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April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Religious Pluralism Within Orthodoxy

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Gil Student’s recent review of a book about Orthodox pluralism (R. Yisroel Miller’s In Search of Torah Wisdom: Questions You Forgot to Ask Your Rebbi) got me thinking about my own view on this subject.

Pluralism begets unity or Achdus.

There are different kinds of Achdus. We can be bonded by a wide variety of commonalities. We can all be united as human beings. There is also a sense of unity that we should feel as a people regardless of our ideology.

It is also legitimate to speak of unity within a defined segment of Judaism. Indeed even within segments there is a sense of unity that is often eluded. There can for example be a right and left even within Religious Zionism.

I have always sought to unite all of Orthodoxy. This includes even Satmar Chasidim, and the right wing Yeshiva world on the right – all the way to Left Wing Modern Orthodox (LWMO) movements represented by people like Rabbi Avi Wiess and his Yeshiva, YCT. The common bond being belief in the Torah and adherence to Halacha.

One may wonder about this considering my recent very harsh criticism of Satmar. Or my occasional strong criticism of some of innovations of the left – like the attempt to ordain women. Or my strong criticism of price tag raids by settler movements (consisting of extremist Religious Zionists) in Israel. The fact is that my criticism remains but it does not contradict my belief in a pluralistic Orthodoxy.

I disagree with the ideology of those to my right and my left. But I respect them all in the sense of Elu V’Elu. For example, I understand the Satmar objection to the existence of the State of Israel. It is based on the how Satmar interprets passages in the Gemarah. I have no problem with those who have this Hashkafa.

Nor do I have a problem with the belief of those religious Zionists who believe that we must settle all the land of Israel; that it is Halachically forbidden to cede an inch of the holy land that is now in our hands; and that we must risk our very lives to retain it. That is based on interpretations of Halacha.

Even though I disagree with both of those positions, I respect them. My only problem is when they act on them in ways that impinge on the rights of others or create a Chilul HaShem. It is trying to impose one’s religious values upon others that upsets me. Not the ideologies themselves. Ideologies, yes. Bad behavior, no.

Achdus, unity, or pluralism is not about agreement. It is about tolerance and acceptance… and the humility to understand and accept that we might just be wrong and someone else might be right.

This does not mean that one has to be apologetic about one’s strongly held views. One can argue his views with those of different Hashkafos and try and convince them of the rectitude of their own. Perfectly legitimate. I would even go a step further that if one has strongly held beliefs one ought to be able to make the case for them to a friend with different ideologies. At the same time, one must respect he views of others even if you think they are wrong. They too have thought things through and have arrived at a different conclusion that you have. In other words it is all about respecting the wisdom of others even when disagreeing with them.

On this level I respect the Hashkafos of Haredi thinkers. And I respect the Hashkafos of LWMO thinkers even though I disagree with them and agree with Centrist thinkers. Elu V’Elu is what it’s all about for me. My harsh criticism is reserved for extremist behavior that is a result of those Hashkafos – even if it is from my own.

Many in the Satmar community’s behavior with respect to sex abuse or right wing Religious Zionist settler behavior that results in a Chilul HaShem will raise my hackles every single time. Not the beliefs that generate them. One can be a principled pluralist – to use Gil’s expression – without rejecting the Hashkafos of others. There is no need to try and reconcile such wildly disparate views.

An Existential Analysis

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

There were 4488 page views (‘hits’) on my blog yesterday. Of those 1429 were unique visitors. Unique visitors are the actual number of people who accessed my blog during Monday’s 24 hour period. Of those, 307 voted on my poll. Which asked to choose the biggest existential threat to Judaism from a list of 7 possible choices. The results were: Chilul HaShem 78 (25%) Education 127 (41%) Feminism 11 (3%) Internet 13 (4%) Poverty 22 (7%) Sex Abuse 14 (4%) Tuition 42 (13%)

Not surprisingly the largest number of votes by far – 127 (41%) went to educational concerns. A full 25% of the votes went to concerns about Chilul HaShem. The third biggest concern was the Tuition crisis. The rest of the respondents were in single digit percentages poverty being the biggest concern among those.

The bottom three concerns were about the impact of sex abuse, the internet, and feminism.

First let me address the fact that a lot of factors were not included. Among them were: going OTD, divorce rates, dysfunctional families, sexism, the move to the right, the move to the left, the Shiddach crisis, assimilationist influences, isolationist influences, the State of Israel, increased divisiveness between Hashkafos… all serious challenges to Judaism. I could not list them all. That would have made the poll almost meaningless dividing the vote into small and insignificant numbers. I chose these because I believe that although they are not all inclusive – they do represent a wide variety of issues often cited as existential threats.

