Monthly Archives: May 2010

From Bergen County to Istanbul

Here is an interesting interfaith moment of a frum couple from Bergen county finding themselves on Turkish TV. I knew of this as soon as it occurred but was waiting for the You Tube. The couple are interested in Jewish Muslim reconciliation and were in correspondence with Adnan Oktar (Harun Yahya) and visited him and found themselves recorded for posterity. Adnan Oktar (Harun Yahya) is the leading Turkish creationist rejecting secular Turkey and the more rational Islamic approaches. Adnan Oktar (Harun Yahya) has a rich debate around him on the web. Look at his wiki page and the Anti-Wiki pages. and hate sites against him. Was he anti-Semitic and then saw the light after a prison term and is now pushing for Jewish-Muslim reconciliation? Was he imprisoned and placed in a psycho ward as a set-up victim of the state or did he deserve it? Here is a critical article.

Gil Amminadav writes to me after reading the links on this post.

“We had read some of the allegations against Harun Yahya before (as well as his group’s responses), but nothing as emphatic as that Humanist article! It was a very well-written piece. If we had read all of this before agreeing to meet with him, I can’t say that it would have changed anything; we believe that part of the purpose of cultivating a sensitivity towards negative and defamatory speech is to remind us that, when all is said and done, there is quite a lot said, and not nearly as much actually known. Even with truth to a single allegation, we are not interested in judging, we are interested in working. Another’s personal failures serve to remind us of our own – narcissism is hardly a unique trait. All in all, the man struck us as sincerely interested in promoting friendship and fellowship, from within his own cultural context, and for that we give him much credit and hope that he inspires others to do the same, God willing. If he has an imbalanced sexuality or mistreats others in any way, then we hope that God brings him “a healing of soul and a healing of body,” and that anyone who feels harmed by him is brought the same.”

“Elana and Gil Amminadav run Derusha Publishing, an indie publishing house based in New Jersey. Among their publications is Hakham Jose Fauer’s recent book. “So here are these young Jewish seekers who didn’t realize they were going to broadcast our conversation until we actually sat down. I am not sure what to make of it. This stuff is going on all the time. Here is the TV interview in two parts.

From the transcript:

Look. See how Islam resembles Judaism? The fact they resemble one another stems from their being the same in the faith of the Prophet Abraham (pbuh) and very ancient Sunna, insha’Allah.

GIL AMMINADAV: Yes, even more. It is a river and everyone drinks from the river. And some people drink from here and some people drink from there. But it is the same river. Beyond Abraham (pbuh), Ishmael (pbuh), Isaac (pbuh) and Jacob (pbuh) and all these beyond today, you have people drinking from the same river and know. Unfortunately, it seems we have seen a lot of people, unfortunately a lot of Israeli, has forgotten. We are supposed to be the people of memory but we have forgotten. But we are now remembering

GIL AMMINADAV: We have a sheikh, a tzadik (righteous teacher). His name was Rabbi Nachman ben Feiga, very nice person. He talks about the flip (sudden change) from this world order to the next world order. Inthe blink of an eye. No guns, no tanks, no missiles, just prayer

ELANA AMMINADAV: We also find that a lot of times we are looking forsomething called mussar, like instruction on how we can change ourselves. So when we find a Holy Book that teaches us or that points out things that might be problems in our people. Like things in the Qur’an talk about how the Jews might have worshipped their Rabbis. So then we can look at ourselves and say, why someone would say that to us, and that can teach us how to change and how to make ourselves better.

Gil’s statement afterward:

“We believe it is worthwhile for human beings to see the benefit in making religion a positive, unifying, and enriching force in their lives and in their relationships.  Meetings between those people who speak the language of friendship are key components of the widespread change unfolding around us.  We were honored to reflect upon the sanctity of Judaism, Islam, and other expressions of humanity’s relationship with God, for those who find sanctity in them, with Mr. Harun Yahya, a delightful, spiritually-sensitive educator and communal leader in Istanbul.  We hope that as human beings recognize more of each other in themselves, we will enter the next chapter of human history with a liberating new vision of the future.”

For a sense of how common this is becoming. Harun Yahya has had many Israeli guests on his show
including members of the current attempted Sanhedrin. A national Haredi yearning for the Ottoman Empire?

From the transcript:
The video is here:

RABBI ABRAHAMSON: Hello, my name is Benyamin Abrahamson. I am an orthodox Chassidic Jew from Israel. And I work as a historian or a kind of consultant to the court in Jerusalem that Rabbi Hollander is talking about. Mostly people here know me from my
endless discussions about the similarities between the Islam and Jewish customs. I enjoy talking about the Hadiths, Tabari, Ibn Hisham and al-Waqidi, and talking about the kings of Himyar as I much as I enjoy talking about the Midrash Rabbah, the Midrashei Geulah,
Rambam, Tosefos or the Shulchan Aruch. I like very much to talk about the common shared customs between Islam and Judaism, about the similarities in architecture between the masjid and the synagogue, between the similarities of the calendar, holidays and customs. But it is
clear to me that there is more than just similarities, that they obviously go back to a common root and a common faith.

