone who will be responsible for him?’ So We restored you to your mother that she might be content and not grieve. And you killed someone, but We saved you from retaliation and tried you with a [severe] trial. And you remained [some] years among the people of Madyan. Then you came [here] at the decreed time, O Moses.” (20: 38-41)

The Burning Bush
“And has the story of Moses reached you? – When he saw a fire and said to his family, “Stay here; indeed, I have perceived a fire; perhaps I can bring you a torch or find at the fire some guidance. And when he came to it, he was called, “O Moses, indeed, I am your Lord, so remove your sandals. Indeed, you are in the sacred valley of Tuwā. And I have chosen you, so listen to what is revealed [to you]. Indeed, I am God. There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance.” (20: 9-14)

Moses and his brother Aaron confront Pharaoh
“So go to him and say, ‘Indeed, we are messengers of your Lord, so send with us the Children of Israel and do not torment them. We have come to you with a sign from your Lord. And peace will be upon he who follows the guidance.” (20:47)

Moses and his duel with Pharaoh’s magicians
“They said, “O Moses, either you throw or we will be the first to throw.” He said, “Rather, you throw.” And suddenly their ropes and staffs seemed to him from their magic that they were moving [like snakes]. And he sensed within himself apprehension, did Moses. God said, “Fear not. Indeed, it is you who are superior. And throw what is in your right hand; it will swallow up what they have crafted. What they have crafted is but the trick of a magician, and the magician will not succeed wherever he is.” So the magicians fell down in prostration. They said, “We have believed in the Lord of Aaron and Moses.” (20: 65-70)

Freedom at last
“And We had inspired to Moses, “Travel by night with My servants and strike for them a dry path through the sea; you will not fear being overtaken [by Pharaoh] nor be afraid [of drowning].” So Pharaoh pursued them with his soldiers, and there covered them from the sea that which covered them.” (20: 77-78)

As I was going through the Haggadah at the Seder, these parallel narrations came to my mind. In a world where injustices, occupations, and wars abound, the story of Moses gives us hope that God will never let any injustice thrive for long. The challenges may seem like the veritable sea in front of us, but, as a follower of Moses, I believe that nothing is impossible for God. Peace is inevitable.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and columnist for and Media Monitors Network (MMN). He is author of “Why I Love the Ten Commandments,” published in the book “Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith” (Rodale Press).

And here is a link to one from 2007 that made the Israeli papers because it acknowledged the plight of Arab Jews and the Jewish lineage of many current Arabs.

In an article on the Arab reformist websites Aafaq (April 9, 2007) and Middle East Transparent (April 8, 2007), Egyptian author Hisham Al-Tuhi rejects the view that Muslims should not convey holiday greetings to non-Muslims on their holidays, reviews the history of Jews in Arab countries in the 20th century, and wishes Jews still living in Arab countries a happy Passover.

The Jews Who Remain “Still Celebrate Their Holidays in Silence, Forgotten… Is Not the Least We Can Say to Them: Jewish Arabs Happy Passover!?”

“Despite this despite the nationalization, the expulsion, the banishment, the bombings, the racism, the enmity, and the marginalization; despite their being reviled with the ugliest abuse in the prayers of the Muslims, in all of the Arab mosques and in some of the churches; despite their being called infidels and cursed, and being accused of treason, in the books, the newspapers, and the TV stations, [both] governmental and private despite all this, they still live in Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, and in other countries of the Arab Middle East!

“And they still celebrate their holidays in silence, forgotten. And they still passionately love their countries who treated them cruelly, and will no accept any substitute [for them].

“Is not the least we can say to them: Jewish Arabs happy Passover!?”

Sermon Coverage

Many people I know have long wished for coverage of sermons. Not rabbis submitting what they think is a good dvar Torah, but how things are being presented in the pulpit. We all compared notes how 9/11 was dealt or not dealt with in the pulpit, and how the elections spilled into the pulpit. But it wold be nice to have regular coverage of how the pulpit rabbis actually discuss issues from the pulpit. How they choose their words? How do they frame the issue? Do they connect it to a Biblical typology? Do all American issues become connected to Israel? Do they see the financial scandals as a need for mussar? Do they refer to other Rabbis? When do they take responsibility rather than blaming others?