Not that these results are all that significant. The sample was relatively small and not random. It was also heavily biased in that respondents were people who read my blog. And only a small fraction of those actually voted. So for these and many other reasons, this poll cannot be taken as representing what the actual percentages of all Jews believe regarding any of these issues.

That said, I like to think that my readership consists mostly of Orthodox Jews that are intelligent, well educated, care greatly and have strong feelings about issues affecting the Jewish world. Although this blog’s demographic skews heavily in favor of Modern Orthodox Jews, there are many Charedim among my readers too. As well as non Orthodox Jews and even a few non Jews. I strongly feel that the majority of those (at least of those who comment) are fair minded, keen observers of the Jewish world whose opinions should be valued. So even though this is not a random sample of all Jews, it is a sample of thinking and caring Jews.

It was a little surprising to see how few people there were who thought that sex abuse was the most important issue of the day. Considering the fact that this issue is the most hotly debated issue in our day… and that the fact that the slightest taint of it in any institution will cause a tremendous outcry… and considering the damage that it causes to victims – sometimes permanent psychological damage… and the damage it causes to the victim’s families, and even the abuser’s family… and considering revelations about the far greater number of victims than anyone ever suspected… and the fact that so many of the victims go OTD… I would have thought sex abuse would have gotten a much bigger vote than 14 people.

I guess the reason for that is that as bad as sex abuse is… and as great the damage it does to so many people – even beyond the actual victim, that issue alone is not seen as an existential threat to Judaism itself. But still, the way religious leadership across the board has dealt with it in the past – and even now cannot but have a deleterious effect upon our existence. Many iconic names – religious leaders across the spectrum of Orthodoxy have – by word , deed, or lack of action – have disappointed victims and their advocates. This disillusions people about Orthodox Judaism. Sex abuse is a serious problem in need of our immediate attention. It should have ranked a lot higher than 5th out of 7 – totaling only 4% of the vote.

That Chilul HaShem ranked number 2 is no surprise. If anything can disillusion people, it is when prominent Jews get caught in wrong doing like fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering. Whether it is Rubashkin, the Spinka Rebbe, an elderly Sephardic Rabbi in New Jersey, or of late, Rabbi Yehoshua Pinto – it does not inspire a love of Judaism when such high profile rabbis who are supposed to be role models and teachers end up being crooks.

US President Barack Obama Issues a Statement for Hanukkah

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

President Barack Obama’s statement for Hanukkah:

Michelle and I send our warmest wishes to all those celebrating Hanukkah around the world.

This Hanukkah season we remember the powerful story of the Maccabees who rose up to liberate their people from oppression. Upon discovering the desecration of their Temple, the believers found only enough oil to light the lamp for one night. And yet it lasted for eight.

Hanukkah is a time to celebrate the faith and customs of the Jewish people, but it is also an opportunity for people of all faiths to recognize the common aspirations we share. This holiday season, let us give thanks for the blessings we enjoy, and remain mindful of those who are suffering. And let us reaffirm our commitment to building a better, more complete world for all.

From our family to the Jewish Community around the world, Chag Sameach.

The Other Caped Crusader

Friday, November 30th, 2012

I quit my full-time job eight months ago without another one to fall back on. In hindsight, it wasn’t one of my better decisions, but it was time for me to move forward. I was in a position that never quite suited me – like an ill-fitting pair of shoes that’s one size too small and rubs across the toes. Sure, a nagging thought called a recession cropped up from time-to-time before I resigned, but I was confident I would only be on the market for a few weeks, max. Armed with a new LinkedIn profile and a heaping dose of faith, I bid farewell to my boss and colleagues of six years to embark on my new journey.

The job hunt went well at first, until I realized my journey had taken me down a metaphorical six-lane highway, ejected me from the car, and thrown me down an embankment. I lay among the debris, moaning. I managed to crawl back up, only to lie down in the middle of the highway as traffic barreled down on me. And I stayed there – unemployed – for months. I began arguing with God. “How could you do this to me?” I howled. “I’m a good person. I don’t deserve this.” I was greeted with silence.

Echoes of the poem “Footprints” ran through my mind: “You promised me Lord that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?” More silence.