So what do we make of this reapproachment? It is not the commonality of Jews living in Arab lands or of neighbors. It is not exactly dialogue, theology, or formulated views. And it is happening on the margins. Help me make sense of the implications. I do not want to discuss the people involved, just the encounter.

Arthur Green–Radical Judaism #4 of 5

Chapter 3 of Radical Torah is on Torah and revelation. Torah points to the oneness of all reality and mitzvah is our sense of what creates holiness in our lives.
Green’s radical views on Torah go back to some of his first public statement.

In the 1960’s, the pulpit Rabbi David Hartman raised money to host annual SEGAL retreats in Quebec. The invitation list included depending on the year Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, Elie Wiesel, Emil Fackenheim, and Rabbis Wurzburger, Yitz Greenberg, Berkovits , Jacob Petuchowski, and Seymour Segal. The responses to each other’s positions formed the backbone of 1960’s Jewish theology. (Forty years later, a cross denominational retreat like this might once again force theologians to articulate their differing and mutually exclusive positions ).

In 1969, a young Arthur Green spoke to these assembled elders as a representative of youth culture. And the June 23 1969 issue of the NYT gave a lion’s share of its write up of the retreat to Green, who set out a radical position that his generation was looking for the sacred but he does not know if the traditional answer of eating beef is more holy than eating pig. Maybe today God’s voice is for us to eat natural foods or not to use cellophane or not to use migrant worker grapes.

A decade later in the Second Jewish Catalog , Green offered a subjective guide to religious practice, and scandalized the establishment for a Conservative rabbi to accept free love

In his first version of Green theology in the book, Seek My Face, the section on revelation was weaken than the section on creation.
In the second version of the book, E-hyeh, Green calls himself heterodox to distinguish himself from any sense of institutional obligation of practice. This third version of Green’s thought is more mystical and pantheistic.

The message of the Torah, read with mystic eyes, is that God alone exists as taught by the mystics in all religions This mystic oneness needs reinforcement through the world of the symbolic sefirot. Hasidic readings of the text are clearly the most useful in this scheme.
We cannot accept the world of the kabbalists as real science anymore but modern science does not have all the answers. We don’t know everything about reality but we cant take Kabbalah literally.The greatest insight of kabbalh today is psychological teaching about divine oneness. Torah is a vehicle for mystical consciousness.

From an Orthodox perspective, it would be unfair to judge a proclaimed heterodox position on Torah, revelation, and law. But what is lacking here from any perspective is the role of kabbalah as meaning creating in a post-foundational sense (see my last post). Green moves between ascribing an intellectualist approach to medieval kabbalah and concludes that it is fluid and symbolic. However, there is no need to situate kabbalah in the science-religion debate in post-secular age. I am not comfortable when he says that science has gaps in its explanatory power so he turns to kabbalah. Why are science and kabbalah even in the same discussion from a liberal perspective? If science is weak in immunology, cosmology, or oncology then the solution will come from further laboratory work, not by turning to the kabbalah to show that we can accept mystery in life. And the kabbalah is not symbolic because we have physics but because it has nothing to do with science.

[If one want to deal with the kabbalistic science of the Gra, R. Moshe Shapiro, and the Kabbalah Centre that would be a completely different discussion and focused on Orthodox thought.]

His view of revelation is as mystic teaching in our hearts. He explains this using Hasidic texts- that they only heard the aleph of creation on Sinai, meaning the mystic oneness of reality.

Green acknowledges that he is far from any traditional view and discusses that he has a God of disbelief, silent in our lives, and at best a projection for our needs. But he says that he really does accept revelation, a revelation of a God who pulsates as a wholeness of being in creation – inward in all things, an energy for evolution.This silent existence of God is everywhere So mitzvah are from this silent inwardness of creation and self. A panentheistic commander of mizvot. Green admits that this needs “unpacking,” which is his term. Mizvot are not a custom or folkway but to produce holiness and opportunity for encounter. Mizvot are a set of symbols to address the soul. Israel’s myth of sacred beginning.

Green considers Sinai as a great growth in religious consciousness and human awareness for freed slaves and the immediate commandment of not to have idolatry makes sense in their not wanting anything that constricts our minds.
But there is No God who makes a covenant with Israel. Only the One who calls from the heart to make this people his own. Green acknowledges that this is too personified and particualistic since God is revealed in all hearts, of all people – all revelation is based on culture. Israel said yes in the Sinai of the heart and the mind- Jews respond to an inner call. Jews are a channel for divine presence and blessing. No matter how secular they seem, Jews are priests at the alter of God.

