Monthly Archives: March 2011

Authentic Fakes Religion and American Popular Culture David Chidester

I still have a few more posts on popular culture before I am done with the topic. This tic wont last longer than this month. We will return to Green-Landes debate when I receive the next batch of materials.

In the context of the new book about the relgion of Oprah, there is an older book that keeps figuring int he discussions. Authentic Fakes
Religion and American Popular Culture
by David Chidester

Chidester points out how popular culture lowers the seriousness of the discussion of relgion to tolerable levels. (Some of you remember the RJJ article by Levitt from a few years ago that suggests that the reason for so much talk in shul is to reduce the tension that they dont believe in/appreciate prayer.)
Chidester also notes how much popular culture is based on the body- think of the year in Israel as part of a construction of the body –it is about changes in dress, taste, touch, and movement. How does it serve the pop culture needs of the American students.
One of the important point made by Chidester is the quest for authenticity and how brand new produced objects can take on an aura of authenticity. Certainly, everything done in a gap-year in Israel takes on an air of authenticity. One can teach any new age practice, any metaphysical thinking or tell any homily and by virtue of the situation it becomes authentic.
Even here in the US, what makes the purim videos – authentic? What makes orthodox popular culture as orthodoxy?
And finally, the economic comodification side- what objects are fetishized in Orthoodxy, what serves as a magic object of possession?

Religion is serious. According to the great psychologist of religion William James, religion “signifies always a serious state of mind.” Popular culture, by contrast, is not serious. Or is it? In this book, I posit that it certainly is. Through the idea of religion, I will engage the compelling political, social, and economic realities of America, at home and abroad, as expressed in American popular culture.

From the most intimate embodiment of personal subjectivity to the most public institutions of social collectivity, what I call religion is at work and at play. It is at work in the disciplines of the body, the regulation of one’s conduct, and the legitimization of political, social, or economic power. It is at play in the creative improvisations, innovations, transformations, and transgressions of all that serious religious work. Of course, sometimes work can seem like play, so this initial opposition between religious work and religious play will blur.
What difference does it make to call any cultural activity “religion”? As we will see, religion can be useful term for understanding the ways in which transcendence, the sacred, and the ultimate are inevitably drawn into doing some very important things that happen in and through popular culture: forming a human community, focusing human desire, and entering into human relations of exchange.

Social cohesion, in forming a sense of community, is reinforced by religious resources. Rising above the everyday course of life, traces of transcendence seem necessary for instilling a sense of continuity with the past. Set apart from the ordinary world, traces of the sacred seem necessary for establishing a sense of uniformity in the present. In the play of popular culture, religious techniques for creating sacred time and sacred space have generated a sense of community within a diverse array of cultural enterprises, such as the church of baseball, the pilgrimage to Graceland, the devotion to Star Trek, and the proliferation of invented religions on the Internet.

Although the notion of the fetish calls attention to an important religious activity—the formation and focusing of human desire

To adopt a phrase coined by the unconventional sociologist Georges Bataille, popular culture celebrates ritualized expenditure in nonproductive economic activity. Not for profit, as Bataille argued, expenditure is economic activity in which the loss must be as great as possible in order to certify a claim on ultimate meaning. Ritual expenditure occurs in a gift, a display, or a performance of wealth. But expenditure also takes place in the waste, the destruction, or the irrecoverable loss of valued objects, including the highly valued “object” of human life. In many contexts, such as the performance of rock ‘n’ roll or the mystery of the global economy, we will see ritual expenditure, in Bataille’s sense, operating within religion and American popular culture.

the gospel of money by television ministries, which appeal to their viewers for support funding, promising miraculous financial returns to the donors; and even the religious devotion to money in the online Church of the Profit$, which claims to be the only honest, authentic religion in America because it openly admits that it is only in it for the money.
These, then, are three reasons for investigating religion in American popular culture: religious activity is at work in forming community, focusing desire, and facilitating exchange.
Religion and Popular Culture in Embodied, National, and Global Spheres
As a religion of the body, the religion of American popular culture involves the most basic, visceral engagements with the world. Sex, drugs, and the pulsating rhythms of rock ‘n’ roll embrace the body in an immediacy, an intensity, although the mind and soul might subsequently follow. Mediated through the senses, especially through the physical sense of touch, the embodied character of religion in American popular culture appears in the binding, burning, moving, and handling of religious meaning and power, but it also registers as religion under pressure, as a pervasive sense of anxiety, distraction, and stress in a world that seems to be spinning out of control.

Although I take the human body as the basic ground of religion, it also is important to recognize that much of the creativity of popular culture involves changing or leaving the body. Many ways of modifying the body—piercing and tattooing, plastic surgery and liposuction, cross-dressing and transsexual surgery—have increasingly become part of the American way of life. At the same time, Americans have sought to leave their bodies, flying out of this ordinary world into cyberspace, or virtual reality, unencumbered by the physical pull of planetary gravity or the physical weight of human embodiment. In these efforts, echoes of shamanism, the archaic “techniques of ecstasy,” reverberate.

