Monthly Archives: March 2011

The editors of The Jewish Mystical Tradition respond to the JID review

Hopefully, last post on this topic. Help me think though my introduction. Any thoughts on my philology/spirituality distinction?

The response of the editors points out correctly that the volume is far from monolithic or representative of renewal. (There is also a response by Tepper to this response.)It faults Tepper with ignoring the articles on mizvot and viewing the book as antinomian. Tepper also mistakenly confuses the authors with almost everything in the US. It seems like Tepper should learn about the American scene, let him visit Aleph – Alliance for Jewish Renewal and then National Havurah Committee (NHC) and finally the independent minyanim. I think JTS would be surprised at Tepper’s crediting Green’s students with egalitarianism. Finally, Tepper should say hello to Michael Lerner to hear about the progressive end of things.

However neither side is getting the Hasidic issue. Are they Hasidic? Tepper claims that they are not Hasidic and Hasidic is not self-help. To this, the editors write that Hasidut is personal growth and that they are aware that they are changing the Hasidic text for modern sensibilities.

In my view of things, the recent usages of hasidut are not just a modernization but also an appropriation into a new context of spirituality, in which functionality is the criteria. That is not a fault –only the lack of historic awareness that precludes a real discussion of spirituality.

To use a recent definition of spirituality comparing it to magic, divination, or even psychological techniques that are outside of religion.

Spirituality belongs to a category of human phenomena that overlaps with, but is not identical to, religion. Like magic, luck, and divination, spirituality may be defined as attitudes and practices dedicated to transcending undesirable states of being without relying on formal religious institutions to get the job done. What sets spirituality out in this category of pragmatic procedures, at least in the modern world, is its characteristic concern for a self seeking to be free of encumbrances.

The editors claim that the Hasidic terms gadlut katnut, and hishtavut are about personal growth and transformation so they are not reading something foreign into the text. They are aware of later interpretation as taught in a history of ideas class, so this is another chain in the history of ideas. My point is that interpretive transformation is not the same as functional transformations. Tracing ideas of the Ari to Vital to Hai Rikki to Ashlag is history of ideas. Trying to understand why Americans like the Kabbalah Centre is already the study of contemporary religion and spirituality in its functional sense. In the latter case, one turns less to Gershom Scholem and Art Green and more to the sociologists Wuthnow and Ammerman. The ideas has been converted into a new category of spirituality.

The editors claim that their panentheism is that of Besht and Alter Rebbe, yet they seem not to see that that their panentheism is part of the world of Jay Michaelson’s panentheism. It is less about raising sparks and projecting metaphysics onto the world and more Gaia, Ramakrishna, or Buddhism non-duality.
Asking someone why he likes a Buddhist text in translation and out of its original monastic context – the answer that you get wont be the simple reading of the Buddhist text, it will be functional; it will answer why? not the question of what the text says? The problem here is the blurring the historical and spiritual candle at two ends.

As the Immanent Frame commented on the new series from Princeton University Press:

For many years, Religious Studies was defined as a hermeneutical discipline based upon great texts, but the typical disciplinary approach was to treat the texts as hermetic, self-contained wholes upon which the scholar expounds and expands. With this series, however, we are witnessing a new willingness on the part of scholars in Religious Studies to approach the dynamic relationship between theological treatises and their social environments, between texts and contexts, as it were.

Tepper claims it is not peshat and they answer that they are updating classic ideas. However, it does not matter if the peshat line is crossed since they are not updating as much as applying to create a functional spirituality like our contemporary paperback Buddhist. They are trained as professors to teach the textual philological activity but they are not trained in the social environment and usages they make of the text. And they are not self-aware they their interpretation is one of the dozens possible in the current spiritual marketplace.

When Hasidut becomes 12 step in Rabbi Abraham Twerski’s hands it also crosses the same line. Twerski is not destroying Judaism even when he directly quotes Romanticised and New Age Hasidism. The goal to understand Twerski is to compare him to other usages of the Hasidic texts. I have a lecture that I give sometimes where the same passage of Hasidut is used to justify 12 step, expressive writing therapy, song, solitary meditation and post-modern acceptance of the self. To compare these Hasidic texts is not to ask which is closer to the peshat, none of them are. The goal is to take out and compare them to the various studies of contemporary seekers, spirituality, new age, personal religion, and moral temperance.

Alban’s Institute (which creates spirituality materials for Houses of worship) works with four types spirituality and has a functional sense of know your congregation. Alben’s shows how to preach the same passage differently to different spirituality. Here we have a lack of self-awareness of the author’s spiritual path.

The dividing line may actually lie between Art Green and his students. Green still speaks of Otto and Eliade so his spirituality of sacred time is embedded in his scholarship. Those following Green have a two step process of giving half their essays to explaining the 18th century and then the second half of their essays in a specific modality of the dozens of contemporary spirituality options.

Thoughts on this intro? The more discussion now, the quicker I can move on from this topic.

The Jewish Mystical Tradition Past & Present: A Response to Aryeh Tepper
By: Lawrence Fine, Eitan Fishbane, and Or Rose

As the editors of Jewish Mysticism and the Spiritual Life, we feel compelled to respond to Aryeh Tepper’s recent review of our anthology because of his gross mischaracterization of the volume and his unnuanced presentation of the Jewish mystical tradition past and present.

To begin with, Mr. Tepper describes the anthology as if it were the work of a homogenous group of contributors affiliated with the Jewish Renewal Movement. This is incorrect. While it might be convenient to lump all of these people into one group for the sake of attack, it does not accurately reflect who they actually are. In doing so, not only does Tepper misrepresent the identities of many contributors but he also fails to acknowledge that they articulate different views on important issues of exegesis, religious praxis, and theology. Of course, even those contributors affiliated with Jewish Renewal do not speak in monolithic terms.

The volume is designed to provide the English reader with a range of Hasidic and kabbalistic sources (many translated here for the first time), accompanied by commentaries that both elucidate the meaning of the primary texts in their own terms and explore the potential significance of these teachings for Jewish life today. We chose this structure because, like many classical Jewish books, it offers the reader the opportunity to engage in a dynamic conversation with multiple voices on the page—the original mystical commentator, the contemporary translator/interpreter, and the many other sources invoked by both writers.

One of Tepper’s criticisms of the book is that the contributors employ language from New Age culture about personal growth and transformation that is foreign to classical Jewish mystical discourse. The issue is much more complex and interesting than he states. The kabbalists, and especially the Hasidic masters, do speak at great length about the inner life of the devotee. Terms like gadlut (“greatness” of mind), hishtavut (“equanimity”), and shiflut (“lowliness” or humility) are all a part of the Hasidic lexicon. It was for this reason that Gershom Scholem once described Hasidism as the “psychologization of Kabbalah.”

Contemporary writers will naturally draw on language from other fields to help articulate the meaning of these older (and often multivalent) mystical terms in their original contexts and in the process of adapting these expressions for use today. Here the Hasidic masters are actually an interesting model for us, as they invested several inherited religious terms with new meanings. One need only compare the use of the term tzimtzum (“contraction” or self-limitation) in Lurianic Kabbalah to early Hasidism for a fascinating instance of this phenomenon. The contributors to our volume are all aware of the complicated nature of translation, interpretation, and adaptation, and have sought to address these issues in thoughtful and creative ways.

Related to this point is Tepper’s statement that our contributors too readily adopt a theological perspective of divine immanence in which “everyone’s life is understood to be already suffused with the ‘always-flowing force of light and energy.’” He then accuses them of making the individual “the measure of all things.” In response, we wish to say that if Tepper is unhappy with the description of divine light or energy coursing through all of life, he should take it up with the Ba‘al Shem Tov and countless Jewish mystics who preceded and followed him. Divine immanence (often spoken of in Hasidic texts within a panentheistic framework) is perhaps the most significant teaching of the spiritual founder of Hasidism. As several scholars have noted, this form of spiritual empowerment was one of the keys to the success of the Hasidic movement. It must also be said that this teaching of radical immanence does not lead the Hasidic masters or our contributors to a solipsistic celebration of the human “I,” and certainly not to a position of complacency and relativism in which there is no imperative to grow. It is for this reason that so many of the primary texts and commentaries in the volume deal with the importance of spiritual discernment and the cultivation of ethical values.

Tepper seems most exercised by the implications of this depersonalized theological language for the status of the mitzvot, and he argues that the contributors to our volume do not articulate substantive answers to this problem. As Tepper writes, “the real difficulty arises when you consider how an ‘always flowing force of light and energy’ can issue commandments.” He goes on to say that while past Jewish thinkers have addressed this issue in a variety of sophisticated ways, the contributors to Jewish Mysticism and the Spiritual Life evade the issue of religious authority, settling for “piously vague” language. Once again Tepper chooses to make a sweeping claim, failing to acknowledge that the writers articulate different views of God (including variations of immanentism) as well as Jewish law and praxis. There are contributions that explore the concepts of revelation and prophecy, halakhah and antinomianism, and others on prayer, Shabbat, and intentionality in ritual observance.

It seems that Tepper has glossed over these contributions to suit his underlying agenda: to demonstrate that today’s post-denominational Jewish seeker will lap up “spiritual vitality” with a dabbler’s superficiality and indifference to the source, so long as it serves the aim of spiritual enrichment. He claims that our volume is a manifestation of this phenomenon. That Tepper equates this tendency with post-denominationalism is an absurd generalization that suggests his ignorance of the nuances of contemporary Jewish life. Furthermore, since when does denominational affiliation ensure spiritual depth and a serious and reflective engagement in Jewish life and practice? Need we also remind the reviewer that several of the contributors to this volume are actually leaders and prominent members of different denominations! We also strongly object to the notion that all those who search for spiritual vibrancy drawing on a range of different sources have no regard for the ways in which such ideas and practices accord with the foundational texts, concepts, and rituals of the tradition. This is a deeply problematic assertion about today’s Jewish seeker and one that ignores the fact that Jews have been adapting ideas and behaviors from different intellectual and religious sources for centuries.

Tepper chastises one of our contributors for hubristically celebrating the radical “egalitarian impulse” in the Jewish Renewal Movement. What this writer does celebrate is the willingness of pioneering figures like Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Arthur Green to weave together teachings from Kabbalah and Hasidism with other intellectual, ethical, and spiritual sources to live meaningful and responsible Jewish lives. Despite the reviewer’s claim, neither of these individuals nor any of the contributors to this volume call for a wholesale adoption of “progressive” American values; what they are all trying to do is fashion lives of holiness based on the insights of the Jewish mystical tradition in conversation with other Jewish and non-Jewish sources of wisdom—including important lessons from egalitarian movements like feminism and multiculturalism, and from other religious traditions.

Tepper describes this “impulse” as being “fundamentally at odds” with the “heart of Jewish tradition” without actually saying anything about why this is so or what constitutes Judaism’s core.

Finally, Tepper is very quick to describe the writings in the anthology as “shallow,” “cloying,” and the like. We strongly disagree with this characterization. Having reviewed every submission to the volume, we believe that the writers all deal in thoughtful and sensitive ways with the sources they have selected to interpret. The reviewer’s description of the collection as “spirituality lite” is gratuitous to say the least. To present the contributions of highly sophisticated and learned individuals such as Mimi Feigelson, Michael Fishbane, Shai Held, Melila Hellner-Eshed, Shaul Magid, and Daniel Matt (to name but a few of the contributors) in such a condescending and dismissive manner is to egregiously distort the contents of the volume. Further, such language does not help advance a productive conversation about issues that are important to us and to the reviewer


It is getting harder and harder to get a book review to press before the web controversy starts. I was sent the book in mid-Feb for an end of March publication of a review. I wrote a first draft of a review. In the interim, it was reviewed negatively in JID and both the editor of the volume and the author of the review have been in contact with me. I tried to revise my review to say that a cultural battle was raging linking the book to everything new, But I couldn’t make the revision work or make a broader context work. Anyway, the editors of the volume will be responding themselves in JID to the review.

In addition, Tomer Persico wrote on his blog a wonderful review centering on the essay by Ron Margolin that was further deepening the discussion before my meager review could get to press.

So here is my review. In earlier drafts, the names of more authors were mentioned- but they were taken out to save space. The Forward added the title.

A Tribute to a Great Spirit
By Alan Brill
Published March 30, 2011, issue of April 08, 2011.

Lawrence Fine, Eitan Fishbane, and Or N. Rose
Jewish Lights 256 pgs. $24.99

We may consider ourselves fortunate to have the many personal reflections on mystical texts offered in tribute to Arthur Green, on the occasion of his 70th birthday. “Jewish Mysticism and the Spiritual Life: Classical Texts, Contemporary Reflections” contains 26 essays, each consisting of a translated Hasidic text accompanied by a spiritual reflection. Arthur Green taught two generations of graduate students how to read Hasidic texts and produce from them approaches to contemporary spirituality. Here, his students go forth, continuing the path he has laid out for them.

The book’s title reflects the fact that mysticism naturally generates comments on traditional Jewish religious life. “It is, however, important to emphasize that the mystical dimensions of Judaism do not separate easily, if at all, from the traditional structures of the religion,” write the editors. This volume presents the academic study of mystical texts as a resource for those practicing traditional customs incorporated with 21st century spirituality. It also presents a wide range of authors from America and Israel who share neither communal nor theological associations, so that few generalizations can be made.

Reading in the mystical classics is a traditional way of contemplating one’s inner religious life. Many literary greats have produced gems motivated by the mystics. The striking quality of this volume is the unfortunate underlying assumption that if one teaches graduate studies in Jewish mysticism, one can create spirituality because one knows the philology of the mystical texts. The book could be called “Spirituality and the Graduate Seminar.” Some of the essays, especially those by non-academics, did not need the translated Hasidic text in order to discuss spirituality. Conversely, for those academics who sought to provide background information and explicate a Hasidic text, the spiritual message was woefully underdeveloped.

The book was edited as a collection of explicated texts for the beginner, yet many of the essays leave terms and ideas unexplained.

Most people, moreover, seeking Jewish spirituality want non-academic teachers — such as Renewal teachers, real Hasidic rebbes or those who lead ecstatic worship — for the same reason that people who want Buddhist spirituality do not want academic lectures on the history of a Tibetan text and would rather meditate or read Shambala Sun, a leading Buddhist magazine.

There is a further issue with the project: What does “contemporary” mean here? The authors represent a wide variety of different and unrelated approaches of the past 40 years, as if all roads of contemporary spirituality are the same, or at least have their roots in the Hasidic texts. The book may be a tribute to Arthur Green, but each author writes from his or her own unique perspective.

One group of authors advocates spirituality through aesthetic contemplations. For living a Jewish life, they recommend first reading a snippet of a classic text of spirituality and using it as springboard for a personal reflection. Some of these contributions are noteworthy. Jonathan Slater contemplates compassion, reminiscent of Buddhist compassion meditations; Chava Weissler translates an Eastern European women’s tekhina (or petitionary prayer) as a model for contemporary personal prayer; and Ethan Fishbane proposes contemplating a Hasidic teaching every week before lighting Sabbath candles.

Other authors treat the reader to short excerpts from their much larger projects. Award-winning author and rabbi Lawrence Kushner instructs the reader to embrace the messiness of daily life and grow by facing new situations. Nancy Flam suggests that we work on wholeness and a seamless life of connection. Short pieces by Gordon Tucker, Michael Fishbane and Sheila Peltz Weinberg basically present selections from their own volumes.

Some essays reflect an academic offering in an informal adult education setting. Daniel Matt discusses how he finds meaning in the Zohar’s approach to evil, while Melila Eshed-Hendler explains prayer in the Zohar and Ron Margolin teaches how to overcome the metaphysical dualism in the Hasidic text and take a message of mitzvoth as connection to God.

My favorite essay in this volume is by Shai Held, who presents the teachings of the Slonimer Rebbe (who died in 2000). In the 1990s, the Rebbe spoke about how contemporary religious people do not have religious experiences anymore, therefore this cannot be the sole criteria for religiosity. Held asks whether this means that people who cannot count on regular religious experiences may need a regular discipline, such as halakha, to maintain their religious identity.

Some of the essays are bothered by authenticity and attempt to explain the author’s own relationship to the Hasidic text. Many of the authors seem to accept a romantic view of Hasidism, without having a feel for living Hasidim, and accept that the true transmission of Hasidic learning and lineage takes place in the seminar room. They conflate their own observations on the Hasidic text with the continuity of Hasidism.

Because of its diversity, this book should not be treated as representative of Jewish renewal, neo-Hasidism or even Art Green’s teachings. Green, for one, teaches a radical view of God, in which God is no longer envisioned as a patriarchal Biblical image but rather as present in the inner self. This panentheistic view is toned down by Green’s students and friends. These academics struggle with serious doubts about the existence of God but nonetheless still seek to recapture, in their inner voice, belief in the great and mighty God.

After reading this volume, one may ascribe Arthur Green’s success more to his own charisma and theological insight than to a reproducible method. Nevertheless, reading this book is like attending a variety of classes at Limmud, in which one gains a wonderful overview of how an eclectic group of teachers find contemporary meaning in what they teach.

Alan Brill is the Cooperman/Ross Professor in honor of Sister Rose Thering, Seton Hall University, and author of “Judaism and Other Religions” (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010).

Erosion – beyond Post-Orthodox

Post Orthodox is so 2009. Back then people who were socialized in the orthodox world, orthodox institutions, and orthodox ideas were discovering that they they find it intellectually, culturally, aesthetically, and politically limited. Hence they saw themselves as post-orthodox.
Here are the original posts- here, here, here and about six more posts that treated specific issues.

Now, if the orthodox community continues to follow the post-evangelicals trends then the post-orthodox are not splinting to be a liberal part of orthodoxy, (only some ideologues are staying to be the liberal flank). They are simply eroding. Those who stayed as liberals may have the least in common with those who erosion made them leave. Some are finding new homes in renewal, reform, and conservative but most have just given up and dont care. They are open about their lack of observance, not to their parents but certainly to their friends. (I think for many it is still 2009 and they will move in the next decade.) The first Evangelical below notes that they have just left in the last 3 years and the second Evangelical notes that if someone develops liberal politics they will leave their denomination.

Does any of this sound like the younger post-Orthodox? Have they now found new homes and made their piece with non-affiliation or non-observance?They may no longer be a post-orthodox moment, everyone is starting their new lives. The liberal flank of Orthodoxy like ‘Rob Bell evangelicalism” may already be considered those who still cleave to Orthodoxy and may understand post-orthodoxy the least.
Richard J. Mouw, the Conservative Evangelical has already stated that Rob Bell may be wrong but is still part of the Evangelical camp. (on Rob Bell see here)

Evangelicalism Won’t Split, It’s Eroding
By Jonathan D. Fitzgerald On March 17, 2011 •
Over at Tony Campolo’s “Red Letter Christians” blog, Jimmy Spencer sees the release of Love Wins as signalling an imminent split in Protestant evangelicalism. It’s the old people, who tend to be reformed, along with their young recruits, against the rest of us young folks, as Spencer sees it. And though he rightly identifies the opposing factions, I think he may have missed something.
The “huge shift” he is waiting for is already happening.
But, I can see why he might have missed it; it’s not a split at all. It is more like an erosion. Those of us along the edges are simply sliding off the side into, well, all kinds of things. Some of us turn to Catholicism, others to mainline denominations. Some tumble into Episcopal or Anglican churches, others stay at their evangelical churches but choose not to identify as such. And, sadly, some slide off the edge into nothing at all.
I don’t think there will be any more of a marked change than this. A loosely gathered group of people who have never been able to agree on a name let alone the particulars of theology don’t split, they erode. And erosion doesn’t happen once and then it’s over, it’s an ongoing process.
We are in the midst of the erosion. Enjoy the slide
From Here

By Alisa Harris On March 18, 2011 •
Yesterday, Fitz argued that evangelicalism won’t split because it’s eroding instead. I agree, and I would add that this erosion factors heavily into the debate over whether young evangelicals are staying conservative or shifting to the left.
First, the overall evangelical retention rate has declined, especially among young adults.
Second, a fascinating finding suggests that politics drives our choice of religion instead of religion deciding our politics.

Also, “misfits”—“liberal churchgoers and unchurched conservatives”—are more likely to change their religion than change their politics. The evidence “strongly suggests,” the authors say, that “politics is driving religious conversion.”

So what happens when a young evangelical becomes a liberal? Does she stick with the extremely uncomfortable identity of evangelical liberal, or does she decide to go to a church that doesn’t harangue her about her convictions? Evidence suggests she’ll switch churches. Thus, polls of self-identified evangelicals that purport to show them staying conservative are roundly unconvincing, because if you’ve done much shifting, you’ve probably also shifted out of the overwhelmingly politically conservative evangelical church. By only questioning people who call themselves evangelicals, polls like this miss the very people who are doing the shifting.

So is evangelicalism eroding? The retention rate among the young suggests it is, perhaps because evangelicalism has become irrevocably linked to politics they no longer embrace.
When we equate faith with a certain political ideology—or, to use the Christian conservative vernacular, equate our faith with a certain “worldview” that always entails a political ideology—we are not entering into a deeper exploration of faith but reducing faith to the political. And when your politics change, as politics do, you find there’s nothing left to your faith. from here

Moew’s new found re-acceptance of his liberal flank that preaches a generous Orthodoxy, he will accept those who have someone to rely on and seems to have Christian version of Albo’s line of thinking. Moew brings a story about a 1960’s professor who assumed Socrates was saved. Not the most orthodox thought, but no need to write him out of Evangelicalism for it. Leave these decisions to God. At this point, the liberals are Moew’s loyal opposition.

I have received many responses to my comments on Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins—responses both to the brief remarks by me quoted in USA Today, and to the longer piece I posted here explaining my endorsement of Rob’s book.

But I do want to say more here about “generous orthodoxy.” In my role as president of an evangelical school that brings together folks from many theological traditions

A case in point: suppose someone at Fuller denies the doctrine of the “intermediate state,” insisting that after death the believer continues to be “with the Lord” as someone whom the Lord still loves and will raise up on Resurrection Day—but that the time between death and resurrection is not one of a continuing conscious state.

Is that orthodox? I would say so, in the broad orthodoxy sense. People can quote Luther in support of that view, as well as many Anabaptist thinkers.

As a Calvinist Christian, though, I hold myself in my own theology to the stricter standards of the Reformed confessions, to which I subscribe.

Or a simpler case: To insist on adult baptism by immersion is within the bounds of Evangelical orthodoxy. But it is not within the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy.

Back to Rob Bell. I find nothing in his Love Wins book that violates the standards of a broad Evangelical orthodoxy.

First principle: People with defective theologies can go to heaven.

Second principle: We have good reasons to allow some mystery about who will be “in” and who will be “out” in the end.

Even on the strictest standards of Calvinist orthodoxy to which I hold myself accountable, then, I find some room to hang a little loose on the exact populations of heaven and hell.

But when I began teaching at Calvin College in the late 1960s, folks were still talking about a debate that had taken place over the claim of William Harry Jellema—a revered philosophy teacher at the school in earlier days—that Socrates would show up in heaven. In those days the Christian Reformed Church was not easy on heretics. But the church never called him to account for his views. I’m not sure about the Socrates case myself. But I am happy to leave such cases to the judgment of a sovereign God who—Westminster again—“worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth.” Full version here

Eisen at RA convention via Twitter- no more academic departments & some Magen Tzedek news

I try and get some work done and someone emails me a good post– JTS is getting rid of departments? Hmm…

Eisen: Ending all JTS academic departments as of Aug 1-replaced w/interdisciplinary courses and faculty clusters #RAconvLV

Eisen: no more dichotomy between Wissenshaft and spirituality #RAconvLV

Eisen: New course combinations, in service of producing the best future leaders for the Jewish community #RAconvLV

Eisen: There will no longer be academic departments in JTS. It has not served the needs of an integrated curriculum. #RAconvLV

Eisen: We need to reach out to individuals who are going to modern orthodox synagogues but think of themselves as Conservative #RAconvLV

#RAconvLV The OU will allow the Magen Tzedek to be along their kosher symbol on packages
Rabbi Genack of OU will work together with Magen Tzedek

Rabbi Yehuda Sarna on Creative Judaism

A funny thing happened on the way to this week’s Orthodox Forum devoted to culture and Orthodoxy, the organizer of the Forum for whom creativity is his theological vision did not present his own views at the Forum. Rather, he presented them at the JewishWeek.

Creative Judaism
Newsweek recently ran a cover story on the crisis of creativity in America. To understand the Jewish perspective, JInsider asked Rabbi Yehuda Sarna to explain how our tradition promotes and fosters our creative self. Sarna has earned a following in the college community for his thoughtful leadership as Rabbi for the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU and University Chaplain. He is a 2009 Jewish Week “36 under 36” change maker.

God the Artist
We often forget that God’s first identity in the Torah is as an artist. He experiments, gives life to lifeless matter, deems His work-in-progress success – then failure, gets down on Himself, and comes to terms with the fact that He cannot control that which He has made. The absolute first step in becoming like God is experiencing the tormenting rhythm of creativity.

Inner Creativity
Having studied in yeshiva for years, I assumed that the rules of Judaism came to construct and animate religious experience. “Do this act now with that object and you will experience a spiritual moment.” I thought of a Jew as a golem (a lifeless body) that Judaism served to animate. My first exchanges with NYU arts students tore this understanding apart. One dance student said to me, “My inner life is chaotically creative and spiritual already. What I find in Judaism are rules to tame, control, channel, or mature my inner creativity, just like the rules of dance. Rules are necessary, even if they are absolutely arbitrary, and sometimes they are necessarily arbitrary.” I left the conversation feeling like I was not yet ready for Jewish law because I had not cultivated my inner creativity to the point where it needed to be channeled.

Fostering Creativity
Kill the words. That’s what many actors are taught. Reading is not acting. If you don’t want the words to betray you, to lead you to believe that just by saying them you are somehow in character, then you first need to say them so many times that they become meaningless to you. Now the real work begins. Become the character and breathe life into the words. For many of us, the words are long dead. Sometimes we feel like that’s a problem, but it’s actually a critical step in the creative process. It’s only once the words of prayer, the Talmud, or a ceremony are buried that they can be born.

Our challenge is that modernity has coached us to believe that Judaism is a science that offers formulaic instructions with the ingredients of thought, speech and action. The truth is Judaism is an art – with rules – that depends on our creativity, sincerity and presence. We’ve lost, to a large extent, the ability to cultivate these middot “in-house” and we must learn them from the great artists. As the eminent sociologist of religion, Robert Wuthnow, states “It is only a slight exaggeration to say that artists are becoming the most important theologians of our day.”

Torah and Creativity
Rabbi Nahman of Breslav would deliver Torah sermons orally. On occasion, when he would write them down, the ideas emerged on paper differently than he had spoken them. When his students complained, not knowing which iteration was authentic, he said that they both were. “The Torah concept was different when it came time for me to write it.” Newness is not extraneous to the Torah; it is part of its vitality. Medieval philosophers thought that the Torah would be considered imperfect if it could change. Some Hasidic masters thought the exact opposite: if the Torah didn’t grow, receiving new life and definition, then something must be wrong.

Two great luminaries of the 20th century stand apart from their peers in their understanding of creativity. Rav Kook emphasized the visual experience. He strongly supported the nationalistic impulse to establish art schools and museums. He is quoted as deeming Rembrandt “a saint” and endowed with divine talents. In fact, the acronym of his name (Re-a-yah) means vision.

The second is Abraham Joshua Heschel. Heschel understood Judaism as a musical – not visual – experience. Vision for Heschel was associated with a religion of space; Judaism is a religion of time, which means listening. He likens mitzvah performance numerous times to performing a score. No wonder he married a concert pianist.

The path for us, following in their footsteps, is not to scientize their approaches but to find the artistic sensibility we are passionate about, cultivate our creativity in it, and breathe new life into our Judaism.

Landes/ Green debate round 4

Here is next and final round of the Landes-Green Debate. Green responding to Landes. As a side note Landes will be speaking at Hebrew College about theological dialogue int he upcoming week.

I repeat my general directive, if you dont read Modern Jewish thought, then dont comment. Read the letter now. I removed my start of writing comments because I had so much to say. I will post my comments in a later post.

Dear Danny,

I think we are still far from understanding each other. You just don’t get me. Identifying me with Mordecai Kaplan and Richard Rubenstein is way off the mark in terms of how I see myself or self-identify, whom I read, or my relationship with either God or tradition. Kaplan was never an influence on me; I came to JTS the year after he retired and never had the privilege of studying with him. I read Heschel’s God in Search of Man for the first time when I was fifteen, and fell in love. I tried Kaplan a bit later, but found him dry and boring, too prosaic, too American and pragmatist, not the soaring spirit I needed. I did indeed try to align my neo-Heschelian mysticism with aspects of Kaplan’s legacy during my RRC years. That attempt did not succeed very well; just ask the Kaplanians. Yes, of course I share some concerns with Kaplan and greatly respect his honesty in raising them, but our framework for responding to them is quite different. We both want to respond out of the most contemporary and profound understanding of religion. But for him that is the rationalism of Dewey and Durkheim. For me it is the phenomenology and post-critical religiosity of Otto, Eliade, and Peter Berger.

Along with most of the intellectually-oriented JTS students at the time, I was excited when Rubenstein published After Auschwitz in 1966. He had dared to say what many of us were thinking. But I soon realized that his net result was the demise of traditional Judaism, reducing it to nothing more than a psychological tool. My move toward a neo-Hasidic reading of tradition was precisely a response to Rubenstein, not an alliance with him. I needed a Judaism that expressed a spiritual truth, not just religion serving as a crutch with which to get through this absurd life.

It took me many years to say out loud that I am a mystic. In Jewish circles it sounds a bit like proclaiming oneself a tsaddik, which is the farthest thing from my mind. But it is true that as a thinker and as a religious personality, it is only the mystical tradition that has saved Judaism for me. Scholem quotes R. Pinhas of Korzec as thanking God that He created him after the Zohar was revealed, “because the Zohar kept me a Jew.” That is true for me too, regarding both the Zohar and the teachings of the Hasidic masters themselves.

I would love to be able to explain this to you, but find it subtle and difficult. Please, this is not because I underestimate your intellect, but because I have discovered through long experience that there are lots of people, including some very bright ones, who just don’t get it. That is precisely the meaning, I believe, of the cryptic Mishnaic phrase hakham u-mevin mi-da’ato. You need some personal experience of these matters in order to grasp ma’aseh merkavah, or any other mystical teaching. (The Hasidic masters indeed abandoned this sort of elitism, with mixed results. But that’s another story.)

Still, I’m going to try. It has much to do with the fluid borders between “in” and “up,” or between “self” and “Other.” The mystic understands intuitively that there is a point in the inward journey where the individual self, the ego, if you like, is transcended, set aside, obliterated, or whatever (the variations depend on such factors as which mystic, which religion, and which moment). Then a presence, previously impenetrable (hence: “the transcendent”) floods one and alone exists. This may happen to a Maimonidean in the course of progressively shedding attributes and anthropomorphisms in contemplating the divine, as it may happen to a Geronese Kabbalist in the prayerful act of hashavat kol ha-devarim le-havayyatan. For the ba’al ha-Zohar this fading of the individual self seems to have sometimes taken place in the course of ecstatic infatuation with erotic symbolism. In HaBaD Hasidism it took the form of more abstract contemplative language, the realization that sovev and memalei are really one, which is to say that the distinct between “inside” and “outside” disappears. But you get there, of course, by going in, by opening the mind to a deeper (or “higher”) rung of consciousness than that on which ordinary rationality operates. That is the key to the whole thing: realizing that there are multiple inner rungs of mind, and that religious insight comes from a different mental “place” than does the mind with which we usually think. In that sense I understand “Sinai” as a vertical metaphor for an internal event. Indeed, I recall Heschel pleading that: “Torah min ha-Shamayim is not a geographical statement!” (But that is precisely why this writing is so awkward; it is of necessity a translation of such insight, coming from a mental realm beyond ordinary language, into a linguistic tool that belongs to another reality.)

Now let me go in a different direction. I don’t think I said anything in the book about my yihus. On my father’s side, I come from two generations of confirmed atheists. My grandparents, who came to America in 1906, had already rebelled against their own Hasidic upbringing. When I decided to go to Rabbinical School, I got a letter from Grandma Green, which I have saved. Written in her night-school English, it goes like this: “Dear Arthur: I hear you still want to be a rabbi. I would be prouder of you if you would be a teacher and teach people things that are true because if there was a God in the sky he would be shot down by sputnik already.”

I have kept this fine lady in mind over the decades and have tried not to believe in any God who could be shot down by Sputnik, or by grandma. That has meant that the usual depiction of the transcendent One as “residing” somewhere “on the far side of the universe” is gone for me. Yes, I recognize that this puts me at odds with most pre-modern popular Judaism, including lots of Hasidism. But it does not mean that there is no transcendence, only that subtlety must always be maintained when talking about it, that it is not for naught that the Kabbalists called it only Eyn Sof. Yes, most of them described the emergence of the sefirot, constituting the divine persona, as originating from God, not from us, though this question is discussed by later pre-Lurianic Kabbalists, and again in Hasidism, just how much is mi-tsad ha-mekabbelim, etc. There are some points of opening to the notion that the personal God is a projection, though these are quite rare.

I did not mean to give the impression in my book that I think any other sort of theology is “childish.” I have indeed combed the text to try to see where you got that impression. True, I say of my own post-adolescent rebellion that “the pillars of naïve faith had given way” and that I became “a non-believer in the God of my childhood (p. 3).” But that was a personal statement, surely not meant to paint others. Later (p. 71) I say that most modern Jews knew nothing of either the RaMBaM or the Kabbalists, and “what dominated instead was a Judaism of rather simplistic rabbinic faith…most modern Jews thought of God in rather naïve and childlike terms.” I’m afraid this is simply true, my friend, whether we like it or not.

I indeed recognize the possibility and legitimacy of a mature theism, that of a Buber or a Heschel, for example. Especially in the post-Holocaust era (though perhaps always, says the author of Job), it has to live at the knifepoint of confrontation with theodicy. That is not a place I am able to live. I need a theological vision that gives me more room to love and appreciate life and its gifts. No, panentheism does not fully resolve theodicy, but it gives me more room to breathe. If God controls history and a claim is made for personal providence, I will find myself back screaming with young Wiesel (more than Rubenstein) and the post-Holocaust Yiddish poets I love so well.

I usually try hard not to get into polemical battles with modern (pardon the word) Orthodox friends and colleagues, because I have great sympathy for the difficult balancing act of your position, especially given the fierceness of attack from the religious right. But I do find it hard to understand the integrity behind the non-Haredi Orthodox mindset. Somehow I think most of that camp do want to hold onto, or at least pretend to hold onto, a “geographical” sense of min ha-shamayim. This goes with a literalism about revelation, even while knowing, with the university education we all share, that Biblical criticism can’t be dismissed. You accuse me of “exchanging…the focus narratives of Genesis and Exodus for…evolution.” It is not I who have done that; our civilization has. In fact I’m spending all my time these days on reading and translating Hasidic Torah commentaries. But I know that I don’t take any of it as historical truth, and don’t need to pretend otherwise. In order to talk to people outside our narrow circle of lovers of these ancient tales, I do indeed have to find some kedushah in the much more widely shared narrative of evolution. I’m not a bit ashamed of that.

Here I need to tell you a story about a truly transformative experience in my life, one of those moments when my mission became clear. It was about 1970; I was just a few years out of JTS, but making a name as a young rabbi teaching the mystical tradition. Fordham University had “a day of spiritual teaching” and invited me to come. Among the speakers was Swami Sattchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga. Most of the young people in the audience were his disciples, wearing distinctive white robes. I gave a talk about standing before Sinai as inner hearing, being ever-present to the Word, or something like that. Afterwards, a young man in the Swami’s outfit raised his hand and said: “But is that really Judaism? Isn’t Judaism about how God is up the sky with a book open, writing down all the good and bad things you do, and preparing to reward or punish you?” I gave the kid a nice pastoral answer, assuming he was a victim of some Long Island Hebrew School. Afterwards he came up to me quietly and said: “I just want you to know that I quit Torah ve-Da’as a year before semikhah.”

That moment cleansed me of any residual feeling I might have had about not being a “real” Jewish teacher because I hadn’t come from the yeshiva world. Here was higher Jewish education, so-called, and that’s what they were still giving out. And I was looking not so much at him, but at the fifty or more other Jews among the hundred in the Swami’s uniform, asking: “Who will speak to them?” As I said, a formative moment…Much of my life – both in my writing and in the sorts of rabbis I hope to train – has been in response to that young man and the others around him.

From my point of view, I think there is no need to carry this conversation onward. Your challenge has been a stimulating one, though I did take some offense at your tone. Much more significant is the fact that together we have caused a lot of people to do some real thinking. I delight in that collaborative effort and hope you do as well.

Bi-Verakhah, Art

source Jewschool here

Dialogue with Atheists

The Vatican is starting a series of dialogues with secularism and atheism. The goal is not apologetic or to refute skeptic rather to place the concerns of faith, revelation, and tradition into secular discourse. This grows out of the dialogue between Cardinal Ratzinger and social theorist Jurgen Habermas which enriched both sides. Habermas formulated his theories of post-secularization and Cardinal Ratzinger learned how to write for a secular social science audience.

Let’s imagine a Orthodox Jewish equivalent. Let’s say their would be a dialogue of Orthodoxy with secular thought at Harvard, Yale, Chicago, and Berkeley. Who would represent Orthodoxy if Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was not available? (And Rav Aharon Lichtenstein is not of debating age.) What would be the topic? Could any of this be possible? Who would debate non-Jewish scholars like Habermas or Sen? I think we would be sunk.
Would this dialogue be different than with another faith? Would both sides make theological compromises?
What would Orthodoxy have to gain in dignity? in honor? in credibility?

VATICAN CITY (RNS) A new Vatican initiative to promote dialogue between believers and atheists debuted with a two-day event on Thursday and Friday (March 24-25) in Paris.

“Religion, Light and Common Reason” was the theme of seminars sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture at various locations in the French capital, including Paris-Sorbonne University and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“The church does not see itself as an island cut off from the world … Dialogue is thus a question of principle for her,” Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi told the French newspaper La Croix. “We are aware that the great challenge is not atheism but indifference, which is much more dangerous.”

The events were scheduled to conclude with a party for youth in the courtyard of the Cathedral of Notre Dame on Friday evening (March 25), featuring an appearance via video by Pope Benedict XVI, followed by prayer and meditation inside the cathedral.

The initiative, called “Courtyard of the Gentiles,” takes its name from a section of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem accessible to non-Jews, which Benedict has used as a metaphor for dialogue between Catholics and non-believers.

Charter School and Parochial School

Two weeks ago, a local rabbi gave a speech against Charter schools because they will change the character and nature of the community. I wonder what social change he envisions and is scared about? Greater knowledge of arts and sciences? Less provincialism? Less sports watching and pop culture? It is not like anything that goes on in the Reform and Conservative congregation has any effect on his vision of the community so why should this change it? This week the Jewish Week got involved and had a long article on parents transferring their kids to public school and I hear it has led to an avalanche response of other parents seeking info about transferring.

A year ago I posted about some of the similarities of the Jewish and Catholic examples,here and here. So I was not going to post my new links, but someone told me that there were new points in this article. First, Baltimore Catholic schools are fighting charter schools and see it as a battle of charter schools against parochial schools. The Baltimore Archdiocese seeing chapter schools as killing Catholic schools. To this, the general Baltimore newspaper claimed that the Archdiocese should not respond in fear and defensive, rather it should emphasize what it does best teach faith. There is a message for Jews to also respond from strength and not fear of the corruption of the neighborhood.

Charter schools called threat to Catholic schools
The Archdiocese of Baltimore has refused to sell or lease vacant school buildings to charter schools because it has found that charter schools are siphoning students away from Catholic schools, according to the Baltimore Sun.
My own diocese, Brooklyn, is very active in leasing properties to charter schools – encouraged by Mayor Bloomberg, a big supporter of charter schools.

The foundation and government officials who are pushing charter schools – the Gates Foundation, the Obama administration, and others – have an obligation to face up to the fact that they are contributing to the demise of Catholic schools.

And now the response:

Archdiocese shouldn’t block charters
But the archdiocese’s reluctance to lease its now-shuttered school buildings to charter schools belies that spirit. It speaks to an intuition huddled in a defensive crouch, not one that believes it has something unique and important to offer. If the system views increasing competition from quality public schools as something to fear, it is in a losing position.

The archdiocese’s desire to avoid helping the competition is understandable but ultimately misguided. If the only thing Catholic schools have to offer is that they’re an alternative to low-quality neighborhood schools, the system is putting itself in a position of rooting against the rapid improvement in Baltimore’s public school system and against the flourishing of educational choice through the charter movement.
If the Catholic schools are going to survive, they need to convince parents that they get something for their tuition that they can’t at a public school, even an excellent one.

What that is should be obvious. The archdiocese conducted focus groups before last year’s school closure and found that the religious component of the education its schools offer and the atmosphere of faith are a chief draw,
That is the one thing no charter school can offer, and there are still many parents in this city,

Bi-religious afterschool program.

I received a video of a former YU student teaching a class in Judaism in an after school program that teaches both Judaism and Christianity. The program describes itself as follows:

The Interfaith Community’s bi-religious curriculum, simultaneously taught by a Christian educator and a Jewish one…In 2010, a two-year class for teenagers was launched in the Westchester and Orange/Rockland chapters that caters to children from 12 to 14 years old. It helps them grapple with identity questions specific to that age, regarding who they are and who they want to become. The program educators, however, stress that no decision needs to be made, that identity is something that builds over time and that it can change at any time.

I am not sure what to make of it. The program started at Trinity day school (Upper West Side) that has at least half of its students with at least one Jewish parent. This class was in Rockland. In general, the word among sociologists of the Jewish community is that zip code is destiny. In Bergen or Brooklyn counties, most Jews marry other Jews and when they intermarry the likelihood is that the kids will consider themselves Jewish. It is actually upwardly mobile for many Christians to marry Jews here in NJ and gain Jewish family life. On the other hand, traditional Jews in the certain parts of the south or west will intermarry and not raise their kids as Jewish. So I can have sympathy for this here in the East coast where even a secular Jew who intermarried and sent his or her kids to Trinity, will likely produce Jews. But what of Portland? Sante Fe? Watch the video.

Interfaith Classes at the Orange/Rockland Chapter of the Interfaith Community from Being Interfaith on Vimeo.

Judaism and Christianity are not seen as opposites anymore. I know people who kasher their kitchen for Passover and also celebrate Easter. It is a world of multiple identities—racial, religious, ethnic. Nothing contradicts. Even Hebrew schools which officially can’t welcome interfaith children because of Halakha (Jewish law), have started applying a “ ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.” As long as the rabbis are not informed that the child is being raised in two religions, they can teach, and hopefully attract, this growing population. When we first started working on this 25 years ago, there was a tremendous amount of resistance,” “Most clergy would say you simply could not do this, this will confuse the children and it’s bad for the marriage – they just could not begin to conceptualize it.”

The Interfaith Community first started in 1987 with informal gatherings of about 20 families whose children attended the Trinity School in New York. By 2011, it counted nearly 150 families as members. Its activities include high holiday celebrations. “Our goal is not to replace the church and synagogue, but to provide a safe space for families who might feel uncomfortable or intimidated in those places,” said Sheila Gordon, co-founder and director of the organization. For more info- see here.

From their blog “on Being Both”

1. Give children permission to explore and connect with all sides of their heritage.

2. Avoid setting up an expectation that the child will “choose” an identity someday.

3. Understand that those who are not born into bothness, even those who are intermarried, may never fully appreciate the idea of being both.

4. Insist on the joy of being both. In the face of skepticism…Communicate to your children that they represent hope for the future, bridges of peace and understanding, crucial new connections across rigid, deteriorating barriers.

5. Seek and develop communities that share your bothness.

Peter Cole interview on his 2012 book on Kabbalistic poetry

In 2012, Peter Cole will release a book of poems by the Kabbalists from Yannai to the 20th century (Yale University Press). A few years ago he put out the supurb The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950–1492. This interview is from the spring issue of The Paris Review. Many of Cole’s answers have a poetic quality and many of his sentences are worlds unto themselves. From his answers, his volume may be giving the world insights into Kabbalah that the transcend the historians. Cole is a believer in the power of language, especially Hebrew.

I’ve never read poems quite like these—wild yet severe, also a little bit unearthly. Can you give some context for understanding them? What is their relation to Kabbalah?

The anthology these poems are drawn from—The Poetry of Kabbalah: Mystical Verse from the Jewish Tradition, forthcoming from Yale—covers some fifteen hundred years, and the poems emerge from diverse varieties of Jewish mystical thought and practice: Palestine of Late Antiquity, the eleventh- and twelfth-century Jewish communities of Muslim Spain and medieval Germany, and, later on, Christian Spain, Ottoman Palestine, Yemen, North Africa, Italy, and Eastern Europe.

By and large, Jewish mystics were preoccupied with other masochistic pleasures (rolling in nettles, fasting and wearing sackcloth, observing turbocharged versions of the traditional commandments, et cetera), so there isn’t a great deal of Kabbalistic poetry. But the best of it epitomizes an extraordinarily potent if lesser-known aspect of Judaism. That wild severity and otherworldliness you describe reflects the history of Jewish esotericism through the ages, some of which is in fact shockingly mythic, intricate, erotic, and often just plain weird.

What drew you to this body of poetry, as a reader, poet, and translator?
For one, its sheer potency and the steepness of its metaphysical ambition. Contemporary literary culture tends to doubt the power of poetry and is suspicious of verse that takes as its subject its own medium. But hymns treating nothing less than the nature of creation and the language that leads to that creation lie at the heart of the heart of Kabbalah’s country. So that drew me. The Kabbalists thought that song could, among many other things, extract light from the container of sound and bring about erotic union within the cosmic forces on high. That definitely got my attention. I was also drawn by the way in which Kabbalistic literature (the term kabbalah means “tradition” or, more literally, “reception” or “receptivity”) depicts a literary situation of acute authorial susceptibility to the interaction of words—sonic, semantic, architectonic. In short, the poetry of Kabbalah pressed a lot of my literary buttons.

The first poem of the selection, “From the Sky to the Heavens’ Heaven,” certainly has no doubts about the power of poetry. When I read it out loud I can’t help but feel it’s a poem to be chanted or sung. Who is the poet, Yannai, and what sort of occasion was this poem intended for?

Yannai is a titanic poet whose incredible story Adina and I tell in some detail in Sacred Trash. He’s one of the major liturgical Hebrew poets of Byzantine Palestine, and his work overlaps with the Christian hymnology of the day. The some eight hundred poems that now make up his oeuvre were lost for nearly a thousand years, during which time he was known primarily as the author of one hymn in the Passover Haggadah and, more notoriously, for reportedly murdering his star pupil, another poet, by placing a scorpion in his sandal. Like Bach writing cantatas for churchgoers in Leipzig, Yannai composed “From the Sky to the Heavens’ Heaven” and numerous other works on commission for a synagogue in late sixth- or early seventh-century Palestine. It seems that symphonic works of this sort were meant to intensify the experience of prayer for worshippers by “making new” both their devotion and their understanding of the weekly reading from scripture, which the poems gloss in a highly eccentric way. (This particular poem is spun out of Yannai’s “commentary” on the Tower of Babel story.) Some scholars say the hymns were originally intended not only to ornament the standard liturgy, but to replace it.

In any event, the “performance” of these poems apparently drew large crowds. And as you note, they were almost certainly sung—perhaps with a chorus or with the congregation chiming in.

What you say about making it new reminds me of the third poem, an extract from The Book of Creation, which seems to be a rewrite of Genesis or maybe of John 1:1 (“In the beginning was the Word”). The poem’s representation of God—if that’s who He is—is very physical, almost demiurgic: he carves and quarries and weighs…

The Book of Creation (or Formation) does constitute a revolutionary, imaginative line of Jewish thought. It’s a bizarre and not altogether fathomable work, and we know almost nothing about its author or the circumstances of its composition. But one thing that seems clear is that it amounts to an ars poetica, where the “made thing,” the product of poesis, is the world itself. God in this scheme constructs through language, which is to say that the cosmos is a literary creation. Working on this excerpt I kept thinking of The Book of Creation, anachronistically, as a radically theological inflection of what Ezra Pound said was the poet’s central task: to build a world.

You’ve already translated several volumes of medieval Hebrew verse. Did these Kabbalistic poems offer special difficulties to you as a translator?
Their abstraction was a challenge, as was the almost total absence, in the early work, of what we think of now as a personal voice. The Poetry of the Palaces—and many other selections in the anthology—present a verse that’s rooted in the magical power of letters and words, their shapes, sounds, and the cadences they create in combination. Experience in this literature is acoustic and rhythmic rather than psychological in the conventional sense, though this doesn’t mean that emotional struggle, growth, and insight aren’t at its core. Central to the quest that drives these poems is the verse’s ability to animate abstract understanding, to set up a palpable, percussive current that links syllable to syllable and word to word in a progression that leads toward heightened perception and, sometimes, a kind of ecstasy. But I’ve always been drawn to a tactile sort of abstraction in the arts, and to a poetry that does intense and impassioned work beyond narrow definitions of the self. So, if anything, these difficulties just made the challenge all the more enticing.

The absence of a personal voice is striking in the second poem, “To Rise on High,” which has a lot of verbs in the infinitive but no subject. What’s going on there?
Your guess is as good as mine. But I do love that poem.

Were there any English verse models you found helpful while working on your translations?
It’s hard to say. In the translations of the early medieval work I let the Hebrew have its way with me and with English, and there were no particular models, at least none that I was conscious of. Elsewhere in the anthology, all sorts of poetries hover further off in the wings: at least one of the poems has a gust, or ghost, of Wordsworth in its sails, and if pressed I suppose I could identify distant echoes of the middle English and early English Renaissance lyric, Blake, the metaphysicals and Hopkins, occasionally Whitman, maybe Stephen Crane and certainly Hart Crane, even Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan. Reception is reception.

Rob Bell: Love Wins -Theology Loses

Do you ever get frustrated when someone preaches a liberal universal doctrine and then tell you the only way to know that universal is through Orthodoxy? When everyone, especially those who are non-religious, already accept a universal ideal but it is claimed to be only available to the faithful. Well we get that full force in a new book by Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne).

Bell teaches that God’s love is greater than Christianity but one needs to be an Evangelical to know that about God. His book is turning into the biggest print and internet controversy in a while. Many clergy spoke about him last week or will speak this week. The internet is spreading this controversy rapidly.

Bell who draws 10, 000 to his service at his Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids but all across North America he has a big constituency. His liberalism seems to be where many Evangelicals are currently at in their faith. But that is why there is a controversy. Bell speaks liberalism even though he is a card carrying Evangelical. Bell teaches that religious belief wont affect afterlife. He offers a warn, kind, and comfortable version of Christianity. All the tenets are palpable. His theology can be seen as overcoming a strict Evangelical upbringing. Once upon a time people sorted themselves out by liberal and evangelical and knew the categories. But now that liberal and evangelical refer just as much to schools, seminaries, summer camps and neighborhoods, we have people raised in the Evangelical world who are completely liberal.

Evangelicals have condemned him and liberals have found him too parochial by saying that universalism is only in the Church. What I find interesting is the nature of the arguments. Most of his critiques and critics have not actually read his book outside of the press release, blogs, and a chapter or two. Bell is called a heretic by the Evangelical right and called names but one see little actually engagement with the theological issues.

Only Martin Bashir of MSNBC took Rob Bell apart as lacking theology. Bashir himself said about most interviews:

One Christian radio program interviewed Bashir about his questions… Bashir begins, for instance, by pointing out that most people who do interviews such as this haven’t even read the book. He says he did read the book, also went to two academic libraries, and interviewed three scholars (including two with no religious affiliation) and found the book to be evasive, disingenuous and ahistorical. Much of the interview gets into discussions of theology, history, the challenges with the type of evangelicalism Bell was raised in, etc. The questions aren’t the most interesting but Bashir’s answers do give lots to think about journalism and how it is practiced h/t getrelgion

Watch the video to see Rob Bell squirm.

Mark Galli of the Evangelical magazine Christianity Today tears Rob Bell to shreds from an Evangelical perspective here.

The prepublication buzz centered on Bell’s flirtation with universalism. He makes the universalist case most fully in one chapter, while avoiding the word universalist. He points out the many New Testament passages that point in this direction,

It’s rhetorically compelling, but he misleads at points.

In fact, he says, both Jesus’ death and resurrection can be understood in ways that make perfect sense to modern ears. For Bell, the Cross is “a symbol of an elemental reality, one we all experience,” and the Resurrection is not a new concept, but “something that has always been true. It’s how the world works.” He’s referring to that pattern of death and rebirth.

One has to ask, then, if Jesus’ death and resurrection are merely an expression of “how the universe works,” why all the bother? Why do we need Jesus to come and die and rise when this is something we see daily in the fabric of the universe, a knowledge that, as Bells suggests, we have instinctively sensed all along?

He correctly notes in the preface that many have taught what he teaches or hints at in the book. Names that come immediately to mind include Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albrecht Ritschl, Rudolf Bultmann, and Paul Tillich. Schleiermacher was keen on mining our innate religious sensibilities (the things we’ve intuited are true) to ground Christian faith. Ritschl celebrated the kingdom ethics of Jesus. Bultmann argued that first-century metaphors and worldviews should be abandoned. Tillich wrote of faith as accepting our acceptance. All these themes run through Bell’s book, sometimes in compelling ways.

These thinkers, of course, are all representatives of the tradition called liberal Protestantism. By associating Bell with this tradition, I’m not suggesting that he is beyond the pale or that he holds no orthodox views. I’m trying to place him in theological context.

Most Christians grasp that to demythologize one doctrine is to make the others less coherent. They recognize that a Christianity that teaches about “a God without wrath [who] brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross” (H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic summary of liberalism) does not reflect the thickness of biblical revelation nor lived reality. And they see that when all is said and done, there is no painful contradiction between the love and justice of God. That in the end, not only does love win, but justice, too

From an Evangelical blog asking: why is this is about groups of liberal and conservatives and not about theology?:

Taking Evangelicalism’s Temperature By Trevin Wax
The furor over Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins, shows no signs of subsiding. The development of the discussion has caused me to reflect on what a fever is and what it represents. Fevers don’t show up without a cause. A high temperature points to a bigger problem. It’s the sign that the immune system has kicked in and is fighting off an infection of some sort.
Response #1: The Fever is the Problem
When bloggers and pastors began responding to the promotional materials for Love Wins, many evangelicals used the occasion to point out their disagreement with the young, restless, and Reformed instead of dealing with the substantive issues Bell’s book brings to the surface. Conservative evangelicals sounded the alarm that Bell’s book was unorthodox, and a number of evangelicals threw stones at the messengers: You’re an alarmist. You’re just a bunch of heresy hunters. You can’t get along with anyone you disagree with.
Imagine being in a crowded building when the fire alarm goes off. Instead of looking for the fire or heading for the exit, everyone stands around the alarm and begins discussing its shortcomings:
“Wow, this alarm sounds so shrill. It hurts my ears. Someone should change the tone!”
“Who pulled this alarm anyway? I don’t smell any smoke. I don’t see a reason for the warning.”
“Well, I can smell smoke, but I’ve got to tell you – these alarms just go looking for smoke. Who do they think they are anyway?”
In other words, fevered discussion of theological truth and error is the problem. The fever is the issue. Why not take a Tylenol and some Dramamine and chill out?

Response #2: The Body is Okay with Infection
Rob Bell’s universalistic tendencies are nothing new. In fact, we’ve always had a segment of evangelicals who lean in this direction. So let’s not get too worked up about universalism. After all, the denial or redefinition of hell isn’t that big of a deal in the long run.
To be fair, this kind of evangelical isn’t denying that universalism is heterodox. Returning to the sickness metaphor, I believe this group sees universalism as problematic. But the underlying message is this: This problem isn’t life threatening.

Evangelicalism has always been a big tent. The question before us today is, How big can the tent be before it caves in? How big can the tent be before “evangelical” means nothing more than “a professing Christian who is serious about what he/she believes”?

From the New York Times treating it as a media craze”
Pastor Stirs Wrath With His Views on Old Questions By ERIK ECKHOLM
Published: March 4, 2011

His book comes as the evangelical community has embraced the Internet and social media to a remarkable degree, so that a debate that once might have built over months in magazines and pulpits has instead erupted at electronic speed.

By that same evening, “Rob Bell” was one of the top 10 trending topics on Twitter. Within 48 hours, Mr. Taylor’s original blog had been viewed 250,000 times. Dozens of other Christian leaders and bloggers jumped into the fray and thousands of their readers posted comments on both sides of the debate, though few had yet seen the entire book.

“Rob Bell is tapping into a younger generation that really wants to open up these questions,” he said. “He is also tapping into the fear of the traditionalists — that these differing views of heaven and hell will compromise the Christian message.”
While sliding close to what critics consider the heresy of “universalism” — that all humans will eventually be saved — he never uses the term.

From a pdf manifesto of an Evangelical conservative. This one phrased the controversy in terms similar to Orthodox Judaism.

Love Wins has ignited such a firestorm of controversy because it’s the current fissure point for a larger fault-line. As younger generations come up against an increasingly hostile cultural environment, they are breaking in one of two directions—back to robust orthodoxy (often Reformed) or back to liberalism. The neo-evangelical consensus is cracking up. Love Wins is simply one of many tremors.

Finally, those who want to give an informed theological sermon from the range of Evangelical thought should see Four views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World Four Views on Hell and Four views on Eternal Security. These books give a range of kosher Evangelical opinions, from orthodox left to engaged right.

Martin Buber, Elie Wiesel, and the Jewish-Christian encounter

Elie Wiesel is known for making up his own Hasidic tales to fit his ideas of arguing with God and his views of misotheism or dystheism. I used to get lots of phone calls trying to identify Wiesel’s original Hasidic tales. Buber may take out the particualism of Torah uMizvot to make a story with universal appeal but you can always identify the original story. Wiesel is confident and free enough to invent things, put lines from Camus and Doestoevsky in the mouth of his Hasidic protagonists and make his Hasidim share his angry arguing with a God for His evil deeds. Wiesel screams at his critics that the story was from his childhood teachers and his critics were not there in Sighet where he claims tohave heard the stories.

But it seems Wiesel has also applied his craft of memoir (he rejects the label novelist) directly to Martin Buber. There is a story about the Jewish-Christian encounter that seemed not to be like Buber in thought or character for several reasons. The false story downplays the difference between the faiths since the real Buber was a harsh critic of Christianity. The story has an agnostic or relative edge to it- the real Buber was a believer in a universalism of hallowed everyday action. And the real Buber was not seeking to be pragmatically cleaver in a “got you” kind of way.

After emailing many people, it seem that the origin of the story is Elie Wiesel in the late 1980’s. Many people picked it up as a true. Using this story skewers real positions. Here is the probably phony story:

My good friends, what is the difference between you and me? Both of us, all of us believe, because we are religious, in the coming of the Messiah. You believe that the Messiah came, went back, and that you are waiting for Him for the second coming. We Jews believe He hasn’t come yet, but He will come. In other words, we are waiting. You for the second coming, we for the first coming. Let’s wait together.” After a pause, he said, “And when He will come, we will ask Him, have you been here before?” Said Buber, “I hope I will be behind Him and I will whisper in His ear, please do not answer.”

Elie Wiesel, All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs (New York: Knopf, 1995), pp. 354-55.
Or from Wiesel’s commencement Speech at Depaul

Now back to the real Buber.
In his Two Types of Faith Buber distinguishes between two kinds of faith. The Hebraic emunah: total trust and reliance on God; where one shows trust through actions. Paul’s version of faith is pistis: a more intellectual belief in the cognitive truth of something.

The closest you will find in Buber’s actual writings to anything like alleged story is in “The Two Foci of the Jewish Soul” in Israel and the World, p. 39 (pages varies between editions) he asks, speaking of differences of Jews and Christians: “what do you and we have in common?” And he answers:” A book and an expectation.” Then he goes on to say: “But we can wait for the advent of the One together, and there are moments when we may prepare the way before him together….” Even here we find Buber speaking of preparing the way through holy action.

Whenever Buber did encounter other faiths he always stressed the immediacy of the present moment. He found commonalities between religions in ecstasy, service, intention, humility—not messianic doctrine. Truth is opening oneself up to others. One is to strive for transparency and pure I-Thou dialogue, not hiding truth.

“Religiosity, I say, is the urge of man to live in commune with the unconditioned, and his will to bring this about through his deeds and into the world of man… True religiosity is doing…
“Having awakened to an awareness of their universal being, individual beings open themselves to one another, disclose themselves to one another, help one another.”
“To become human is what we are created for”, and approaching God is only possible by becoming human.

Until I hear otherwise, I will take it as a story imposing an alien theology on Buber.

Talmud Yechi

Someone just sent me a spoof on Chabad meshichist thinking.
It is Tractate Yechi Hamelekh of the Meshichistin Talmud.

Here are the 5 pdf pages of the talmud
Let’s hope this is a spoof.
Should I spend the rest of tonight learning it?

Purim – Arizal and Rav Nachman

From last Year – “Masekhet Purim”, a humorous parody of the Talmud, is believed to have first been written in the first half of the 14th century by Kalonymus ben Kalonymus. It later developed into several different versions. Here is the Kol Bo L’Purim with the Kiddish, hagadah, selichot, teshuvot, akdamot, and more. Download it- It is only 31 pages, bring it with you on Purim

This year VBM provided a translation of the R. Chaim Vital and Rav Nachman on why one must drink “until one does not know.” Here are the basic translations with some of the context.
Full 10 page version from VBM here.

Very short Cliff notes version
from Ozer Bergman.

Purim in Chassidic Thought: “Until He Doesn’t Know” By Rav Itamar Eldar

The gemara cites the following statement in the name of Rava:
A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he no longer knows the difference between “cursed Haman” and “blessed Mordekhai.” (Megilla 7b)

It seems to demand nullification of the intellect to the point of losing the capacity to clearly distinguish between Haman being evil and Mordekhai being blessed. Jewish thought, and Chassidic thought in particular, attempted to reach a deeper understanding of this law – drinking wine to the point of drunkenness – which has become one of the central features of Purim.

R. Chayyim Vital writes as follows in the name of his teacher, the Arizal:

That which our Rabbis, of blessed memory, have said, that a person is obligated to drink on Purim until he no longer knows the difference between “cursed Haman” and “blessed Mordekhai” – this means as follows: It is known that in every kelipa there is a spark of holiness that gives it life, and should it be removed, [the kelipa] will be left with no vitality and immediately it will totally disappear. Now on this great day, when there is this great illumination, we want the vitality of this illumination to reach this spark as well, but not that it should reach so far to illuminate the kelipa. For this reason a person must get drunk on this day, to the point that he does not know the difference between “cursed Haman” and “blessed Mordekhai.” For he may err and give a blessing to that spark in the kelipa, and it too will be blessed, but its blessing will not have perfect intention, for if it would have, it would receive a great deal and the kelipa would also be blessed. [Alternate reading: Therefore he must say “blessed Haman,” to draw light also to that spark, and therefore he must say it without intention, since he is drunk and has already lost his mind. For were it with intention, God forbid, it would also illuminate the kelipa.] (Peri Etz Chayyim, Sha’ar Rosh Chodesh, Chanuka U-Purim, ch. 6)

The key to these questions seems to lie in understanding the state of the kelipa and the Divine spark concealed within it. As R. Chayyim Vital puts it, “It is known that in every kelipa, there is a spark of holiness that gives it life.” The kelipa, which symbolizes the evil found in the world, exists by virtue of the Divine spark that is concealed within it and gives it life. Without that Divine spark hidden within it, it could not exist. The ramifications of this point are important. The kabbalistic reference to the “Divine spark giving life to the kelipa” asserts that the very fact of evil’s existence is its meaning, and that it is by the will and intention of God that it continues to exist.

Lack of knowledge, as it is expressed in the words of the Arizal, involves a restriction and limitation of light, and in this manner, a blessing may be given to evil. R. Natan adopts an entirely different approach in the name of his teacher, R. Nachman of Breslov:

This is the aspect of “A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he no longer knows the difference between ‘cursed Haman’ and ‘blessed Mordekhai” (Megilla 7b). For Purim is the primary [time] for subjugating the filth of the serpent, which is sadness, the aspect of “in sorrow shall you eat of it” (Bereishit 3:17), as stated above. At that time, we must raise the joy from the depths of the kelipot… until we merit by way of the joy to achieve the aspect of the nine palaces as stated above, through which we attain the infinite light … which is the aspect of the goal of knowledge that we are not to know, as stated above. Therefore, a person is obligated to drink, that is, to get drunk on Purim for the sake of the joy, as it is written: “Wine that gladdens the heart of man” (Tehilim 104:15). And he must increase the joy until he merits by way of the drunkenness and the joy of Purim to reach the aspect of the goal of knowledge that we are not to know, which is the aspect of “until he no longer knows, etc.” For the primary hold of good and evil, which is the aspect of “blessed Mordekhai” and “cursed Haman,” is from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the root of which stems from “nirgan mafrid aluf” (“a whisperer separates close friends;” Mishlei 16:18). That is, it separates the aspect of Keter, which is the aspect of alef, the aspect of wonder which orders and settles the minds, thereby preventing the minds from their pursuit. For the primary attainment of knowledge is precisely the aspect of the goal of knowing that we are not to know. For the aspect of not knowing is the primary goal of knowledge. For he who merits this, knowledge and lack of knowledge are contained together, they being the aspect of pursuit and hindrance, which are truly one at their root. Then evil is altogether nullified, for the primary hold of evil is the lack of knowledge and its concealment, which follows from the excessive light that causes the vessels to shatter. This is because they do not contain knowledge and lack of knowledge together (as will be further explained below with God’s help). Therefore, on Purim we must get drunk to the point that we reach such joy until we merit the aspect of the aforementioned goal of knowledge, where pursuit and hindrance are combined, they being knowledge and lack of knowledge. The two are combined together in the aspect of the goal of knowledge that we are not to know, where all evil is entirely nullified, as explained above. This is the aspect of “until he no longer knows the difference between ‘cursed Haman’ and ‘blessed Mordekhai.'” For there we cannot talk about good and evil, for there all is one, all is good, as mentioned above. (Likutei Halakhot, Hilkhot Nefilat Apayim 4:7)

R. Natan identifies the obligation to be unable to differentiate between “cursed Haman” and “blessed Mordekhai” with one of the fundamental principles in the thought of R. Nachman of Breslov, the paradoxical assertion that the goal of knowledge is that we are not to know.

Elsewhere, R. Natan writes as follows:

Therefore, one is obligated to drink on Purim until he no longer knows the difference between “cursed Haman” and “blessed Mordekhai.” For there he is above knowledge, and there it is inappropriate to say, “cursed Haman,” for there it is entirely good, above the middot, above days of good and days of evil, as stated above. This is the aspect of the secret of the red heifer, which is the aspect of statute (chuka), above knowledge: it defiles the ritually pure and purifies the ritually impure. This secret will remain incomprehensible until the future when the hidden Torah will be revealed, as stated above. (Likutei Halakhot, Hilkhot Purim 4:5)

Waiving knowledge is, indeed, a little scary, just as it is a little scary to put on a mask and lose our appearance.

At this frightening moment, a moment without knowledge, a moment of drunkenness, we can do nothing but look inwards, into ourselves, into our essence, into the center of knowledge – to the Ein within us, which is only revealed when we remove all the garments. At this moment, there is no cursed and no blessed, no profane and no holy, no impure and no pure – there is only blessed silence, that allows us for a moment to look at the Ein, at repentance which is above the Torah.

The foundation of repentance that disregards the world of phenomena and seeks the blessing of the essence reveals itself not only when we get drunk on Purim to the point that we no longer know the difference between cursed Haman and blessed Mordekhai,

Orthodox Big Love for Mormons

I had heard that Rabbi Steven Burg, of the OU had proposed at the recent OU convention setting up a Mormon style mission for young Orthodox adults. [This was updated for the correct attribution.] Burg said all he has to provide is transportation. I was puzzled on many accounts. How did he know of the Mormon mission system? Did he realize that it requires those who go on mission to live simple lives without the distractions of materialism, entertainment, or that even email is allowed only once a week? (We have taken the gap-year in Israel programs and made sure no one is derived of their materialism and creature comforts.) Finally, did he realize that mission is the “Torah” of Mormons and was he going to move the Orthodox religious imperative from Torah and mizvot to mission?

I then discovered that the LA Jewish Journal has a non-Jewish Mormon regular columnist Mark Paredes who writes “Jews and Mormons” about his explorations in Judaism, especially Orthodoxy. It seems our Mormon friend is a regular at the OU conventions. And yes, Mormonism is discussed, and Rabbi Steve Weil, head of the OU was willing to tolerate an inner orthodoxy of commitment and ethics, rather than an outer ritual one.(If he accomplishes this it will create a very different Orthodoxy, one even more Americanized.)

From the Mormon side of things, there seems to be a Mormon –Orthodox Jewish dialogue going on. It may not discuss the revelation of the book of Neppi to the latter day saints but it certainly discusses religious values. I have known that Rabbi Bleich and others have given legal presentations about halakhah at Mormon institutions but the nature of this discussion was much more religious life. From Mark Paredes’ account and the OU call for Mormon mission one gets a sense that the Rabbis are being transformed from their discussions with him and other Mormons; a new era of acculturation into American religion.

As a side point, it was interesting that Burg expresses what the recently departed archbishop of Stockholm and interfaith expert Krister Stendehl called “holy envy.” That I can appreciate something in another faith and wish to explore adapting what I learn in another faith for Judaism.

The Orthodox Union on Christmas Eve:
Posted by Mark Paredes
Since I will be celebrating Christmas with my family next week in Michigan, I decided to spend Christmas Eve with observant Jews attending the annual Orthodox Union’s Torah Convention. The first Christmas Eve OU event that I attended was a 2006 debate on Orthodoxy between Dennis Prager and my good friend Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Tonight a few dozen people gathered at the regal home of Dr. Steven Tabak and his better half Linda to hear two of America’s great rabbis share their thoughts on defining Jewish values. They discussed several topics that are of interest to Mormons, and the LDS Church was mentioned several times. The discussion lasted two and a half hours, and was so wide-ranging that the rabbis only managed to address one of three questions that the eloquent moderator, Rabbi Adir Posy, had planned to cover. No one present seemed to mind.

Rabbi Steven Weil, the OU’s National Executive VP, began his presentation by identifying Jewish parents as being primarily responsible for the transmission of Jewish values and moral character to their children, with schools and synagogues serving as concentric circles around the parents. This responsibility requires parents to behave in an ethical manner so that their children will be drawn to Judaism; hypocrisy on their part will cause their kids to leave the faith. Rabbi Weil went on to say that it is ethical behavior, not outward signs of Orthodoxy like Sabbath observance, that truly characterizes an Orthodox Jew. He could have easily made the same speech to Mormon parents.

The rabbis were kind enough to include me in the discussion by mentioning that both of them have engaged in dialogue with LDS leaders and praising Mormons’ desire to work with Orthodox Jews on school vouchers and other issues of interest to both communities (the LDS Church does not take an official position on vouchers). They also mentioned Mormons while addressing two issues: tithing and excommunication of unethical members of their community. Both rabbis appeared to advocate an arrangement of lifetime tithing for the Orthodox in exchange for the provision of certain services, including tuition for their children at Orthodox day schools. They pointed to the LDS Church as a model to be followed in this regard (i.e., the building of chapels, temples, universities).

When an audience member asked whether Mormons debate similar issues, I was asked to respond. Read the rest here.

Below we have an Orthodox rabbi teaching our Mormon about the faith of Judaism.

The Jewish tradition doesn’t interpret scripture literally, but it sure loves science. Those two principles formed the basis of last week’s “Torah on Tuesdays” lecture delivered by Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, Director of Special Projects at the Sephardic Educational Center in Los Angeles. I think that it’s important for everyone to study the Torah with a rabbi whenever possible, and I will be learning from Rabbi Bouskila this semester. Given the erudition and passion on display at Congregation Magen David last Tuesday, it will be time well spent.
Rabbi Bouskila’s free lectures on Jewish interpretations of the great stories in Genesis have the potential to do far more for the promotion of Jews and Judaism than the redundant conferences and lectures on the dangers of radical Islam that somehow manage to capture the attention (and dollars) of many wealthy Jews in this city.
I was happy to learn that all Jewish movements, including Orthodoxy, embrace science. Rabbi Bouskila proudly listed the concepts that his daughter would be studying this year in her biology class at a Modern Orthodox day school, and they included evolution and the scientific method. Jews have always valued learning, both religious and secular. In this they are similar to Mormons, whose church-sponsored universities produce graduates in biology, physics, chemistry and other sciences. Read the rest here.

Here is a Mormon plea to be part of Shabbat Across America of NJOP

Many thanks to fellow LDS-Jewish blogger Christa Woodall for reminding me of the upcoming Shabbat Across America, the annual promotion of Sabbath observance sponsored by the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP).

To my Jewish readers: please invite an LDS friend or family to accompany you to Sabbath services and to dinner if possible. This is a wonderful opportunity to show them how meaningful Jewish traditions are to you and your family. If you have children, your Mormon friends will have an opportunity to experience a very spiritual moment when you bless them at the table.

To my Mormon readers: if you don’t have a Jewish friend to accompany to services, consult the NJOP’s website to see which area congregations are participating in the program. If you would like to experience a Sabbath dinner, call the synagogue. Often there are families that volunteer to host out-of-town visitors for Sabbath meals, and they may have room for you. Be sure to arrive in time to see the children blessed. You may want to reciprocate by inviting your Jewish friend to a Monday evening Family Home Evening.

Here is our Mormon explaining to his Rabbi friends that he is not a Noahide, rather an Israelite from the tribe of Ephraim.

Do rabbis believe that Mormons are Noahides? Rabbis who understand our beliefs would undoubtedly apply that label to observant Mormons and other practicing Christians. However, there are good reasons for Mormons themselves to reject it.

Mormons certainly have no theological objection to any of the Noahide laws…When Mormons are asked by Jews whether they are Noahides, they almost always answer yes.

When asked, I always tell rabbis that I consider myself to be an Israelite, so I can’t be a Noahide. Faithful Mormons are given special blessings (patriarchal blessings) that declare in which Israelite tribe they will receive their spiritual inheritance. The tribe may or may not correspond to their blood lineage, but the tribal designation is very real to Mormons, who strongly believe that they are Latter-day Israelites. My patriarchal blessing goes one step further by informing me that I am a direct descendant of Ephraim, the son of Joseph.
For this reason, I believe that a Mormon who claims to be a Noahide—outside the covenants of Abraham and Moses—is implicitly denying his Israelite identity. Read the rest here.