Category Archives: books

Korach & Moses’ Meritocracy

Guest Post by Rabbi Avraham Bronstein
Rabbi Bronstein serves as North American Development Executive for Ohr Torah Stone. From 2006-2011 he was Associate Rabbi of The Hampton Synagogue. He tweets at @AvBronstein and launched a new blog,, where the following is cross-posted.

This is an adaptation of a sermon I delivered last week at a modern orthodox synagogue in the greater NY area. It is reworked slightly to include some material from other discussions and talks from Shabbat and beyond, and also eliminates some of the sermon filler. In conversation, I found that many people saw Korach as a sort of spiritual socialist, sort of a classic cold-war era sermon topic. I tried to make the discussion more contemporary.

Imagine a nation run as a meritocracy, where leaders rose to the top as they proved that they were brighter, more motivated, more assertive — true “leaders,” in every sense of the word. Things started well – there was a period of rapid growth and development, and everyone seemed to be sharing the rewards of the superior decisions and leadership that were coming from what was, by now, a trusted elite. Then, from out of the blue, something went very wrong. The leadership made a terrible collecive mistake, an epic misjudgment so out of line that the people assume they were collectively guilty of criminal negligence, if not outright corruption. As the grim, full reality of the disaster sets in, it becomes clear that all of the previous gains have essentially been erased, and the whole generation itself will go down in history as a wasted one.

Now imagine that, through it all, the meritocracy remains intact. The same leaders remain in charge, demanding the same levels of trust and of faith as though nothing had happened, with no effective safeguards in place to keep it from happening again. We would naturally expect the rise of popular movements to voice the people’s loss of confidence in the failed status quo. The truth is that this scenario actually happens quite often. In 2010, their motto was, “Don’t tread on me.” In 2011, they chanted, “We are the 99%.” And in last week’s Torah Portion it was Korach challenging Moses, insisting that “the entire community is holy, and God rests among them, so why do you lord yourself over the congregation of God?”

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Law and Religion

A Survey of Law & Religion Casebooks For Law Schools
from Religion Clause by Howard Friedman

here is a listing of casebooks and teaching materials on law and religion designed for law schools and law students available from major law book publishers (listed alphabetically by author):

* Ariens & Destro, Religious Liberty in a Pluralistic Society, 2d ed., (Carolina Academic Press, 2002).
* Belsky & Bessler-Northcutt, Law and Theology, (Carolina Academic Press, 2005).
* Berg’s The State and Religion in a Nutshell, 2d (West Pub., 2004).
* Brownstein and Jacobs’s Global Issues in Freedom of Speech and Religion: Cases and Materials (West Pub., 2008).
* Gey, Fonvielle & Hinkle, Religion and the State, 2d ed, (Matthew Bender, 2006).
* Griffin’s Law and Religion, Cases and Materials (Foundation Press, 2006) with 2009 Supplement.
* Loewy’s Religion and the Constitution: Cases and Materials (West Pub., 1998) with 2002 Supplement.
* McConnell, Harvey & Berg, Religion and the Constitution, 2d ed., (Aspen Publishers, 2006).
* Noonan and Gaffney’s Religious Freedom: History, Cases and Other Materials on the Interaction of Religion and Government, 2d ed. (Foundation Press, 2010) (available 4/2010, earlier edition currently available).
* Ravitch’s Law and Religion, A Reader: Concepts, Cases and Theory, 2d ed. (West Pub., 2004).
* Volokh’s The Religion Clauses and Related Statutes: Problems, Cases and Policy Arguments (Foundation Press, 2005).

Post is the name of a breakfast Cereal

Post is the name of a cereal company that makes Raisin Bran, Honey Combs and Shredded Wheat. In 2006, they discontinued Post-Toasties, the brand of choice in summer camp. When I hear the prefix post-, I think of cereal.
The latest infection of language is to call everything is post- and post-modern. People who want change apply it to every change they want and people who are against change call all change as post –modern. Simply things like the modern poetry of Rilke or the thought of Hegel can be called Post-modern by those who have not read/heard of them.
People throw around terms indiscriminately. I do not like the term right and left- there has to be a description.  Right and left differ between decades and countries. I do not like it when the word existential is used as a synonym for emotional or important. Nor do I like it when hermeneutic, which means the horizons and assumptions that allow for interpretation, is used for exegesis. And I do not like when the word “unique,” which in Rav Soloveitchik means revelatory and outside of culture, is used for special.
So here is a little screed from another blog inhabitato dei, with the expletives removed.

You’re not “post-“ anything so shut up!

If there was one term I could actually effect a moratorium on I think it would have to be the phrase “post-”. But, since I can’t effect a moratorium, allow me to propose an axiom instead:
Any conceptual position (theological, philosophical, etc.) that describes itself using the modifier “post-” is never actually “post-” anything in anything other than a temporal sense (and usually that’s not the case either).

Postmetaphysical? No. Postfoundationalist? No, you were never foundationalist to start with. Postliberal? No, you’re still liberal. Postmodern? Shut up, that’s just stupid. Post-postmodern? Kneecaps, meet baseball bat.

The only possible places where I can think of the term “post-” having any real usefulness are in the realms of architecture and art history. Insofar as it gets used by philosophers and theologians its just an attempt to short circuit an argument by pretending that the views you are attacking were a developmental stage you  went through when you were young and not quite as well read as you obviously are now. To call any view “post-” anything is just a masquerade alloying one to define your adversary as wrong, arcane, and naive from the outset.

In short, adopting the language of “post-” is unforgivably cheap and masks a lack of ability to actually make good arguments against things you want to criticize.

There are indeed large cultural changes afoot. Gen Y- the Millennial are the most liberal generation alive and their immediate seniors gen X is the most conservative. And more importantly- Since the 1730’s, every 30-35 years American culture has dramatically shifted from liberal to conservative and back again. But describe it. Calling it post-modern is like the 1958 person saying “we cant kept kosher outside the house- we are modern” or the 2000 person saying “of course we are libertarian and not interested in high culture, are we dont seek religious experience, we are Orthodox.”

Top 10 Books in Religion & Spirituality: 2009

Here is list of popular works- the kinda stuff from the public library. I assume that everyone has read some of them. Two books on loss of faith.  Three defenses of liberal faith, one book on genesis and science, one on Islam, and one summarizing the new thinking on Paul.   I discussed Karen Armstrong two months ago – here.

Top 10 Books in Religion & Spirituality: 2009

Olson, Ray November 15, 2009

The best adult religion books reviewed since the October, 1, 2008, Spotlight on Religion & Spirituality are presented below. A poetic retelling of a momentous era in Islam leads off the list, while a history of God is third on it. The other eight turn toChristianity past, present, and future.

After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam. By Lesley Hazleton. 2009. Doubleday, $27 (9780385523936).

Basing her account on the great texts of early Islam, Hazleton thrillingly and intelligently distills one of the most consequential trains of events in all history.

The Bible and the People. By Lori Anne Ferrell. 2008. Yale, $32.50 (9780300114249).

That the laity enjoyed considerable access to scripture before the Reformation and Gutenberg is just one revelation in Ferrell’s history of interplay between the Word and readers.

The Case for God. By Karen Armstrong. 2009. Knopf, $27.95 (9780307269188).

Presenting difficult ideas with utter lucidity, Armstrong stresses that the most common response to questions about God has been apophatic silence.

The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary behind the Church’s Conservative Icon. By Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. 2009. HarperOne, $24.99 (9780061430725).

The great epistolary apostle is revealed as neither anti-Semitic, anti-sex, nor misogynist, but a preacher of social and political equality.

The Future of Faith. By Harvey Cox. 2009. HarperOne, $25.99 (9780061755521).

Religion is becoming spiritual rather than creedal, egalitarian rather than mediated by clergy, Cox argues, and Christianity, as in the early church, more rooted in behavior.

The Genesis Enigma: Why the Bible Is Scientifically Accurate. By Andrew Parker. 2009. Dutton, $25.95 (9780525951247).

Nonbelieving biologist Parker demonstrates that, from “Let there be light”—the concretion of the sun—to the debut of birds, Genesis 1 accurately outlines what science now believes really happened.

The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why. By Phyllis Tickle. 2008. Baker, $17.99 (9780801013133).

Considering modern Christian history and the impacts of cultural, social, and technological upheavals, a new and “more vital” Christianity is emerging, Tickle says.

I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah’s Witness Upbringing. By Kyria Abrahams. 2009. Touchstone, $25 (9781416556848).

Stand-up comic and spoken-word poet Abrahams mixes throwaway humor and painful memories in a compelling and very funny memoir of growing up and away from her childhood faith.

Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America—and Found Unexpected Peace. By William Lobdell. 2009. Collins, $25.95 (9780061626814).

Lobdell’s trajectory from agnosticism to belief to atheism, prompted by covering religion for the Los Angeles Times, is fascinating, ironic, even astonishing.

The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. By Philip Jenkins. 2009. HarperOne, $26.95 (9780061472800).

In the most eye-opening religious history book of the year, Jenkins outlines and analyzes the first global Christian establishment, which lasted 1,000 years and spread from Egypt to China. Few present-day Christians have ever heard of it.