I rolled over on the now jam-packed highway to confirm that my super-hero cape –emblazoned with the word “righteous” on the back – was still firmly affixed to my neck. It was. I could not make any sense as to why God had not yet sent me a rental car to get me back on my journey. I reasoned perhaps He was waiting for some additional prayers. “Fine,” I thought. “Let’s get this over with.”

“Please God,” I began. “Please send me a new job. I have always been a good servant to You. I am honest and ethical and I call my mother almost every day.” Silence. I needed a different tack. “The emotional and financial toll of my unemployment on my family is heartbreaking,” I pleaded. “They shouldn’t suffer because You haven’t sent me a new job.”

There was an angry silence – but this time, it was mine.

That was it. All bets were off. I was fuming. I had no choice but to officially declare war on God. I would not speak to Him unless spoken to – and since that seemed rather unlikely given the chilly reception I had been receiving – I decided from that moment forward, we would maintain separate lives and living quarters. I stopped davening. I stopped hoping. I cursed my fate and my belief system, angry at being punished. I began an accounting of all the things that had gone wrong in my life and found God sorely lacking. But I was not ready to admit defeat. I would not let God off the hook for abandoning me in my time of need.

And from the rubble that was now my life, a calm voice – one of reason – suddenly emerged. “You can’t lie down across a six-lane highway and expect to be saved,” God said. “But the cape,” I said, my voice trailing off. “What about the cape? Did you see it? I’m a righteous individual, a good person,” I argued. “I know I haven’t given much to charity lately, but what do you expect when you refuse to send me a new job?”

“Roll over,” God said. I did. “The other side,” God instructed. And there it was on my cape. “Self” was inscribed just before the word “righteous.”

I was embarrassed. There it was for all to see – like the Scarlet Letter. I had been self-righteous and pompous and I had to own my mistakes. “I sinned against you,” I told God. “I failed in my journey of faith.”

Resisting War, Terrorism, And Genocide (Third of Three Parts)

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

For the most part, we Jews have always accepted the obligation to ward off disaster as best we can. For the most part, we generally understand that all humans have free will. Saadia Gaon included freedom of will among the most central teachings of Judaism, and Maimonides affirmed that all human beings must stand alone in the world “to know what is good and what is evil, with none to prevent him from either doing good or evil.”

For Israel, free will must always be oriented toward life, to the blessing, not the curse. Israel’s authoritative charge must always be to strive in the obligatory direction of individual and collective self-preservation, by using intelligence and by exercising disciplined acts of national will. In particular circumstances, where such striving would be rejected, the outcome, however catastrophic, can never rise to the dignifying level of tragedy.

The ancient vision of authentically High Tragedy has its origins in fifth century BCE Athens. Here, there is always clarity on one overriding point: The victim is one whom “the gods kill for their sport, as wanton boys do flies.” This wantonness, this caprice, is precisely what makes tragedy unendurable.

With “disengagement,” with “realignment,” with “Palestinian demilitarization,” with both Oslo, and the Road Map, Israel’s corollary misfortunes remain largely self-inflicted. The uninspiring drama of a Middle East peace process is, at best, a surreal page torn from Ionesco, or even from the Jewish genius of Prague, Franz Kafka. Here, there is nary a hint of tragedy; not even a satisfyingly cathartic element that might have been abstracted from playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles, or Euripides. At worst, and this is the more plausible characterization, Israel’s potentially unhappy fate has been ripped directly from the demeaning pages of irony and farce.

Under former prime minister Ehud Olmert, Israel had acted and lived a peculiarly portentous form of comedy, an unabashedly high-budget low drama, one that relied on concocted contrivances of plot, and on correspondingly low levels of credibility. At the end, in Gaza, Olmert acted correctly with Operation Cast Lead, but it was a limited or tactical rather than strategic reaction. Moreover, it was intended only to reverse his own earlier, and, by then, irremediable errors.

In farce, matters generally end badly, but for a last-minute rescue called, in dramatic theory, deus ex machina. But no “god in the machine” will rescue Israel. To recall a far more specifically Jewish commentary, one may also consult the words of Rabbi Yania: “A man should never put himself in a place of danger, and say that a miracle will save him, lest there be no miracle….” (Sota 32a; Yoreh De’ah 116).

It may be that Israel’s prime ministers never actually did expect a miracle, but then we must inquire as to why. Upon what precise manner of reasoning or faith did so many Israeli leaders base their flagrantly vacant and vacating policies?

In Judaism there can never be any justification for deliberate self-endangerment. In classical Greek tragedy there can never be any deus ex machina. In true tragedy, the human spirit manages to remain noble in the face of an inescapable death.