Throughout this book, I confront the problem of authenticity. Although the productions of popular culture might in many ways look, sound, smell, taste, and feel like religion, there is a distinct possibility that they are not actually religious. Baseball is not a religion; Coca-Cola is not a religion; and rock ‘n’ roll is not a religion. But then all kinds of religious activity have been denied the status of religion, including indigenous religions labeled as superstition and alternative religious movements labeled as cults. What counts as religion, therefore, is the focus of the problem of authenticity in religion and American popular culture. Making the problem worse, some religious activity appears transparently fake, including the proliferation of invented religions on the Internet, but even fake religions can be doing a kind of symbolic, cultural, and religious work that is real.

Shusaku Endo- Silence- material for a sermon

The French Catholic novelist François Mauriac inspired Elie Wiesel’s Night, specifically the image of the hanged boy as the suffering of God. Mauriac also inspired Shusaku Endo to produce a book Silence, about the silence of God before the Japanese sea. He was described by Graham Greene as one of the century’s greatest writers. If I had to speak this weekend about the tragedy in Japan, I would start here. Camus’s questions meet religious answers. Let me know if you use it.

Shusaku Endo was one of Japan’s great 20th century authors, and like Walker Percy and Graham Greene, he is a Catholic who spent a good portion of his literary life writing about his faith and his struggle with it. As a Catholic, Silence is a book that really makes me think. I don’t know that Endo provides any answers, but he asks a question that I think most Catholics don’t want to face.

Endo picks an awesome setting for his question: the period of Christian persecution in Japan in the late 1500s and 1600s, when many Japanese Catholics and European priests were tortured and forced to apostatize. Endo’s “silence” is the silence of God in the face of these awful events. After experiencing one of these events, one of Endo’s characters writes: I cannot bear the monotonous sound of the dark sea gnawing at the shore. Behind the depressing silence of this sea, the silence of God…..the feeling that while men raise their voices in anguish God remains with folded arms, silent.”

But while Endo’s main character, the priest Sebastian Rodrigues, struggles with this question and his faith, I found the book as a whole to be faith-affirming. Like Miguel de Unamuno’s San Manuel Bueno, Martir (the story of a priest who doesn’t believe in the resurrection), the loss of faith equates to a loss of purpose, a loss of strength and a loss of humanity which paints the power of God — silent though He may be — much more powerfully than words could ever do. While engaged in the struggle, Rodrigues (and his brother priests and Christians) have a strength to which we gravitate. When they lose their struggle, they become (repeatedly Endo uses this word to such powerful effect): “servile.” How ironic. When characters place themselves at the service of God, they are pillars of strength. When they reject their faith-driven duty, they become servile

Endo’s 1966 novel Silence portrays the visit of a Portuguese Jesuit priest to Japan in the 17th century. In one scene, the priest looks out over a ruined village, and prays: “The village had been burnt to the ground; and its inhabitants had been completely dispersed. The sea and the land were silent as death; only the dull sound of the waves lapping against the boat broke the silence of the night. Why have you abandoned us so completely? he prayed in a weak voice. Even the village was constructed for you; and have you abandoned it in its ashes? … Have you just remained silent like the darkness that surrounds me? Why? At least tell me why. We are not strong men like Job who was afflicted with leprosy as a trial. There is a limit to our endurance. Give us no more suffering. So he prayed. But the sea remained cold, and the darkness maintained its stubborn silence.”

The Scottish composer James Macmillan’s Symphony No. 3, “Silence” is based off of Endo’s novel. It’s an incredibly powerful piece of music–a jarring yet hopeful musical exploration of the “silence of God in the face of terrible events.” Here is an excerpt from Macmillan’s program notes:

“Endo’s ‘silence’ is the silence of God in the face of terrible events springing from the merciless nature of man: torture, genocide, holocaust. After experiencing one of these events, one of Endo’s characters writes: ‘I cannot bear the monotonous sound of the dark sea gnawing at the shore. Behind the depressing silence of this sea, the silence of God… the feeling that while men raise their voices in anguish, God remains with folded arms, silent.’

For Endo, though, this silence is not absence but presence. It is the silence of accompaniment rather than “nihil”. This is a notion that has many musical analogies. Music itself grows out of silence. The emptiness and solitude of a composer’s silence is nevertheless pregnant with the promise of possibility and potency.

Sources and h/t for the material – here and here.

On Mindfulness and Jewish Meditation, By Frumma Rosenberg-Gottlieb

There are lots of baby-boomer life narratives that have been popping up. I pay attention to the ones that describe spiritual journeys. This is by Frumma Gottlieb, who once published a long, beautiful, and very personal Jungian meditation on Judaism called Lamp Of God (Jason Aronson, 1996). Among other tidbits about her is that she originally produced organic foods in Colorado and she is Aviva Zorenberg’s sister. Here she describes the change from her organic crunchy life in Colorado and her transition to Chabad, she also describes her views of meditation. I posted about half of it. Notice how she describes what she sees as the function of meditation as dealing with stress and its role in insights. On the Rebbe and Meditation, it was one of my early posts.

On Mindfulness and Jewish Meditation, Part I
By Frumma Rosenberg-Gottlieb

In the early 1970s I left my farm on the western slope of the Colorado Rockies to come to New York and study Torah. It was not easy to leave the crisp autumn mornings, the quaking aspens, the summer meadows filled with wildflowers and the snowcapped mountains. It was harder still to leave my fifty acres of organic fruit trees, the bees buzzing in the apricot blossoms, and my powerfully graceful chestnut quarter-horse, Flash. Most difficult of all was leaving a community where everyone was a meditator, where the vibration in my hundred-year-old log cabin was one of calm awareness and serenity. I kissed the ground, and I cried.

