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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

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.”

The Emes Ve-Emunah People

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Frankly, I did not expect anywhere near the discussion that ensued here yesterday about my poll. Even though I asked for input as to why people responded as they did, I never expected a response like this.

The poll is now closed. There were are 352 people who responded. Based on my daily average of about 1000 unique visitors (not factoring in Shabbos and Yom Tov) that is about 1/3 of my readership. (Actually, it’s probably less because there are many people who visit this blog regularly but not daily – so they may have missed this poll.) But for purposes of analysis let us say that out of the one thousand people who visit my blog, about a 1/3 participated.

One of the biggest criticisms from some who responded was that my categories were inadequate for a variety of reasons. To an extent I concede the point. It is absolutely true that these categories are too broad. It was also pointed out that I did not list enough of them. Those I listed didn’t fit their definition of themselves.…or they straddle one or more of them. True again.

Some people said that these categories are no longer applicable and that entirely new categories should have been designed. Very possibly the case.

Others said they hate labels. I completely understand that. The argument has been made that labels can have a divisive effect. Without them we would all be in the same boat and get along much better. Not sure I entirely agree with that one. But let’s move on.

The biggest flaw in this poll is that I did not define each category well enough – or not at all. One poster referenced an Avi Chai segmentation as described by Professor Marvin Schick. It had an entirely different meaning for the term Modern Orthodox than I give it. Professor Schick defines it the way I define Left-Wing Modern Orthodox. Although he defined Centrist Orthodoxy in the same way I did- to me Centrism is really a part of Modern Orthodoxy too – the right wing of it.

There are also clearly identifiable groups – like Moderate Chasdim or Lubavitch – that did not have a category. In my defense, I meant to include the former into the category of Moderate Charedim and the latter into Charedi-Chasidic. But that may not fit them exactly either. In any case I didn’t specify any of that so it’s my fault.

Yet another difficulty here is the very unscientific nature of a poll like this. There are many things that can affect the results here so that in the end the numbers do not reflect the reality, thus skewing the numbers unfairly in favor of one demographic. Besides – even the most carefully designed polls have a margin of error. 352 people responding means that 648 people did not. Who knows what they really think?

So if one takes all of these criticisms in the aggregate, one has to wonder if there is any validity to this poll all!

That said, my gut feeling (and take that for whatever its worth) is that there probably is a degree of validity to these numbers. I believe that most people responded honestly and that it probably does reflect the proportions of each demographic I listed. Before I report those numbers, I am going to address some of the concerns expressed in the comments.

First – why the great big response (212 as of this writing)? I think the content of those comments themselves speak to that. They are in part an explanation for the success of this blog. People care passionately about their beliefs – or lack of them. Belief is one of the topics I explore here (although perhaps not often enough).

Given the opportunity to talk about them as this post did, enables people to actually put their beliefs down on paper (virtual paper at least) and organize their thoughts; to compare and contrast their own beliefs with those of others. It clarifies and refines those beliefs. This is the back and forth I noticed in some of the comment trails.

While labels can have a divisive effect, they also have a defining effect. By examining your beliefs against those of others it helps your understanding of who and what you are. I believe it enables one’s belief system to grow and mature. Even if one ends up finding that “none of the above” fits best.

As for the poll itself, I agree that thinking people are hard to peg. Thinking people tend to define who they are not by picking a pre-existing category, but by studying various ideas; accepting some and rejecting others; and then arriving at who they are. This usually means that they do not fit neatly into any one category. As more than one commenter said, they see themselves in X to a certain degree and in Y in another.Some people said that they grew up one way and still feel comfortable in that environment but that hashkafically find themselves in another category. In short, the most thoughtful people did not find an exact match. Some chose not to respond at all because of that. Others responded by picking the one closest to their beliefs but not really reflective of their views.

I am somewhat of an enigma myself in that respect. While I define myself ideologically as a Centrist (RWMO) I find that I am more comfortable socially in a moderate Charedi setting. In fact the community in which I live and the people I Daven with on Shabbos are mostly moderate Charedim. I should add (as one commenters said about himself) that in some areas I tend to be a bit more to the left and in others I tend to be bit more to the right of my Centrist colleagues.