Green asks: But does this mean that Sinai was merely human ? His answer : No, God is in the human heart The covenant is mutual, God is bound to it and we are promised by God that He will love us, the more you give the more you get. He has faith in reward.

I do not recognize traditional concepts of Torah, mizvot, and Sinai in Green’s presentation But then again he is proudly heterodox and speaks to those who are spiritual not religious. For crucial questions of canon, authority, and interpretation, Halbertal- remains the starting point. And for the meaning of Kabblah, sod, religious experience and Biblical exegesis, Fishbane is the place to start. But Green offers openness to the spirit and the therapeutic deism that guides contemporary lives.

Yet, before I let this chapter go, and post this review -I feel not satisfied. The Hasidism is not historical hasidism, the response to Biblical criticism seems fluffy, and the definition of mysticism is self-defined as his own unity of being unable to hold up in a study of mysticism. I might be faulted for wanting things more academic. Is this chapter just that he likes haimish language of Torah and mizvot and his pantheistic oneness of being is a justification for haimishness? I dont know! Martin Buber was a serious heterodox engagement with Torah, rigorous in history and philosophy. I have a gut feeling that this chapter reads like the homiletic logic so common in Orthodoxy.

I do know that many people are performing searches for Art Green’s new book, few for Fishbane, and even fewer for Novak. So it must be speaking to people?

Do I have any heterodox readers to evaluate this?

Continue to part 5 here,

Meaning and Mystery: What it means to believe in God–David M. Holley

A book that is getting many good reviews from both academics and religious publications is David Holly, Meaning and Mystery. Holly approaches the question of the belief in God from a post-secular and post liberal perspective, God is part of our lives in a non-foundational way and the criteria for believe is whether God is part of our narrative. He takes from Charles Taylor the idea that we all create narratives or social imaginaries to make meaning of our lives. He also takes from all the new studies on evangelicals that people adopt Evangelical beliefs because it fits into their personal narratives. Hence, belief in God is non-foundational and based on our personal histories. God cannot be proved or disproved. Neither philosophy or science play a role in the belief in God. Someone who does not have God in their life cannot communicate with someone who does since they have different life stories. He does invoke Pascal and cheer for belief in ways that don’t fit with Charles Taylor, but many points of his are good. He seems to be working on a sequel on how the question of falsification is dealt with in a personal narrative approach.

Here is a review from a religious publication.

ONE of the myths of post-modernism is that we have entered the age of no meta-narratives.
Non¬sense. We are in the age of many meta-narratives. David Holley doesn’t even bother with the modern/post-modern question. He simply argues that it is these “life-orienting” meta-narratives that determine belief in God, or otherwise. This is the thesis expounded clearly and credibly in the first chapter, so that there is a certain inevitability about his attack on the “God of the Philosophers” who is the end point of a logical or empirical argument rather than an idea central to a life-orienting narrative that is accepted because it makes sense of experience, and is a plausible and practical guide for action.

Holley maintains that atheism is as dependent as theism on such life-orienting narratives.. Of course, such narratives require a degree of receptivity on our part if they are to be life-orienting, and it is in the nature of human freedom that they should be capable of being resisted.

Holley effectively exposes the worst excesses of rationalism and scientism that characterize many contemporary despisers of religion. Here he owes a significant debt to Alexander MacIntyre when it comes to seeing the very idea of virtues and values as incompatible with a purely naturalistic version of reality.
This leaves the way clear for him to demonstrate how narratives that include God are more likely to offer meaning to our lives than those that do not.
The final chapter deals with how we relate to religious and non-religious views other than our own. Holley contends that trying to evaluate various world-views from a standpoint outside any of them is impossible. We can address them only from within the life-orienting narrative we have adopted, and that way we can accommodate doubt and uncertainty without compromising the narrative that works for us.

From a scientific study of religion review interview:

What’s the central concern of the book, and why is it important?
DH: While the question of God’s existence is typically dealt with as a theoretical issue, I claim that it makes most sense to treat it as a practical question. Each of us needs what I call a life-orienting story, a narrative that relates a picture of what is ultimately real to individual experience in a way that makes a particular way of living intelligible and attractive. Some narratives of this kind include God and some explicitly exclude God. Reflective judgment about God occurs in the context of considering alternative narratives that might provide orientation for a way of living. In that context the issue is not only whether the understanding provided by a narrative coheres with what we take to be the facts, but whether or not it has the power to engage a person in a way of life she finds worthy.

And what is it that draws you (personally) to this topic?
DH: I am struck by the way religious claims and religious ways of life seem virtually unintelligible to some people. In the introduction to the book I cite one author who questions whether anyone actually believes in God because he thinks of the belief as a hypothesis that lacks any evidential support. Both believers and unbelievers are tempted to construe the issue in this way, and as a result the discussion gets sidetracked from the kind of belief intelligent religious people hold and the considerations that actually persuade them.