Most difficult of all was leaving a community where everyone was a meditator. When I arrived at my spiritual destination, a religious community in New York, I found that I was not unique. I was one of many truth-seekers who had made this pilgrimage from a world where the cultivation of consciousness had been a core value, yet we had felt something lacking. Some of us had lived on communes in Vermont and Oregon, or on sloops in Costa Rica and Nova Scotia; others had left graduate programs at Harvard, Berkeley, and MIT in search of the secrets of inner peace possessed by the holy men of antiquity. Upon realizing that a pastoral lifestyle and exotic Eastern meditation techniques were simply fast foods for our hungry Jewish souls, we had turned toward the nourishing wisdom of our abandoned birthright. We had chosen a Torah life.

Though the teachings were elevating, the family life was inspiring, and the mitzvahs were an everyday source of meaning and joy, I must confess that I didn’t feel the calm. Where was the tranquility? Is mindfulness, I wondered, an ingredient in a Torah life? I rarely heard my Torah teachers speak of cultivating inner awareness. Over time, however, as I became more sophisticated in my understanding of Torah, I realized that mindfulness and a peaceful, balanced soul is indeed an objective in Jewish life, and that the tools for attaining it are subtly woven into the tapestry of Torah knowledge. I learned, for example, that the Hebrew word “shalom” implies not just peace, but also completion, perfection, wholeness. We bless one another with peace; our daily prayers culminate in a request for peace.

As my Torah knowledge expanded, my curiosity deepened. I eagerly devoured any information that dealt with the intersection of Torah and psychology, focusing especially on how a Torah lifestyle enriches inner experience as well as outer behaviors and relationships. On subtle levels, the introspection and the refinement of values that form the core of a Torah life foster an experience of shalom in both senses of the word—a peaceful spirit, and a sense of wholeness. Chassidic philosophy demonstrates how inner turmoil is reduced when we have a clear understanding of our goals, and how the cultivation of trust, faith, awareness, and freedom from doubt enriches our lives with joy. I began to discover that Jewish tradition deeply addresses topics that many of us first encountered in other ancient cultures, or in practices and perspectives currently referred to as “New Age.”

One of the principal techniques for achieving a peaceful soul is establishing regular times for meditation. While “meditation” suggests an image of someone sitting in cross-legged lotus position with eyes closed and incense burning, meditation in a general sense comprises a wide variety of practices. All of them involve harnessing the dynamics of the mind in order to think in a more intentional, less random or accidental manner. Most also entail a certain quietude of mind, a sense of surrender to a higher or deeper aspect of the mind.

In his pioneering spirit, the Rebbe urged us to develop acceptable meditation methodologies that would serve as tools for overcoming stress and anxiety. In 1977 the Rebbe began a push to make a kosher form of meditation available to the public. The Rebbe specifically mentioned the efficacy of meditation as an antidote to stress and anxiety; he was concerned, however, that many of the more popular teachings were not consistent with Torah values. He reached out personally to a number of religious psychologists and medical professionals, as well as to others known to be versed in meditative practices, including my husband and me. In his pioneering spirit, the Rebbe urged us to develop acceptable meditation methodologies that would serve as tools for overcoming stress and anxiety, thereby replacing negative emotions with feelings of internal peace.

As I observe an increasing number of friends, family and acquaintances taking anti–anxiety or antidepressant medications, or struggling to keep an even keel in times of great economic and political turmoil, I feel compelled to re-examine this call from the Rebbe. More than ever, it has become crucial to help people learn appropriate techniques for stress reduction, and to explain why and how such practices are relevant to our lives. And it’s not just about overcoming negativity. Within these challenges lie thinly veiled opportunities to dramatically enhance the quality of our lives.

Human beings are endowed by their Creator with a spectacular and elaborate defense mechanism called the fight-or-flight response…

Many of us feel as though we are constantly under pressure…

When faced with chronic stress and an overactive limbic system… sooner or later we begin to see physical symptoms…

According to the Ramchal, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, rushing is the close ally of the yetzer hara (our negative, self-sabotaging inclination)…

How is it possible to survive, let alone thrive, in the midst of this sense of constant pressure? To gain access to our own abilities, to activate the best of ourselves rather than act from our least functional, habitual patterns of response, we first need to alter our perception and our perspective. Meditation—or perhaps mindfulness exercises that may not look like “meditation” per se—can put us on that path.

Meditation can help make those adjustments in our minds, our hearts, our nervous and endocrine systems, our emotions, our thoughts, and ultimately our souls. Meditation can be like a powerful telephoto lens that brings us closer to that which previously appeared distant and unknowable; by the same token, it can function like a wide-angle lens that affords us the perspective to see the cosmic connections in our universe. Read the Rest Here

Happiness, Misreads and Bad Statistics

The is a meme going around based on the Gallup poll that made religious Jews the happiest in the US. I have already received notices about rabbis planning on using it as their Sabbath sermon.

First off, stick to the religious polls by the groups that specialize in relgion like PEW because they are calibrated for religious groups. Leave Gallup for exit polls on election night. The basic messages of the poll when read correctly is that it does not matter which religion and how much in term of happiness. The differences between different religions were only 3-4 % and between religious and non-religious 3-4%. But if you looked at the poll, it said that the Jewish statistics was accurate only to +/- 6% due to the small sample. Did everyone fail statistics? The real factors are economics, freedom of mobility, religion, and job, health care, and class. Gallop uses a broad category like Protestant that includes together Boston Unitarians and Southern Fundamentalists blurs more than it reveals. And secular Denmark remains the happiest country in the world by a much larger margin.

