Danny Landes’ response to Art Green for the third time

We are now in the third round of this debate and it seems that some of the issues of the original debate are being replayed.
I acknowledge from ej that Green had no idea how his ideas would play out in Orthodoxy but where was Landes until 2010? Did Landes not read Green’s prior works? Did he not read Jay Michaelson or Reb Zalman?
Yes, Green’s Hasidism has little to do with historical hasidism, with real Hasidim, and unio mystica, but where was Landes for the last 40 years when Hasidism has been taught as panentheism in Orthodoxy, in Pardes, in Aish Hatorah.
And even here to tarnish Mordechai Kaplan with Rubinstein and Nietsche and assimilation seems odd. American Jewry went into decline according to Landes specifically because of the efforts of Kaplan! Did Landes forget that the very model of any Orthodox synagogue in the US that serves as a social center, has a men’s club and youth group, is involved in politics, is from Kaplan?
From Green’s perspective, he has never been in a minyan going society. But Landes comes off as guilt by association to Kaplan, or more likely Landes is still the kiruv rabbi of his youth and sees every American Jew as a potential Orthodox minyan goer. But still, why bring in Nietzsche? Since American modern Orthodoxy owes more to Kaplan to than to other thinkers, this is an ad hominem.
The best part of the critique is the one brought up by Tepper is the progressive supersessionalism “you considered classic belief – which includes that of your teachers Heschel, Zeitlin and the Sefat Emet – as “childish!”
Any further thoughts on why this debate is occurring Now and not after Green’s work from 20 years ago Seek thy Face? Is there a fault line in the community? Who is outside the debate? Any more insights on why they cannot speak to each other in a meaningful way? I still plan on writing my thoughts when this settles down a bit.

Mar 8th, 2011 by Bogomolny

These are Rabbi Landes’ further comments:

Rosh Hodesh Adar Bet
Venahafoch Hu

Dear Art,

You conflate transcendence with immanence. In your theology, Nature is all there is – as a manifestation of mysterious Being. What you see is what you get. For nature never transcends itself. Reading you once again, God only “exists” as a human need in consciousness. For you, (the Personal) God Itself is symbolic projection. This is really not Jewish panentheism which has all that stuff – nature and Being – within God. And you exchange, as pride of place, the focus narratives of Genesis and Exodus for the “greatest story” of evolution. And now, Judaism becomes one ethnic commentary amongst the many.

In the end I thought Judaism got over the pantheism you advocate with Bereishit Bara E-lohim. And your articulation (in the Rosenzweig lectures, no less!) hasn’t room for The Other as Creator, Revealer and Redeemer. Indeed, your God can’t do what you would even grant as a right to any human (and probably to lower evolved creatures as well) – the ability to love, decide and act. Your God is not a more but a less, if anything at all. Certainly not ‘Ayin. It seems to me that you were earlier disappointed by a mysticism that failed to “dare” to collapse everything into the Absolute. But it is the panentheism of the masters of Kaballah that not only triumphed the Absolute but provided the ground and dynamic place for our large but finite existence. They were wise in allowing the Divine to be, well, divine and for the world to be the world in its veiled separation from God. But even so, an exciting meeting between Heaven and earth takes place within Fellowship – spousal and communal, mitzvah and in prayer. Done with attempted attainment of true transcendence, you instead collapse it into that very large but ultimately finite immanence of stuff where all is all and all is the same, without redemption. As for spirituality: in union mystica, at least, you become part with God; in the union with nature, you become one with – a raindrop?

Kimohem Yihiyu Osaihem. Theology has implications. Mordecai Kaplan, the indelible father influence on your generation – Richard L. Rubenstein, the first to proclaim Jewish radical theology 45 years ago, moved via Kaplan’s monism and acosmic god and Nietzche’s murder of the traditional God to an alternating return to mother earth and an empty “Holy Nothingness” – has left precious few third generation Kaplanians who rush to make the 6:15 am Thursday morning March minyan. – I do fear for the impact of radical Judaism. I don’t think it has legs. How can this mythic language, without a reality behind its God, not just words that articulate a particular consciousness that comes and goes, comfort the troubled, challenge the young and, yes, command ethical behavior? You, like Kaplan, have great charismatic abilities, but I don’t think the theology on its own will hold. A Jew is enchanted by saying in the morning HaMichadesh B’Khol Yom Tamid Ma’aseh Bereisheet – “He renews each and every day the work of creation.” But with God as no more than Nature/Being found in consciousness, the thrill is gone. Better to stay in bed.

Finally, in your communications, printed and otherwise, you make accusations regarding my intent.

