Monthly Archives: May 2010

Ben-Gurion, Bergman and Aurobindo in Israel

Here is a found nugget from Tusar N. Mohapatra

I read Sri Aurobindo to find some light in our difficult days

Professor Samuel Hugo Bergman (1883-1975)
Prithwindra Mukherjee

In a recent conversation[1], I mentioned that in 1972, as a guest of the Hebrew University for lecturing on Savitri, I made the acquaintance of Yehuda Hanegby, editor of the monthly Ariel. During this visit, Madame Themanlys, commissioned to interview me for Kol Israel, the official radio, revealed her identity as the daughter-in-law of a personal friend that the Mother had in Paris, belonging to Max Théon’s group. I would like to speak of a third interesting personality whom I met in Jerusalem : Professor Schmuel Hugo Bergman, commonly known as Samuel Bergman.

On the eve of my talk, during a dinner, Dr Poznanski, the Rector of the University, informed me that Professor Bergman, Dean of the University, was hoping to listening to me but, owing to his health (running 89), he could not be present at my lecture; he would appreciate if I went to have breakfast with him on the next morning.

I was staying with my friend, Professor Joseph Sadan, and had my meals with his parents at the picturesque Hayim Nahman Bialik Street : Joseph’s father Dov Sadan was a well-known scholar in Ladino, and his mother treated me with refined traditional dishes from Central Europe. Yehuda came to pick me up for going to see Bergman. Yehuda knew him pretty well and informed that Bergman had been a school-mate of Franz Kafka in Prague, and a zealous friend and translator of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). In 1920, Bergman along with Martin Buber (1878-1965) had founded in Palestine a “dual national” area to house peacefully Jews and Arabs, before joining the Hebrew University.

On entering the impressive library where sat the venerable scholar, I discovered rows of books by Sri Aurobindo. Amused by my reaction, he asked me to take the seat in front of him and commented on showing me the set : “This was our food for thought; David and I read Sri Aurobindo to find some light in our difficult days.”

Yehuda whispered : “By David, he means Ben Gurion !”

[1] “Meeting Prithwindra Mukherjee”, Article and Interview by Sunayana Panda, The Golden Chain, August 2009, p.13

New unpublished Rav Kook

My reader Paul Shaviv showed up earlier this week and left the blogging equivalent of a baby in a basket in a comment on my About page. He posted a link to a pdf of one of the new Rav Kook works that have been recently transcribed. I had assumed that this was already discussed and linked elsewhere.

Rav Kook left behind scores of notebooks of his thoughts. Many of those notebooks were used by the Nazir to create Orot Hakodesh as an editor’s synthesis. Others were used by R Zvi Yehudah to produce a different voice for Rav Kook. Recently, some of these notebooks have been published as Shemonah Kevatzim. In the last few years, even more material has come forth from the archives creating a serious academic and Merkaz haRav world debate on why were they hidden until now? what was edited out? Does it change our view of Rav Kook?

For those of us in the field, none of this is new. It is the bread and butter of academic conferences. Back in summer 2009 at the World Congress for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem when others were heading home already, I attended session 352 held in the evening in the Senate room located away from the other sessions . The session was dedicated to the editorial changes and changes over time in rav Kook’s thought. The speakers were Neriah Gutel, Yehudah Mrsky, Udi Avramovitch and Bitty Yehudah. And the audience was the entire cabal of Rav Kook experts (minus a few for specific personal reasons.) Their papers and the discussion afterwards discussed all the debated issues of what do we learn from these new volumes? How was Rav Kook’s vision different at the beginning? And what was consciously changed and censored?

Everyone had already read Avinoam Rozenak’s Hidden Diaries and New Discoveries: The Life and Thought of Rabbi A. I. Kook Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies – Volume 25, Number 3, Spring 2007, pp. 111-147, which first appeared in Hebrew. Rozenak showed that some of these writing had a more antinomian element to them and that the editors were more conservative.

So here is the 250 page pdf of one new books, Harav Kook- leNevuchai Hazeman The work starts off following the Guide of the Perplexed for content but then veers off course. Very little of it is new, we have seen almost all of the paragraphs or at least the ideas before in his other works. What we gain is a turn a phrase here, a named interlocutor there, and an alternative organization illuminating Rav Kook’s thought pattern.

We also have two recent articles in Kipa [in Hebrew]. One used the aforementioned Udi Avramovitch as its expert source. Udi finds the volume more radical than the printed version and he finds a greater identity of God’s will and the will of the people. He also claims that in this work Rav Kook claims a value for other religions and that they worship the one true God. The second article quotes the army and settlement Rabbi Yosef Kellner that the book is essential to read but they are confining distribution, and here is a letter by Rav Kellner about the book.

Rav Kook started the volume while still in Europe and finished it in Jaffa. The book starts off discussing the image of God as volition- will. Human have a will to make manifest as creativity in the world. Yes, Schopenhauer’s definition of man as the guide for our generation. (Along the way Spinoza is deftly defeated by the volition of R. Moses Hayyim Luzatto)The second chapter tells me that Saadayah and Maimonides saw that books of sectarians (minim) multiplied so they were compelled to write philosophic works. That does not inspire me in its understanding of the medieval but tells me more about Rav Kook. In a later chapter, he tells me that “all revolutions are good for clearing away the small minded people and narrow visions” with a later in the paragraph phrase that “they all follow the pure knowledge of God” Holy Hegelian Marxist! What do I do with these grapplings with the sectarian writings of German Idealists for a Torah for the 21st century?

Can we use this as a guide for social revolution now? Well, let look at what he said about the problem of favoritism, corruption and cronyism in rabbinic courts. Rav Kook was against any change to the institutional fabric and rejected secular oversight or higher courts to oversee lower batai din, threatening to return to the R. Hayyim Sonnenfeld camp. What of women in modern world? He did not think women should vote or study Torah. What of secular studies? The new diaries show that he encouraged his inner circle to avoid the wisdom of the gentiles and stick to the prophetic Torah.

Furthermore, we tend to read Rav Kook as if he is the one pushing the envelope on the potential diffusion of God’s light in a new age. Rather than responding to forgotten correspondents who were more radical than he was like R Shmuel Alexandrov or R. Moshe Seidel. These newly released versions, at first reading, will make it easier to find the original dialogue partner. As you read through it, let me know if you find any especially unique passages or if you can detect changes from the beginning to the end of the writing process.