Here is a nice piece bemoaning the same thing from the Catholic side and how a priest has to choose his words in his sermon.

To mention or not to mention?
from GetReligion by Mollie

One of the biggest holes in religion news coverage is treatment of weekly worship. Regular worship is one of the most common expressions of religious activity. Much more important in the life of the church than, say, politics. But it doesn’t seem to interest reporters terribly much. So I was pleased to see the angle that Washington Post religion reporter William Wan took with his latest: “As Easter nears, priests struggle with how, whether to address church scandals.”

“I wanted to be careful to say it well, to say it right,” Enzler said. The first version was too heavy on apology. “You want to admit that the church isn’t perfect, but the last thing you want is to add fuel to the fire,” Enzler said.

This was the crux, he realized, in which the church found itself: It needed to admit missteps, but worried that by doing so, it would fall prey to the accusations of its critics.

With almost four decades in the priesthood, Enzler recalled that some of his most powerful sermons were ones in which he let down his guard and became vulnerable with his flock. By sharing his struggles, he thought, his parishioners could see the true heart of the church and its priests. They, too, struggle at times with mistakes. They, too, agonize over how to fix them. They, too, need grace and prayer.

Anyone have any important sermons to discuss? How did your rabbi deal with the bombardment of continuous scandals of the last few years? Did they take responsibility, did they minimize it, or did they try and change anything? Or did they possibly use the scandal for another purpose like showing the importance of their precious community as a bastion in the storm and the need to contribute to their building fund?

Foreclosure in Teaneck

I was speaking to a foreclosure attorney who said that the foreclosure rate was low in Teaneck despite many being out of work. (I do not know if any of this is statistically true, I took him at his word.)

I asked why?

He said because everyone has the safety cushion of their day school tuition. If they are unemployed they can just not pay the tuition and have more than enough money to pay their mortgage and utilities.

His second point was that almost everyone is in a dual income family so that there is the cushion of the other salary.

The other points that came up in the conversation was the cushion of consumption: Blackberries and ipods for all in the family, eating out very often, leased cars, and other things to be cut.

I have also heard from the gardeners and house cleaner that people laid off their help. They were all originally paying for both gardener and house cleaner.

OK – so what does this say about the enclave of Teaneck-Bergenfield Centrist Orthodoxy? What is surprising? Are there any insights about values or social organization?

The one immediate observation is the dual income. I am not sure which survey had the statistic, but the current construction of Modern Orthodoxy has a higher rate of dual income than Reform and Conservative. It is also one of the clear and sharp distinctions between Centrism and Evangelical. The latter actively teach that the virtue of a stay at home mom, while Centrism assumes that everyone works in a significant career.

Critique of Kugel #1

“Open my eyes so that I may see wonders of Your Torah” (Psalms 119).

I have a few observations on Kugel’s book that I have not written up because I expected someone to get there first. But neither the Orthodox or Conservative critics went in this direction. I knew people were writing reviews so I naturally assumed they would cover these points. I am not writing from the perspective of a Biblical scholar but as a theologian. I am not looking to reiterate what has been said already but I also cannot guarantee that I have seen everything out there on the web. I write this as notes for a first draft of a summer essay, so I am willing to correct anything that is overstated in this contextual understanding.

When Kugel’s book first came out, it was reviewed by the NYT (David Plotz Sept 16, 2007) as having rejected literalism and that “He also seeks a safe haven for rationalist believers. In other words, having broken all the windows, trashed the bedroom, stripped the wires for copper, sold the plumbing for scrap, and jackhammered into the foundation, Kugel proposes to move back into his Bible house.” Well, look at this review. The New York Times does not have a problem with the documentary hypothesis and it rejoices in daring works like the Book of J. So why was Kugel seen as trashing and stripping the Biblical house? My major point is that Biblical criticism is not the message of Kugel. And the problem with Kugel is not per se, the Biblical criticism. The problem is loss of the Biblical enterprise. Yes, the book is an important book and a great read. But I do not think that the critics of his work and looking at the right aspects.

1] Kugel’s concern with the possible Iron Age meanings and his not seeing any moral teaching in the Bible has little to do with the documentary hypothesis. One finds similar statements of the lack of morality in the Bible in Voltaire and other 17th-18th critics of the Bible as well as by early 20th century free thinkers who wrote books with titles like “The Bible Unmasked,” which showed the immorality of the Bible. Many of Kugel’s readings that Sommers argued against are offensive even without any Biblical criticism or separate documents.

