Monthly Archives: August 2010

New article on the Hazon Ish by Yakir Englander

Yakir Englander says that he “grew up in the closed world of an ultra-orthodox Hassidic court, removed his head covering, but still defines himself as a secular Vishnitzer Chassid.” He is finishing a PHD at Hebrew Unviersity.

Englander just published an article on the Hazon Ish which differs with the extensive PHD thesis of Binyamin Brown on the Hazon Ish. I assume that everyone has read benny Brown by now. The new article views the Hazon Ish as driven by his anthropology in which people are sinful and depraved. Body, will, and imagination are all corrupted; even the intellect is not free of the effects of the evil inclination.

Humans do not have any naturally good state or inner goodness. Mussar wanted the person to cultivate their inner emotions and volition. In Englander’s presentation of the Hazon Ish, that would be like talking to an anorexic about her body. The goal of the anorexic is to beat up on the body, then paradoxically an anorexic spends all of her day on her body. The cure is a therapy that changes thinking or social dynamic. So too if the goal of baal mussar is to destroy their evil inclination, then spending all one’s day talking and thinking about it wont work. One has to entirely break one’s body and volition by submitting to Torah.

The Hazon Ish was against anything personal or existential because there is not any inwardness of value.

One arranges one’s life so as to avoid impurity to one’s soul. Englamder explains this concern with impurity using the categories of Mary Douglas in which impurity is based on fear of things outside one’s boundaries Most of society follows the evil inclination and lives a shallow life. One overcomes it by submission to halakhah.

Englander disagrees with Benny Brown over the role of mussr to the Hazon Ish. Brown considered hazn ish’s difference with mussar as an in-house debate. Englander thinks that the Hazon Ish held that the baalei musssar were naively running headlong into a bear hug with the yetzer hara

Engelard shows how mussar reasoning is rejected by the Hazon Ish and that the latter also lacks any ethic outside of halakhah. Musar definitions of theft like “stealing sleep of another” do not exist for him. And his view of learning does not give the credence to the intellect that Lithuanian learning does.

Mussar and Lumdut are both about cultivation of the self. The anthropology of the hazon Ish is to bypass the self entirely.
All the voluntary acts of piety in the Talmud and rishonim are not needed because they reflect the volunteerism and offering of the heart of piety The value is in the effort and the subjective. He also rejects them because of devolution of the generations- we don’t have pure volition any more.

I am not sure that every line is exact but his documentation is extensive. Some of the later mussar masters already had similar positions. But the article is definitely worth reading for its ideas and also for the extensive bibliography of the unpublished dissertations and articles on Mitnagdut of the last decade.

The question that I have now is how does the Centrist Orthodox idea of submission differ? On one hand it is the same submission and rejection of autonomy, values outside the halakhah, and distrust of the intellect. Yet, in Centrism one gets to live a life of the body, personal choice, emotions, and imagination so long as one does not apply it to Torah. Whereas the Hazon Ish expects one to reject the evil inclination every day of one’s life, Centrism identifies the evil inclination with the secular world, liberal Judaism, and individuality. As long as one buys into the Centrist version of halakhah, accepts the system a whole, and enters a Centrist enclave then one is free to spend one’s life on one’s body and imagination, one’s desires and inner life are good as long as they don’t effect Torah. Any thoughts?

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Shimon Apisdorf on the Meaning of Rosh Hashanah

I came across this quote from The Rosh Hashsnah Survival Kit when I was goggleing for something else. i had never looked at the book before Does it sound like 1980’s new age to anyone else? This view of love is more Maryanne WIlliamson or 12 step than Midrash. Human Potential and life choices seem to be generic new age. Any thoughts? In midrash, judgment is tempered by love, or God takes out his anger and judgment on an intimate object, or God teaches us to recite the 13 attributes of mercy or God accepts bribes from us in His love for us. Lots of variants, but always two parts judgment and then mercy-love.

If Rosh Hashanah could be summed up in one word, that word would be; love, potential, and life.
Let’s take a look at each of these words and reflect on their meaning in the context of Rosh Hashanah. Follow me:

On Rosh Hashanah, when we say that God “sits in judgment” what we are saying is that God loves us: He cares about each and every one of us, He cares about who we are, how we live, and whether or not we are actualizing the potential He gave us. That the creator of the universe actually cares about “little ‘ol me” is a remarkably empowering and life-giving idea. The reality that we confront on Rosh Hashanah is one that highlights the intrinsic value and preciousness of every life in the eyes of God.


Every Rosh Hashanah represents a vote of confidence from God in our individual, personal potential. Every Rosh Hashanah also presents us with a fresh opportunity to unlock more and more of that great God-given gift.


Throughout the Rosh Hashanah prayers, we ask God to “Remember us for life” and “Inscribe us in the Book of Life.” When we greet one another we say “May you have a good year, and may you be written and sealed for a year of good life and peace.”

Our prayers for life are meant to be understood at face value—we want to live—but they also have a deeper meaning. Consider this: I once met a Holocaust survivor who said, “I would choose to go through all those years in Auschwitz again rather than spend one day of my life as a Nazi.” That is an incredible statement, and what it means, I believe, is this: one can be alive, strong, and healthy yet be “dead” at the same time.
On Rosh Hashanah, we not only ask for life, we strive to be people who embrace the kinds of values, ideals, and choices that will fill our days with life: With meaning, with goodness, with spirituality—with life!

Author of Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit and Beyond Survival: A Journey to the Heart of Rosh Hashanah, its Prayers.

The Small god of Modern Evangelicalism

I have always though that most Centrist Orthodox Jews have a kitchen deity that comes to answer there needs to times of trouble. If the average American’s God is a cosmic therapeutic deism those more religious have a God who listens to prayers, gives remission from cancer, helps raise money for the building fund and is an all purpose household deity. What their God is not is the Mighty God of the Bible. Here is an evangelical making the same point.

The Small god of Modern Evangelicalism
from by Chaplain Mike
Today’s post is by guest blogger Daniel Jepsen.

Yes, the non-capitilzation of the third word in the title is deliberate. I don’t think the god I am talked about deserves to be capitalized. For I am not talking about the God of the scriptures, but the god that is worshipped in much of modern American evangelicalism.
This god is good, but small and not very powerful. This god is not able to use the foolish, weak and lowly things of this world to shame and nullify the wise, strong, and powerful

This god and his message must be made appealing to the world, much like Mary Poppins made the medicine more palatable by a spoon full of sugar. The sweeteners of coolness, relevance and freshness coat the message of this god, while those doing the coating tell us it doesn’t change the fundamental recipe. Perhaps not, but the very fact that the sweeteners are added betray a lack of faith in the inherent power of the message, and the power of the god who gives it.

