Monthly Archives: August 2010

Rav Kook on religion and other religions- from the new book

Time to actually start reading the new work of Rav Kook.- for details on the new work, see here. This is a first draft and it will go through many revisions to translation and explanation in the upcoming days. Help me think through the implications of chapter eight.

Rabbi Kook in his recently published work LeNevuchei HaZeman seeks to answers the philosophic question of his era, specifically the problems created by his reading of the Hebrew summaries of the thought of Spinoza, Schopenhauer, and Hegel. His Hebrew is forced to find words to express the ideas of German idealism and many of his transliterations and linguistic coinages are no longer used.

In dealing with the thought of the Hegel, Kook is forced to deal with the status of other religions. For Hegel, Christianity is the world historical religion and other religions like Roman religion or Judaism have already passed their time to contribute to the civilization of the world. Hegel also assumes that Christianity is best for mediating of the finite and the infinite, the past and the future, and the ethical in society. Rav Kook solves the problem for his reader in the simple apologetic manner by stating that Judaism is the world historic religion and is best for mediating the logic of the unfolding of the Divine idea.

Rabbi Kook, however, is most innovative in creating a positive role for the other monotheistic faiths. He states in unequivocal terms that God cares about the people of the world and Christianity and Islam are needed to bring perfection to the world. Centuries before Maimonides had offered an inclusive model in which God in His inscrutable designs which we cannot understand used the other religions to bring knowledge of God to the world. Here the plan is not inscrutable but makes perfect sense since every nation needs its God as part of God’s concern for humanity.

In chapter eight of the new book, we have a desire to offer an understanding (verstehen) of the phenomena of religion. The value of religion is to be judged based on the rise of consciousness, which Rav Kook identifies with prophecy. He deems prophecy the peak of the sciences and the path to human perfection. He also accepts Hegel’s glorification of death as the transcending of the self, in Rav Kook’s language as part of attaining the world-to-come. “Eternal life also is dependent on the perfection of man in the powers of body and mind.” The goal of society is to transcend Enlightenment brotherhood and reach a restoration of the unity of infinite and finite, man and animal as portrayed in the Biblical story of the garden of Eden.

It is fit to elucidate an understanding of religion in general.

Which religion is identified as Divine, in which there is a complete obligation to all those who follow it as part of the nation(s) whose ancestors accepted that religion to practice and keep it? And which [religion] is it possible to pronounce upon it an value of error to the point where it is impossible to obligate anyone of pure knowledge to maintain it .

The principle of prophecy is the most complete science in its clarification and necessity that is possible in the necessity of history.
As long as humanity still needs guidance, as long as the world is not filled with knowledge until every individual finds complete clarification the entirety of consciousness from his own self-understanding. Then he is elevated from the universal faith to clarified unified knowledge…. As long as death still rules a person to embitter his life and to steal his tranquility….However, an era will surely come of the perfection of man in which it wont be sufficient that every person will recognize all humanity all brothers and friend. But will also recognize the sublime consciousness of which the Torah describes at the start of the creation of man. (29)

The matter is understood that the obligation of religion is from a special reception and warrant from prophecy, which passed from Moses. Today, we are no longer able to attain this form of consciousness except by means of an inner desire and self-consciousness in love. Even then, [the prophecy or religion] is uncertain if consciousness can find a place for mizvot to use them for a sublime purpose or not.

Rav Kook’s use of prophecy as a translation of self-consciousness does indeed allow one to create a Hegelian Judaism. Most Jewish Hegelians were into the History and here we have an interest in the Phenomenology. Kook’s understanding of consciousness as prophecy would has the potential to mediate mediate and modern thought. If followed it would have been similar to the Islamic scholars Corbin or Nasr who do not relinquish prophecy. Rav Kook holds that in the world to come after the resurrection of dead-then everyone will be a prophet. Yet he questions the role of Mizvot at that time. At this point, his position seems closer the position which he rejects in his letter to Alexandrov. The weak point in his theory is that rather than giving us a phenomenology of prophecy, he says that we lost most of the details and criteria. It is kinda hard claiming prophecy as the epitome of the sciences if one does not give the details.