2] For Kugel, the Bible has no moral lessons or theological ideals. He has a materialistic skeptical sound to him. There are no grand ideals or religious claims in the Bible. Contradiction and parallel texts in the text do not teach anything. Kugel’s position at this point is similar to Freidrich Delitzsch in “Babel and Bible”. Delitzsch maintained that many Old Testament writings were borrowed from ancient Babylonian tales, there is no unique ethical message or religious message. In fact, the Bible needs to be unmasked as immoral. Delitisch was the rare voice that the Bible has nothing to teach theologically and should be treated as part of Babylonian and Canaanite religion. In later years, Deliitsch saw Christianity as the moral solution, so those parts of his thought are not to be impugned to Kugel, but the implication of ancient near east parallels is similar. I do not think he is as extreme as Delizsch, but he is heading in that direction.

2] In the context of Kugel’s writings I am surprised that no one mentioned Peter Enns, a student of Kugel, was dismissed from Westminster Theological Seminary. The problem at a Protestant seminary was not the human element or the weak theories of revelation. Enns however even quotes and accepts, the anti-documentary hypothesis works like Kenneth Kitchen. The problem was that Enns says that the morality of the Bible is that of the Iron Age. He advocates accepting the moral critiques of the new atheists – that the Bible is not a moral exemplar. Kugel’s method takes the sanctity out of the Bible. There is something very skeptical about the method. Furthermore, Biblical texts are depicted as not knowing the original meaning of a story. The human part of the Bible is all too human. So human that it strips the ability for a more theological-literary-document reading. I am surprised that the Enns debate did not come up in the discussion of Kugel.

3] Why did the Introduction to Bible written by Marc Brettler not create the same stir? Why did Jon Levenson’s work create the same buzz. Both use Biblical critical methods, and both were in the broad sense of Orthodox culture. The answer is that there is a skeptical voice in Kugel. Brettler concludes his book that the Bible is great. He writes that he likes the Bible and here is how we moderns use Biblical criticism. Levenson sees the Bible as teaching Torah and mizvot, a covenant at Sinai and the giving of the land of Israel. Kugel’s tone is bursting myths and slaughtering sacred cows. Kugel reads more like Freud’s Totem and Taboo.

In his recent post, Kugel’s clarified his position from his earlier response. Kugel rejects all of the prior Jewish names in the field who use theological, integrationist, and canonical methods.. Certainly Kaufman, Sarna and Greenberg who were more theological about the virtues of Biblical religion over the pagans may be too theological. But also integrationists, that seek to combine the best of both worlds- Weinfeld, Zakovitch, Milgram, Knohl, Tigay, Fishbane, Levenson, and most other professors with whom Jews do graduate work- are too theological. Kugel has a clear disjunctive between the Bible and the Scribes of the Oral Law. There is no integration of the critical and the traditional. Kugel denies any attempt at synthesis or integration. Many of Kugel’s readers mistakenly thought that since the integrationists used Kugel’s work on Second temple period interpretation to justify their own integration of the Bible and the interpretation that Kugel would agree.

4] The Bible as the sacred scripture of Judaism in a canon needs to be seen as special, as moral, and as a religious guide. Those who reject that are usually skeptics not Biblical critics. The four qualities of later Biblical interpretation are usually assigned as qualities of the Biblical documents themselves. These four points (1) The texts are cryptic and symbolic. (2) The texts are prophetic and homiletic. (3) The texts are consistent. (4) The texts are divinely inspired/given. Most of the Jewish scholars who see Biblical criticism and the documentary hypothesis as helpful also assume that the Biblical authors themselves already ascribe those qualities to earlier Biblical material. They study topics like Intertextuality and literary prophecy that assume these points.

5] In addition, Kugel rejects literary approaches to the Bible. Already in his work on the Biblical Poetry, he presented literary methods as a modern construct based on human subjectivity having little in common with a fixed Divine meaning. Kugel based himself on Herder studies of the primitive Hebrew approach. Since Kugel’s own doctorate is in modern literary criticism and his immense sensitivity to the literary voice of a text, many people mistakenly thought he was an advocate of literary approaches to the Bible. Most scholars not only find the Bible a great work, but also the epic of Gilgamesh is fine literature. Kugel’s rejection of literary methods is the innovation, not his use of Biblical criticism.