It is not that the followers of this small god don’t believe the message; they just don’t believe it has much power without their help. It’s not that they want to distort this message. It’s just that the don’t reflect on how its distortion flows naturally from the help they give it.
This is why we see increasingly that not only do many of the leaders have a small god, but so do the people in their churches. These are people who view god as some sort of personal life-enhancement, not the author and judge of their life. They obey his commands selectively, and feel free to ignore or re-interpret those that might cause too much change, or that conflict too fiercely with the spirit of the age. They view his church not as something they are deeply privileged to be a part of, but something they consume like any other form of entertainment, and that had better keep the goods coming.

The parishioners do their job on Sunday: they attend. They are happy that their kids enjoy the music, and that the sermon is not too long. The church is full, and seems to have energy, which further boosts their self-esteem for having chosen to be a part of such an excellent church. The message focuses on how God can improve their marriage, and they leave glad that God wants to help them. As one wife would say later in the week, “I just love God! He does so much for me.”
Is it even possible that the children of this church will ever view god as something more than a cosmic vending machine?
This is the morass into which we have sunk.

Rabbi Aviner against Christendom

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner (b 1943), the head of Yeshvat Ateret Kohanim in the Muslim Quarter and rabbi of Beit EL aleph is known for having some of the most inflammatory rhetoric against Christianity. English wiki Extensive Hebrew Wiki

Rabbi Aviner retains all the medieval contemptuous rhetoric as contemporary reality and sees Judaism as still at war with Christendom for who is the “true Israel.” People in the establishment have contacted him to stop his rhetoric but to no avail. Aviner also makes up stories and conspiracy theories in which he reports on alleged meetings where the Church is plotting to regain Israel. These stories are then reported as true in the Israeli newspapers which support him. And depending on his need, he blinds himself Vatican II and the Fundamental Accord (the 1992 document in which the Church recognized the state of Israel) and speaks as if the rebuffs to Herzl’s proposals in 1904 were still operative.

One known Orthodox academic wrote him a letter asking him: Does Harav not know the changes in Church policy? Does he not know the events as recorded in the newspapers? Rabbi Aviner responded by FAX with a three word answer. “ zeh tahbulah sifruti” translated as “it is a literary strategy” or “it is a literary technique.” This message implies that he knows the truth but it does not serve his needs.
Normally, these diatribes are only available in his Hebrew publications, and he leaves them untranslated on his website. However yesterday he included this talk on one of his English emails and posted it to the web in English.

Rav Aviner on
On Accepting Contributions from Christian Groups
[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Ki Tetzei 5770 – translated by R. Blumberg]

The Evangelical Protestant missionary institutions try to infiltrate anywhere they can by whatever means possible. Now they have found the golden pathway – financial support.

Financial support is their present method of slowly infiltrating us. It doesn’t happen all at once. Not everyone who accepts their money immediately becomes a Christian. Yet their influence involves a seepage process that can spread over years. Those people are very patient and gradually they make inroads.

When a simple Jew hears the word “Christianity,” he is filled with abhorrence. He immediately thinks of the blood of millions of Jews tortured to death by the Christians. He recalls the Inquisition. He remembers everything. Therefore, he will never want to listen to them.

They use data to infiltrate every community. For example, in order to penetrate the Charedim they dress up like Charedim and keep tabs on their poor. If someone falls ill or passes away, they come to visit, help out, provide money, offer an encouraging word – without a single word about Christianity, obviously. They come again and again until a connection is formed. They talk from the heart. When they see that the time is ripe, they say, seemingly as a side comment, “Certainly Christianity is something bad, but Jesus the Christian was all-in-all agood person.” In the first stage, that one sentence is enough. Later on comes another sentence, and then another sentence, via the slow-seepage approach.

In one place, a missionary dressed as a Lubavitcher gave some Chabad women a series of lectures on Tanach in a style that was totally Chabad. The series went on for two years without one word about Christianity, until one day he mentioned that “That Man” wasn’t so bad.

Don’t mistakenly say, “They’re Christians, not missionaries.” Every Evangelist Protestant is a missionary, even if he hides it. Also, we haven’t learned Greek, so we don’t realize that the word “evangelist” means “missionary.” At all the pro-Israel Christian marches and demonstrations, the Christian Lovers of Israel walk hand-in-hand with the missionaries. It turns out that because of the money that you receive, Jews become Christians!

There’s a settlement in Judea and Samaria that received a million dollars from them. Now, in that settlement there’s a Christian worship service in their Town Council building! A prayer service of Christian missionaries and Jews for J. – right there in the Town Council building! Nowhere is it written that the one was in exchange for the other, but that is precisely the result. Let’s not be naive.

How fortunate you are, through G-d’s grace, to have been born in Eretz Yisrael, such that you don’t know what Christians are, how they operate and how sophisticated they are. You should bone up on your history.

By the way, there are two other types of Christians. First, there are liberal Protestants. They are against the State of Israel, because we, allegedly, committed an injustice against the Arabs. Second, there are Catholics, who presently are not engaged in missionary work. Yet, they, too are against the State of Israel, because they think that they are the true Israel, and it was they who were supposed to have established the State. Right now we are talking about the Fundamentalist Protestants who love the State of Israel and who are associated with the missionaries. The common denominator is that we suffer fusillades from all of them, and not just today but throughout history.
Full Version here

Here is some of the material found in his parashah sheets that was left untranslated.

The Christian Enemy Shlomo Aviner in be AHavah ubeEmunah Av 11 5769, #727
We’ve got a long bloody score to settle with Christianity. It was Christianity that split the most Jewish blood throughout history – whether though pious Christians, less pious Christians or others infused with Christian culture. The Holocaust was the work of Germans who never denied their Christianity.
At the end of the Holocaust, the Pope turned to all the Christian rulers in the world to do all they could to prevent the establishment of the State of Israel because the whole fate of Christianity depended on this and not just his own position.
Their plans fell through but they recovered quickly. The reasoned “true, a state has risen up but it will certainly fall apart, and we will help it to do so by creating instability.
Rambam writes that the Torah consists entirely of a war against paganism (Guide to the Perplexed III:29). Christianity by contrast is pagan on the inside, Jewish on the outside.

The above stories about missionaries giving Chabad derashot as a ruse is probably fictitious, but the story below of Polish Bishops wanted to start a new papacy in 2000 is entirely fantasy.

Pope Benedict XVI’s Visit to Israel
May 12, 2009 [Talk given in the yeshiva during lunch]

But with Hashem’s kindness, we returned to Eretz Yisrael. In fact, before the establishment of the State of Israel, the Pope (Pius VII) sent a letter to all of the Christians in the world – Catholics and non-Catholics – urging them to prevent the establishment of the State of Israel because it would be the destruction of Christianity and a slap in the face to the fundamental theological principle of Christians that they are the Nation of Israel. Nonetheless, the State of Israel was established and was victorious. But they said that the State of Israel does not exist.