What sort of reaction do you hope it will get?
DH: I would like to persuade people that standard ways of thinking about God’s existence do not get to the heart of the matter. I’d like to reconfigure the discussion between believers and nonbelievers away from arguments about an isolated proposition to consideration of alternative narratives that might structure a way of life. I expect that some people will misunderstand my book, imagining that I am advocating some kind of disregard of rational evidence. Instead, I am trying to show what kind of reflection is appropriate for cases where we inevitably end up believing some practical narrative (naturalistic or theistic) that cannot be established on purely empirical grounds.

Beyond Theodicy- Sarah Pinnock

Clergy regularly publish op-eds and sermons about how we will never know why evil happens, nevertheless we have to rise to respond to the suffering. Many times these sermons are treated by those who quote it as brilliant innovation. Sometimes even the author praises himself in his own op-ed for his own deep insight and sublime rationality. Yet, as long as we have vocal clergy who blame earthquakes, volcanoes, and floods on the sins of the country, then it sustains these op-ed writers in their sense of superiority. However, the distinction between theodicy and our need to respond was a common theme of most existential authors. Sarah K. Pinnock , Beyond Theodicy: Jewish and Christian Continental Thinkers Respond to the Holocaust (2002) surveys this topic.

The book is eight years old, but I finally got around to reading it. Pinnock contextualizes nicely by surveying the deterioration of the belief in theodicy entering the 20th century and the new attempts by evangelical philosophers to restore theodicy. The majority of the book is on the four opinions of Marcel, Buber, Bloch (via Moltmann) and Metz. The book started as a dissertation and would not be good reading, to put it mildly, for those not used to academic reading.

The first position that she presents is Gabriel Marcel , who rejects theodicy but claims that we need to accept mystery of God without an attempt at justification. The goal is empathy and meaning in our lives; not to prevent suffering or protest. There are similarities to Victor Frankl and Erich Fromm.

The second position that she presents is Martin Buber, who has a greater collective sense than Marcel. For Marcel, meaning is personal, while for Buber meaning is to better the world. In the prophetic faith of Judaism one engages in moral acts, prayer, protest in the face of suffering which builds community. Buber introduces the discussion of how Job is a better source for today than Isaiah’s suffering servant. Finally, Buber speaks of how we rise from fate to destiny when we orient our lives around God. When we live in an I-thou toward others and build a community of destiny then even fate is transformed “Fate—with its eyes, hitherto severe, suddenly full of light—looks like grace itself” (102). (On the near complete reliance of Soloveitchik on some of these paragraphs of Buber, a different review would be needed.)

Pinnock’s goal was to compare the existentialists with the Marxists, so her next thinker was Bloch’s concept of hope as used by Jurgen Moltmann. Hegel downplayed suffering. The role of hope in Bloch and Moltmann is to bring the fate of history in correspondence with the destined redemption. Moltmann offers a mystical solidarity of man and God. For Moltmann, the Christian cross shows how to suffer in a meaningful way and shows the real possibility for redemption. The Marxist hope mandates a need for change or at least dignity before death.

Finally, Metz rejects the parallel of human to divine suffering. Human suffering is about painful despair, hopeless, and futility. It means broken shattered lives. To use a Jewish example, the pain of the slaughter of children in the Holocaust is not just an exile of the shekhinah or God crying. Metz introduces the theme of memory, where one has to integrate the truth of past into one’s life and in addition to investigate the causes of the suffering. The goal is to change the world, to protest, to investigate the socio-political causes of the pain, and to create a better society.

She concludes her book with comparisons during which she asks: Are these existential answers philosophy, psychology, or pastoral care? Certainly, many of the clergy versions are sheer pastoral comfort and should not be praised as philosophy. (Hashem yirahem)

The best part of the book is now the ability to analyze the options of the theologians who write that that we respond to suffering in the real world. Does the essay state that we respond in personal meaning, in building community, in restoring dignity, or to actually change the world? What did the author stress and what did the author leave out. Do we change the world or ourselves? Do we have to empathize with the sufferer or only help them? These distinctions allow us to stand on their shoulders and formulate better responses and responses that actually address the suffering at hand. If the book would be expanded, I would have liked to see chapters on Camus, Tillich, Benjamin, and Ricoeur since these authors are already making many cameos. A full comparison would be helpful for fleshing out the existential ethic.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Religious not Spiritual

Priest Religious, But Not Really Spiritual
May 5, 2010 | ISSUE 46•18

BOSTON—Father Clancy Donahue of St. Michael Catholic Church told reporters Wednesday that while he believed in blindly adhering to the dogma and ceremonies of his faith, he tried not to get too bogged down by actual spirituality. “I’m not so much into having a relationship with God as I am into mechanically conducting various rituals,” Donahue said. “To me, it just feels empty to contemplate a higher power without blindly obeying canon law and protecting the church as an institution.” Donahue emphasized that although he did not personally agree with those who pondered the eternal, he had nothing against them.