The funnier joke is that Orthodox Jews, even modern ones, confuse in the meme yinglish and English. A religious person is not an orthodox one. Religious does not mean frum. Rather religious means the same thing it means by Protestants.- Is your religion and house of worship important in your life? Do you make God a part of your life? If a Christian Fundamentalist thought that liberal Protestants were not true believers, he might think that only Fundamentalists are included in the religious category and he would place the liberal Christians in the moderate or non-believer group.

Since this survey specifically sought to gather data from all fifty states then the majority of those Jews who said they are religious are Reform and Renewal, those who geographic distribution would fit a survey like this. When the Orthodox rabbis preach on this survey this Shabbos, they will be cheering on liberal Jews.

I am in contact with Reform Jews committed to Jewish causes. They all consider themselves religious without any dietary law observance They have connections to Teaneck Orthodoxy through business or marriage.They once told me that in their community Teaneck is seen as “observant but not religious.” From their perspective, the observant Jews commit their heart, time, and soul to their secular lives. I assume that most of the Jews in the 50 states that they reached have similar perspectives about what it takes to be religious.

On the other hand and more germane to happiness, I have heard from local doctors that their haimish patients think that Teaneck is where the “doctors live and have happy lives.” I suppose the comfort level and the convenience looks mighty happy.

Any survey like this to be real needs to compare similar groups, if you can’t then you have not controlled the variables. At least once a year, you get these bogus studies by frum psychologists comparing Orthodoxy to the national average showing that Orthodoxy is amazing. You cannot compare someone in the top 6% to a national average. If you want to do a study it would have to compare like to like. You can compare upper middle class people in Franklin Lakes, or White Plains to people in Teaneck and ask about religiosity.
From the studies on wellness and happiness done by people that I know for degrees in psych on their patient pool, the results actually show those with a fearful or rigid Orthodoxy are less on a wellness scale. And that issues in family life and adjustment play a bigger role.

It is interesting to note that Jews can finally be happy. It was not long ago that if you asked a Jew if he was happy or doing well, it would go like this:
Jew #1 Are you doing well?
Jew #2 Oy, Could be better.

Jew #1 Are you happy?
Jew #2 Oy, I wouldn’t wish such happiness on my worst enemies.

But on the other hand, it is interesting to see Orthodox Jews think that wellness are Jewish values. They never were Jewish values. They are not the values of prior ages and are entirely of our zeitgeist. (Discussions of badhan’s at weddings, needing to overcome melancholia, and medieval discussions of eudemonia are not modern happiness).The happiness of wellbeing is not purim joy. The Vilna Gaon in cited in the Hemdat Genuzah as defining external pleasure (simhah) in contrast to internal pleasure (sasson). But I am not sure that even there it would be well-being as on a modern wellness survey. I am leaving Breslov out of the discussion because the real tormented master is far from mizvah gedolah lehiot be simchah. I am not sure that Breslov sinchah corresponds to wellness. Wellness and this form of happiness may be closer to a hokhmah, a worldly wisdom in Maimonides (III:52) and R. Israel Salanter. I still need to think about other potential sources.

Aish Hatorah is busy producing videos and articles on Judaism and happiness – in fifty years we will look upon this happiness and Judaism in the same way as we look at the 1950s “Democracy and Torah” “American Liberty and Torah” as a quaint product of its time. But that is Aish, what about all the rabbis who plan on mentioning it this Shabbos in shul? But since when is well-being a Jewish virtue? If there was a statistic that said religious Jews are the best boxers, Would it become a religious virtue? Is it a religious virtue to “Don’t worry be happy” Are those rabbis who are giving the sermon living a life of be happy?

Other versions of the video had copyrights and could not be embedded.

And for those a few years older. How many of these Orthodox rabbis would preach Happiness Runs as a philosophy of life?

Chevra Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference

Has anyone in my readership attended? How is Maavor Yabbok explained for our age? Does it integrate contemporary spirituality or does it fly in the face of it to seek a traditional hesed shel emet? Looking at the schedules of the prior conferences it seems a mixture of practice, traditional thinking, and modern spirituality. The early conferences had Maurice Lamm and Benjamin Blech, they all have Simcha Raphael who wrote Jewish view of the Afterlife. I have dealt with some of this before on Zayin Adar-Hevra Kadisha and Contemporary Orthodox Death.

The Chevra Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference is two days — June 12-14 — of intense learning focused on the end of life continuum. From bikkur cholim, to tahara and shmira, funeral and burial and mourning, this conference allows every participant to immerse in the knowledge, resources, texts, and discussions vital to working in their own community.
Don’t miss the “live” tahara demo, halacha of intermarried burials, active listening, marketing traditional funerals and burials, infection control, history of the Jewish Sacred Society, autopsy and medical examiners, non-profit funeral homes, transgender issues, cemetery consecration, Maavor Yabbok text study, healing, cemetery finances, bereavement photography, genealogy, cemetery regulators and much more.
Plus lots of networking, discussing, strategizing, sharing and supporting.
All Kosher meals are provided. Chicago is a major airport hub. Hotel rates are very reasonable. Home hospitality is available upon request

Advance registration continues to March 31.