During the last visit of the Pope (John Paul II) in 5760, he already acknowledged the State of Israel, and many Catholic communities, such as in Poland, threatened him, that if he were to take another step in the direction of the State of Israel, they would disassociate from him and make a separate Pope.
Full Text Here

Becoming a Nun from Harvard

The fourth great awakening of the last 25 years led many to religion, but a religion that let you have your full secular suburban life at the same time. Evangelicals and Centrist Orthodox Judaism was in. Catholics did not become clergy and modern Orthodox Jews did not read the sections of the Miktav Mieliyahu against the bourgeois life. (Except for the more philosophic sections on free will).

But this year’s valedictorian at Harvard has decided to become a nun and advocates the religious vocation. Will she lead others in all faiths in the same path? Will there be a new American sense of vocation unlike the suburban models?And what effect will her exemplar play for Ivy educated Jews? I spoke at the Harvard Hillel a few years ago and there was a joint Catholic Newman society dinner with the Orthodox minyan. They shared common religious values. One of the Catholics had even listened to my revelation class online. Will she be the new Thomas Merton, or at least William F Bukelley, to influence people?

She has a nice snappy interview where she defends her decision. She notes the role her HS English teacher played as an example of synthesis and mentions that it was good that she learned the anti-religious arguments as part of her HS curriculum. (There is still the ongoing debate about the need to include Biblical criticism and arguments against religion in a Yeshiva day school curriculum, but she sees the inclusion as positive.) Is she an alternative to the Centrist Orthodox condemnation of Harvard and the ivys? This dread created alarmist warning against Harvard a few years ago which helped foster the culture of what one critic of the document called “fearful Orthodoxy.”

God and Woman at Harvard
A 2010 summa cum laude heads to a convent.

Don’t tell Mary Anne Marks the Catholic Church is an oppressive, misogynistic disaster. She knows better. And she’s got a Harvard degree, too.
Miss Marks, a native of Queens, N.Y., graduated from Harvard University this past semester with an undergraduate degree in classics and English, delivering her commencement address in Latin. This fall, she begins a new life, discerning her future consecrated to Christ as a Catholic religious sister with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor, Mich.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: You are a Harvard graduate. Aren’t you surrendering all the possibilities that entails by entering a convent?

MARY ANNE MARKS: Yes, if one doesn’t see becoming a well-educated, intellectually alive nun as one of the possibilities.

LOPEZ: Your call was not a sudden one. You explained to a Harvard publication that you’ve “always thought about being a nun.” You grew up in Queens at the turn of the 21st century. How would you ever think of such a thing?

MARKS: Religious life is an institution thriving in our time and in our nation; go figure.

LOPEZ: Is the countercultural nature of your call important? Especially now, in this culture, in your generation?

MARKS: Absolutely. Religious are called to witness by their life and garb to supernatural realities: God’s existence, His immeasurable love for each person, and the fact that our duty and happiness lie in returning His love. This witness becomes increasingly important as a culture’s materialism and corresponding distaste for the supernatural increase.

LOPEZ: Was there anything at Dominican Academy that especially helped your spiritual growth and discernment?

MARKS: My English teacher, Mrs. Gunset, and her daily example of faith, joy, and charity inspired and encouraged me.

It is a tragic irony that Dominican Academy also helped my spiritual growth by laying before me in religion classes from the lips of my own teachers many classic arguments for relativism and Biblical fallibility. When I encountered these same ideas in college, I was prepared, because I had worked through counterarguments with my parents at home in high school.

LOPEZ: What are some of the most notable or revealing things that adults — maybe especially faculty — have said to you once they became aware of your vocational plans?

MARKS: Two of my professors told me they had siblings who had entered religious life. Another, a kind but thoroughly unsentimental professor who had been very encouraging of my intention to apply to graduate school, ended our discussion of my change of plans by opening her arms and declaring quietly, “I am going to give you a hug, because this is a big decision, and I admire you for it.” When I remarked to yet another professor on the many positive responses from faculty, he replied that he wasn’t surprised that academics could appreciate the appeal of a life of contemplation and of single-minded pursuit of a spiritual goal.

LOPEZ: Are you happy?


LOPEZ: For all those, younger and older than you, who are in pursuit of happiness or have given up on it: What is it and how do you hold onto it?
MARKS: Happiness is the sense of peace and joy that stems from knowledge of and union with the One Who created us and Who loves us infinitely. We will attain it fully in heaven, but we can achieve it to a significant extent beforehand by battling our desire to remain independent of God, ignoring the voices that label religion boring and unnecessary, and better acquainting ourselves with Truth through study and prayer.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.

Full Version Here

Richard Kearney, Anatheism: Returning to God after God.

The current issue of Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory has a nice online review summary of the new book by Richard Kearney, Anatheism: Returning to God after God.
Kearney is a specialist in the post-secular return to religion in Continental philosophy. He is someone whom I always read and never actually quote since his best function is to let you know what people are thinking and what is said at conferences. He is good at spotting trends, seeing convergences and somehow places the ideas of Yale, Chicago, the Sorbonne, and Oxford under one roof. He lets one see how Levinas, Ricoeur, Kristeva, and Caputo are received in the literature. His prior works include The God Who May Be and Strangers, Gods, and Monsters.

In this new book, Kearney discusses how people return to religion after modernity with a neologism of Anatheism. His model for this return is hospitality- a theme of Levinas, Derrida, and especially Ricoeur. One can get terminology from Kearney to explain much of the modern turn to Zohar mediation, or Rav Nachman.

The seven page summary review by the reviewer John Burkley is especially lucid and detailed. Below are some excerpts.

Richard Kearney, Anatheism: Returning to God after God. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. $29.50

Anatheism is a fresh attempt to reconceive the possibility of the sacred for the 21st century, seeking a way, as the subtitle suggests, of “returning to God after God.”

So what is anatheism? Kearney describes it variously as a movement, a paradigm, an invitation, a wager, a drama; a position between, before, and beyond the division of theism and atheism; “another word for another way of seeking and sounding the things we consider sacred but can never fully fathom or prove” (p.3).
Yet it bids adieu to the God of metaphysics and traditional religion whose surname has long been “Almighty” taking seriously the critical and iconoclastic force of atheism.

Thus, anatheism works back from the experience of God-loss toward a genuine renewal of the sacred to recover forward a second, more mature faith. While insisting that anatheism is “nothing particularly new” (p.7), it seems to be of particular moment in this age where the gods have withdrawn. “Ana” – seeking ‘after’ (toward) God ‘after’ (subsequent to) the death of God.
Anatheism–seeking a rebirth of faith after the loss of faith.

The thematic core of Anatheism: Returning to God after God is the encounter with the Stranger and the event of hospitality/hostility. In this basket Kearney’s places all his eggs. While official theologies and the popular religious imagination typically emphasize stories of creation, salvation, miracles, power, or final judgment as inaugural solicitations of faith, Kearney takes up the neglected figure of the Stranger.

Abraham’s visitation by three desert strangers… an uninvited Stranger appears; in each case there is a moment of disorientation, perplexity, fear, perhaps trauma is not too strong a word; in each case the addressee must decide for or against the Stranger; in each case the host’s
welcoming of the Stranger opens from the Stranger a gesture for the promise of life, That, clumsily expressed, is the central dynamic of Anatheism, which “begins and ends with the epiphany of the divine in the face of the stranger (p. 149).

Mediation of these oppositions proceeds by way of five aspects of the anatheistic wager. One might call them interpretive attitudes or hermeneutical predispositions -imagination, humor, commitment, discernment, and hospitality–each crisply defined.

In each case, however, a reversal occurs… In the utter absence of a powerful and saving God a realization can occur that for God to be ‘we’ have to host ‘Him’, save ‘Him; if God is estranged and a stranger to this world ‘His’ coming depends our welcome.

Glossing on Ricoeur, Kearney writes, “The word of existence –which affirms the goodness of being in spite of its multiple estrangements….must be regrasped and reinstated.” The ambition of anatheism is “to disclose a site where the freedom of our will is rooted in a listening to a ‘word’ of which one is neither source nor master” (p.75).

The second half of the book (Interlude and Postlude) details the third moment of Anatheism: sacramental transformations in the everyday, mostly in secular scenes, specifically, at the levels of lived experience (Merleau- Ponty, Kristiva), literary imagination (Joyce, Proust, Woolf), and ethical-political praxis (Day, Vanier, Gandhi). Kearney puts on display a tapestry of anatheist or proto-anatheistic instances of mediation, acts of transformation, epiphanies where the secular and sacred mutually beckon and inform each other. Readers will find their own favorite and more illuminating examples.

The sacred for Kearney is “in the world but not of the world” (p.152). Hence the preference for the figure of the Stranger over a disembodied, otherworldly traditional Omni-God, and over the rather abstract and well worn master concept of postmodernism –‘the Other’.

He draws liberally on Ricoeur’s model of translation or “linguistic hospitality” defined as “the act of inhabiting the word of the Other paralleled by the act of receiving of the Other into one’s own home, one’s own dwelling.”2 Translation admits of no reduction of one language to another or to a third master language, but preserves the strangeness of the other while opening the host language to unthought possibilities.

Full review here

Any thoughts about applying anatheism to the post-secualrism all around us?
Any post-secular religious experience that you can think of that produces disorientation and perplexity?
Most important, how will the image of Abraham greeting the the visitor change religion as it replaces the sacrifice of Isaac imagery used by modernists?

Rav Yitzchak Abadi in Teaneck

For those who do not know:
Rabbi Abadi, renowned Posek, was sent at age 19 by the Chazon Ish to study in Lakewood, NJ, under the famed Rabbi Aaron Kotler. A few years after the passing of Rabbi Kotler, Rabbi Abadi became the Posek in Lakewood. And now his sons run a website to answer questions- mainly of kashrut.

This past week he held four question and answer sessions in a Sephardi shtibl -Teaneck Sephardic Center/Lev Haim here in town. The turnout was surprisingly low. Mainly the Syrians of the minyan and a few old time Lakewood people. Either it was because of the poor publicity- I only found out an hour before Shababt. Or that it was not sponsored by one of the main shuls in town, or people really preferred to hear the second-tier Hesder Ram who was in town or it had no wider community support.

It was entirely q and a format but Rav Abadi managed to work-in or mention most of the pesak from the new second volume of his shut. People did not seem to know who he was. There was a clear discontent with his answers in both directions- whether lenient or strict. He told the women that they must pray 3x a day and one had a sense that they were going to go back to their own rabbis to have it reset as once a day. One Israeli of likely Moroccan descent who did not like any of this pesak – proclaimed out loud that he picks and chooses based on what he hears and finds. When Rav Abadie said that he does not allow any warming of a dry item on Shabbat even to return it to a warming tray (contra Rav Yosef), there was a clear turning away indicating that people where not going to listen.

In a conversation with a physician, Rav Abadi said that if the Talmud says that we can distinguish between blood and blood then it must be medically possible. The doctor was asking that between Rav Moshe and Rav Walenberg who both assume that there is no difference in blood and was cut off by the Rav who said of course we should be able to test.

Rav Abadi advocated his short version of Birkat Hamazon with a story under his breath about how Deal, NJ never used to say berakhot and how he got them to say it through his short version.

I was taken by his heavy Ashkenazi accent and then turned around when his citations of Mehaber were in Israeli Sefardi pronunciation.

I sat next to someone who had studied in Lakewood over twenty years ago and had remembered Rav Abadi as a caring and approachable soul. I also heard about how this former bachur went from his yeshiva life , to putting away his hat, and was now wearing a yellow sports shirt for Shabbat aft.

As a side point, someone asked about one of the less reliable hasgahahs on Manhattan restaurants. Rav Abadi obviously knew the person and deflected the question and refused to answer it. But it was interesting that in the period of deflecting hesitation over other 6 people called out that it was a Conservative rabbi so it was unreliable. Actually the rabbi in question went to all the right Ultra-Orthodox schools in Brooklyn, lived a Yeshivish life in Brooklyn, and is still Yeshivish. But it is interesting that anything that is outside the bounds of [Teaneck] Orthodox practice is called Conservative. The name serves as a demarcation of outside the lines “we wont even consider the hasgahah.” A form of assur or harem. It has nothing to do with the Conservative movement itself. The word functions like the word Gnostic in early Church writings or Papist in the mouth of Protestants.

No one in the room seemed to know of the website.

Hereville, a comic book about an 11-year-old troll-fighting Orthodox Jewish girl.

A forthcoming graphic novel about an 11 year old Orthodox girl who is a troll slayer.

The artist based his knowledge of Hasidic girl life on Liz Harris, Holy Days; Hella Winston, Unchosen: the hidden lives of Hasidic rebels; Ayala Feder, Mitzvah Girls: Bringing Up the Next Generation of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn; Stephanie Levine, Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey among Hasidic Girls.

The second reviewer here has a nice typology of three approaches to religion in fantasy literature. (1) Make it the point of the book like Narnia (2) Invent a fantasy religion (3) Ignore it. This book offers a fourth way – have the characters be religious but not make it the message of the story. This might actually resonate with the way people see themselves.

Spunky, strong-willed, eleven-year-old Mirka Hirschberg isn’t interested in knitting lessons from her step-mother, or how-to-find-a-husband advice from her sister, or you-better-not warnings from her brother. There’s only one thing she does want: to fight dragons!

Granted, no dragons have been breathing fire around Hereville, the Orthodox Jewish community where Mirka lives, but that doesn’t stop the plucky girl from honing her skills. She… boldly accepts a challenge from a mysterious witch, a challenge that could bring Mirka her heart’s desire: a dragon-slaying sword! All she has to do is find – and outwit – the giant troll who’s got it!

Fruma is Mirka’s stepmother. Even though Fruma is has the longest nose of anyone in Hereville, she’s not an evil stepmother. But she loves an argument! When she’s not making Mirka clean or set the table or learn how to knit, Fruma makes Mirka argue over every little thing.

Full version here

“Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl,” says the byline. Well seriously. How was I supposed to pass that up?
Mirka has a dream, but it’s not the kind of thing that gets a lot of support. More than anything else in the entire world she wants to fight dragons. The problem? She’s eleven, a girl, and she lives in the Jewish Orthodox town of Hereville.
Think about children’s fantasy novels and religion for a moment. Religion in fantasies for kids tends to skew one of three ways. You can incorporate it and make it the entire point of the novel (Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, the Narnia books of C.S. Lewis, or Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time series which is technically science fiction anyway). You can make up an entirely new religion of your own (as in the novels of Frances Hardinge, Tamora Pierce, Megan Whalen Turner, etc.). Or you just sorta forget about it. Remember, in the Harry Potter novels there may be churches and Christmas, but when wizards marry there’s only a vague representative of some unnamed religion presiding. And children’s graphic novels are in such an infant phase at this point that religion never even comes up half the time.
So Hereville is remarkable right off the bat because it isn’t afraid. It says, “Yeah, I’m gonna incorporate religion into this book. Heck, I’m even gonna TEACH about the religion of Orthodox Jews while I’m at it.”
From the different ways girls can be rebellious, pious, or popular in their near identical school clothes to Shabbos to what the three braids of the khale represent (truth, peace, and justice), it’s all in there without ever sounding like you’re being taught something. The religion is integral to the story and you wouldn’t want it any other way.

Full Version Here

Zvi Mark – The Scroll of Secrets Part 1 of 2

I was planning on reviewing Zvi Mark’s follow-up book next week. Before I had a chance, we have a nice review by Justin Jaron Lewis. The missing book is not an esoteric Kafkaesque secret, rather a vision of the role of the Messiah as healer and singer in the messianic age. The reviewer makes a great discussion point about the role of secrecy and esotericism in religious doctrine. As he points out, Breslov is becoming more public. On the other hand, many of the current teachers of “emunah” rely heavily on secrecy.

Zvi Mark. The Scroll of Secrets: The Hidden Messianic Vision of R. Nachman of Breslav. Brighton Academic Studies Press, 2010 Reviewed by Justin Jaron Lewis (University of Manitoba)
A Secret Messianic Vision Revealed

At the heart of this book is a vision of the Messiah as a healer, teacher, and master of song, who will bring the world to unity and peace “with neither war nor struggle, in light of his beauty and their longing for him” (p. 60).

Surprisingly, there have also been writings ascribed to Rebbe Nachman himself that were never printed. Indeed, these writings remained secret, unknown even to most Breslav Hasidim. In the last several years, however, Mark has brought to light two hidden stories
attributed to Rebbe Nachman, as well as the “Scroll of Secrets,”which is the subject of this book.[1]

Mark’s discoveries surely justify Moshe Idel’s call, some twenty years ago, for cooperation “between scholars and mystics,” academic scholars and traditionalist practitioners of Jewish spiritual traditions. It is with the help of Breslav Hasidim that Mark was able to access, decode, and publish this Scroll.

This is not (contrary to prepublication rumors) the “burnt book” that Rebbe Nachman wrote and then ordered destroyed; apparently, that work was indeed burned to ashes. Rather, the Scroll consists of notes, ascribed to Rabbi Nathan of Nemirov, on two discourses by Rebbe Nachman about the coming of the Messiah. These notes were largely in “acronyms and abbreviations” (p. 24).

Mark’s commentary on the Scroll takes a number of different tacks,the Jerusalem Temple (the focal point of politically dangerous messianic agitation in our own time) is not mentioned; its place seems to be taken by the person of the Messiah himself.

Mark also explores influences that the Scroll, while still hidden from all but a few, may have had on two of the newer movements inspired by Rebbe Nachman, the Rav Schik group of Yavniel, and the Nanachs, each of which display unusual messianic fervor.

Mark’s conclusion–to be taken seriously in view of his familiarity with the literature and with today’s Breslav communities–is that Rebbe Nachman is seen, at most, as the Messiah son of Joseph who, in some legendary traditions, dies while preparing the way for the final Messiah, son of David (p. 203).

in a thoughtful chapter on “The Scroll as Esoterica.” Here, he explores ways in which, regardless of the Scroll’s content, its aura of secrecy has played a significant role in Breslav communities. This chapter is worth reading in conjunction with Hugh Urban’s seminal _Economics of Ecstasy_ (2001), which explores the functions of religious secrecy as a “discursive strategy,” which must be seen “in contrast to mere silence plain and simple.”[3] The choice of some Breslav Hasidim to abandon this time-hallowed strategy by cooperating with Mark was indeed a momentous decision. At the same time, some of them insisted “that there is a real difference between … knowing what is written in [the Scroll], and actually understanding its secret meaning”–which perhaps remains as hidden as ever (p. 42).

in the annual Breslav pilgrimage to Rebbe Nachman’s grave in Uman, Ukraine, on Rosh Hashanah 2007, the recent publication of Mark’s Hebrew edition of this book was a topic of conversation. The Hasidim we spoke with were not unhappy about the publication of this secret material, but they were not eager to read
it either: “Nu, do we already understand the teachings of Rebbe Nachman that were _not_ kept secret?”

[1]. The two hidden stories have been published in Hebrew. See Zvi Mark, “The Tale of the Bread: A Hidden Story of R. Nahman of Braslav,” _Tarbiz_ 72, no. 3 (2003): 415-452; and Zvi Mark, “The Tale of the Armor: From the Hidden Chambers of Bratslav Censorship,”
_Zion_ 70, no. 2 (2005):191-216.