From The Onion.

The Evangelical Habitas or how to be Orthoprax

Here is a link to a cute video on how to be an Evangelical. It is similar to the books and spoofs on how to act and speak yeshivish.

However it is quoted on a religion blog to discuss how religion is learning to follow set patterns of speaking according to its habitus (in Bourdieu’s sense) rather than its doctrines. Meaning a year in Israel is about learning to speak a certain way. Now, that is not the end of the story. The blog has a commenter

While it is worthwhile to consider the extent to which a cult, sect, denomination or ecclesia can be identified by its various styles of habitus, it is also useful to consider the concept of “ortho-praxy.” Every collectivity, sacred or secular, has its subtle aspects of orthodox social action (social behavior, G. H. Mead).
Ortho-praxy (orthopraxy) is a concept frequently used in the study of religions and spiritualities, including comparative religious studies as an inter-disciplinary field and the sociology of religion as a section of the ASA.

The way he is using the term orthopraxy in a GH Mead sense is as an acquired was to speak and conduct social interaction. People we call believers are those who have learned to have the correct acquired way to talk. The one who learns catch phrases like “baal teshuvah” “your not yotze”“it is against the mesorah” “it is a kiyyum” “one has to do teshuvah” are the orthopraxy, since they have correctly learned how to practice a way of speech. On the other side, those who stop speaking like that and don’t accept that way of labeling are not the orthoprax since they are no longer speaking correctly.
From a sociological perspective, Orthoprax is not about keeping halakhah but about acting and talking like a believer. Those correctly acculturated are orthopraxy, those who stop speaking correctly even if they keep halakhah would not be orthoprax. Skepticism, rationality, liberalism or disinterest all cause one to speak differently to other people. When discussing Evangelicals, researchers like John G. Stackhouse, Jr. consider orthopraxy part of the correct beliefs, when one no longer believes then one is not orthoprax.

Cordovero on the nature of Prayer

For those following the more pietistic discussion on Ramak’s prayer, here is some more for discussion. The first text is on devekut. The second text is on the inability of prayer to rise without ascending level by level through the known levels. One cannot prayer directly to the Eyn Sof. Any reactions or insights? I am delivering a conference paper next week on the topic, so all observations are helpful. Any insights to the meditation process?


“Through these mysteries, a man is able to cleave to his master with will…”
A person can cleave to Him through directing his will to the mystery of the sefirot, the Tetragrammaton, and the [other] Divine names. One who does not know the mystery of how to cleave to Him will not have the ability to grasp (beit ahizah), because His place of grasping is through His sefirot, His precious names and holy Tetragrammaton.
“In directing the heart to know the wisdom of His dominance in the highest mystery.” The dominance of hokhmah is a wondrous mystery. The first way to reach a state of cleaving to the Divine (devekut) is through the study of the mysteries of the Torah and the understanding of the hidden secrets in the Torah.
The second is “when he worships his Master in prayer,” that is, the mystery of prayer and the way of cleaving to Him.
“He will cleave like a flame in a coal”—for man’s will and soul that ascend from the walls of his heart will certainly be bound to the supernal palaces. Thus, man should first meditate on repairing malkhut, Her repairs are the mystery of the palaces, which bind and cleave together with malkhut like a flame bound in a coal, while his soul and meditation are a flame from the coal that is malkhut. Similarly, the palaces that spread out from and cleave to Her are like a flame spreading out from amidst the coal, yet cleaving to it. Because of this, the [palaces] return to their source and are swallowed up in Her through his soul that returns and is swallowed in its source. With the soul’s ascent, the [palaces] are raised as well, since only through the soul can they spread out below. Now this is the mystery of man’s intention and breath of his mouth created from the vapor of his mouth and the soul (neshamah) arising through breath (neshimah), that they cleave and return to their source. If it happens that the palaces, and further, the hizonim, spread out from there, he should meditate on binding and unifying her specifically from the palace of paved sapphire (livnat hasappir) and higher. There is the beginning of holy cleaving, binding themselves in unification.