Registration is simple – just click here or go to our web site –

The Social Animal by David Brooks

David Brooks has a new book and his lingo usually gets picked up by the rest of the media. He coined red/blue states, bohemia bourgeois, and polydoxy.
His new book basically says that we have intuitions, feelings, habits, and reactions that make them have a happy successful life. An unreflected middlebrow upper middle class life style teaches one to get the right schooling and connections, create the right home life, and join a house of worship. By doing this one has the good life.

I find this interesting because I just wrote a paper saying the exact same things about the construction of Centrist Orthodoxy. They know how to go through life for a good life. They have tuned out intellectual and ideological issues and focus on the community and family. Culturally they are happy with a lake Woebegone smug shallowness, Brooks uses all the books that I have discussed on the blog and in my paper– Putnam, Christian Smith, Bourdieu,- and creates a synthesis. I have no such synthesis, but Brooks goes off into speculative neuroscience.

Brooks simultaneously makes fun of the composure class and holds them up as a model. I have the same problem that describing the Centrist community one cant help but point out their foibles. Brooks tells his story as comic and ironic. I, more influenced by frum Christians, tell the story with a greater sense of paradox, concern, and rejection- searching for something deeper in life. Brooks takes out all the problems and issues and see this shallowness as the peak of life. The Victorian family, the 1920’s Middletown, the Eishenhower era, and now the composure class (or consumer class) are models of conservative life.

David Brooks’ new book, The Social Animal, follows the lives of two extremely contented grown-ups.
“This is the happiest story you’ve ever read,” it announces. “It’s about two people who led wonderfully fulfilling lives.”

If you’re cynical, this probably sounds repellent. But thankfully, these two people turn out to be fictional. And the book’s subtitle, “The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement,” is misleading. The Social Animal doesn’t reveal “hidden” formulas at all. Rather, it’s a giant parable about the power of our unconscious. It suggests how we might improve ourselves and our world by understanding how we really think.

In the tradition of Rousseau, Brooks illustrates this through narrative. He invents two characters, Harold and Erica whom we follow from childhood to grave. Along the way, we meet Harold’s parents, his roommate, Erica’s coworkers, even a wildly charismatic presidential candidate named, of all things, Grace.

Watching their lives unfold, we’re treated to commentary about how and why these characters behave and believe as they do.
Brooks has a terrific sense of humor, too, but it’s oddly deployed here. The

Social Animal opens with a wicked parody of cultural elitism — or what Brooks calls the “Composure Class.”

Funny? Absolutely.
But this class seems to be the very group that Harold and Erica wind up in. By veering into satire, Brooks muddies his intentions. Are we supposed to admire his characters, or mock them? Empathize, or view them as cautionary tales?
Strangest of all, for a book that claims to be about our “emotional” inner realm, there’s little if it depicted here. Neither Harold nor Erica suffers from the daily insecurities, compulsions, and anxieties that plague most real people. The biggest emotional challenges in their lives — children, infidelity, aging — are glossed over in a few pages. Mostly, Harold and Erica face concrete, defined problems — which they solve promptly, using street smarts and research.

Yes. But irritating! For all its intelligence and imagination, Brooks’ narrative suffers from its own lack of real suffering.

This description below could just as well describe the Centrist Orthodox community.Here is his pitch why we all need the strong support system of community and religion. Note his new word limerence. Let’s see how long before it catches on.

In essence, The Social Animal is a book about the human need for connection, friendship, love—what Brooks identifies as “limerence.” Behind the elaborate theorizing is Brooks’s desire to articulate a universal feeling: that all of us are caught up in what he calls “the loneliness loop.” We yearn for “community”; we have “the urge to merge.” When two people are having an intense conversation, their breathing synchronizes; laughing together creates a feeling of joy; soldiers drilling in unison experience a surge of power. What drives us, ultimately, is the need to be understood by others.

And the odd thing was, they weren’t born geniuses. They did okay on the SAT and IQ tests and that sort of thing, but they had no extraordinary physical or mental gifts. They were fine-looking, but they weren’t beautiful. They played tennis and hiked, but even in high school they weren’t star athletes, and nobody would have picked them out at that young age and said they were destined for greatness in any sphere. Yet they achieved this success, and everyone who met them sensed that they lived blessed lives.

How did they do it? They possessed what economists call noncognitive skills, which is the catchall category for hidden qualities that can’t be easily counted or measured, but which in real life lead to happiness and fulfillment.

First, they had good character. They were energetic, honest, and dependable. They were persistent after setbacks and acknowledged their mistakes. They possessed enough confidence to take risks and enough integrity to live up to their commitments. They tried to recognize their weaknesses, atone for their sins, and control their worst impulses.
Just as important, they had street smarts. They knew how to read people, situations, and ideas. You could put them in front of a crowd, or bury them with a bunch of reports, and they could develop an intuitive feel for the landscape before them

Of the dozen reviews that were posted on the day the book came out, the Christian Science Monitor had the most critical review. As someone who has posted on this new social science, only the CSM noted that Brooks left out the problems discussed in the recent volumes. If the upper middle class is having fun then they have weaker family ties, which are needed for happiness than the lower middle class. My observed answer is that the religious community substitutes for family. What about the stress of upper middle class life? Brooks has no answer. What about the lack of interest in books or high culture by this consumer composure class? Brooks himself in his article bemoans the loss of the middleclass acknowledgment of highbrow. If his fictional characters Harold and Erica are happier watching Purim youtube video than study, then how do you get them back to highbrow or serious religion?

The debate between culture and politics is a serious question. The recently departed Shmuel Eisenstadt taught that everything was culture. The new generation of Israeli sociologist chose politics.

In “The Social Animal” Brooks approvingly cites the words of the late Democratic senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” The creator of Harold and Erica aligns himself with the Federalism of Alexander Hamilton and the progressivism of Teddy Roosevelt, when he argues for “limited but energetic government to enhance social mobility,” and he supports policy initiatives like early childhood education and charter schools that paternalistically “reshape the internal models” and install “achievement values” in the minds of the poor.

He also takes a surprisingly nearsighted view of how value is distributed along the socioeconomic ladder. The 2002 General Social Survey found, for example, that as people internalize “achievement values” and move into the middle class their relationships with extended family attenuate. This is partly because people in the middle class are more mobile and tend to live farther from their kin. But it also happens for more fundamental reasons: University of Pennsylvania and Brooks-approved sociologist Annette Lareau has shown that the individualism of middle class life tends to devalue ties with extended family. These are the relationships that Brooks says are so essential for happiness, but “The Social Animal” is too assured of itself to linger on such contradictions.

Their story lets Brooks mock the affluent and trendy while advancing soft neoconservative themes: that genetically ingrained emotions and biases trump reason; that social problems require cultural remedies (charter schools, not welfare payments); that the class divide is about intelligence, deportment, and taste, not money or power.

Metaphysics and Theosophy on decline

We will take a break for a day from the Landes/Green debate.

Here is a report that early 20th century metaphysics and theosophy are on the decline. In its place are new age, wicca, and yoga. Most of the places that we still see metaphysics of New Thought is in Aish Hatorah thinking like that Rabbi Adam Jacobs over at Huffington Post or the meditations of Rabbi Menachem Eckstein currently beloved by the hilltop youth. Swedenborg Church and metaphysical Unitarian are not in anymore. There is still a small metaphysical church on a residential street in Teaneck.

The author of the post notes that all time American theosophy is moving to the web or merging into new age. The metaphysical approach spoke of powers in the universe or higher energies or way to tap into evolution. in contract, new age stresses the personal, the human narrative, or individual seeking. Metaphysical approaches had one master the hidden wisdom, new age teaches one to look into oneself.

I was recently reading the newest edition of Quest, the journal of the Theosophical Society in America. In it, Robert Ellwood, muses about the future of the society in an essay entitled, “Theosophy after the Baby Boomers.” In the essay he notes that the membership of the society has decreased from a high of 8,520 in 1927 to the current 3,546. These few members struggle to maintain the financial weight of the society’s properties and infrastructure. Ellwood posits that at some point if the organization can no longer continue in its existing form it may shift to an educational foundation using diverse media to deliver its lessons. He also points to the way the internet will be central to this future.

While some are organized by tradition, such as WitchVox, which allows pagans worldwide to meet and exchange messages and files… On this website one can find local yoga, astrology, or alternative health groups.
The differences between various metaphysical traditions are collapsing just as quickly as are the distinctions between religious and secular institutions that many religion scholars study. The boundaries between New Age practice, neopaganism, and yoga, for instance, are quite porous, as are the designations between what is and what is not religious.

Read the rest here by John L. Crow

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 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.

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

JID/JRB policy & The Green/Landes divide – highlights from the comments

I have been home and busy writing this week but what did I get from the comments so far? I got some useful comments from EJ, Aryeh Tepper, and Lipchitz (a pseudonym of an author who may go public). I have also received private emails from people who did not comment but write on both sides of the divide. This may go very public soon. Let’s see if we can gain any further clarity? Is there an editorial policy to trash renewal/indie/neo-hasidism? Why are both sides talking past each other? Is there a real fault line that transcends denominational lines?

EJ wrote:

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.

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. .. The place his trajectory never visited was Orthodoxy. As a result he has no feel for living Chasidim,.. 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.

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.

I do think that ej is correct and perceptive on many of his points.

Lipchitz (may he speedily lose his anon) wrote:

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.
If you do a bit of digging online, the person you’ll find most interesting is Roger Hertog, who is Chairman of the Board at Tikvah.

Many out there in the community of academics, rabbis, and journalists share Lipchitz’s perspective.

Aryeh Tepper wrote

To set the record straight, there is absolutely no editorial policy at Jewish Ideas Daily when it comes to these issues
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
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.
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.
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 only opposes what is clearly true out of willful blindness.

Aryeh likes Zohar, piyyut and all the other avenues of renewal. But what really gets his goat is the a-priori progressiveness, as if their positions superseded other positions. I can accept that as someone who does not want to be a-priori superseded.

Lipchitz responds:

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.
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
Please understand that there are many people out there who are very upset by this uncivil tone and lack of transparency.

OK, we are now back to the starting point of my post. Even if one side thinks they superseeded the other and is emotional, nevertheless, why the seeming editorial direction? Why the uncivil tone in some of the reviews? (Editors are responsible for editing for tone)

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,

Palliative care, Chabad and Rabbi Dr Barry Kinzbrunner

I had posted a discussion with a palliative nurse a while ago and she spoke of a great Chabad seminar that she attended. Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner posted a long comment about his father Dr Barry Kinzbrunner work in palliative care and that he spoke for a Chabad convention.