Now to the numbers. 352 people responded. Here is the breakdown:

Charedi Chasidic – 21 (6%)
Charedi Yeshivish – 15 (4%)
Charedi moderate – 59 (16%)
MO Centrist – 132 (37%)
MO Left Wing – 36 (10%)
Orthoprax – 58 (16%)
Non Orthodox – 24 (6%)
Not Jewish – 7 (2%)

It seems like those who tend to fit into the Centrist camp comprise the largest percentage of my readership by more than double of any other segment. That should not be a surprise. We are all kindred spirits seeing the world in the same way and seeking the same goals – for the most part.

The next largest group is Moderate Charedim. Again no surprise, they too agree with many of my views. That is good to know. As I always say, these two groups are the wave of the future and have an almost identical lifestyle. I believe that they comprise the largest segment of Orthodox Jewry.

What surprised me is the number of Orthoprax that read this blog. The same percentage as Moderate Charedim at 16%. Not sure what to make of that. I hope it means that I am trusted to treat everyone fairly.

I am happy that Orthoprax Jews find value here. Their 16% translates to 160 Orthoprax Jews reading my blog on average every day. I am grateful that they respect the views expressed here enough to stick around and read the posts and – for at least some – the comments too.

10% of my readership is LWMO. Even though the issues that divide us are pretty “hotbutton” – our differences are far smaller than what we share as observant Jews. I think that in most cases they respect my views because I respect theirs.

I am also happy that non-Orthodox Jews read this blog. Especially since I am very critical of Heterodox movements. But they seem to forgive me and understand where I am coming from. At least I hope that’s the case. I honor them for that.

I also fully respect non-Jews that come here. At 2% that isn’t much. It means that about 20 non Jews read this blog on average daily. I welcome them and hope that I do my religion justice in their eyes and express our beliefs well.

Not too surprising at all is the number of Charedim and Chasidim who do not consider themselves moderate. A combined percentage of 10% of my readership is Charedi. That means about 100 Charedim on the average every day. Not too bad if you consider that so many of my posts are critical of their community or their leaders

I welcome them too… especially those among them who respond in the comments. The only thing I don’t welcome is the disparagement and ridicule of a few of them that occasionally accompanies a comment.

This pretty much sums up my analysis of the polling results- given space and time considerations. Of course there is a lot more to say, but I’ve already exceeded my usual post length. So I now turn it over to readers to make their own analysis – and if so inclined to post their views in the comment section.

Visit the Emes Ve-Emunah blog.

Next Year in Jerusalem

Monday, September 10th, 2012

At the climax of the Yom Kippur services, and the conclusion of the Jewish High Holy Days, some two weeks from now, millions of Jews around the world will cry out, “Next Year in Jerusalem”, expressing their hope for a final redemption.

There is a similar faith at the heart of the DNC’s amended platform which states, “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations.”

Like the Jews praying for Jerusalem, the DNC’s platform supports a Jerusalem as Israel’s capital that is not a material Jerusalem, but a spiritual Jerusalem, a place that will come into being only when the messiah of the peace process has come and the terrorists have put down their guns and after twenty or two thousand or twenty thousand years have agreed to some final status agreement that falls short of making full territorial claims on the capital of Jerusalem.

The DNC’s platform is a properly devout expression of faith, not in G-d and not in the rights of Israelis, but in the peace process. After twenty years of peace and terror, next year the peace process will finally culminate in a final status agreement. And that expression of the DNC’s faith in the goodwill of terrorists is hardly reassuring to Israelis or American Jews.

Expressing support for Jerusalem to one day be recognized as the capital of Israel (without even the usual mention of a united city) after the final status agreement has been reached, defeats the whole purpose of the Jerusalem insertion.

The initial purpose of inserting support for Jerusalem into the platform was to reassure Israelis that the city was non-negotiable and that negotiating with the PLO would not cause Israel to lose its capital city. The current incarnation of the Jerusalem insertion, even after being put in, conveys the opposite message, that the city is negotiable, but if Israel successfully negotiates to keep Jerusalem, then it will remain the capital of Israel.