Ascent of prayers

When the Shekhinah is completely filled with prayers, then the prayers rise and ascend to a place where there is no pain and no lack.
The purpose of ascent into worship of God is so the prayer should reach this place. Some people meditate in times of need, as it is written, “Israel are wise in that they know how to pray in times of need.” However, better and more meritorious is he who raises all of his prayers there [even not in a time of need].
This form of worship is more desirable because it does not come out of pain or need, but rather from cleaving through worship to the true Object of worship.
The masses think that the intention reaches there by itself; they are completely outside the palace, so that when they call the king from afar, the king does not answer them.
Rather, it is necessary to call to the gatekeeper. The gatekeeper takes them in his hand and brings them into the control of the princes, from prince to prince of each palace, until they are brought to the king in his chamber, where they will find Him and bring their needs before Him.
For those who pray or cleave to Ein Sof by itself, their goal remains far from them. He is only close to the one who knows His palaces and gatekeepers.
Indeed, for those who speak to the gatekeeper which is the attribute of malkhut, the attribute will bring them to the higher attributes higher, level after level through all the levels.
These people will certainly enter to the King, Ein Sof, the Root of all roots, in His room, a wondrous place, and speak with Him, in the mystery of the ascent of prayer. Immediately, it will be powerful.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Yoga and Torah- forthcoming

On the Chabad website, Tzvi Freeman had a very reasonable article on Yoga and Torah, basically he followed the halakhah and permitted Yoga and as exercise. Some of the wild and woolly unlearned baal teshuvah websites attacked the article becuase they know Yoga has an impure spirit, is magic and idolatry. Now the article was taken down from the Chabad site and the internal links removed. I have a copy of the original article on a flash-drive and will get around to re-posting it when I have a chance; it may not be for a week or two.

Tzvia Greenfield and Judith Butler

Tzvia Greenfield, our haredi Meretz Keneset member, just published an appreciation of Judith Butler, the feminist literary critic, on Israel/Palestine.

My first reaction was one of treating it as an extreme posture. I mean, come on, one could not get almost any rabbi or Jewish communal figure anywhere on the spectrum to read Judith Butler. I thought of Leib Weisfish, who was on the speaking circuit in the 1980’s as a Mea Shearim dwelling Haredi Neturai Karta who was a passionate admirer of Nietzsche. Weisfish maintained a correspondence with Walter Kaufman, the translator and wanted the grave of Nietzsche to be transferred to Israel.

But my second thought was back to Greenfield’s haredism, which is not a sectarian culturally limited Haredism of Meah Shearim and probably should not be called Haredism. Her view seems to be closer to the older Rabbi Isaac Breuer influence world of Agudah from Germany where one can have a PhD in literature or biochemistry. But one holds that the Torah is above any politics, beyond any this worldly referent, and not subject to any personal choice- a radical separation of Torah and Derekh Eretz. Rabbi Breuer could discuss the secular world based on Nietzsche and Schopenhauer because the Torah was pure and entirely above society. He could also say that the Torah from a this-worldly perspective is biased against women but that is OK since Torah is to be considered from the eternal perspective. A few decades ago, there were still academics from the Poalai Agudah world that had such views.

(In 1990, Rav Shakh basically dissolved Poalai Agudah, telling them that “Torah only” was the only acceptable career, source of ideas, or worldview. The approach of Torah and a sharply bifurcated derekh eretz was no longer to be tolerated.)

So here is Greenfield’s article praising Judith Butler that the occupation needs to end because it would be the collapse of Israel as a democracy and as source of knowledge and talent. I am less interested in the political details as much as the synthesis of Meretz and Orthodoxy played out through Judith Butler. The reason for the sudden interest in Butler is because she passed through Israel a few months ago and obviously met with Meretz. In addition, Butler seems to at work on a monograph on Judaism, human rights, and Hannah Arendt.

Greenfield From Haaretz

Yet another terrifying possibility, of course, is that Israel would consciously renounce its own self-definition as a Western democracy. It would then gradually turn into a dictatorship that defines itself as Jewish. It would use armed force to continue to control all the territory west of the Jordan River, and would continue to deny the Palestinians’ right to either freedom or equality. A choice of that kind would destroy Israel as a modern state, and accordingly also its ability to defend itself and to develop as a secure, flourishing, 21st-century society.

In this case as well, it is clear that most of the country’s intelligentsia, and indeed anyone with initiative, would leave Israel. Israel would remain with its religious population and its rightists – some of whom are capable of defending it, but most of whom are devoid of high-level development and management skills. The Israeli-Jewish dictatorship would thus suffer from a substantive weakness that would eventually lead to its defeat at the hands of its Muslim enemies.

It is sad to think that this process has apparently already started: The collapse of education and higher learning, together with the political corruption and the tremendous growth of those sectors that are not prepared to share the social, economic and military burden, is encouraging the more talented and diligent Israelis to leave the sinking Jewish ship.

Even if treating Israel as the country that embodies the ultimate evil in fact expresses a new and ugly incarnation of traditional anti-Semitism, which always viewed the Jews as the representative of all the world’s ills, the truth is still simple, but difficult to face: An Israel that does not allow the Palestinian situation to be resolved has effectively announced its own inexorable death, via the gradual destruction of the resources of knowledge and talent that have enabled it to develop and defend itself until now. In order to save Israel, we must immediately separate from the territories and their inhabitants.