For the meaning of these writings, I await the series of new scholarly articles that will be written in the next few years. The one thing these writings do show is his concern with making a new passionate Jew beyond cognitive focus of the Eastern European beit midrash. A new Jew concerned with volition, inner voice, volkgeist, a new age, love, and seeking a new knowledge of God.

Immediate Update– both the article in Kipa and the file of Rav Kook have been take down, the link wont work. I can understand the removal of the unpublished book, but what benign or nefarious power took down a current news article. If anyone knows then please let me know. The article in Kipah is cached and one can still get to the Headline but not the article. Friends in Israel, what’s the story?
Next Update– I just posted the pdf from my saved copy and the articles reappeared with minor changes.

Suburban Religion: The Divine Commodity-Skye Jethani

A few years ago, I was asked to teach the beginning of Rav Dessler’s Miktav MiEliyahu whee he discussing the purpose in life. They did not know what they were asking for, and they had never read it, but they knew it was an important book. As we were reading it, they all remarked how it cannot say the things it does- for it invalidates the suburban trajectory of their lives. By the end they did not want to continue, they preferred something more relevant to their lives. Rav Dessler was known to be anti-bourgeois and the sharpness of his thought has receded into memory. Recently, people have however been turning to R. Itamar Schwatz (belevavi mishkan evneh) who screams out for people to abandon their cell phones, suburban homes, and nice clothes and flee into devotion toward God. A shock treatment to remember what life in this world is all about-service of God. But not everyone is ready for such shock treatment.

How do you tell such people that they do not get the world-to-come simply by paying a mortgage in a religious neighborhood? How do tell them that it is not just where you once upon a time learned but also what you study now? Rav Nahman of Bratzlav mocks the material life in his story “The Master of Prayer” But what if one is not looking for reductio ad absurdum, rather insight?

American society has also been witnessing preachers who are questioning the religious value of suburban life. One of these is Skye Jethani The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity .

Americans live in a consumer-driven society. We are consumers. This is our world, and the ethos of the corporate and consumer dominated life has been with us and expanding for well over 100 years. Consumers R Us.

However, there is a difference between being a consumer and having a worldview of consumerism. Consumerism is “a set of presuppositions most of us have been formed to carry without question or critique” (12). It has become the subconscious framework through which we view everything, including God, the gospel, and the church. In Jethani’s view, “it is competing with the kingdom of heaven for the hearts and imaginations of God’s people” (12).

For Skye Jethani, the concept of imagination is key. “Learning to see the world as it truly is—saturated with the presence and love of God—should be the essence of Christian discipleship, or what many call spiritual formation” (13). However, the church is failing to provide an alternative vision that will captivate the hearts and minds of consumers and break the chains that bind their imaginations. Instead, churches are catering to consumers without challenging the worldly assumptions that leave them undernourished and anemic in their faith.
What are Skye Jethani’s complaints about consumerism? How does this worldview stunt our faith?

• It commodifies God. God is not the Holy One any longer, the Great Mystery, but one who nicely fits in with our desires and politics. We value him for what he can do for us.

• It moves us to construct our Christian identity from the brands we consume rather than from what God has done for us in Christ. Christians buy Christian, and thus are Christian. Image is everything.

• It leads us to seek transformation through external “experiences” we consume. This has led to a whole new kind of church and ministry: “And the role of the pastor, once imagined as a shepherd tending a flock, now conjures images of a circus ringmaster shouting, ‘Come one, come all, to the greatest show on earth.’ In Consumer Christianity, the shepherd becomes a showman” (75).

• It has turned the church from an “ocean-liner” designed to move people from point A to point B (connecting people with God), to a “cruise ship” that is, in itself, the destination. One need never disembark because it contains everything the Christian life has to offer.

• It leads to a faith that is insatiable, unable to delay gratification, and averse to suffering.

• It causes us to segregate ourselves from others who are not like us, and to gather in homogeneous communities, causing us to miss the gospel call to a unity that rises above human divisions.

• It moves us to choose lifestyles of guarded isolation and individualism and miss out on the gospel call to practice hospitality, especially toward those we would never naturally associate with.

Is he right that we have become a homogeneous pleasure cruise ship? Have we converted God into a kitchen deity serving human needs? Has outreach and spirituality turned into a form of entertainment? What is the alternative to a fixed commodified faith?

Meditation Lab

One of the interesting people I met in Oslo was Harold D. Roth, professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Brown University. As many of the experts of the Eastern Traditions, he was of Jewish background who turned to the east becuase “One of the problems I wrestled with as a young Jewish person growing up was how the Holocaust could be justifiable in light of the theology I’d been taught.”

Roth offers a meditation lab to compliment his lecture course.

TOM: The Religious Studies courses you teach at Brown are supplemented by lab courses where you invite students to engage in what you call “critical first-person investigation” of the material. Would you tell us more about this?

ROTH: There are two courses that I teach that involve first-person labs right now. These are advanced seminars for people who already have had some courses in Buddhism. In them we have our weekly three-hour seminar in which we discuss the texts we are reading, and then from 9am to 10am, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we try out meditation techniques that are derived from these texts. I encourage people to investigate things empirically, to try out different techniques, for example, following the breath, or counting breaths, or paying attention to different parts of one’s body, the diaphragm, the sensation of the breath coming in and out the nose. These are all practices that would be used in the “Insight Meditation” tradition that is at the heart of Theravada or “Southern” Buddhism. Very often I’m able to coordinate the actual reading with the techniques in the lab. For example, when we study Theravada Buddhism we get two sutras that are devoted to breathing meditations: “Sutra on Mindfulness of Breathing” (Anapanasati sutta) and “Sutra on The Foundations of Mindfulness” (Satipatthana sutta). And in the lab we use techniques from those particular texts. I call this approach critical because I never ask anyone to accept what they are reading as true. I just ask them to read the texts with an open mind, and to practice a particular technique with an open mind. And then we talk about how the text relates to the techniques and the experiences in the meditation lab.

Direct experiential questioning is important for a complete investigation of religious phenomena. However, … academics in Religious Studies are very uncomfortable with engaging in religious practices as part of their pedagogy and their research. It is odd, because there are a lot of other academic disciplines that encourage first-person practices, such as laboratory science, public speaking, and anthropology, to name a few.
This kind of direct experiential questioning is important for a complete investigation of religious phenomena. However, conventional academic study in the field of Religious Studies has completely banned it, for a variety of reasons.

It is odd, because there are a lot of other academic disciplines that encourage first-person practices, such as laboratory science, public speaking, and anthropology, to name a few. All these disciplines give you techniques to critically examine the data you get from first-person investigation

First, religions in which empirical experience is central de-emphasize the need to believe. This is the case in all the world’s great mystical traditions.

Second, the whole idea that any of us can be completely objective denies the important role that our own subjective experience plays in our intellectual investigation and reasoning. Instead of banning and attempting to deny our own experience as a valid investigative tool, why not develop methods that engage it in a critical, reasoned way? That is what is behind my courses that combine traditional third-person academic study and “critical first-person” investigation. So I, for one, would be happy to engage in first-person investigation in Christian prayer or meditation, or Islamic practices, or Hindu practices, even though I don’t consider myself a believer in any of those traditions. I think first-person investigation is part of a serious examination of religion. The field is cutting off its foundations in not finding that acceptable.
The very fact that anybody does any kind of sitting or moving meditation practice … already gives them a leg up in interpreting texts that might have involved meditative or mystical practices.

ROTH: Yes, that’s exactly what I’m alluding to. For example, there are Taoist texts and Buddhist texts produced by specific groups of practitioners. If you don’t understand what the practicing context is, and if you haven’t had any related experience, you’re just going to miss the allusions to the practice and can not appreciate when this technical language is being used. Very often, especially in the early Taoist tradition, things are described metaphorically. Or Chinese characters may be used that have a range of meanings. They may have particular meanings in a political context but in a meditation text they might mean something very specific and concrete. So that’s part of what one needs to be sensitized to.
To read more from a good interview- here.

Any thoughts on labs for Kabbalah or mahshevet yisrael courses?

Safed Today

Cordovero’s Safed was a city of 18 study halls and 22 synagogues where lay devotions and public acts of penance were the norm. Pining away for God mixed with the channeling of errant spirits. And Yosef Karo the author of the Shulkhan Arukh received an angelic visitor guiding him in ritual practice and bodily mortification. Solomon Schachter’s Safed was a romantic vision of kabbalists going out into the field to greet the Sabbath. (In actually, Cordovero sang Lekha Dodi indoors and Luria meditated on Ana BaKoah without lekha Dodi outdoors.) Now Safed has combined its romantic heritage with Israeli Hasidism and then transformed the aura into a world of art, new age spirituality, hippie ethos and holistic health. Even without the visits by the material girl, there is still a whole lot of materiel religion going on.
Alastair Macdonald of Reuters seeks to capture the new age spirit of the city in an article and a blog post.

In this hilltop town above the Sea of Galilee, black-clad Hassidic Jews throng stone alleys where sandal-shod New Agers offer biblical jewelry and organic hummus to tourists seeking enlightenment — or Madonna.

But in this mountain-top retreat for Jewish mystics, both of an Orthodox and of less conventional persuasion, the public outburst of peace, love and understanding seemed entirely natural. Depending on your national cultural references, it’s hard to capture the spirit of Safed precisely – it is part hippie-haven, part devotional centre for hordes of black-clad Hassidic Jews; part Taos, New Mexico, part Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Spirituality and tradition are everywhere on Safed’s storefronts — “Natural face cream products based on ancient recipes”; “Bible and Mystical Art Center”; “Art & Soul.” Craft and art shops abound, though the town has lost the reputation it enjoyed in the 1960s as a home for Israel’s serious art world.


It might seem the last place to forget one’s cares. But that is just what Eyal Riess of at the International Center for Tzfat Kabbalah recommends. Eighteen years after he traded in the secular life of metropolitan Tel Aviv, he believes even a short burst of Safed air and Kabbalah can work wonders.

Busy executives choppering in for a few hours of “Kabbalah Experience,” or the party of “Russian oligarchs” flying down specially from Moscow direct to Safed for three days are among 40,000 people who Rabbi Riess says visit his center every year. One of his tour offerings is branded “A Spa for the Soul.” “Kabbalah teaches the parallels of experience between the spiritual and physical,” Riess said, pointing from his rooftop terrace to the cemetery “where Madonna visited last year.” We find the code of the soul of a person, based on the letters of his name and the date of his birth.”

Next door, Algiers-born, Paris-raised Danielle Chouraqui, a self-taught painter, is painstakingly at work on her latest creation, designed to draw viewers into pondering the mystic links between the Hebrew alphabet and the secrets of the human body and soul — “22 letters, 22 chromosomes,” she says. Her goal is “to get people to talk to their soul.”

As a town housing both Arabs and Jews, Safed saw violence in the decades leading up to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. In that year, Safed had a substantial Muslim Arab majority, including the 13-year-old Mahmoud Abbas – now the Palestinian president. Most became refugees as Jewish forces swept through the Galilee. Aside from a mosque, turned into an art gallery, and some Israeli public monuments to the war, there are few reminders of their presence.

I regularly receive sincere phone calls and emails from people looking for the Lurianic source for Safed aromatheraphy, healing candles, and yogic kabbalah. This article captures something of the spirit.

Peter Beinart on Day Schools

Back in 1999, Beinart framed the rise of day schools as a rejection of the original acceptance of public school. The growth of Jewish Day Schools is an abandonment of the American public square.

Beinart pointed out that the rise of day school had other factors than the obvious religious commitment. Even though day schools were originally for ideologically driven Orthodox who have not totally integrated into America, Day Schools became a form of private school for those moving up the latter.

Now, it seems the drive for day schools is the ideological need to create an enclave, in many classes an upper middle class Orthodox enclave. In this type of school, what counts? the education or the creation of the enclave? Some families are clearly still interested in creating private schools better than the public schools while others no longer ask if the day school if better than the public school in social studies, English, arts, or college preparation. Beinart reminds us to account for the role of the school in social mobility,class and caste. At the end of the twentieth century, day schools were “in” but the word “day school” may have had three different meanings- a prep school for Jews, a community school for identity, and a day school to create an enclave. Studies done by Avi Chai do not differentiate types of schools or factor in class and caste. (One of the decent studies available on the web, which was done privately by Alex Pomson, shows that in Toronto day schools are not growing relative to population increase.)

Jews supported public school because it helped enforce the separation of Church and State. Jews did encourage Christian kids to go to pre-Vatican II Catholic and Protestant schools because it would not have helped their integration. In those days, thinking of America as a Christian country would have meant Jews are excluded. Now, Jews do not worry about the possibility if there are Christian schools that do not offer an American secular narrative Jews do not worry about being outsiders. Nor do American Orthodox Jews currently worry about the possibility of Afrocentric, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh private schools.

What do day school parents feel about the melting pot? I would suspect that many are oblivious or against. Or it is only useful for everyone else. Do some of the parents see that if you exclude yourself from the socialization of the rest of the country then you start to look sectarian? Or if you accept the melting pot for viewing sports and listening to Lady Gaga, but not for social science thinking and historical narrative then you create a hybridization that may not work in all contexts. (In the full article, Beinhart cheers for the creation of the New-Jew HS in Boston as outside the box.)

Read full version of Beinart on Jewish schools here.

Preparing children for “the general American environment” meant public education as both practice and ideology. “The public school,” says Alvin I. Schiff, the Irving I. Stone Distinguished Professor of Education at Yeshiva University, in New York, “was considered sacred, holy. It was the method and setting by which Jews could become Americans.”
All the talk about Jewish identity may also obscure a less high-minded reason for the Jewish-school boom: as Jews have moved up the economic ladder, their commitment to public education has waned.
“As the public schools have eroded,” Miller says, “we are no longer being compared so much to public schools as to other independents.” Jewish leaders argue that because Jews make up such a small proportion of the U.S. population, the growth of Jewish schools has no real impact on the overall health of American public education. But public schools rely more heavily on Jewish support than the numbers would suggest, in part because Jewish organizations, fearful of any breakdown of the wall between Church and State, have traditionally lobbied hard against school vouchers and other government aid to private schools. As awareness grows that voucher programs might benefit financially strapped Jewish schools, that opposition may diminish.
Yet such parents, by choosing Jewish schools, are preparing their children to lead more observant, less assimilated lives than they do. Some even describe the phenomenon as an inversion of a practice in nineteenth-century Europe whereby parents would remain Jewish but baptize their children.
Why a growing number of relatively secular Jewish parents are abandoning the education model of their youth is a topic of considerable debate within the organized Jewish world

THERE is another, even more sensitive issue lurking behind the Jewish-school phenomenon. Earlier generations of Jews, according to Eduardo Rauch, of the Jewish Theological Seminary, in New York, sent their children to public school not simply as a means of ascending into the middle class but as a show of national loyalty. Today, in contrast, parents are willing to consider Jewish schools in part because they no longer fear being viewed as outsiders. They take their integration into mainstream America as a given. But what if earlier generations were correct — that full equality in an overwhelmingly Christian country is, in fact, reliant on Jewish willingness to participate in a common system of education?
In fact, when discussing issues like Afrocentrism and bilingual education, American Jewish leaders sometimes bemoan the demise of the melting-pot ideal in this country. Yet separate religious schools both rely on that demise and exacerbate it. The Orthodox community, for its part, has rarely celebrated the melting pot, and generally worries less about total acceptance by the broader culture.

For our last discussion about day schools, see here- Catholic Schools and Jewish Day Schools.

Peter Beinart on his Orthodox affiliation

By now everyone has read, reacted, or over reacted to the essay by Peter Beinart, The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment. For a summary and links to many reactions, see JTA or Alison Ramer and Menachem Mendel. I also assume everyone has read the interesting three part interview with Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic.

My interest remains focused only on religion and how it plays itself out in people’s lives. I will leave to other people and other blogs to deal with the politics. However, in the second installment of the interview with Goldberg, I found the following snippet dealing with religion.

Jeffrey Goldberg: It’s interesting to me that you, an Orthodox Jew, don’t answer the question about Zionism in any sort of theological way whatsoever.

Peter Beinart: I didn’t call myself an Orthodox Jew; I said I attend an Orthodox synagogue. But anyway, it’s a reasonable question. I feel a spiritual connection through Jewish observance–when I’m in shul, on Shabbat, even through kashrut. And I feel a spiritual connection to Jewish people–a certain delight at certain Jewish idiosyncracies, at a sense of global peoplehood.

My immediate question is what does this say about those gen x’ers who floated into Orthodoxy during the great revival of the last decades. How do they combine the warm of Shabbat with their liberalism, theological openness, and not fitting into the rigid Orthodox categories. Would the post-orthodox vortex of those demanding rigid definitions of belief and practice throw him out of their sectarian imaginary? Does he fell uncomfortable around Orthodox political views? So I emailed Peter and received the following response.

Although there are a lot of Orthodox Jews in my family (my mother is Sephardi, which doesn’t always translate easily into American categories), I was raised in a Conservative synagogue. I began going to Orthodox synagogues in my 20s.

What appealed to me was the dedication to Jewish learning, which I have come to believe is the only path to Jewish continuity. I feel in many ways limited by the fact that I did not attend Jewish school, and want my children to learn more, far more, than I did at their age. In a way, I’m more concerned with their knowledge than their observance, though I suspect and hope that the latter will follow the former. (In any case, we’re less strictly observant than some). If they can feel confident in a Jewish religious context, it will always be available to them, even if they drift away for periods of their lives. I’m also attracted to Modern Orthodoxy’s vision of a life in which one can be faithful to halacha (though I myself could be more faithful) and also truly at ease in the world, recognizing the truth and beauty in non-Jewish things.

In addition, I have always felt a sense of community that I consider precious: the involvement that people have in each other’s lives, the long, lazy stretches of time during a shabbat meal or at the park on Saturday afternoon, a series of friendships that are not based on work (which I find is very common in Washington), the amount of time we spend in each other’s homes, the way we watch each other’s kids grow up.

I think I’ve also been lucky because my community is very tolerant both in terms of observance and political opinion, even on Israel. (I didn’t realize quote how tolerant until I wrote my essay).
That makes it much easier for me to deal with those parts of Orthodoxy that do trouble me: for instance, the participation of women. I might have grativated to some more egalitarian conservadox minyan, but the fact that there are so many successful, empowered, articulate women in my community makes me feel more comfortable on questions of gender. There is also a sense of irony and good humor about Orthodox Jewry’s foibles among our friends that I greatly value.

So I suppose I compromise my liberalism to participate in an Orthodox community, but I’m willing to do so because I am so enriched by it in so many ways. (And perhaps because I fear that a more universalistic Jewish community would be less of a true Jewish community). So it’s a little like Zionism. I recognize that to be a Zionist I have to compromise my liberalism: I have to support a Jewish state, which by definition will never be able to provide absolute equality to its non-Jewish citizens. But I try to do so while still hoping for as much liberalism as possible. I’ve never felt my community is demeaning or disrespectful to women or gays or lesbians or non-Jews, even as I do remain bothered by the roles according to all those groups in mainstream Orthodox practice.

I’ve also been inspired by various people who are far more learned than me who are also highly critical of certain illiberal, even racist, tendencies that they see in the Orthodox community, and in Israel. They have modeled for me a life of Jewish commitment that is not morally complacent, and which is zealous about the rights and dignity of non-Jews, both in the US and the Middle East.

On the essay itself, I’ve been pleasantly surprised–even moved–by the reaction from the Jewish Week and from Nathan Diament, who runs the Washington office of the OU. I don’t expect that publication or organization to agree with my views on Israel, but if there is marginally more concern for the declining Zionism of non-Orthodox Jews, and for the kind of attitudes expressed at the 2002 Israel rally, where a largely Orthodox crowd booed a call to recognize Palestinian suffering, then I will be gratified.

We seem to have a functional religion adding value and community to life. His religion is not very theological. Regarding problematic ideas and values, we see an important role played by those who are ironic or critical toward towards their Orthodoxy as helping to make Orthodoxy more welcoming. It seems these friends help lower any religious tensions or cognitive dissidence. I was pleased to see the tolerance and acceptance of diversity within the community, or at least among his friends and acquaintances.
If you comment, limit it to religion. Post the politics on one of the other blogs.

Pregnancy Ethics in Israel and Japan—Updated by AS

I have heard from both rabbis and doctors about the different approaches in America and Israel on the view of the fetus and the role of therapeutic abortion. But the contrasts were always framed as US versus Israel or different schools of halakhah neither of which provided a useful focal point to articulate the differences, since America is diverse and halakhhah is ideal-not reality.

Here is a book on Israel compared to Japan that offers much to think about. What is the role of the medical model in the construction of modern Judaism? How is Israeli medical ethics very different than American medical ethics? Is it practice or ideal? (From what I hear, American MO are aggressive in feeding tubes in a way that Israelis are not.) How Jewish views of birth and death may at this point be less in harmony with nature than other cultures. How do views of secular Israel and religious America effect Orthodox practice. How did Centrism halakhah and ideology has adapt the views of the evangelical era? How and why do the actual ethics in the community not follow the rabbis- Modern Orthodox Jews do not usually take pride in and raise severe birth defect children, but American Catholics do. [And American MO HS girls do indeed get pregnant out of wedlock but we dont see corresponding numbers of unwed mothers- practice is not matching theory.] Or I am told by OBGYNs that Hungarian Hasidim in the US take an Israeli approach and rebbitzens can and do decide on ad-hoc terminations of fetuses. I know this introductory paragraph is over-generalized and needs breakdown by demographics and era.

Nevertheless, read this review and ask: what it imply about Israel or Judaism?

The Meaning of (Gestating) Life -Pregnancy in Israel and Japan.
Elrena Evans | posted 4/23/2010

“What’s the book about?” “It’s about pregnancy,” I’d say. “In Japan and Israel.”
This impression in turn led to a developing interest in the lived experience of pregnancy and how it is socially and culturally constructed in different societies.

Although both Israeli and Japanese women experience pregnancy as a highly medicalized event, much as in the United States, the forms that medicalization take differ greatly. And these differences, Ivry argues, are deeply rooted in distinctive cultural contexts: in Israel, a struggle to stay alive amidst constant military conflict; in Japan, an emphasis on the betterment of society through the long-term maternal efforts of child-raising.

If we think of each culture’s implicit understanding of pregnancy as a narrative, Ivry contends, we’ll find that the “protagonist” of the Japanese narrative differs sharply from the protagonist of the Israeli narrative:

In the Japanese arena the protagonist of pregnancy is the interconnected entity of the mother-baby, whereas in the Israeli case the protagonists are the pregnant woman and her suspect fetus.

Pregnancy is conceptualized as an early stage of parenting in Japan and is all about the interdependence of mother and baby and their ongoing relationships. The Israeli model defines pregnancy as a state “in limbo” that involves two separate individuals (of whom only one is a person).

Japanese pregnancies are understood through a lens Ivry refers to as “environmentalism,” by which she means the notion that the mother’s body (and thus her actions, both physical and mental) are responsible for the outcome of the pregnancy—in other words, the baby. To this end, Japanese ob/gyns place strict boundaries on the body of the pregnant woman: she must not gain too much weight, nor allow herself to become chilled, nor submit herself to the bumps and jerks of public transportation.

This assumption that a woman seeking prenatal care intends to keep her pregnancy does not hold true for the Israeli experience. Israeli pregnancies, Ivry argues, are understood through the lens of “geneticism,” whereby the random assemblage of genetic material is the dominant factor in determining pregnancy outcome. The role of the Israeli mother is to try and determine the fetus’s genetic makeup through a battery of prenatal diagnostic tests, and then to act according to the information she receives. Prenatal diagnosis is both widespread and aggressive, and in the event of an “abnormal” diagnosis, abortion is expected.

Ivry categorizes pregnancy for Israeli women as a “risky business.” Unlike the mother-baby dyad of Japanese pregnancies, Israeli pregnancies are strictly woman (not mother) and fetus. “When a woman walks into my office and says ‘I’m pregnant,'” Ivry quotes an Israeli ultrasound expert as saying, “I don’t touch her. I don’t say anything to her, I open a new card, and I write that I recommend an abortion. Then I sign her up on a paper that says that she is aware of all the testing that exists. Now we can begin to talk.”

When pregnant Israeli women contemplate amniocentesis, a diagnostic test that can identify chromosomal abnormalities but carries with it the risk of miscarriage, Israeli ob/gyns routinely frame the decision thus, Ivry tells us: women must weigh the grief of losing a healthy child against the grief of bearing a child with a disability. Nowhere is the grief over losing a disabled child so much as even mentioned; it is taken for granted that a disabled child is unwanted. As for the disabled community in Israel, Ivry notes that “Israelis with disabilities are often quoted in the media as supporting the diagnostic endeavor to prevent the birth of other people who would suffer the kind of life that they endure.”

Update – Serious and Thoughtful Comment by AS

First, I tend to bristle at the term therapeutic abortion when applied to cases where the only risk involved is having a child with a disability. We generally refer to this as selective abortion because it fits in the general category of abortion based on the projected traits of the child. The term is either a deliberate euphemism or a projection of the mistaken idea that anything done in a medical context on the basis of medical information is therapeutic.

In any event, to understand the relevance to Orthodoxy in Israel and America this study should probably be put into the context of three other books:
1) The Tentative Pregnancy by Barbara Katz Rothman
2) Testing Women, Testing the Fetus by Rayna Rapp
3) Reproducing Jews by Susan Martha Kahn
The first two describe how prenatal testing has changed pregnancy in America, the last how technically mediated reproduction in Israel reflects a preoccupation with the need to increase the population of Jews and a reflection of how the fraught “who is a Jew” question gets translated into medical culture. I believe that what the abortion data from israel show is that there is not just a concern with producing Jews, but producing healthy able bodied Jews, and this likely reflects some of the ideals of the halutzim and the like.

Talking with Israeli midwives and doctors as well as other anecdotal evidence (and somewhat confirmed here at the blog a mother in israel is that in the religious Zionist community selective abortion for disability occurs at a pretty high rate. It is also likely that Both R. Waldenberg’s and R. Aviner’s positions contribute to this phenomena.

When we come to American Orthodox communities I can offer the following observations/theories:
The uptake of preconception genetic testing is quite high. and the overall medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth is high as well
While ACOGS pushes for prenatal testing to be offered as a matter of course for younger and younger women, their is widespread recognition among doctors that there are many people who will not abort fetuses with chromosomal abnormalities on principle and therefore refusal of amnio is not completely out of the ordinary. Refusal of ultrasound is unusual.

Medical ethics in America is an established discipline with widely accepted ideas of patient autonomy and “non-directedness” on the part of genetic counselors. Medical ethics in Israel as a distinct discipline is pretty inchoate.

The disability rights critique of routinized testing and selective abortion is unknown to most orthodox Jews, and this reflects the fact that to my knowledge, adult orthodox Jews with disabilities may be reluctant to bring disability rights identity politics into the dialogues they have within their religious communities (the orthodox deaf community is not surprisingly a bit of an exception to this rule)

As far as raising children with disabilities: Modern Orthodox Jews like their larger socioeconomic cohort, have fewer children and tend to share concerns that a disabled child will disrupt their family in various ways and create a situation that is unfair to their other children and that impinges on their lifestyle. American Hareidim have more children but their concern is that a disabled child – especially if it is a genetic trait – will harm their other children’s ability to marry well.
As this is an area that I study I could say more, but don’t have too much time.

One thing I read recently that was interesting and perhaps relevant is Shalom Carmy’s review in the inaugural Jewish Review of Books. I recall the article ending with a claim that while Orthodox Halakha tends to ignore larger ethical motifs (like human dignity/created in God’s image) the way that Christians do, becuase its casuistic approach is more sensitive to the needs of people in particular situations. I take issue to this claim given the actual data on abortion. In short, without a larger conversation about how society views the disabled and how the medical model of disability tends to point toward the elimination of disability by eliminating people with disabilities, one fails to see how the supposed case-by case analysis of Halakhah that ignores larger social questions ends up simply reflecting whatever values tend to dominate. This is especially true when those values become invisible components of what is passed as objective medical information.


Another random nugget- this time from here.
I have always wondered about the compatibility of religiosity and sarcasm or about guys who increase their sarcasm as they buy into a yeshivish life.

“Phil Vischer, the creator of VeggieTales, gave a speech at Yale in 2005 in which he unpacked the media values of our generation — the slow descent from our parents’ ‘dry, cocktail party wit of Johnny Carson’ to the ‘sarcasm and twisted humor’ of David Letterman, and the emergence of the bottom-feeder humor that is Beavis and Butt-head and South Park. In these shows, Vischer says, ‘we had found our voice. We were safe from the world, as long as everything was treated as a joke.’He continues: Some folks believe Vietnam was the source of America’s modern cynicism. Others point to Watergate. But for me and for many others in my generation, the real root, I think, is much closer to home and much more personal. When we were very young, our parents broke their promises. Their promises to each other, and their promises to us. And millions of American kids in a very short period of time learned that the world isn’t a safe place; that there isn’t anyone who won’t let you down; that their hearts were much too fragile to leave exposed. And sarcasm, as CS Lewis put it, ‘builds up around a man the finest armor-plating … that I know.’”
Sarcasm seems to me to be a mixed bag. It is an effective rhetorical tool in criticizing customs, habits, institutions, and authorities. It is funny. But it does create an emotional distance – a dehumanizing “armor-plating.” As Jethani argues, it distances us from our anger and our fear. As I read him, he believes we cannot break through to love without directly confronting our anger and our fear.

Science and Religion Discourse

An interesting tidbit from the web tonight. Any thoughts?

Why I Hate the Science and Religion Discourse
May 22, 2010
by missivesfrommarx

* “Science” is not just one thing, and neither is “religion” a monolith. Not all science vs. religion discourses imply this, but most of them do. Those things grouped under the terms “scientific” and “religious” are incredibly diverse and sometimes even overlap.
* The agenda of this discourse is largely set… by the European enlightenment. The concerns of the science vs. religion discourse are not universal, either in time or space, although the discourse pretends as if they are—as if “science” and “religion” have been battling forever and will continue to battle for eternity… most of the people in human history would find this discourse to be irrelevant to them and their lives.
* The discourse often amounts to either Christian [or Jewish] apologetics or responses to Christian [or Jewish ] apologetics. (This seems to me to make the science vs. religion debate fundamentally unscholarly, since I take it for granted that religious studies scholars are not supposed to have their research agendas straightforwardly set by the people they study.)
* The discourse often treats “religion” as a series of true or false propositions, much like the new atheists do. Focusing on the truth or falsehood of an ideology fundamentally misses the social work accomplished by that ideology. The proper response to Mein Kampf is not (primarily) to point out logical contradictions, but to point to the social effects of its racist ideology. In my opinion, the best response to creationism is not to attempt a demonstration of its falsehood, but to show what sort of ideological function it might serve for those communities that support it.

Arthur Green – Radical Judaism #5

Time for the final chapter. Continued from here and here.

Green asks: What Does God want you to do? or as Green puts it Who are you? What does it mean to be human?

For Green, the answer must come from our sense of Creation that includes all of humanity, we need to internalize a universalist concept that man is the image of God. (We don’t get an ethicist’s or jurist’s list of ethical principles.) There is an evolutionary human development toward greater universalism. So rather than giving us a theory of justice, we get a discussion of how can we still use the kabbalistic language of soul as a basis for universalism. Green strength is his personal honesty to state that he is hesitant to use the word metaphysical word soul but then turns it around to preserve the holy language of the soul by stating that the soul is the recognition that we are a holy being enjoined to remember to respect and rejoin the pantheistic source of all being. Immortality is the acknowledgment of the circle of life. There are new babies and new flowers and eternal renewal. (What I get is a sensibility more than universal values.)

Green places the current debate among Israeli Religious Zionists about universalism in a footnote but does not enter the fray. What did Hazal do with the universal principles of image of God and Love thy neighbor? Alon Goshen-Gottstein sees these ideas as too universal for Hazal while Yair Lorberbaum shows how Maimonides and Nahmanides retained aspects of these ideas to create metaphysics. [As a contrast to Green, when Rav Cherlow asks this question of what God wants from you– he responds with a compassionate Jewish law of values.]

Green states that he is not worried over who is a Jew, and other discredited nineteenth century ideas like race and peoplehood. He feels that there is too much emphasis in Jewish life on the insecurity of our existence and not enough on our status as seekers. Choosing of Israel does not mean rejection of other people. The Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War created a lasting impression on Jews. But Israel and the law of return is still bound to the Nuremburg laws. Jews are seekers, not a race. (echoes of Avraham Burg, but the later advocates ethics.) For Green, between the universal seeker and tribal Jew is the Jewish seeker.

Green does not consider the way the Jewish seeker plays itself out in real life. Two common forms of the Jewish seeker are (1) the tribal seeker, who has a universal Judaism and hates other faiths or commitments. he Bu-Jew with a hatred of Christianity and Islam. (2)Or those so tribal that they say anything she touches is Jewish. This second Jewish seeker is adamant that any fragment of Buddhism or Yoga that they like is a fulfillment of Judaism

Green describes himself as a religious Jew and secular Zionist. There is no religious or messianic status to the land of Israel. But essentially he remains a diasporist.

Green has a nice section on his differences from Heschel. For Heschel, one actually gives to God when performing a mizvah- there is real theurgy. Heschel had a Biblical personalist image of with mystical overtones, and Green admits that he is a pantheist with personalist overtones A pantheistic God as energy that offers blessing – meaning an energy that adds value and meaning to the world. Heschel was God’s partner- he translated prophetic and kabbalistic language into personalist language.Heschel has traditional views of God, Torah, Israel. Heschel approach to the law was apologetic combined with a plea for more compassion and decency. Green approach is heterodoxy. Green acknowledges that Heschel has both a progressive approach, which Green likes, but also a strong conservative trend.

Well was this book a vision for the 21st century future of Judaism or was it just the spiritual autobiography of a baby-boomer?

Meditation Conference

The organizers of the meditation conference assumed meditation was a means of sitting and saying a verbal focus which would lead to calm, well-being, and better health. They wanted to find out how this truth of meditation plays itself out in the religions and cultures of the world. Instead, they found themselves with over fifty experts on meditation techniques in Buddhism, Hinduism, Daoism, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism saying that this definition of meditation is not found in the traditional texts or traditional meditation communities. There was a feeling that Western people, in America and Europe, have an idea of meditation and speak of meditation as a know entity that was unknown to the academics in the field.

We felt that we could have used a panel session on where this idea of mediation came from and how in the last 35 years in has become part of Western religion and spirituality. In short, we pieced together that the theosophists and translators of the sacred books of the east created a version of mediation as psychology. In the 1970’s when TM and Zen became popular as well as reading the older works, then we get a flurry of books on “what is meditation.” By the 1980’s we can speak of the “meditation of poetry”, the “meditation of surfing” the “meditation of yoga” or the “meditation of Chabad fabrengen” A rightful possession of American spirituality that Americans wont let experts take away from them. Herbert Benson created the relaxation response and formulated meditation as a form of calm and healthy wellbeing. But this definition is not a traditional one. This was further removed from any tradition by psycho neurology that used its own definitions not accepted by any known religion- except contemporary spirituality. Even frum jews love to use the word when it does not correspond to anything in traditional texts.

So the conference ran as follows:

The calmness of meditation is claimed to be based on the Indic concept of Samadhi, but Samadhi is not calmness, rather a secession of emotions, desires, thoughts, and brain functions so one can transcend the world. Indian and Buddhism meditation is not about calmness and wellness- it is about pain and suffering and rubbing your nose in the inevitability of suffering. Zen is not very calm and includes sweat inducing koans, being hit by the Roshi, unquestioning tasks, and pain. Jewish texts on hitbddedut and kavvanah are about coming closer to God sometimes via ecstasy and emotional upheaval.

The modern definition takes out the purpose of meditation in India or China which is to either escape the world or seek enlightenment. And it has little to do with the Jewish and Islamic themes of God in the heart, or the Tibetan and Daoist alchemical techniques for longevity. After the presentation on vipassana, any vestiges of the opening premises were gone. Vipassana was originally the national ideal of Burma for a educated well cultivated approached to stoically wait for the British colonialists to leave. It was then modernized in the Vietnam War, but still little to do with the current practice of that name. There was little respect for the Dalai Lama at the conference with his promising this-worldly happiness and well being for those who meditate, when his own Tibetan traditions do not teach that.

There was a general consensus that most current practices performed in the west were recent. They were either from the term of the 20th century and involved modernization and Westernization. We find Buddhists reading William James and rediscovering new techniques in manuscript. Then there are new versions of the 1960’s. Finally, there was consensus that anyone claiming tradition and authority in the US teaching “meditation” in the modern sense was either a charlatan or a student of one. Trust those who either acknowledge they are doing something modern or those who don’t promise calm and well being. Everyone saw a decrease in interest in traditional forms of meditation since the 1990’s becuase everyone now knows that they want this new Western meditation – but they want it with a Yoga, Hasidic, or QiGong veneer.

From a Jewish point of view, this means that Ramak, Ari”zl, Chabad, and Rav Nahman all have versions of hitbodedut, hitbonenut, kavvanah, and yihud but there is nothing gained conceptually or linguistically by calling them meditation and they have little to do with any clinical calming technique. (it might have briefly made sense in the 1970’s when stolid religion was breaking down and the BT world was aiming in this realm.) The reliance of the Piesetzna and Menachem Eckstein on modern psychology is par for the course-as is Aryeh Kaplan’s reading of the Dover Publishing Co. books from the early 20th century on Tibetan and Chinese meditation. And sitting for mindfulness before davening is not Buddhist, not Jewish, not Indian but it is American new age spiritual. Sitting before davening has little to do with the Ramak or Ari”zl.

By the end we concluded that there is use for term like visualization, body techniques, or mental apophasis.
One can speak of a Jewish kavvanah of the Ramak as a form of visualization. But it does not share the formal aspects of sitting of the Zen tradition and it lacks the ending of mental facilities like Samadhi and it lack to goal to escape the world of most Buddhist practices. It does not have the mental requirements of Jnana. Yet, there is more to the analogy than just visions since it does take one to a place above the “pain of this world” creating some very weak similarity to Jnana and Samadhi. But the goal of daat and berakhah are very unYogic. One can also find close similarities to Sufis and certain out of context Daoist similarities.

Now what? We shall see if they get funding for follow-up conferences.

[Natan – I know that your approach disagrees. I have read your material so you don’t have to send it to me again as comments.]

Oslo Conference and Catechisms

I had a conference in Oslo this past week and had planned to blog from there but there was not enough stable wifi. i did not get a chance to post “be back soon.” And I have learned that no one has time for blogs on the day before a holiday. I will give conference details in the next post(s) but a few random thoughts.

I stayed in the same retreat center where the Oslo accords were signed. There was an eerie little shrine to the signing with a group photo of a very happy smiling Rabin. (I wanted to do a Yom Yerushalayim posting from there.)

I was in Oslo itself for their national day when they became independent from Denmark a hundred years ago. However, their rabbinic leadership have been four generations of Melchiors. (The current rabbi of Oslo is MK Melchior’s son.)

For a sense of the Jewish community in Denmark before WWII, I recommend “A Rabbi Remembers “ by Marcus Melchior ; translated from the Danish by Werner Melchior. New York : L. Stuart, c1968. Most people read the memoir for the Holocaust sections; I read it for its portrayal of Western European Orthodoxy. Where a kid who has only had Jewish catechism classes decides he likes synagogue life and wants to become a rabbi. He goes to the Berlin Orthodox seminary where he learns Talmud for the first time as part of the preparatory program (2 years) and then enters the seminary program. One does not get an image of the seminary as a hotbed of academic scholarship, more synagogue skills and high church sermonics. Even when Rabbi Marcus returns to Denmark, he writes that he is little interested in teaching and more interested in the synagogue aspects.

We can use a study of Western European Orthodoxy- a great PHD topic–where congregants only knew Judaism from the catechism they studied during religion time in public school (1-4 periods a week) and then may have also had to take a course on creating a Jewish home before they married. There are many of these catechisms and reflect different concerns than our usual casting of Germanic Orthodoxy in terms of ideological classes.

James Davidson Hunter – To change the World

They rebroadcast Elmer Gantry last night, a once upon a time scandalous book-movie about right wing revivalist religion. In the movie one of the ministers says “they had everyone in town saved and non of the social ills stopped, nothing changed.” So does religion change anything for the good in America? Does it create a new society?

James Hunter has a new book on the topic To Change the World. Hunter is the one who created the analysis of the culture wars of conservative and progressive in his 1991 Culture Wars. This book promises to be one of the major works of the coming decade.

In his new book, he gives a simple answer to the question of whether religions change anything. His answer: only if they has positions within culture. One changes the culture by being part of culture to stand on the sidelines in American and offer commentary does not change anything. One gets to be a major politician, editor, academic, writer, or TV figure. If not, then you are not influencing culture. Publishing in religious presses and working in religious colleges and creating echo chambers does not change society. If one becomes part of the Supreme Court or writes for the NYT op-ed page then one changes society, hence the importance that Catholic moral thinking has taken on in the US. But to be either the Evangelical or utopian Anabaptist author who has disdain for the establishment does not change anything. In addition, changing oneself or pledging oneself to devotion to ones faith does not change society. The religion pride themselves on their sense of periphery and devotion to lower aspects of culture.

Hunter notes that gays have placed their cultural agenda in the center and highest levels of American society and have a stronger presence than religion. Many religious figures want to win at the school board and HS teaching level but ignore academia, TV, and journalism. Any thoughts for the Jewish community? Orthodox community?

Hunter assumes that

The individuals, networks and institutions most critically involved in the production of culture or civilization operate in the center, where prestige is the highest; not on the periphery, where status is low.

Long-term cultural change always occurs from the top down. In other words, the work of world-changing is the work of elites, gatekeepers who provide creative direction and management to the leading institutions in a society.

One group focuses on personal renewal and national revival, while another—championing a “Christian worldview”—locates the necessary condition for cultural change not so much in the heart as in the mind. Either way, the premise is that once the hearts and minds of ordinary people are properly revived and informed, the culture will change. “This account,” Hunter says flatly, “is almost wholly mistaken.”

And Christianity in America, as Hunter sees it, is very much on the periphery, for all its numerical strength. Its institutions, such as they are, tend to be weak, they tend not to be in culturally central locations, and they tend to address the “lower and peripheral areas” of culture—secondary education rather than university research, popular culture rather than high art, ministries of mercy rather than public policy. At their worst they glory in their marginal status, feeding a subculture that churns out substandard cultural products for consumption by other Christians, simultaneously the most energetic and the least effective culture-makers you could imagine.

Hunter calls us to “faithful presence”—fully participating in every structure of culture as deeply formed Christians who also participate in the alternative community of the church.

Ex- Hasidim and the Besht

Over Shabbat, I met another of the many Boro Park Hasidim who have left the Hasidic world. Our Bachur said that unlike his friends who went un-observant, he was looking for some form of modern Orthodox identity.

He mentioned that the Besht was his role model because the Besht did not care what people wore or what the people did. I have noticed this intense and gravely serious use of the Besht by others in the same situation. Many of the articles and dissertations on the LES Chulent mention the important use of the Besht as a justification.

I did not have a heart to tell them that we have no indication that the Besht did not care about these things. The image of Besht as friend of the common man was created by Shimon Dubnow based on Renan’s Life of Jesus. The common folk needed a voice to be harnessed by Dubnow’s Yiddishist Folks party. IL Peretz also used this image with a healthy dose of Tolstoy mixed in. From Dubnow, the image of the Besht as friend of the common man was picked up by R. Yosef Yitzhak in his creative memoirs and stories, and then further used by Yisrael Yaakov Klapholtz. It was also picked up in 1930’s US by Levin and Shnitzer. They fill out the details of how the Besht was a proponent of education for girls, was a democrat, and a rationalist.
(I am not discussing Zweifel’s modernizations nor Buber’s view of an elite mystic, rather the friend of the common man.)

So obviously there is a need for a source and authority for change. Many times when a generation cannot turn to the prior generation they pick a distant figure to idealize. What are the contours of this new image of the Besht? It certainly has Chabad elements. Is it only a transitional image to something else? Is this different than when the generation of the 1920’s chasidic youth lost faith in their parents and the Piesetzna rebbe told them to consider “as if” the patriarchs and prior ages were their parents? Or many modern groups that choose Maimonides? I do feel it has a different feel, a lack of an “As if”” quality. Any thoughts?