I then received an email from a Chabad rabbi.

You may have been hearing reports about the recent JLI course Medicine and Morals that I authored.
Rabbi Yehuda Pink MSc
Solihull & District Hebrew Congregation

I asked for more information and he responded “If there are any specific issues you would like me to address please let me know.” To this I responded Since you are the one who contacted me and took credit and responsibility for what the palliative nurse told me, then I would like some basic information.”

I received a further email in response that showed that Chabad had no special wisdom, rather it was all due to Dr Kinzbrunner,

I chaired a session in November presented by Dr Barry Kinzbrunner, the Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Vitas that examined the interface between Halacha and Medicine in the area of Palliative Care and End of Life Issues that gave a detailed overview of the areas of terefah, goses etc. She might have been referring to that.

I asked some further questions hoping to at least find out about other aspects of the Chabad approach- I basically only received vague generalities. But I did ask one question that received a direct reply.

Who are the poskim with the Chabad community for medical halakhah?
The Chabad Community has its own Rabbonim who are experts in Medical Halacha, Rabbi Feitel Levin of Melbourne is an expert in End of Life Issues,Rabbi Feigelstock of Buenos Aires is an expert in Artificial Reproduction,

As a side point Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner, son of Dr Kinzbrunner has a blog- RabbiChaplain. He likes to blog on whatever interest him in reading, hasidus, or politics. I have been trying to encourage him to limit his scope to issues of chaplaincy, hospice, death and palliative care. Leave the politics to others.

Here is a good post of his post from two weeks ago:

The Mind of the Mourner by R. Joel Wolowesky. R. Wolowesky’s goal is to present the psychological underpinnings behind Jewish mourning practices.
As someone who deals with death and dying on a daily basis, I am always looking for a new insight, a new way of thinking about how people experiencing the loss might be feeling. While that usually comes from the bereaved themselves, it is often helpful to have a knowledge base to further draw upon, not for the purpose of categorizing, but as a means of offering support if that is what the bereaved needs at the time.
R. Wolowesky’s book does not fulfill this need. Instead, it is a good summary of the thought of Rav Soloveitchik on areas of mourning and halacha. However, R. Wolowesky misses the underpinning of Rav Soloveitchik’s thought, namely that Rav Soloveitchik was writing and sharing his experiences in the form of philosophical treatises. His words were meant to describe his own suffering and difficulties in his losses, not necessarily as a means of conveying a psychology of the halachic systems view of grief and bereavement. Further, it is difficult to accept based on my experience his underlying theme, that if one fulfills the Jewish method of mourning, the grieving process will not be complicated. In fact, for many people, the ideas in this book would be counter to providing them with a halachic grieving experience.
Overall, I feel this work was disappointing and still leaves a hole for a work on how the Jewish methods of grieving may or may not provide a strong base for someone to experience a normal grieving process.

The Origins of Jewish Mysticism Peter Schafer – post #2

This post continues from post #1 on Peter Schaffer’s new here. Now that I got the negative out of the way, to turn to the positive. In short, the book is positive for the first serious survey from the Biblical book Ezekiel to the Heikhalot in short incremental stages. Some of the material on the heikhalot is from his earlier book The Hidden and Manifest God. Some Major Themes in Early Jewish Mysticism, SUNY Press, 1992, but the majority is new.

Schaffer follows the new trends of not using the word mysticism anymore and instead follows the Chicago school’s term presence of God- in this case including becoming angels, becoming divine, ascents to heaven, visions, and various forms of magic.

Scholem considered the first stage of Jewish mysticism to be merkavah stretching from the 1st century BCE to the 10th century CE. For Scholem who defined mysticism as a romantic reaction against law, then Merkavah has to clearly occur after the classic period of law. Scholem does acknowledge three period without delineation – Apocalyptic – merkavah of mishnah, and heikalot. Back in 1980, Itamar Gruenwald showed all three periods are connected. He is still a good read for dealing with the Rabbinic literature and the responding to the anti-mystical Yekkes and Litvaks of Abeck, Epstein, Lieberman, Urbach. Martha Himmelfarb disconnected the Apocalyptic material in 1988.

As student of Schaffer wrote the following summery of the field from a Schaffer perspective-The Study of Heikhalot Literature: Between Mystical Experience and Textual Artifact. Ra’Anan S. Boustan 2007. Everyone considers Elior incorrect (to put it mildly), so don’t bother commenting about it. Schaffer has an inside dispute with Wolfson about which texts one is singing like angels and which have a process of angelization of the human through heavenly ascent. He also disputes the connection of becoming an angel and deification.

Schaffer creates seven periods and here are his basic conclusions.

The scope of my inquiry in the chapters to follow is delimited on the one hand by the book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible as the starting point, and on the other by the Hekhalot literature as the first unchallenged manifestation of Jewish mysticism. Therefore, I am not interested in illuminating the relationship between Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah, a problem that has been so inadequately addressed and even conspicuously glossed over by Scholem and his heirs. Kabbalah as a distinctly medieval phenomenon that presumably begins in the twelfth century ce in Provence and extends well into our present day remains outside the parameters of my survey.