Butler in her own words
Judith Butler: As a Jew, I was taught it was ethically imperative to speak up 24/02/2010

Part one Part two

Philosopher, professor and author Judith Butler arrived in Israel this month, en route to the West Bank, where she was to give a seminar at Bir Zeit University, visit the theater in Jenin, and meet privately with friends and students.
Why Israel-Palestine? Is this directly connected to your Jewishness?

As a Jew, I was taught that it was ethically imperative to speak up and to speak out against arbitrary state violence. That was part of what I learned when I learned about the Second World War and the concentration camps. There were those who would and could speak out against state racism and state violence, and it was imperative that we be able to speak out. Not just for Jews, but for any number of people. There was an entire idea of social justice that emerged for me from the consideration of the Nazi genocide.

I would also say that what became really hard for me is that if one wanted to criticize Israeli state violence – precisely because that as a Jew one is under obligation to criticize excessive state violence and state racism – then one is in a bind, because one is told that one is either self-hating as a Jew or engaging anti-Semitism. And yet for me, it comes out of a certain Jewish value of social justice. So how can I fulfill my obligation as a Jew to speak out against an injustice when, in speaking out against Israeli state and military injustice, I am accused of not being a good enough Jew or of being a self-hating Jew? This is the bind of my current situation.

Let me say one other thing about Jewish values. There are two things I took from Jewish philosophy and my Jewish formation that were really important for me… well there are many. There are many. Sitting shiva, for instance, explicit grieving. I thought it was the one of the most beautiful rituals of my youth. There were several people who died in my youth, and there were several moments when whole communities gathered in order to make sure that those who had suffered terrible losses were taken up and brought back into the community and given a way to affirm life again.
So I agree with you. But I think we have to get over the idea that a state has to express a nation. And if we have a bi-national state, it’s expressing two nations. Only when bi-nationalism deconstructs the idea of a nation can we hope to think about what a state, what a polity might look like that would actually extend equality. It is no longer the question of “two peoples,” as Martin Buber put it. There is extraordinary complexity and intermixing among both the Jewish and the Palestinian populations. There will be those who say, “Ok, a state that expresses two cultural identities.” No. State should not be in the business of expressing cultural identity.
I think that the BDS movement has taken several forms, and it is probably important to distinguish among them

More Butler from this Spring

Lastly, let me say this. You may feel fear in voting for this resolution. I was frightened coming here this evening. You may fear that you will seem anti-Semitic, that you cannot handle the appearance of being insensitive to Israel’s needs for self-defense, insensitive to the history of Jewish suffering. Perhaps it is best to remember the words of Primo Levi who survived a brutal internment at Auschwitz when he had the courage to oppose the Israeli bombings of southern Lebanon in the early 1980s. He openly criticized Menachem Begin, who directed the bombing of civilian centers, and he received letters asking him whether he cared at all about the spilling of Jewish blood. He wrote:
I reply that the blood spilled pains me just as much as the blood spilled by all other human beings. But there are still harrowing letters. And I am tormented by them, because I know that Israel was founded by people like me, only less fortunate than me. Men with a number from Auschwitz tattooed on their arms, with no home nor homeland, escaping from the horrors of the Second World War who found in Israel a home and a homeland. I know all this. But I also know that this is Begin’s favorite defense. And I deny any validity to this defense.
As the Israeli historian Idith Zertal makes clear, do not use this most atrocious historical suffering to legitimate military destructiveness–it is a cruel and twisted use of the history of suffering to defend the affliction of suffering on others.

Here is a video of further musing of Butler about on Hannah Arendt And Israel delivered this past fall.
For those interested, here is also an online discussion between her and Agamben on human rights.

I am less interested in the politics and more interested in the cultural weave. Haredi religion as entirely a choice of the heart without any social, cultural, or political ramifications. Rabbi Isaac Breuer influence? Prof Yeshaya Leibowitz? In the 1950’s Orthodox Rabbis separated between Torah and American democracy- keeping them apart. Greenfield claims to be following a diaspora model. Can it it be reformulated for a half century later?

Notebook learning

I just came back from a simcha and while there spoke to a old-time senior RIETS person, always good to catch up on the insider baseball on recent events from his perspective.
Along the way he noted:
“Guys dont really learn anymore. They do it to be part of a group and fill their notebooks with the content of shiur. They dont ask questions, they are not sharp or analytic anymore.” Rav Gorelik or “Rav Romm would call on you and you were expected to think to answer a question on the spot.” “Today over half the shiurim require no thinking. Guys just listen and write.” In the old days, you would have been criticized for such unthinking passivity.
To which I replied: “But this happened entirely under your watch.You were there for the entire change.”