Full Review Here

Zvi Mark – The Religious Thought of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov part 2 of 3

Continued from part one here

Zvi Mark offers his own intellectual development starting with his study at Yeshivat Har Etzion under Rabbis Lichtenstein and Amital, his being turned on to Hasidut by Hillel Rachmani of Machon Herzog, his entrance into the world of Rav Shagar that brought literature, art, and hasidut into one’s Torah study and his support from Machon Hartman, and his deep allegiance to the methods and ideas of Moshe Idel on Jewish mysticism. Currently, he is working on the religious poetry of Zelda.

If the Rav Nachman as Existentialist is not correct then why the attraction to Breslov? When I run into Zvi in the store buying burekas and rugelah in Talpiot, he does not play childish war games in the aisles and attack the owner of the store as leader of the French army. Personally, I {AB} am not attracted to Breslov, so let us turn to three reviews of the Hebrew edition of the book to ask about the upshot of the book.

Barukh Kahana of Machon Herzog reviewed the book in Hazofeh.
He asks the questions directly. If Green distorted Rabbi Nachman and Mark get him right, Are we any closer to explaining the attraction of Rabbi Nachman for a post-modern age? Why do Israelis take the pocket edition of Likkute Moharan with them to India? If Mark has accepted the path of the intellect and become an academic, how do we hear the crazy message of Rabbi Nachman?

Hamutal bar Yosef in Haaretz
explains how Rabbi Nachman was attractive to secular Jewish authors such as Pertz Berdichevsky, and Buber. They were modern secular Jews seeking a path for the uncharted course of reclaiming Judaism after enlightenment and emancipation . In this they were following early 20th century patterns in German and Russian literature which sought mysticism. Even in Israeli literature rabbi Nachman speaks to secular authors like Pinchas Sadah, Naomi Shemer, Binyamin Shevili, or Ella Bat-Zion. For the Israelis, rabbi Nachman offers complete abandonment, facing extreme psychological conditions, and the belief that the creative inner life can heal.

Regardless of the literary expropriations, Zvi Mark shows us that Rabbi Nachman was not against Hasidic devekut, he connected to the kabbalah of the Ramak, and his insanity is connected to early modern constructions of dibukkim. She notes the heavy dependence of Zvi Mark on Moshe Idel’s categories of magic and mysticism, as well as the magical messianic orientation of Idel’s non-rational world. Hamutal bar Yosef concludes that the experiential challenge in relating to Rabbi Nachman transcends the world of the rational academic.

Yoni Garb, Professor at Hebrew University who also studied under Moshe Idel, offered a thought piece in lieu of a straight review at Eretz Acheret
Garb agrees with Mark’s reading of rabbi Nachman as mysticism and madness. Garb notes that Rabbi Nachman said “there is no hiddush (innovation) such as him since the creation of the world.” Garb notes” What greater craziness!! How can a person think they are the greatest innovation in the world and in Judaism since creation? Hence his influence was limited a small group. But in the Post Modern world people love this outlandish rhetoric: “he will redeem,” “he is greater than the Torah”

For Garb, a modernist understanding would have been compelled to enter Rabbi Nachman into the world of the rational and engage in psychoanalysis of him, as did Art Green. A post-modern understanding treats Rabbi Nachman is a phenomena without judgment as did Zvi Mark who analyzed the texts fully.

Garb points out that crazy saints are common, for example in Tibetan Buddhism there is an idea of Crazy Yogis. The sixth Dalai Lama Tsangyang Gyatso was crazy yogi who rejected the monastic life. The 14th Dalai Lama, the current one,Tenzin Gytso says we don’t have crazy lamas anymore

Garb considers madness through the writings of Michel Foucault, where madness is connected in the modern era madness with institutionalization of outcastes from society. A prison for those who don’t follow the construction of society Garb writes that Breslov is a means to break out of the regiment of truth around us. Whereas for Foucualt the goal is freedom attained by means of critique, for Rabbi Nachman freedom is by madness and mysticism The madman leaves society for good and the mystic leaves society in order to return to society

For Rabbi Nachman – Mizvot are play and imagination, worship of God is a creative imaginative act. Mizvot are the means by which one breaks the regiment of truth of society. MIzvot teach one to be crazy.

Academics are rational and bureaucratic, so they cannot capture the message of Breslov. Artistic expression, especially the movie Ushpizin captured the world of Breslov – a world of complete faith- of poverty- of buy an etrog that one cannot afford, of stealing a sukkah, of criminals outsiders and underachievers.

Garb concludes that Rambam was for modernity- Rabbi Nachman is for the post modern era.

Two conversations

I was visiting a city elsewhere in the US.

A secular studies principal in an American haredi yeshiva stated that he just got on facebook. His former students are all friending him. He mentioned that one of the students from a few years ago said that he was the only one of his former teacher he friended and he hated the rabbis. I asked him how many of the graduates are still frum? He said give or take about half. So returning to this student.
He told a story of how the rebbe argued with the student and shouted at the student that the rebbe was right and the student was wrong. The principal said that these rebbes have no sense of the need to appreciate the student or to help him mature. I asked why is that?
Answer – They do not act as proper parent who gives the child a chance to rebel and mature. Rather, they themselves are immature and have to argue that they are correct. The rebbe sees yiddishkeit as a truth not a path to grow into. The Rebbe is himself narcissistic and concerned with his own self-perception and insecurities. A mature ninth grade teacher knows to let the kid argue, these rabbeim don’t.
Me- So why are you there?
Him–I care about the kids.

Conversation with Sefardi pulpit rabbi with Sfardi Smikhah from Israel. Him- there are a lot of arguing about all these new things about women. I see constant shouting in papers, blogs, and especially the RCA private list serve. I don’t understand it. It is like these people have no idea what they should do or react. They keep asking how should we react? Do we need to react?
Him cont-They are rabbis, don’t they know already what they do? Why are they asking now? Don’t they have a sense of what a rabbi is and supposed to do? Why do these these topic change anything in their lives? And why are they looking to list seves for answers? I know what my job is and I do it. Are they lost about their jobs or identities?

Big tent Orthodoxy or old-time Big tent Judaism in the works?

There is an upcoming conference that will discuss “Big Tent Christianity.” In the 1980’s and 1990’s everyone loved boxes. People fit themselves into boxes and they fit others into boxes. Now there is a feeling of lots of lines crossed and that there can be a big tent religion again like in the1950’s. Lines between denominations are more fluid. In addition, mystic and rationalist, social activist, and those who want a return to the medieval or are more vision centered than denominational now feel they dont like the institutional boundaries. If there was a Conference on “Big Tent Judaism,” would people come? probably

Who would speak? Not those who are branded by a specific slice of the pie. Who is cross denominational? The Left side of Orthodoxy is clearly labeled as narrow and denominational. Who are the boundary crossers? How many are Rabbis? How many Academics? How many psychologists or journalists?

Limmud -NY attracts pluralists of all denominations – How would a big tent conference be different? Is there interest in creating a big tent and taking down walls? Or will Jews be against it and will only do it 4-5 years after the Evangelicals, Catholics, and Mainliners change? So is this the jewish trend for a decade from now?

Apparently, the next big thing on the agenda for some in the movement is a conference that will be held in Raleigh, NC on September 8-9, 2010, called “Big Tent Christianity.”
There’s a new ethos emerging. It’s a Christian identity that hasn’t fully discovered itself yet, but knows it doesn’t fit in a lot of the standard categories…
…What happens if you’re a fundamentalist who starts asking questions, or an Evangelical who is tired of having to defend yourself from a fractious right flank, or a mainliner who dreams of a faith that is more mission-driven than institution-bound, or a Catholic who has more affinity with St. Francis and Mother Teresa than Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, or an Eastern Orthodox who wants to share their ancient treasures and receive gifts from other newer traditions too?

I think some folks – not all, of course – who know they don’t fit in with these established spaces are seeking a more expansive and open space – to think and dream together, pray and worship together, serve and reach out together. The “big tent” image works beautifully for this because it evokes both the American revivalist phenomenon of the Pentecostal tent meeting and the more “liberal” sense of hospitality and welcome.
Is Emerging moving toward a “new ecumenical movement”? Is that the next step? And how “Big” is this “Big Tent”?
full version here

In the same entry- there is a question- What is happening to the emergent Christians who broke from the Evangelicals? Answer- some are becoming liberal, others are returning to their Orthodox base, and some are actually still trying for new expansive visions.

“Some emerging Christians will become mainline liberals (or progressives as many prefer to be called now), some will retreat a bit by assuming their old seats in evangelical churches, and others will continue to impact the evangelical movement in a missional or expansive, robust gospel direction.”

Live Broadcast of Memorial tribute to Rav Amital Z”l —Noon EST

On Thursday, 9 Elul (August 19), there will be an assembly in Yeshivat Har Etzion to note the shloshim of the passing of Rav Amital zt”l.

The speakers will include Rav Lichtenstein, President Shimon Peres, Rav Medan, “Moshko”, Prof. Bar Asher, and Rav Yehuda Gilad.

The proceedings will be broadcast live over the internet on the Yahadut” page of YNET –,7340,L-4403,00.html

beginning at 7:00 PM Israel time (12:00 noon, NY time).

Zvi Mark – The Religious Thought of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav Part 1 of 3 updated

Next month is the scheduled release date Rodger Kamenetz’s Burnt Books, his Nextbook work comparing Kafka and Nachman of Bratzlav. The book, as all other volumes in the Nextbook series, will be reviewed by every Jewish publication.

However, the innovative work on Rabbi Nachman that everyone should be reading and reviewing is Zvi Mark, Mysticism and Madness, The Religious Thought of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav which was translated last summer and attracted no reviews from editors.

Zvi Mark in Mysticsm and Madness shows that the Existential approach to Rabbi Nachman is incorrect. Rav Nachman is not a forerunner of existential doubt or living with the paradox of an absent God, rather he is literally stark raving mad in order to cast off his intellect to reach God.

Almost a century ago, the journalist Hillel Zeitlin went from atheistic Schopenhauer follower to Neo-hasidic theologian advocating the creation of an elite group of those who truly understood religion seeking religious experience, prophecy, and mysticism. For Zeitlin, neither the rationalism of secular materialism nor the vitalism of Nietzsche pointed to God, rather the madness, stories, and songs of Rav nachman offered a means of reaching God.

Joseph Weiss, Scholem’s student, presented Rav Nachman as living in paradox of the absence of God. The secret of Kabbalah is that the process is an illusion and that we don’t know if God really exists, so we cannot tell the common folk who could not bear the truth. Neither could Weiss, who committed suicide to escape the painful paradoxes of life.

Arthur Green continued the approach of Weiss and presented Rabbi Nachman as a non mystical approach based on expressing one’s existential needs in I-Thou dialogue with God, and the need to face the modern Enlightened challenges to faith by an Existential leap of faith. And in
Green’s brilliant excursive on faith and doubt in Rabbi Nachman, Green shows that the deep secret of creation is that there is ordinary heresy and a deeper heresy from God himself, implying that the secret of Kabbalah may be that God does not exist. Green further develops this absent God from one of Rav Nachman’s stories where the portrait of the King in the story is both found in a reflection in a mirror (implying to Green that it is our own projection) and that the King shrinks away (implying that there is no KIng). Green’s work has been translated in several languages and is taken as the actually meaning of Rabbi Nahman in academic circles and literary readers like Rodger Kamenetz.

Zvi Mark comes along and says No! No! No! Rabbi Nahman is not an existential, he is not waking close to heresy, and he is not suffering the paradoxes of modern life. Rabbi Nachman is a mystic. In Zvi Mark’s presentation, Rabbi Nachman is not fascinated by the Enlightenment and its heresies.

Rabbi Nachman thinks that the intellect can never reach God. A Litvak, a Maimonidean, or a Maskil are all the same in that they each, God forfend, use their intellect and the only way to God is by the imagination. One can only know God through song, story, and prayer. One must entirely cast off the intellect to be religious. Madness is a paradigmatic life of casting off the intellect. One can also use crying, joking, dancing, play or hand-clapping.

The goal of Rabbi Nachman is the creation of mystical consciousness. Mark states that previous studies “neglected the mystical goal at the center of his thought.” Imagination is needed for belief and mysticism, and prophecy. Revelation is not just without intellect but from the removal of intellect Therefore deeds of madness and casting away the intellect is good. There are many levels of mystical experience – highest is the stripping away everything including speech and belief.

In order to shorten the Hebrew edition for the English version, the discussions on the role of blood, humors, bile and biology were removed, these situated Rabbi Nachman in Early Modern views of knowledge, the soul and pnuma. (For me, some of this material were the best parts.)
When Rabbi Nachman says that “Every blame of grass has a song” to him it is a magical power known to shamans and baalei Shem. Rabbi Nachman removes our need to resort to sorcery to manipulate nature since we can use prayer and song. Following Moshe Idel, Reb Nachman is credited with an approach that treats Renaissance music as magical. So too, medicine and doctors work by magical and astrological influence, so Rabbi Nachman offers songs and prayers instead.

Hitboddedut, speaking at length with God is only the first stage of Rabbi Nachman’s full theory of hitboddedut , the higher stage and higher goal is the annihilation of self awareness into a mystical oneness. Joseph Weiss & Arthur Green treat hitboddedut as an i-thou relationship. Green states that an “inner openness and of a person’s speech with his maker are in a certain aspect all that is truly important.”