The 1992 Democratic platform said simply, “Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel and should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.” The 1996, 2000 and 2004 platforms utilized nearly the same language. Only in 2008, with the elevation of Obama, did the platform add a caveat about final status negotiations which rendered the pledge meaningless. It also eliminated any mention of a united or undivided Jerusalem.

Once in office, Obama began a major crisis with Israel over a housing project in Jerusalem. In 2012, Jerusalem was purged entirely from the platform and then after some protests restored in its meaningless 2008 form so as not to unduly concern Jewish voters by removing something that was not so much a statement of support as an empty wish that one day Jerusalem might be recognized as Israel’s capital.

The platforms, like most campaign promises, don’t represent any true or enduring commitments. The 1996 Republican platform held that “A Republican administration will ensure that the U.S. Embassy is moved to Jerusalem by May 1999.” The 2000 Republican platform declared, “Immediately upon taking office, the next Republican president will begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.” Four years later the platform said, “Republicans continue to support moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.”

Still the platform is a bellwether of sorts. In 1988, the year that Jesse Jackson threw his weight around, the Democratic platform barely qualified as pro-Israel and eliminated any mention of Jerusalem. Its elimination a second time in 2012 represents a similar ascension of forces overtly hostile to Israel and unwilling to sign their name to even vague meaningless reassurances. That is what the booing was really about. The pragmatists were being booed by the radicals for offering a sop to the naive voters who still think that there’s any place for G-d or Jerusalem in the Democratic Party.

The unpleasant truth is that no president has ever taken these platforms seriously. If one of them had, then the embassy would already be in Jerusalem. The elimination of the Jerusalem plank isn’t just a shift from covert to overt hostility toward Israel, more significantly it’s a shift away from traditional Jewish voters, toward a leftist coalition that is hostile to Israel.

Why I Believe…

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

I am not surprised by the level of commitment that skeptics have with respect to their views. In my post Keeping the Faith there are 249 comments as of this writing. Much of it has been a back and forth between Rabbi Bechhofer and those who challenge the traditional beliefs of Judaism: some from atheists; some from skeptics; some who do believe at some level but have decided that the events described in the Torah could not have happened since there is overwhelming evidence that they did not… and instead are allegorical.

I must admit that these issues have troubled me as well. I believe that some of them have simple answers; others have complex answers, and some have no apparent answers at all. But I also believe that the Torah is telling us the truth. How is that possible for a rationalist like myself? First because I do try to find rational explanations where-ever I can. But second is a reason that skeptics will probably not accept.

There is no one reason for me to hang my hat on. There is no definitive and clear proof that I can point to and say: this is it. None of the ‘proofs’ – stated by themselves are convincing. I am just as skeptical as… well frankly… the skeptics! I am by nature a skeptic.

But when one takes the totality of all the evidence and arguments in favor of the truth of Judaism which includes its long history of survival against all odds – my intuition takes over. I believe because my intuition compels me to do so. My rational nature which would normally succumb to all the evidence against Judaism succumbs instead to my intuitive senses.

(I am not going to go into detail about the evidence and the arguments. I have written several posts on that subject in the past. But they are mostly well known and there is no mystery about them. I am not trying to hide them or mislead. They are just not the point of this post and I don’t want to spend any time on those details.)

One may ask why all the evidence against the truth of Judaism doesn’t lead my intuition in the other direction. After all science doesn’t lie. Bible criticism makes a lot of sense. Archaeological finds makes things even more difficult… as does many other clear contradictions to our beliefs.

I believe because in every single case these contradictions have resolutions and questions have answers. Some are clear and some are only possible or even implausible. But in most cases they are at least possible. And in those cases where I can’t even see a possible answer – that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. I am therefore not forced to conclude that because of all the science and bible critics – that Judaism isn’t true. I have a choice to believe and my rationalist mind does not prevent me from using my intuitive mind.