5] The last chapter on the potential for revelation did not alleviate anything because it did not understand revelation. Theories of revelation answer how a Divine can reveal in a naturalistic order. But acceptance of revelation is not pixie dust to magically wave over a human document. Traditional theories of revelation assume a Divine in the content – that there must be a supreme content greater than other books, a verbal content, a historical transformative content or an experiential moment of communion with God. Even the most liberal Protestant theories of revelation such as Tillich assumes that the Bible is not counter to reason, rather the Bible is revelation since it offers answers to our ultimate concerns and presents models of highest ideals. For Tillich, it may be written by humans but the revelation is the model of our highest ideals. One cannot treat the Bible as primitive and then call it revelation. Revelation must transcend its context. For Rosenzweig, revelation is our love relationship with God that transcends our finitude and teaches us that “love is stronger than death.”

6] Most scholars who teach the Akkadian documents and archeology together with the Bible call themselves scholars of “Israelite Religion.” They do see a disjunctive between Israelite religion and later Judaism but they in turn respect their boundaries and do not offer up advice on Judaism or the Hebrew Bible.

I am not sure if this is completely analogous but those who teach Icelandic sagas and their use in English literature are not considered Shakespearean scholars.

7] Finally, to return to the NYT article. If one is unmasking the Bible then one is not teaching how to read it and if one is teaching the Bible then it is within a context of history, theology, and culture- from liberal to fundamentalist. The NYT called out that he wants to be both skeptic and defender of the Bible in the same breath.

Another question: why did this book wake up Orthodoxy from their dogmatic slumbers more than other works? Why are Orthodox still interested in the book?

1] It could be that just be that he speaks in Orthodox synagogues whereas Levenson and Knohl do not.

2] Or it could be that Kugel is tapping into a skeptical streak in the community, that appreciates his message. An audience with an inner skeptical voice that does not know or have patience with liberal theology. His slaughtering of sacred cows is the zero sum dichotomy that the community understands.

3] Another element is that since Modern Orthodox intellectual types have not read Brevard Childs, Fishbane, Levenson, or most canonical approaches defended by Ben Sommers, Kugel is closer to what they think is over on the heretic side. Kinda like the Chussid who goes off the derekh and eats in McDonalds but never considers Modern Orthodoxy. The Modern Orthodox who gets tied up in Biblical criticism does not consider liberal approaches but wants the skeptical approach.

4] It could just be another parallel with the evangelical world that is now trying to open up to Biblical criticism
See Kenton Sparks, God’s Word in Human Words
Enns, Sparks and the others all have blogs and post on each others blogs

5] It could be that Kugel’s rejection of literary interpretations hits home. It is right now fashionable in the Modern Orthodox world of educators to think up a novel literary interpretation in a weekend and then return on Monday to the classroom and teach that this novel interpretation is what it always meant, it was the original intention, and QED it solves all critical problems with the text.

6] The attraction could be the radical perspectivism in Kugel’s writing’s. Kugel has the Bible and the Midrashic interpretation as a complete disjunctive. At an AJS – fifteen years ago, may of the elders saw his choice between modern criticism and ancients as somewhat post-modern. Truth is perspectivism Orthodoxy may like his perspectivism. Everyone is entitled to absolute and exclusive non-foundational acceptance of one’s own view.

Even though his reply also mentioned the objective facts of archeology If the goal was irrefutable facts then he should have started with Biblical History and shown the progress away from trusting the Biblical account. Rather, he frames things as “this is the critical perspective.”

7] It could be that since he does not seem to be theologically coherent and his own religious views may be those of his book On Being a Jew Sometimes vague or ambiguous works can generate more heat because everyone can project on it.

8] Finally, this book may be important because Modern Orthodoxy has built up a confidence level that orthodoxy can handle all scholarship or at least has been inoculated to have a rejoinder to all scholarship. This book explicitly shatters the assumptions on which this rests, whereas most books on the Bible just present the critical perspective without needed to reject the Orthodox view.

Any others?