For Marks, Rabbi Nachman’s goal was cleaving to the light of the Infinite One. The goal is a unification with God but that unification was difficult even for Moses who could not completely overcome his intellect. Rabbi Nachman’s mysticism is not love or erotic. It is casting off of intellect.
For example, when Rabbi Nachman was in Istanbul on the way to the land of Israel, he performed foolish and childish acts in the marketplace. Regressive play is a means of casting off the intellect. It is a liminal return to a border of adult existence where one does not even know how to hold a book.

There is a famous maamar of Rav Nachman called “Bo el pharaoh” where Rabbi Nachman discusses the void of creation. Arthur Green explains it as the end of our seeking reveals a paradox at end, that the whole process is illusory and we have a doubt about God existence at the core of faith. Zvi Mark states that Green neglected the parts of the passage where Rabbi Nachman writes that the heresy is raised by song. And song as a form of casting off the intellect can solve problem and lead to a union with the Divine. Mark notes that in this case, Zeitlin was more correct than later scholars in that he understood the role of song as mysticism in the passage. For Green, –we cannot know if there is a God.To reach the highest level we ask God to have our faith shaken. For Mark, not knowing is not a lack of knowledge of God but the wondrous nature of God, a mystical union from casting off the intellect.

Continue reading part II here in which I give links to some of the reviews in the Hebrew Press

Zvi Mark also edited, deciphered and published Rabbi Nachman’s lost book of secrets as well as working to recover the content of the lost teachings. I will deal with some this in later posts.

Update from Rodger Kamenetz
In Burnt Books, I view Kafka not as an existentialist but as Scholem did, a possible kabbalist. That is my investigation. And also, just as Alan Brill asks, I too ask, what is the role of imagination in mysticism, how fundamental is imagination and more particularly literary imagination to the Jewish mystical experience?
Very I would say. That is my book.

I am glad to see here a review of Zvi Marks’ very important study. It came to my hands as I was just finishing
Burnt Books but I was eager to learn from it and include some of his comments on Rabbi Nachman’s mystical
practice of “smallness.” It is a book that any serious student of Rabbi Nachman’s work will want to read.

Meet an Evangelical Orthodox Rabbi- Rabbi Daniel Cohen

This past Shabbat I was visiting a resort community as the guest of the associate rabbi. The special Friday night guest speaker at dinner was Rabbi Daniel Cohen of Congregation Agudath Sholom of Stamford . The rabbi got up to speak and in an informal style opened his talk by seeking to elicit responses from the assembled. One example: He would say the word Phoenix and then point his hand at the audience to get them to shout out Arizona.

When he did start speaking, after about 5 minutes I turned to the associate rabbi and whispered that this talk is straight word for word -Rick Warren, A Purpose Driven Life. I received a nod of agreement and for the next fifteen minutes heard a 1980-1990’s evangelical talk about God wants you to make the most of every moment and listen to the decisive moments in one’s life. When the rabbi was discussing how we have a million truths revealed in our hearts every day and we need resolve to follow them then I knew we were in the heartland of America. He also stressed the importance of peak moments and self actualization as well as the need to decisively commit oneself to Judaism.

Rabbi Cohen also announced that this week he would start his website – “Forty days to a better you.” At that point there was no uncertainty as to his teachings since Rick Warren’s book opens by saying it will take the reader on a 40 day spiritual journey and is divided accordingly. This method of leadership divides teachings into 40 days of purpose, 40 days of spiritual growth, 40 days of love.

What stuck in my mind from the talk was that Jews and Jewish texts don’t use the word “truth” for the moments of everyday life and feelings of the heart. That language is from the Second Great revival and the need to find grace and God acting in in one’s life. But whereas the early 19th century Evangelical text sought a single conversion moment, now in the Fourth Great Revival the religious person seeks God every day in their suburban family decisions..

So I walked over to Rabbi Cohen after dessert and asked: Who else he reads besides Rick Warren? He answered immediately Abraham Maslow on peak experiences, John Maxwell on leadership in Evangelical Churches, Eckhart Tolle on living in the moment and the Harvard Business School studies of Evangelical leadership.

The next day, Rabbi Cohen sought to continue the conversation. To be fair, I told him that I study phenomena like contemporary spirituality and that he is object of study in this conversation.

I asked him when he first got interested in the writings of the Evangelicals? After a cautious pause he answered that since his father was rabbi in the Atlanta Ga., one day when he was around ten years old he heard Robert H Schuller, the famous senior televangelist on the radio who preaches his Hour of Power show from his Crystal Cathedral and was hooked.Rabbi Cohen narrated how this interest continued for decades and that he sought out meetings with Evangelical leaders when he had a pulpit in Denver.

Rabbi Cohen described how he presents the material as learning wisdom from the gentiles and gathering sparks of Torah. It is no different to him than any other management or leadership training. Rabbi Cohen lead a session for rabbis at the RCA convention two years ago on “The Purpose Driven Synagogue- the need for Purpose Driven Leadership.” He gives sermons, available as podcasts, on American Evangelical topics like “The Road Less Traveled (C Scott Peck) or “Love is the Answer.” (Gerald Jampolsky- 1980’s newage)

This form of evangelical finding peak moments in the everyday grew alongside Centrist Orthodoxy for the last few decades so it is a natural fit. When asked if he interested in the recent changes to the Evangelical world over the last decade like-social action, stewardship, concern for the world, openness to the underprivileged- he answered not as much and only to help people be more in touch with their life mission and purpose. He is not interested in the Emergent post-Evangelical Church nor the widespread use of Pentecostal materials found in kiruv organizations. Rather, we now have an orthodoxy which expresses its modernity in the narratives of everyday life, our human relationship, how we budget our time, and how we narrate our suburban lives.

Is Rabbi Cohen late to the game of 1980’s Evangelical works? Not really. The groundwork was already laid by rabbis who were teaching a halakhah that reflected these values. Compare this late entrance to Maurice Lamm, explaining Orthodoxy in his late 1960’s books as popular psych which was twenty years after the post WWII popular psychology of Joshua Liebrman’s Piece of Mind.

Notice also how far this approach of love and decisive moments is from submission to a system. We look into our hearts for love. Rabbi Ethan Tucker wants to reopen the intellectual questions of high modernity and explain the texts of the Talmud in a new light. This Evangelical approach does not need to let any texts or laws interfere. The crucial religious acts personal and family oriented. One does not fight about changes in synagogue life since religion is situated in one’s heart and decisions about life’s course.

This interest runs in the family since Rabbi Daniel Cohen’s brother Benjamin Cohen wrote My Jesus Year A Rabbi’s Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith.

Postscript: As I prepare to post this to the blog, I received an email from another shul stating as its Elul teshuvah announcement “Re-energize your Relationship with God,” a phrase owing more to Evangelical language than to Maimonides or the Chai Adom.