Some might call this Emunah Peshuta – simple belief. Perhaps. But it is not blind belief. I am not a blind believer. However, I can understand why someone would call my belief in the truth of Judaism blind.

I suppose that at some point one does have to take that “leap of faith.” But it is not a blind leap. It is not a giant leap. It is an intuitive belief based on evaluating two conflicting sets of criteria, one that requires a conclusion based on the rational and difficult questions which do not seem to have satisfactory answers. The other is the totality of other perhaps unrelated evidence of Judaism’s truth. That evidence that does not necessarily address all the problems. Questions may remain – and they do for me. But at the same time it is hard to deny all the evidence in favor of Judaism. My own intuition impels me to believe rather than deny.

As I said – I realize that this will probably not satisfy the skeptics. They would probably refute every single piece of evidence that I would posit in favor of belief. But they cannot refute the totality of all that evidence. Nor can they successfully turn me into a skeptic.

Keeping the Faith

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

I am wholly inadequate to deal with this subject. That said I cannot leave it untouched. There is a phenomenon taking place that is highly disturbing to a believer and a rationalist like myself. The phenomenon I refer to is that of an increasing number of Orthodox Jews that are questioning their faith. Emunah has never before been tested like it is now. At least in my lifetime.

It used to be a bigger problem in the more open world of Modern Orthodoxy. That is where Rabbi Eliyahu Fink suggests the majority of the problem lies. But with the advent of the internet, everyone is at risk.

Tablet Magzine has an article by Ari Margolies, an 18 year old that is going through this. He was raised in a religious home. He was someone that loved his Judaism as a child. But then after his Bar Mitzvah he started asking the difficult questions. Questions that are difficult to answer. Thus he has become a skeptic – joining the community of skeptics who have had the same questions.

These are not people who went OTD because of dysfunction in their lives. Nor are they particularly the ones whose educational needs are not met because they are not up to the fierce completion in Yeshivos, whether it is in the area of Limud HaTorah or in the area of academic studies. These are the bright kids. These are the good kids from good families. And in some cases these are adults who at some point in their lives ask hard questions that end up leading them into becoming skeptics.

I have dealt with this topic in the past. I have offered my own views as to why I have Emunah. But I fully admit that I do not have satisfactory answers to all the questions asked by these highly intelligent people. For example it is almost impossible to answer a question put to me many times by different people – and one that precipitated Ari’s descent into the world of skeptics. From the article:

One morning, I woke up and a thought fell on me like a ton of bricks. I realized I was only an Orthodox Jew because it was what I had been taught since birth. I knew no other way. If I had been born into a Christian family, I would have been on the Jesus train. If I’d been born into a Muslim family, I would’ve jumped on the Allah bandwagon. If I had been raised in the splendor of the flying spaghetti monster, then I’d have spent my mornings praising his noodle appendages. I was an Orthodox Jew by chance, I realized, and the realization shook me to my core.

I honestly do not know how to answer a question like this. And yet I have complete faith in Judaism as it has been handed down to me by my forefathers. Am I lucky to be born a Jew in a religious home? Yes! You bet I am. But that does not answer the question of why I get to be so lucky.

One of the things I deal with here (which my last post touched upon) is the fantastic stories of faith that strains credulity. As described by Ari:

I would hear stories of people who had their lives saved by their tefillin. One guy was praying while driving and got into a car accident; the only thing that stopped his head from smashing through the windshield was his headpiece. Another devout man, about to board a plane, realized he left his tefillin at home and missed the flight while retrieving them, and—you guessed it—the plane crashed. It all sounded like a bit much.

These kinds of stories tend to bring out the skeptic in me as well. Not that they are impossible to believe. But that they are so frequently used to prove that a miracle occurred because of an act based on one’s religious belief… Or taken a step further, because one participated in one of those Segula Tzedaka campaigns.

When people start questioning their faith, stories like this only accelerate the process.

I don’t have any answers to this increasing problem. But at the same time, there is absolutely nothing being done to address them in a communal way. At least not as it pertains to nipping it in the bud in one’s formal educational experience.