But if there is anything at all tragic about Israel’s prolonged security descent, it lies only in the original Greek meaning of the word: “goat song.” For Israelis, this particular theatrical resemblance to paganism should be disturbingly hideous. After all, it comes from the dithyrambs sung by goatskin-clad worshippers of Dionysus.

Aristotle understood, in his Poetics, that true tragedy must always elicit pity and fear but not pathos. Always, pathos is unheroic suffering. The great Greek philosopher had identified tragedy with “good” characters, those who may suffer because they commit some grave error (hamartia) unknowingly.

Whether a policy is named Oslo or Road Map or something altogether new makes no difference. The sordid promise of peace with a persistently murderous adversary is always a delusion. To be sure, protracted war or terror or genocide hardly seems a tolerable or enviable policy outcome. But even this difficult fate remains better for Israel than the undiminished Arab/Islamist plan for a second Final Solution.

The futile search for ordinary solutions by the people and government of Israel should never be dismissed by non-Israelis with anger, disdain, or self-righteousness. One can hardly blame them for denying such terrible and unjust portents. Any such denial is manifestly human.

Kosher or Not, the Internet Cannot be Stopped

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

In yet another tour-de-force, Mrs. Judy Brown does an excellent job in evaluating the impact of the internet on Orthodox Jewry. I think she has put her finger on exactly what the greatest danger is. It isn’t porn. It is knowledge. Knowledge not generated by the Torah but knowledge generated by the entire world. She calls them gentiles. And characterizes the internet as “Gentiles at the Gates.” But there are plenty of Jews who contribute non Torah – even anti Torah  knowledge to the world wide web.

Mrs. Brown tells the story of one Lakewood family where a daughter was given permission to use the internet for a homework assignment  Long story short, the information she inadvertently encountered eventually led her go “Off The Derech.”

That devastated the family. They threw out their computer after the fact no doubt regretting ever having it. They also cut off all ties to that daughter – who has since left home – fearing the negative influences she would have on her siblings. Obviously the wrong move, but not the subject of this post.

In essence Mrs. Brown seems to be capitulating to Charedi rabbinic leaders desire to rid the community of all internet access. Here is how she puts it:

Technology can trample on this way of life, claim some souls here and there, but the well-shackled mind is ultimately stronger than any knowledge thrown at it. Sacred ignorance has survived the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, democracy, world-changing scientific discoveries and women’s liberation. It has endured two millennia of knowledge and change. It will survive this, too.

The idea of a well-shackled mind being in a superior position to battle going OTD is certainly understandable. But in practice, the mind can no longer stay well-shackled. The internet is not only here to stay. Its ubiquity is increasing by leaps and bounds via the smart phone. No ban in the world has the power to stop it. It is like spitting in the wind.

Nor do I concede that ignorance is in any way sacred.

Surely being ignorant of all the questions and challenges to our faith would serve to keep us devout. But ignorance is being increasingly replaced by the ability to gain instant answers to difficult questions. No longer will a child be scolded for asking a tough question and retreat in shame for even thinking to ask it. If it is unanswered – or worse derided by a parent, Rebbe, or teacher, the internet is right there for the asking with answers galore. Answers that are anything but devout.

So even if ignorance is bliss (or sacred) it is disappearing from the masses like no other time in history. Bright and curious people are going to have these questions and seek answers to them somewhere.

This is nothing like withstanding the winds of enlightenment a couple of centuries ago. Those winds were responsible for many a devout Jew to going off the Derech. The stories of some of the great young minds of the great Yeshivos in Europe becoming heretics are legendary.

But that took diligence. A student had to go out of his way, to a library or to attend a University and buy into the convincing arguments of heretical thought being taught in books and universities there. Being unprepared hashkafically for the challenges encountered, they bought into the arguments and became heretics.

But today, all that is brought into the home in an instant. There is no point in trying to legislate it out of the home. Saying the internet is Assur is more futile than saying college is Assur. All the haranguing in the world will not impact all but the few.

All the bible thumping… all the scare tactics about saving the soul will just not work on vast numbers of Jews. That should be obvious by the fact that internet Asifa  scare tactics haven’t really changed things all that much.

Even if we accept the numbers quoted by Mrs. Brown one in four families inBoroPark- one of the largest enclaves of Charedi Jews in the world – has internet access. Even with filters, it’s virtually impossible to filter out all the information that would lead a child – or even an adult in many cases – into going OTD! Filtering out smut is one thing. Filtering out information that is not strictly Torah based is another. I don’t think it is even possible.