This is how I got to write the review. I picked up your book in the store at the San Francisco Jewish Museum. I read the first part on the flight from San Francisco to New York. I called the editor of JRB and told him that I didn’t fully get it, but that I was taken aback that you considered classic belief – which includes that of your teachers Heschel, Zeitlin and the Sefat Emet – as “childish!” As any good editor would, Abe Socher simply told me to write it up and submit it.

On the flight home, I read the rest. I became further disappointed as you dismissed Halakhah, and upset when the State of Israel had no spiritual place in your inclusive theology. And, yes, reading all this again, I do believe that you have, in your words, the “right’ for others than Jews to be in your “religious landscape.” You can walk, talk, shmooze with anyone and have them speak at your seudah shlishit tisch. But you do not have the right to bestow the covenantal name of Israel upon them.

There is no conspiracy here, even of one. I read, reported and reacted. If my langauge is sharp, it’s a tool to slice through rather lofty philosophical to examine the earth below.

Sof Davar Hakol Nishma ET . . .
B’virkat Yerushalayim,

Danny Landes

4 responses to “Danny Landes’ response to Art Green for the third time

  1. “Any further thoughts on why this debate is occurring Now and not after Green’s work from 20 years ago Seek thy Face?”

    My take on it is that it’s occuring now because it’s only now that the fruits are being seen. Green’s and Schachter-Shalomi’s versions of Judaism that lack all of the fundamentals of Judaism (God, Torah and Israel) has resulted in the ordination of rabbis who prefer to teach and practice Advaita Vedanta, Sufism, Vipassans and Zen. And it has resulted in a segment of the Jewish community that, because it sees Judaism as just another religion among religions, also sees it as expendable.

    And perhaps that’s why Halkin and other Israelis who value Judaism, even though they reject religious practice, oppose Green, and Renewal in general. They’re opposed to what they might see as the path to national suicide.

  2. Here’s a tentative idea about the fault line. Forgetting for a moment about denominations there are three ideal types roaming the Jewish prairie: Hard secular…talk anyway you want about God and Torah, it is not the main stage. Grownups have a responsibility to get the Jewish people through the next century, rabbis can be helpful but are usually a pain and this whole religion-nationalism thing is getting out of hand. Realism should be the base line and ideologies that go flying off every which way are the enemy. Let’s call this the Peter Beinart school of Orthodoxy. American Judaism is goyseising, we must keep the Diaspora alive and growing and we should say and do whatever it takes to keep people connected. If we need to close the big box temples, done. If we must not violate secular humanist principles, also done. Pragmatism rules and theology follows.

    On the other end there are those who need religion to be real, a God worthy of worship must exercise divine providence in real time. All Feurbachian talk of God as a projection of human needs is anathema. The reality of God and Torah is the issue in the debates about Orthopraxy, as well as the debates over Conservadox. The realists deplore the reconstruction of Judaism as a sort of theater. A life of torah and mitzvoth is not a life in some fictional world, a place where we go for the winter to escape the cold. Realism is an important part of the Green-Landes debate. The core test is to be able to tell a plausible story why a full description of the world, the way it is, must also include the way God connects to the world, no Rorty-pragmitist-post modern shortcuts allowed.

    The third way starts off with the pragmatist baseline. If God in heaven is an image that has seen better days, out it goes. If the Israelis are acting in ways our liberal American community cannot accept, distance yourself from the UJA Zionism of the fifties. But unlike the first group , the Jewish Renewal people are, for lack of a better word, frum, unbelievably frum. They long, yearn for spiritual experiences. Bundist (progressive) on the outside, heiisa chusid klapei pnim. Their naturalism, in Green’s case his teleological evolutionism (lol), is an afterthought to cover their secular posteriors. Like Zalman going on and on about string theory. Embarrassing. The end of this spiritual –theological quest is to construct a narrative that is liberal, inclusive and naturalist & at the same time provide a central place for being religious; e.g. a shalish seudos with long slow nigunim, a chasidish vort by a liberal tzadik, the comraderie of being part of a religious community in a cruel cold world.

    I think just as it is wrong to make fun of emunah peshuta Orthodoxy, it is equally wrong for Landes to depreciate the aspirations of Jewish Renewal. I do agree with Len Moskowitz that it was a serious mistake for Zalman Schecter to ordain all these story tellers and have them go off in every direction. Maybe R. Green and the new seminary in Boston will remedy some of these mistakes.

  3. Len,

    You’re mistaking cause and effect. American Jews (most? a sizable minority?) see “Judaism as just another religion among religions” not because of a few dozen rag tag renewal rabbis preach that, but because it is. Certainly, from a Zionist/nationalist point of view, we would all be better off without the successful eradication of anti-Semitism which marked the post-War era, but what’s done is done.