To return to his original question, he answers that any religion that helps in the evolution of humanity is needed and one should respect them. Since he already acknowledged that they can have prophecy, he extends his thought and states that other religions can even have sensory wonders and signs based on Divine influence in order to lead humanity forward.

Consider, the religion which gives the possibility to arrange the sublime evolution of mankind to be absolute truth. But with every religion that serves idolatry – there is no certain hope to arrive at this level. Behold only the knowledge of unity of God can perfect humanity to congregate in a single spiritual center to create a representational central place, a place of peace and love. But in the mistake of idolatry this hope of perfection is lost. [This hope is] only in the Torah of Israel and the Torah that draws from it. 29-30

Consider, that the religions that draw from their own, it is not fit to looking upon them in an ungenerous manner. It is possible to be that from their foundations a divine influx is given in order that they should be engaged in incorporating a significant part of humanity in what is fitting to them. From this perspective of purpose it is possible that certain matters of sensory wonders if needed to strengthen them since the matter concerns all of humanity because God’s hand is outstretched from the beginning of creation until its end. However, the side of error mixed into them is nothing except what is impossible to be grounded in them as their principle nature of their guidance to the final perfection to find a single spirituality in the world.

The matter is understood that except for Israel there is no nation in the world that has absolute merit over another from the perspective of spiritual acquisitions of ethics and Divine religion.
The opinions rooted in the books of Christians and Muslims that state that the value of Israel is transcended, forefend, needs to be nullified in order for humanity to arrive at its rationale and eternal purpose.
But the status of the inner ethic there is in every religion to enlighten and to benefit it is fitting to respect… they are engaged in the worship of God according to their arrangement.

He grants Christians and Muslims an independent status. Whereas Franz Rosenzweig starting from the same Hegelian premises gave the task of perfection of the world and space to Christians and left Jews in the eternal unity, Rav Kook sees everyone working toward the perfection of humanity. Until the eschaton, the other religions play a role in the divine plan for the world. And in his reading of the Jewish sources defective forms of Biblical monotheism or prophecy are still valuable as base for those religions. Their understanding of the principles of religion are sufficient for them even if we differ in the details. The Trinity is not a false god but the God of Israel “Even if they mix in imagination” or “weaker understanding.’

Every nation has its own religion, and weakening a nations religion weakens the state. We should support those that are organized based on their national history and national concepts. Conversion weakens a nation but shows the inner striving of people to find the best inner moral qualities. Other religions are only good for those born into them since because the concepts are rotted in the soul, But they are not for Jews whose souls contain pure ideas of God.

In chapter thirty, he returns to some of these them and states that religions are not to be judged on the practical details, rather on their power for the future, their ability to aid in the evolution of mankind.

In chapter fifty two, he states that our concept of tolerance is based on the need for everything playing a part in perfection. Therefore, a gentile that learns Torah, in the sense of the idea of God, is like a high priest. Rav Kook connects this idea to prophecy and revelation and says that Torah from Heaven is the pillar of religious freedom and freedom of the spirit because true faith transcends any one finite category. Finally, he gives us a few cryptic lines that he thinks disproves the radicals among the Biblical critics because it is a historic fact that the knowledge of God destroyed the ancient idolatry. And this activity of negating idolatry and bringing knowledge of God was “mit-ha-beret im sefer Torah.”

What is he refuting, considering the Bible as primitive? What does “mit-ha-beret im sefer Torah.” mean?
Folks, help me unpack the meaning and value of these new writings

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

Women, Kabbalat Shabbat and 23 years.

Rabbi Avi Weiss just made the news for letting women lead Kabbalat Shabbat, however there was a precedent 23 years ago. Back in 1987, I was studying in Israel. One morning, I received a phone call from friends in Washington Heights asking for the phone number of Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits. They had organized what they termed a halakhic havurah, in which about 30 people participated. and wanted a pesak for women to lead Kabbalat Shabbat. Here is a first draft based on assembling the story via email.

