Michael B on the Green/Landes Debate

We got a long meta-comment on the whole debate

One of the best questions reading this debate so far has been Dr. Brill’s open ended who is outsi.de 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 degrees 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 facet 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 definitely 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 communities 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 definitely 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 Reb ZalmanShlomi 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.

2 responses to “Michael B on the Green/Landes Debate

  1. Dear Michael:

    I think the substance at stake in this round of fury has more to do with place and possibilities and less to do with the truth about God, Torah, and Israel. How far can Judaism open out into the big world without dissipating? I believe Magid said something similar in a review of Green’s book in Zeek.

    While I for one have all kinds of philosophical problems relating to Green’s book (can we call him “Art” and Landes “Danny”?), I think he creates for Jewish theology and Judaism a bigger picture, whereas Danny wants to work at the more intimate scale of a table (his metaphor, not mine) or a persian miniature (this is a compliment!).

    Re: Danny’s question (and a previous poster who asked about secular Judaism), I think radical Judaism has a great pair of legs. I grew up in a secular, Kaplanian, leftwing Zionist home in the 1970s and 1980s. I fell in love with I.B. Singer, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Buber, Kaplan, and Rubenstein. They made it possible for me to place myself religiously, to open out to Bible and eventually midrash and Talmud, and to do so in good faith.

    Maybe that’s just me. It’s a big world out there, with lots of possibilities and lots of room for small intimate places in which to debate this or that truth. Alan’s blog is one such place. Let’s worry less and respect each other more, no?

  2. Thank you all for taking part in this discussion, and especially to Alan Brill for facilitating. I think it touches on some important issues. Michael, your framing is very helpful. What are the stakes? Is it about the legitimacy or the primacy of either of these two teachers or their respective practices? If that is the case I think it is a sad statement on the health of anything close to a post-denominational Judaism. I imagine post-denominational Judaism to be a vision of vibrant diversity and inclusivity. This necessitates the genuine love of those who take another path. To be sure, the politics of Jewish denominationalism actually discourage the life of Jewish communities. And denominationalism seems to be the tacit frame of the entire debate. Jews need better communities, not better doctrines. Though I am disappointed that Landes and Green have not debated thoughtfully, I believe that Green began on the defensive. Landes’ original review seemed especially threatening since, it not only argued that Green’s ideas were not Jewish enough, but it did so loudly through the Jewish Review of Books which, as a publication, seems to masquerade its conservative political biases as liberal.

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