  4. One of the best questions reading this debate so far has been Dr. Brill’s open ended who is outside this debate. This should reveal quite a bit about who is in it. The debate between Green and Landes has not only devolved into an ad-hominem duel but an exercise in all that is wrong with names and titles as non-sequitors. Thanks again to Dr. Brill for giving attention to this.

    As I can see. the people most left out of this debate are the people talked about in the debate. Namely the community. The masses. I do not understand the point of this term unless you want to distinguish yourself as ‘other’ from them or vice versa. It does nothing to describe the communities which you seek but merely lets the reader know that you don’t hold yourself out as a member. Its very nice that both Landes and Green believe that they are tied for eternity but I am not sure this is because they are Jews or academics.

    I think to call the majority of communities, “the uninformed” or “the masses” seriously seriously underestimates and oversimplifies who represent this community. These masses are not the same masses of Maimonides. These people are often times absolutely brilliant. They may go to the best schools in the country and win nobel peace prizes and still at the end of the day have no interest in mystical being, Israel, Torah, or shul politics. Where do these people fit in? Are they excluded from the vision of the perfect society? Do they have no place? It is not necessarily that these people dont get it. They just are simply not interested. This whole debate assumes that everyone can feel God in some way and this must be done either Landes style or Green style. If you choose Landes you must despise Green and vice versa. Some people get exposed to both and are simply unimpressed and often without animus towards the other; and many associations with religion are still tied to where they were born, who their friends are and who they want to marry.

    Furthermore, this debate would have been better twenty years ago. At that time neo-hassidism and the spirit revival were in full swing. I am not sure that this is the case in 2011. Today’s teachers may have been the first students of the neo-hassidism – spirit revival of the early nineties but I would argue that the public today doesn’t care as much about spiritual renewal as it did 20 years ago. Much of this having to do with one cultural phase – phasing out and attention shifting from connecting to God to networking through God. The economy hasn’t helped much either. Does either side have an answer to J-date society? Or to the upcoming world where Jewish school and liberal arts degress are going to be only fiscally available to the rich? Do their models for connecting the world apply to the post vlog and blog world of a very cynical country as of late? I doubt it highly. Landes’s anger at Green’s swan song is fascinating and perhaps outdated.

    One interesting phacet of this debate is the fight over who is in fact representing the tradition. Green has requested and has been painted as the radical and Landes as the tradition guy. I would like to steal a point I once attributed to Dr. Brill (although I would never hold him to it), is that both sides are so beyond the thickets of Jewish history. At no point did Maimonides assume that EVERYONE needed some connection to Hashem through mystical union or through Torah. Neither Landes nor Green are rooted in Jewish history if they are emphasizing Torah or mysticism for all. Neither side is very much rooted in a long standing tradition or reactionary movement. They are both very much a product of the 1970’s. They look to the early 20th century, and make their move. On a side note – Despite the interesting jabs back and forth, and the passionate comments, this whole debate feels really outdated or perhaps recycled.

    Both Landes and Green come off as post hippie/indie let your feelings loose era folk which assumes that including everyone is something traditional. This is not to say that a sense of an observant community is new. Or a community with rules is a new thing. But emphasis placed upon individual spiritual growth and observance is defintely something new. Traditionally, if someone chose not to spiritually grow and simply go to work and play their role in society amicably that person would be an exemplary Jew.

    Back to the ad-hominem part: I would love to know if there is a serious halachist at the table here? Has Landes assumed this mantle because of his critique or because of how different he is than Arthur Green? Also what happened to the halachic communties across Israel and the United States that do not believe in the messianic status of the state of Israel? One can still hear “reishit tzemichat geulateinu” deleted from the service of many halachicly inclined shuls. Landes comes off as a bit dishonest in this regard simply because there is almost nothing traditional about his worldview he claims to be rooting for it and so deeply rooted in.

    Are people no longer halachists if they aren’t on team Landes?

    To conclude, if Landes’s point is that Green is not a viable option because it isn’t as traditionally acceptable as his own worldviews, I think that point is laughable. If his point is that Green does not provide a workable model for community building and worship of God I have seen no serious attempt at strengthening this point. There has been too much ad-hominem nonsense. Once you get past the fireworks of these, is there anything substantive fueling this debate as it hits round 4?

    With regard to one comment made above – Judaism is just another religion. Its defintely unique but special might be a push. What makes any religion unique are the rituals, people and culture of being attached to a specific religion in a specific place. Where there is high value in remaining a part of the community one will generally stay. And even when it becomes beneficial to leave, some people stay. I think there is a cause and effect problem by laying at the feet of Green and Shlomi the fungibility of Judaism. The cause of Judaism being expendable has far less to do with Sufism being cool and far more to do with the old testament and Talmud being antiquated and the search of a select few to move beyond the bounds of their own communities. A few offshoots in a bigger pond can always be expected and doesn’t necessarily explain the lessening social value of the other.

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