In the late 1980’s there was Halakhic Havurah consisting of RIETS students, Female Revel students , YU graduates and other who attended for social reasons that lived in the heights. The leadership consisted of [Rabbi] Danny Lehmann, Larry Yudelson., Shoshana Jebwab and Michal Lieberman. The Hazanot were Michal Lieberman and Lisa Soleymani.

One of the founders formulated the motivation as a way “to push the boundaries, find allies and support, and learn about social action and power sharing. It allowed us to expose the socially conservative attitudes of our teachers, who more or less told us it was permitted but they weren’t going to allow it anyway. We were feminists who were troubled that halakhic obedience meant we were beholden to social and ethical mores of Babylon’s early Middle Ages.”

The group chose to have a woman lead Kabbalat Shabbat in a nonshul setting (an apartment in Washington Heights) because as far as they understood there was no actual halakhic problem with a woman leading Kabbalat Shabbat in a mixed group, especially if it was not a regular shul. They reasoned that there was no need of a minyan for Kabbalat Shabbat nor even a need to actually recite Kabblat Shabbat since it was only a sixteenth century custom

The group called Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits z”l who had recently published his works calling for halakhic flexibility and sensitivity to women’s issues. Rabbi Berkovits said it’s legamrei mutar (completely permitted), no question. He quoted a halakhic authority who ruled that all issues of modesty and community honor follow the local sensibility. He cited how the Jews of Yemen wrote to Rambam saying that in their lands people wear shorts. Are the Jews allowed to wear shorts to the bima? Rambam answered in the affirmative. Rabbi Berkovits sent the group a teshuvah as a handwritten letter.

They also called Rabbi Yossi Adler of Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck who also said it was mutar and that he allowed the group to publicize the psak in his name. It is important to note that Adler was still willing to give this leniency even after Rabbi Hershel Schachter had pillaged and insulted Rabbi Adler in Hadarom for supporting women’s prayer groups. The assumption in 1987 for many was that the liberal forces among Rav Soloveitchik students would naturally triumph despite the critiques of woman’s prayer groups in 1983.

In addition, they called Rabbi Joel Wolowelsky of Yeshivah HS of Flatbush who was an advocate for women saying kaddish. Surprisingly, Wolowelsky said that it should not be done. His argument was that although kabbalat shabbat is not formally part of the service in a full halachic sense, we have been treating it as such for 400 years, so if women can’t lead maariv, we should not allow them to lead kabbalat shabbat either. Alternate rememberance, he said that a woman leading the kabbalat Shabbat in a mixed group is technically permissible but is not public policy. He was an advocate for the preservation of the status quo.

There was some push back from two of the RIETS students concerning kol issah, allowing a woman to publically sing. Therefore they had two women recite Kabbalat Shabbat at the same time. Nevertheless, one of the two left the group anyway. (As an ironic touch, years later he left the Orthodox community.)

According to one of the two women hazanot: “Leading with another person was very disappointing for me – we had to coordinate to sing everything together, so there was none of the spontaneity that one has leading Tefillah alone. When I lead tefillah at our Women’s Tefillah Group I can change my mind about a tune at the last minute, or add something, which i enjoy much more.”

The early 1980’s was a time of a direction not chosen. There was widespread women’s prayer groups, Rabbis Yitz Greenberg and Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits were invited speakers at RCA conventions, and Rabbi Stevie Riskin was still in NYC. This group, the first group of gen-xe’rs wanted to push the envelope further. They expected the liberal positions to carry gen-x. However, by this point in 1987 Rabbi Yitz Greenberg was no longer an acceptable speaker on campus. This halakhic havurah was trying to push back, but that was not to be.

Shoshana Jedwab states that “In retrospect, I feel it was more experimental than a serious attempt to found a havurah that would last from year to year.” Eventually everyone in the group moved on, married, moved away, and started careers. Some of the participants are no longer Orthodox, others remain on liberal side of their communities, and a few slouched into an acceptance of Centrism. But this should be remembered as the start of women leading Kabbalat Shabbat in YU Orthodoxy.

Note- This post will likely change when I receive more information and corrections from the participants.