The Oldest Story In The World

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

“This is the day of the beginning of your creation,” we read in our Yom Tov prayer books. According to Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah marks the day of the creation of Adam and Eve, and on that very day they proclaim God as King of the Universe.

And yet, as we know from the very first story in the book of Genesis, the glory of that day is short-lived. Within hours, Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Their eyes are opened. They become aware that they are naked and they are ashamed.

In a recent essay in a secular-oriented Jewish weekly, a woman describes a modern re-enactment of this tale. Her faith in God is shattered when she reads the book Cosmos and discovers a “mind-defying universe where distances are so vast that they are measured in light years.”

She is sorry to have read it because now she knows “God’s terrible secret, that this universe is large, and that He pounds out worlds like matzo balls, as many as He pleases, without so much as glancing at Earth.”

Though she had once felt close to God, she no longer knows how to integrate a personal God into her world.

“I tried to understand God,” she writes. “I mean, we humans have always wanted a God that is all-great and all-powerful, but not quite like that. Just enough so we could pretend He is a lot like us and we are enough like Him, and that the universe is not much larger than our minds.”

The god she had created in her own image has been shattered.

The loss of her innocence is not unlike the loss of innocence we all experience as we travel from childhood to adulthood. Once upon a time, we knew that our parents were all knowing and all powerful, that they loved us more than anything, and that we were perfect in their eyes. We knew good people were rewarded and bad people were punished so they would mend their ways. We knew God had created the world and that He listened to our prayers.

And then one day, sudden as a death, we lost our innocence. We learned that our parents were not perfect and neither were we; that truth, if it existed, would not be simple, but convoluted and twisted and complex. We no longer knew if we mattered in this unfathomable world, and how God could really know us or wish to do so.

Like Adam, like Eve, like countless people who have crossed this earth, we taste the fruit and are banished from Eden.

But that is not the end of the story. All of our history is a journey to find redemption and recapture what was lost.

We cannot remain childish in our understanding but we pursue always the wish to be childlike in our knowledge. While a simplistic faith cannot sustain us, we still seek a place where our faith is simple.

There is a chassidic tale of an ignorant shepherd boy who came to the synagogue and, unable to read the prayers, pierced the heaven with his heartfelt cries and whistles. We do not envy his ignorance. And yet no matter how sophisticated and subtle our understanding, we long to be able to utter a prayer as sincere as his shepherd’s call.

The true Jewish “coming of age story” is not about loss, but about search. The search for a teacher, for a mentor, for a deeper and stronger faith – one as sure and unquestioning as the faith of a child, and yet bold enough, brave enough, to heal our fragmented world.

Perhaps that is why the Jewish New Year begins in the fall. As the gold and glitter of summer dims and fades, as the days grow shorter and the leaves crumble, there is a death of innocence. And yet from amidst the death, new life springs forth.

The shofar is simple ram’s horn, an instrument without subtlety or gradation. The sound, say the chassidic masters, is like the call of a child. It is blown on Rosh Hashanah in a rhythmic sequence. First a tekiah – a long, simple cry. Then the shevarim, a broken call, with three shorter blasts. Then the teruah, with nine staccato sounds, like a sob. And finally a longer tekiah, which goes on and on with a slow exhaling of breath.

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Over the Rosh Hashana table, I shared a story with my parents that my husband had told me long ago. Even as I was telling the story, I thought that I should share it here on the blog. My mother agreed and so here it is…

In 1973, when the Egyptians went to war against Israel on Yom Kippur, a young Egyptian soldier was sent into Sinai. He was a Coptic Christian in a unit of Muslims. His mother sent him to war with a Bible and in it, she wrote, “May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob protect you.”

Not long after they arrived and before they could confront the Israeli army in battle, other soldiers found the inscription and reported him. He was taken back to Cairo, suspected of being a spy for Israel.

He explained that he was a loyal Egyptian soldier, had no contact with Israel, and his mother had written that because they are Christians.

He was cleared, as there was no evidence against him to support his having had any contact with Israel and yet, by the time he was able to return to his unit – it had been entirely wiped out by the Israeli army and so, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Israel, had indeed protected him.

I’ve always loved that story…and so I share it with you. The lesson is that there are things happening everywhere, all part of God’s plan. Whatever is meant to happen, will happen. The best thing we can do is simply have faith.

Visit the blog, “A Soldier’s Mother.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/a-soldiers-mother/the-god-of-abraham-isaac-and-jacob/2012/09/20/

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