If you comment, please help me think though the issues to a more formal presentation.

I could have loaded this post with links, but I didn’t. I might make them separate posts.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Eleven Maskilim

In the Haaretz Passover supplement there is a nice introduction to the important maskilim of the end of the 19th century. In their time, they were the intellectuals who were read by everyone who wanted to sustain the Jewish community.

Some of these Russian haskole figures are the banes of the 1890- 1940 Yeshiva world and one finds many allusions and refutations to the writings of the mussar movement or the writings of the Yeshiva world. (Anyone have any favorite citations? Let see who has the best one. Bear in mind that Schulman was the translator of Graetz and that Hasidic tales are based on the model of Zweifel.)

The Mizrahi movement of Reines and his followers Zev Yaavetz and A. M. Lifshitz incorporated the changes to Jewish education advocated by these maskilim. Modern Orthodoxy does not really come from Rabbi S.R. Hirsch and Germany but from the hundreds of Russian rabbis who moved to the US and turned to the Maskilim and the Mizrahi rabbis to help create a Hebrew education system. Between the two wars most of the Mizrahi movement lived in the US and only made aliyah in the early 1950’s. Figures in US Orthodoxy like Pinchas Churgin, Moshe Seidel, Wolf Gold, Shimon Federbush, Meir Bar-Ilan are the forgotten creators of our elementary school system of Hebrew, navi, maps, charts, and “mi amar le-mi.” These Russian born Mizrahi educators are nearly forgotten in American Jewish memory. Day school curriculum is based on these Mizrahi movement figures and their use of the haskole works.
High Schools used to present many of these haskole figures as if they were all observant, some were and some were not.

Lights on in the park By Haim Cohen
Along with shady paths and playgrounds, Tel Aviv’s Haskalah Park offers a history lesson on the Jewish enlightenment

Like the names of 11 streets in the adjacent neighborhood, Bitzaron, the park commemorates the Jewish Enlightenment movement (the Haskalah). Portraits of 11 Enlightenment thinkers (maskilim) adorn the shelter in the south of the park,

The maskilim called for education, tolerance, love of mankind and morality, the spread of knowledge and the valorization of the Hebrew language. They expressed their ideas through journals, newspapers and books. Among the key maskilim were the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, who is considered the father of the Jewish Enlightenment, and Isaac Eichel, its founder; Isaac Baer Levinsohn, one of the first maskilim in Russia; Samuel David Luzzatto, from Padua in Italy; philosopher and historian Reb Nachman Krochmal; the poet Y.L. Gordon and many more.

Leading lights

Each of the 11 maskilim represented in the park was given an appropriate nickname. There are The Linguist (Yehuda Leib Ben-Zeev), The Satirist (Isaac Erter), The Itinerant Maskil (Abraham Baer Gottlober), The Translator (Kalman Schulman), The Reconciler (Eliezer Zvi Hacohen Zweifel), The Scientist (Chaim Zelig Slonimski), The Scholar of Jewish Studies (Solomon Rubin), The Concordance Compiler (Salomon Mandelkern), The Bibliographer (Yitzhak Isaac Ben-Yaakov) The Teacher (Israel Haim Tavyov) and The Typical Maskil (Mordecai Aaron Guenzburg).

The Concordance Compiler

Salomon Mandelkern (1846-1902) established the impressive project of the Hebrew-Latin Bible concordance “Heikhal Hakodesh” (Leipzig, 1896), the exhausting distribution of which cost him his mental health. Mandelkern was a Hebrew poet, a Bible scholar and a philologist. He translated German and Russian masterpieces into Hebrew, served as a government rabbi in Odessa and was active in the promulgation of the Haskalah.
At the southern edge of the park is a table with his Hebrew translation of Lord Byron’s poem “So We’ll Go No More A-roving” (Leipzig, 1890).

The Scientist

Chaim Zelig Slonimski (1810-1904) wrote and published many scientific texts in Hebrew on mathematics, astronomy, optics, engineering and more, and reported to Hebrew readers on innovations in science in his newspaper Hatsfira (the first Hebrew newspaper published in Poland). Slonimski invented many things, including a calculator in 1844, and served as the head of the Zhitomir rabbinical seminary and as censor of Hebrew and Yiddish books for the Russian government.
Etched on one of the handsome tables in the park is the title page of his work on astronomy, “Sefer Kokhava Deshavita,” which was published in Vilna in 1835, along with an illustration of the solar system from the book’s appendix.