I begin with the famous first chapter of the book of Ezekiel – Ezekiel’s vision of the open heavens with the four creatures carrying God’s throne and the “figure with the appearance of a human being” seated upon this throne (chapter 1). Ezekiel’s vision sets the tone for the subsequent traditions: a fourfold relation-ship between and among a somehow accessible heaven, a human seer or visionary who has a vision, God as the object of this vision, and a revelation as the purpose of the vision. As to God, the object of the vision, the description goes remarkably far in Ezekiel’s case. He sees a human-like figure that still bears little resemblance to an ordinary man.

The second chapter turns to those ascent apocalypses that revolve around the enigmatic antediluvian patriarch Enoch, who, according to the tradition, did not die a natural death but was taken up by God into heaven. The first and oldest Enoch narrative, derived from the biblical Vorlage, is that of the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1–36: late third century bce?), in which Enoch experiences a vision of God in heaven (ch. 14). Unlike his precursor Ezekiel, Enoch ascends to heaven, more precisely to the heavenly Temple, to see God on his throne; from now on the ascent becomes the predominant mode of human approach to the God who is enthroned in heaven.

The third chapter also deals with ascent apocalypses, but now Enoch is replaced by a variety of heroes. The chapter begins with the Apocalypse of Abraham (after 70 ce), which still follows the older Temple-critical motif and lacks the explicit physical transformation of the seer. Instead, it grants the angel Iaoel, who accompanies Abraham on his journey, a God-like state, a kind of compensation for the fact that Abraham is not allowed to see God. However, the climax of Abraham’s vision is his participation in the angelic liturgy, which may well imply his transformation into an angel. But again, this angelification of the seer is no mere end in itself: God reveals to Abraham the future history of Israel, with the desecration of the Temple and the necessity of its destruction at that history’s center.

In chapter 4, I continue with the literature preserved in the Qumran community.

I use the word “communion” here deliberately, since it must remain an open question as to whether or not the members of the community envision themselves, during their joint worship with the angels, as being transformed into angels.

Contrary to the prevailing trend in research on Jewish mysticism (or even in Qumran scholarship) I contend that the vision of God plays a strikingly marginal role in the Qumran texts and much less of one than in the ascent apocalypses,

With the fifth chapter treating Philo, we enter a completely new realm, the realm of a Jewish philosopher who was deeply imbued with the ideas of Plato and their Middle Platonic offspring.

The first of these, chapter 6, begins with the public exposition of Ezekiel 1 in the synagogue and with the famous restriction in m Hagigah 2:1
But there can be no doubt, in my view, that these rabbis understood the respective biblical texts as material for exegetical exercises and not for ecstatic experiences that aim at an ascent to the Merkavah in heaven.

With chapter 8, we finally tackle the Hekhalot literature, that is, the literature that for almost every scholar embodies the first climax of the fledgling mystical movement within Judaism: Merkavah mysticism.
I demonstrate that in Hekhalot Rabbati we encounter a clear tendency to disappoint or even frustrate our expectation of the depiction of God on his throne (to be sure, an expectation cunningly fueled by the editor), wishing instead to impress us with endless and exhausting descriptions of the heavenly liturgy, of which the adept becomes part. But as I will argue, this strategy seems to be quite deliberate, since it is not a unio mystica that our editor wishes to convey but rather a unio liturgica, a liturgical union of the Merkavah mystic with God through his participation in the heavenly liturgy that surrounds God’s throne. Moreover, and more important, I posit that this liturgical union is again, as in some of the ascent apocalypses, no end in itself; rather, within the narrative composed by the editor of Hekhalot Rabbati, it serves to convey the message that God continues to love his people of Israel on earth, even though the Temple is destroyed and the Merkavah mystic must undertake his dangerous heavenly journey to visit God on his throne in the heavenly Temple. It is this message that God wants the Merkavah mystic – the new Messiah – to bring down to his fellow Jews as the ultimate sign of salvation.

Quite in contrast to Hekhalot Rabbati, the text labeled Hekhalot Zutarti in some later manuscripts puts great emphasis on the magical use of the divine names.

Next follows a survey of the Shi‘ur Qomah fragments preserved in the Hekhalot literature; that is, the traditions that assign God gigantic body dimensions to which hundreds of unintelligible names are attached. My analysis of the respective texts in the Hekhalot literature goes against the grain of the thesis augurated by Scholem and accepted by many scholars, namely, that the mystic’s vision of the gigantic body of God serves as the climax of his ascent. Quite in contrast to this still prevalent trend in research, I hold that what is at stake here is not the dimensions of God’s body but the knowledge of the appropriate names attached to the limbs of God’s body and, consequently, the magical use of these names. Furthermore, I argue against the suggestion made by Scholem and others that the Shi‘ur Qomah traditions are essential for the Merkavah mystical speculations, that they are a particularly old layer of the Hekhalot literature, and that they emerged out of the exegesis of the biblical Song of Songs. Finally, I compare the Shi‘ur Qomah traditions in the Hekhalot literature with some related evidence that has been adduced from Jewish, Gnostic, and Christian sources, and I propose that it was originally angels in the Jewish tradition to whom gigantic dimensions were attributed. Only when the idea of vast angelic dimensions was usurped by the Christians did the (later) Jewish traditions – as they are preserved in the Shi‘ur Qomah – transfer these gigantic dimensions to God and claim that they were suitable for God alone, and not for angels or other figures that might dispute God’s position as the one and only God.