So who is responsible for such changes? Do we attribute it to the will of the students?external forces? Should this rabbi have spoken up? Would it have helped?

This same RIETS figure noted that numerically women’s learning in Modern Orthodoxy has stayed constant. They may have moved from one institution to another in NYC and choose different programs in Israel but the numbers overall are stable. At that point we got into the above conversation that men’s learning has also plateaued.

Arthur green – Radical Judaism #3 of 5 parts

Continued from here and here.

Chapter three is about the evolution of the Biblical God from a sky-god in heaven vertically above us to the 1960’s when we cannot accept that metaphor anymore. Other problems of this primordial Biblical God that need to be overcome is the existence of dark forces to overcome and the maleness of God.
For Green, Biblical myth consists of “ancient and powerful narratives that contain deep truths reverberating through human life.”The Divine personhood is presented as royal and paternal. But in later ages we have the bridal Song of Songs imagery, which becomes the hieros gamos of kabbalah.

Green states that Maimonides removed the anthropomorphic metaphors, but Maimonides’ religion of III 51 is limited to an elite.
Green credits kabbalah as the best thing to overcome Biblical theism by using mythic language of passion and intimacy combined with philosophic abstraction. Green see the Enlightenment as unfortunately overly rational and that it ignored our best stuff.. Hence, the time is now to recover Jewish panentheism. We need a Neo-Hasidic approach to see holiness in all things; we need to educate our lesser selves to the true (or is it just useful?) nature of reality. The Shema teaches us that there is no being other than God.

On the topic of the image of God, he quotes as to be expected Fishbane, Levinson, Liebes, Muffs, Boyarin, but Green’s approach is entirely about intereriorization, the linguistic turn of the aforementioned authors did not reach him. Green’s treats the Bible as basically one voice and then he breifly presents rabbinic and medieval imagery before presenting his own view does not leave a thick and resonant view of the Jewish God through the ages. Just reading Jack Miles, God: A Biography would be more helpful as a start.

Green regrets that Mordechai Kaplan could not appreciate Kabbalah. But from where I sit, First, Kaplan was a skeptic and rationalist not a homo religious of myth and symbol. Second, Kabbalah for Kaplan would have been its traditional magical approach of trying to effect higher worlds. Green’s poetic kabbalah was not invented yet.

Jay Michaelson who advocated a non-duality had a keener understanding that the God imagery will always be Oedipal and based on our psychology. Green seems to have the simple psychology where one moves beyond the psychoanalytic. One would find it hard to go from Green to the complex God poetry of Rilke, Levertov, or even Allen Ginsburg.

Closer to my tastes was the wonderful recent book by Julia Kristeva- The Incredible Need to Believe (Sept 2009) Kristeva looks at religion in the major psychological and philosophical literature (e.g., Freud, Arendt, Winnicot), fiction (e.g., Proust) and in private life (Kristeva makes wonderful use of Saint Teresa of Avila’s writings). She deals with the tension of the possibility of sharable knowledge of the inner religious experience. For Kristeva, God as father figure is the logos of civilization, on mysticism she follows Freud and finds a sensual autoeroticism of merging into the id. (One wishes for such unrepressed passion from Green’s Kabbalah.) “The problem of this beginning of the third millennium is not the war of religions but the rift and void that now separates those who want to know that God is unconscious and those who would rather not know this, the better to enjoy the show that proclaims He exists.”She as many others takes the Habermas and Ratzinger debates as religiously significant. And she notes that in the new millennium many are content with the mere promise of goods within their lives.

To return to Green’s original point about the loss of the Biblical God or for most of us, the loss of the God as King metaphor of rabbinic liturgy, What do we do when a metaphor fails? Green offers his kabbalistic pantheism – here is your God!

R. Shalom Baer, the Rebbe Rashab, is reported as lamenting on the overthrow of the Czar, saying “We have lost a metaphor.” The actual protagonist of the story is probably Rabbi Dovid Horodoker who wept when Czar Nicholas II was overthrown in the Russian Revolution of 1917. “Why do you shed tears over the fall of a tyrant?” he was asked. “I weep,” replied the hassid, “because a metaphor in Chassidut is gone.”
The question becomes: if we no longer have kingship then does that mean that all hierarchy, patriarchy, projected Father figures and authority is lost? For Green, it is lost. Yet from my perspective, do we not have situations of hierarchy in education and business? Or to use a non-personal metaphor of chi, in karate and Tai chi do we not have a clear hierarchy from white to multi-tiered black belts? I am not sure of the need to flatten everything to a pantheistic God of the self. I am not sure what happens to transcendence and aspiration without only Green’s pantheism As Kristeva points out, does transcendence become a mere promise of goods?

To be continued in part 4 here