The Teacher

Israel Haim Tavyov (1858-1920) ran an “improved heder” (traditional primary school), wrote textbooks in Hebrew and briefly (1908-10) published a vowel-pointed daily newspaper for children, Hehaver. He was also a playwright, author, translator and researcher of language and folklore who earned his living as an accountant and teacher.

The Satirist

Isaac Erter (1791-1851) was one of the key figures in the Hebrew literature of the 19th century (as well as a teacher and physician). In his works, he criticized the ways of the Hasidim, describing Jewish life in Galicia in a sarcastic and amusing way.

The Reconciler

Eliezer Zvi Hacohen Zweifel (1815-1888) criticized the way in which the Haskalah’s bitter enemy, Hasidism, had developed, but in his work “Peace on Israel” (1868-73, in four volumes), he described the early days of Hasidism in a positive light. His moderate and tolerant approach was a source of tension with his fellow maskilim. He was also a historian and wrote essays and fictional works, but earned his living as a preacher and teacher of young children, and as a teacher of Talmud at the Zhitomir rabbinical seminary. On a table in the park there is a quotation from his “Peace on Israel” about the exhausting work of a maskil:

For nigh 30 years I’ve been writing this and I’m fatigued.
For whom? And why? It’s a mystery even to me.
For my sake? For heaven’s sake? No! On different grounds
On grounds embracing all the wheels of reality and life
Grounds that keep species, persons and health alive
Grounds obvious to some and to others unfound.

(from “Peace on Israel,” by E.Z. Zweifel, Volume III, Vilna, 1873).

The Linguist
Yehuda Leib Ben-Zeev (1764-1811) published pioneering, widely distributed books of grammar and syntax, textbooks and dictionaries, such as “Talmud Lashon Ivri” (1796) and “Otzar Hashorashim” (1807-1808).

The Typical Maskil

Mordecai Aaron Guenzburg (1795-1846) was one of the earliest maskilim, and an outstanding figure in the Jewish Enlightenment in Lithuania in the first half of the 19th century. He translated many books into Hebrew and Yiddish, aiming to expand the horizons of the Jewish public, and wrote books on Russian history and the Napoleonic wars. His autobiographical work “Aviezer” was published posthumously. This is a rare book for its time, written in the 1840s, in which he frankly described his life and childhood and touched upon fundamental problems of the traditional society.

The Translator
Kalman Schulman (1819-1899) translated modern literature into Hebrew, as well as books on history and geography that were published in many editions. The most outstanding of his translations is that of the French writer Eugene Sue’s “The Mysteries of Paris” which is considered the first modern novel to have been translated into Hebrew. He taught Hebrew literature at the rabbinical and teachers seminary in Vilna, and was active in the Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia.

The Scholar of Jewish Studies

Solomon Rubin (1823-1910?) was one of the most prolific of the Haskalah writers. His research covered many areas of Jewish studies, including history, Hebrew literature and folklore, linguistics, Jewish philosophy religions of the ancient East. He also translated books and plays into Hebrew. He wrote a doctorate at Goettingen University in Germany (1868) and earned his living, inter alia, as an accountant and teacher.
The Itinerant Maskil

Abraham Baer Gottlober (1811-1899) is known mainly for his autobiographical memoirs of his wanderings, in which he described Jewish life in Eastern Europe, Hasidism and the Haskalah. Gottlober was a writer and poet in Hebrew and Yiddish, a translator, a teacher of Talmud and a historian. In the last years of his life, he was a member of Hovevei Zion, an organization that promoted Jewish settlement in the land of Israel.

The Bibliographer

Yitzhak Isaac Ben-Yaakov (1801-1863) was a publisher of ancient Hebrew manuscripts and a book trader. His greatest bibliographic project, “Otzar Haseforim” (1877-80), listed about 17,000 Hebrew books in print and manuscript. He published a special edition of the Hebrew Bible in 17 volumes with Rashi’s commentary, new notes and a translation into German in Hebrew letters from Mendelssohn’s commentary (the Biur) on the Pentateuch.

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Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved