The Green/Landes Debate Continues at Jewschool

The Art Green – Danny Landes Debate Continues with a new post at Jewschool. I re-posted it here. This debate is taking on the elements of a specific fault line in the Jewish community. The editorial policy at Jewish Review of Books and Jewish Ideas Daily seems to be criticize anything having to do with a loosely defined other side of the indie minyanim, Art Green, Renewal, Neo-Hasidism. They are lining up all sorts of people to criticize, but those criticized just find the criticism uninformed and misguided. They do seem to be talking past each other. The fault line is not Conservative- Orthodox but two different visions.

In the 1950’s Commentary magazine (Rosenberg, Fiedler, Potok, see the statements by former editor Cohen) criticized Buber, Neo-Hasidism and other modern religious options in order to say it was an either/or choice of Orthodoxy or secularism; Commentary magazine chose secularism. From their reviews of Buber’s Hasidic tales, one would never have imagined they would return as a pillar of Judaism for the last 25 years. Some of this criticism is similar to the that of Gertrude Himmelfarb of the 1970’s; Judaism is moral and historical not experiential. Much of it is similar to the critique penned in 1980’s by the pork eating sabbath violating Hillel Halkin who wrote that one must choose secularism in Israel or to be Haredi. People that I speak to speculate that he is the editorial instigator behind these reviews. I dont know if it is true but he does seek out those who will unite with him behind a common foe. He still introduces himself as Orthodox and then 20 minutes into his talk tells his audience that he hasn’t kept mizvot since he was 15, which was 56 years ago.

But what is infuriating on the other side of Art Green is that they are too defensive and do not reply intellectually. They also confuse their modern/post-modern readings with the historical texts themselves. Both sides treat this as an either/or debate. I will have more to say in a future post.

This was taken from Jewschool- here.They give the links to the prior episodes of the Green-Landes debate. For the discussion at this blog, see here for Green statement in Oct. and here for Landes response in Jan. This is a live issue because after half-shabbos, the posts on Art Green get the most hits. I get a sense that people are grappling and the issues they are grappling with lie with neither formulation.
My question is not figure out why both sides are currently blind to the other side. So dont comment by taking sides as much as figuring out why this is personal and not intellectual.

Friday, March 4th, 2011
Last year, R. Art Green published a book, and R. Daniel Landes wrote a critical review of it in the Jewish Review of books. Green then responded to the review, and Landes responded to the response (on the same link). This is now Green’s next response. Underlying all of this are some interesting questions about the possibilities and limits of Jewish theology. (One could say “questions about Orthodoxy and Neo-Hasidism,” but perhaps it’s more complicated than that.) We welcome more discussion and debate on these issues, and not only from the two men involved. Green’s next letter is below.

Dear Danny,

Let’ s continue this public conversation, which is not over, in a face-to-face second person form, without the barrier of an intervening magazine. Internet interest will provide more than sufficient readership.

I find your tone, in your latest response as well as the initial review of my Radical Judaism, to be significantly annoying, ranging between dismissive and condescending. This is particularly bothersome because you continue to distort my views, either because you have not read me carefully or because a straw-man Art Green better suits your purpose.

You distinguish my views from earlier Jewish notions of an abstract deity by saying that I “flatly deny” divine transcendence. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Please re-read page 18:

“Transcendence” in the context of such a faith [my mystical panentheism] does not refer to a God “out there” or “over there” somewhere beyond the universe, since I do not know the existence of such a “there.” Transcendence means rather that God – or Being – is so fully present in the here and now of each moment that we could not possibly grasp the depth of that presence. Transcendence thus dwells within immanence.

Now you may not like the monistic theology of the succeeding sentences (“There is no ultimate duality here…” ), but my theology does not deny transcendence. In saying that the mystery of divine presence can never be fathomed, I am seeking a religious language that retains the essential element of transcendence while linking it to a real part of human religious experience, rather than simply asserting it as tradition-enforced dogma. My insistence (ibid.) that “the whole is mysteriously and infinitely greater than the sum of its parts” is intended (see n. 4 to that page) to distinguish my view from that of the sort of reductionist pantheism with which you choose to identify me.

You similarly claim that my “God (like Mordecai Kaplan’s) has been divested of all personality.” We should probably leave Kaplan aside. The Kaplan scholars will probably tell you that Kaplan’s views over his long lifetime were inconsistent. See especially Jack Cohen’ s book on Kaplan and Rav Kook, and some of the sources quoted there. (I hope you and I both live long enough to be celebrated for similar inconsistencies!) But I do not divest God of all personality. I painstakingly try to show, through the long course of Chapter Two, how our images of God as divine person developed, including ancient Near Eastern and other historical influences. I trust that you do not deny these. When I finally come to express my own views (p. 73), I say the following:

Here too I turn to Kabbalah for a way to say this within the context of Judaism. The Zohar understands well that the personal God-figure, in both its male and female articulations (tif’ eret and malkhut) is a series of symbolic constructions, less than the divine absolute…the mystics were creating a theological position that they rarely dared to articulate clearly. The personal God is a symbolic bridge between transcendent mystery (that which by definition the mind cannot grasp) and a humanity that constantly reaches forth toward it. Because that “ :reaching” needs to be undertaken by the whole human self, including emotion and body as well as mind, the “ bridge” needs to be one to which we can most wholly respond, a projection of our own form.

I go on, in the ensuing two pages, to talk about my own use of such personalistic language, despite my essentially monistic theology. I even insist (p. 74: “ But to be fully at home in Judaism…” ) on the importance of personalistic language. Now you may say, of course, that this is disingenuous, that my love of such language is inconsistent with my true position. But here I give you the RaMBaM, about whom the very same claim is rightly made. I am, if anything, less elitist in my view. I think it is not only the unwashed masses who need such language, but even we who seek to enter the doors to the palace’ s inner chamber. As long as we remain human, we live in a dualistic outer universe, and thus need the language of “ I” and “ Thou.”

As for my “ unsophisticated” way of reading evolution as a matrix for discovering the sacred, let me say that here I am trying intentionally to re-weave a contemporary understanding of our biological origins with elements of Jewish mythic speech. My goal is a bold re-assertion of the sacred dimension in our modern account of origins. I ultimately believe that the sacred needs to be expressed in mythic language; to denude it of that would result in a prosaic impoverishment of consciousness, the opposite of my intent. But in order to go forward with a renewed use of myth, we sometimes do need to step outside it and to say exactly what we do and don’ t mean by employing it. I do alternate between those two stances (de- and re-mythologizing, you may call them) in this book. Confusing, perhaps, but “ unsophisticated?”

Now we turn to “ pluralism” and “ criticism.” I welcome criticism, especially if it suggests constructive alternatives, which I have not seen you offer. I precisely want to stimulate thought and open-ended discussion of theology among Jews, as I hope we are indeed doing here. But to say of my views, despite the extensive history I offer, simply “ This is not the God of Israel” and “ This is not the Torah of Israel” feels rather little like “ pluralism.” You may not like the word “ heretic,” but this does feel (from the recipient’ s end) like heresy-hunting. Those statements are more like R. Yaakov Emden, shall we say, than like the earlier elu ve-elu divrey elokim hayyim.

Finally, I still fail to understand vos hakt ir a chainik about a “ doctrine of ahavat yisra’ el.” I say quite clearly (p. 138ff.) that I remain a part of klal yisra’ el, requiring fellowship with those with whom I disagree, for reasons both historical and theological. I also say, and I think I have a right to, that “ this does not establish my only religious landscape.” Is that what so disturbs you? Believe me, reb yid, I know quite well that you and I “ are inextricably bound to (and stuck with) each other.” To me that’ s both bad news and good. I hope that’ s true for you as well.

Shalom u-Verakhah,

13 responses to “The Green/Landes Debate Continues at Jewschool

  1. R. Zalman Schacter once said “As we grow up we all get on a bus. Some get off close to home, some go a little further, some even go pretty far away. I never got off the bus.” Sounds about right to me. R. Landes seems to be someone who has left the neighborhood of his childhood, and if you accept the importance of small differences has stretched considerably from his initial upbringing. But from what I see, he has a mindset where Orthodoxy, both Charedi and Modern are looking over his shoulder. There are limits where he won’t go, and is agitated by others who have no such constraints. With R. Arthur Green it’s different; he got on the bus in a secular neighborhood, a place which for many looks like close to the end of the line. But unlike Zalman’s linear bus, and R. Landes staying within the Orthodox orbit, the trajectory of Arthur Green was always something of a zig-zag. Back to JTS, forward with the chavurah and Jewish Renewal movements, back to the world of scholarship, forward to the Reconstructionist seminary. The place his trajectory never visited was Orthodoxy. As a result he has no feel for living Chasidim, and finds many of their ways repugnant. His Chasidim are all dead, known primarily through their books. He owes Orthodoxy nothing, he doesn’t care much what Orthodox Jews think, and most importantly he is not addressing those who look to Orthodoxy as an essential starting point for their Judaism.

    His constituency as well as Zalman’s are the two-three million Jews here in America who belong to no denomination, many of whom are intermarried and have no historical connection with the European Jewish past. Part of Arthur Green’s continued surprise at the Landes criticism is that he is being given no credit for attempting to keep the outer rings of American Jewry connected to its origins, when they have no memories or experience of Jewish life. If his teaching is to be credible he must include a universalist element.What is he supposed to teach…that the intermarried are an erav rav, their geirus is worthless as is their patrilineal descent? There goes his demographic. How would you connect with people for whom the entire social, familial element is missing? His answer, and he may be right, is to go inward and join forces with the spiritual but not religious side of American Jewry.

  2. Re: the either/or line re: religion/secularism at Jewish Review of Books and Jewish Ideas Daily: Hillel Halkin is NOT the editorial instigator .

    The connecting, instigating, controlling link is the Tivkah Fund [and Neal Kozodoy (who used to run Commentary)].

    The Tikvah Fund is a very wealthy, rightwing philanthropy with deep corporate pockects and neoconservative roots.

    It runs the “Jewish Review of Books” and “Jewish Ideas Daily,” as well as academic and semi-academic institutes at Princeton, NYU, Oxford, JTS, and Toronto. Tablet and Nextbook are also connected.

    You’ll see the exact same pattern over and over again.

    They are, to my mind, a nasty bunch. For some reason, Michael Walzer is providing them cover. Maybe because of Princeton, but nobody knows why.

  3. Hi Alan,
    I recently wrote “Spirituality Lite” at Jewish Ideas Daily, one of the articles which you refer to above on Jewish Renewal. Since you don’t know me, a brief introduction. I wrote my thesis at Hebrew University, “Theories of Progress in Leo Strauss’ Later Writings on Maimonides,” under the direction of Zev Harvey. It was approved in 2010. I also studied for a number of years at various Jerusalem yeshivot, from Lithuanian Haredi to Beit Morasha, and presently I teach at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, although my practice isn’t Conservative. I am in a certain sense post-denominational. Which brings me to my first of two points.
    1) I did not present the issue – or at least I didn’t intend to present the issue – as an either/or. I am in deep sympathy with certain dimensions of post-denominational Judaism precisely because revitalizing the tradition is far more important than defining it, which is what usually happens within institutional frameworks. This is, I should add, a theme which I have treated on a number of occassions at Jewish Ideas Daily, for instance when writing on the revivial of Sephardi piyyut:
    as all as the “fusion” of Jazz and piyyut:
    In addition, my next piece presents HaShomer HaTzair as, originally, a movement for Jewish Renewal.
    2) To set the record straight, there is absolutely no editorial policy at Jewish Ideas Daily when it comes to these issues. I wanted to write on “Jewish Mysticism and the Spiritual Life” because of my interest in Jewish Renewal in the broadest sense, and I had to persuade Neal Kozodoy to let me run with it.
    I would be happy to be continue the conversation.
    Aryeh Tepper

    • Aryeh,
      Thanks for the post.
      I have a number of questions:
      In what way are you renewal and what sources and people are you turning to? To turn to Shomer Tzayyir and piyyut, does not seem to be what people call renewal.
      How do you account for this seeming pattern of negative reviews that you say is not a pattern? Quite a few people out there see it as a pattern.
      Why do you think both sides are talking past each other?

  4. I’m not renewal in any institutional sense – a rather contradictory notion in any case. However, to cite one example, my reading of and interest in the Zohar is deeply influenced by Melila Hellner-Eshed’s “A River Flows From Eden,” as well as Y. Liebes’ work in general. I find the notion of zohar=universal eros to be compelling, and it is in tune with certain notions emerging from the Renewal Movement regarding the ‘meaning’ of Divinity.

    I agree of course that HaShomer HaZair and Sephardi piyyut aren’t usually associated with Jewish Renewal – although here in Israel there is a certain degree of overlap between ‘renewal’ and piyyut. The common denominator is my interest in 20th and 21st century responses to the stagnation of the Jewish tradition. If I can lean on a monumental figure for support, I think Rav Kook’s highly-developed receptivity was informed by his search for revitalization, wherever it happens to show up.

    I’ll try to answer the last two questions after I give them some additional thought.

  5. Continued…

    First, I should clarify: interest in reviving the Jewish tradition often translates into the revival of the Jewish people, as well. Which perhaps puts the interest in HaShomer HaZair (mine, as well as Rav Kook’s) in perspective – they explicitly set themselves up as a movement for the revival of the Jewish people, and were understood as such in their original context.

    As for the pattern of negative reviews, while the critiques differ – for instance, Landes attacks a non-personal God, but as a student of the Rambam, not to mention the mystical tradition, I don’t see a non-personal God as a problem – I think the common denominator is that all the pieces critique Jewish Renewal, Indie minyanim, etc., for their lack of clarity as well as an immature sense of communal responsibility. Those values – clarity and a mature sense of communal responsibility – inform the perspectives of the Jewish Review of Books and Jewish Ideas Daily, so perhaps the pattern shouldn’t be that surprising.

    As for talking past each other, if you look at my attempted talkback with R’ Arthur Waskow I think you’ll see that I’m more than willing to engage in dialogue. For Waskow, however, I, and those like me, are a-priori disqualified as interlocutors because we question whether the historical process that he considers to be progress and that issues in Jewish Renewal, is, in fact, progress.

    And this I think helps answer your question as to why defenders of Jewish Renewal argue so emotionally. One of the reasons you don’t get intellectual responses is the same reason that you didn’t get intellectual responses from Marxists or that you don’t get intellectual responses from present-day messianists – from the perspective of ‘hard-core’ progressives, one only opposes what is clearly true out of willful blindness.

    • I went back and read your exchange with waskow. You really weren’t exaggerating!

      • Thanks for taking the time to read the exchange, Jon. From Waskow’s perspective, you’re either in tune with the direction of history – what he calls the new paradigm – or you’re a reactionary.

    • I’m sorry, Aryeh, but I find none of this fair or very “mature,” like so many of the negative critiques that appear in Jewish Ideas Daily and in the Jewish Review of Books. Instead of substantive disagreement, we get a lot of ad-hominem invective, name-calling, sniping and snide innuendo about Jewish Renewal, or Independent Minyanim, or Arthur Green, or Liberalism, or secular forms of Judaism, or J Street. Sadly, the talkbacks that appear on Jewish Ideas Daily are only not-much-worse than the articles themselves. It’s hardly surprising that the replies of people like Green or Waskow, who have commited themselves over the long haul to the Jewish people and to Judaism, lend themselves to such a mix of disdain and rage.

      As for “clarity,” Aryeh, I simply cannot take at face value your assurance that there are no hidden neoconservative orthodoxies dictating editorial policy at Jewsih Ideas Daily (or for that matter at the Jewish Review of Books); certainly not if Neal Kozodoy, the old editor in chief from Commentary, is running things on staff at JID as you suggest or at JRB as others have suggested. Of course, there’s no mention of him on the masthead at either organization. But why then would Tikvah Fund have hired him if not to edit and control precisely these venues along a rightwing slant?

      Please understand that there are many people out there who are very upset by this uncivil tone and lack of transparency. These do not seem to be secure foundations for the robust form of Jewish community that all of us want to foster.

  6. Aryeh, thanks so much for your recent post clarifying your position regarding Jewish Renewal. I was wondering if you might be able to share more with us about your experience at Jewish Ideas Daily and your conversations with Kozodoy re: your essay.

  7. Hi lipchitz,
    I’m happy you found my post helpful. I’m sure you’ll understand if I prefer to keep private conversatons private, but I think a quick glance at my list of articles is sufficient to see that no intellectual orthodoxies dictate the day at Jewish Ideas Daily.

  8. Solomon Schimmel

    I hope that in raising the following question(s) I am not diverting too far afield from the Green-Landes debate. Both use theological language and Jewish religious concepts, although their usages differ radically, whereas my questions do not do so.

    I do not have any answers to the questions which I raise, which would probably best be addressed by sociologists. But I am sure that others might have something to say about this as well.

    1. Can there be viable Jewish communities of agnostics and/or atheists in 21st century US (Israel may be a very differenct situation)? By this I mean a community that is explicit about its lack of theological belief, and yet feels bonded to other Jews, and creates local communities and institutions which reinforce these bonds and which act not only as an aggregate of individuals, but also as a communities with shared values, aspirations and behaviors.

    I suppose that secular / humanist Jewish communities (of which there are some may be attempts at this. I don’t know much about them, but wonder how successful they are (whatever that would mean, since ‘success’ would have to be defined both in their terms, and in the terms of those who do not accept their views.

    (Could there be any shared criteria of ‘success’ between atheists/agnostics and theological Jews)?

    2.Or do non-theological Jews not need communities?

    3. Or perhaps they satisfy their communal needs (albeit not in the same way that orthodox communities do so, with Shabbat and many other holidays and rituals) by being involved in certain Jewish organizations, such AJC, Jewish social justice organizations, academic Jewish Studies, Mazon, and many such others.

    In the late 19th and first half of the 20th century there were many such non-theological communities, such as the Bundists, and of course secular Zionists. But the ideologies that sustained and motivated these non-theological, Jewish ethnically based communites/organizations have waned or are waning. Can there be viable substitutes for them?

    Solomon Schimmel

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