Joy To The World, We’re Jewish

Friday, August 17th, 2012

When I began this article, I had intended to write about Anna Breslaw’s article in Tablet (www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/105853/breaking-bad-karma) where she basically defamed Holocaust survivors and called them “villains masquerading as heroes.” As I tried to organize my thoughts, I wondered how many young Jews agreed with Anna’s article. I realized that maybe the problem isn’t one article but that Judaism is not being taught correctly to my generation.

One of my dear friends is a Christian and she is on fire for her faith. It glows in her eyes, it brings a smile to her face and it makes her love life. She is proud of who she is and holds her head higher because of what she believes.

I may not want her religion, but I definitely want that fervor brought to my faith. I want Jewish kids on fire for Judaism, I want us smiling when we talk about our faith, I want us to be proud and happy to be Jewish. Anna Breslaw isn’t on fire for Judaism and I want to know why.

As much as we like to kvetch about it, being Jewish is really awesome. It’s an ancient system of beliefs that has survived massive persecution to produce immense scholarship and achievement. We resurrected a language, we got a country and we have a unique contract with the One Who Created the World. Why aren’t Jewish youth walking around with a light in their eyes?

One reason a friend mentioned is that modern society seems to reject rules in favor of freedom and personal expressions. I’d accept that theory, but I see so many religious Mormons and Evangelical Christians observe long lists of rules and do it voluntarily. More importantly, they do it joyfully.

Maybe that is the problem. In a survey of Metropolitan Chicago Jews, 81% of Jews said that remembering the Holocaust was an important part of their identity and 80% said that stopping anti-Semitism was the most important. 49% felt it was important to take positive steps like donating to Jewish causes. If our relationship to Judaism is just suffering, it is no wonder that it is being rejected. It’s hard to be on fire for something so negative. If being Jewish is about remembering the Holocaust and avoiding it happening in the future, I’d mock such a faith myself.

As vital as the Holocaust is, as terrible as anti-Semitism is, it’s not what being Jewish is about. When I smile at the harried neighbor and ask how she’s doing, that is being Jewish. When I give up my seat to an elderly person, that is being Jewish. I live my life as a stich in an incredible tapestry and I am so proud of who I am. I know he might not be the best example of Judaism, but Disraeli had it right when he said that his ancestors were priests in the temple of Solomon. We have a glorious history and an even more glorious future!

We have so much positivity in our faith. There is no joy like playing Vashti in a Purim shpiel and then downing far too many Hamantashan at a merry feast. There is no sport like negotiating hard for an afikoman, or looking up at the stars peeking in between the sparse roofing of a Succah. There is no feeling that can compare to seeing the Western Wall and crying with hundreds of strangers who are instantly your family. My personal week’s highlight is when my dad lays his head on my head and gives me a blessing before he makes kiddush.

The problem is that many Jews today are missing out on those amazing experiences and all they have is the Holocaust as their heritage and the eternal terror of anti-Semitism. Who wants that?

Judaism faces a unique challenge today. We can live where we wish, work in whatever fields we wish and even marry whom we wish. There is no badge that marks us as Jews; people of the Tribe have reached the greatest heights in every single area of American life. That kind of freedom is wonderful, but it also means that unless a fundamental choice to be Jewish is made, there is little holding back assimilation. Judaism must market itself attractively and some are already ahead of the trend.

Of Truth and Belief

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

http://haemtza.blogspot.co.il/2012/08/of-faith-and-belief.html

One of the most perplexing things for me to understand is the concept of Orthopraxy. As currently defined, an Orthoprax Jew tends to follow Halacha, but may question the existence of God or whether the Torah was given to us at Sinai . And yet such people do exist. My first encounter with such an individual was when I initiated this blog. He called himself “Misnagid”. And he guarded his anonymity “religiously”.

That came as a shock to me at the time. I could not understand why anyone would bother keeping the Mitzvos if he didn’t believe in God. If I recall correctly, his answer was that he was raised as an Orthodox Jew, married Orthodox, and lived in an Orthodox environment. It would have radically changed his life to “come out of the closet” so to speak. So he plays along, going through the motions for appearances sake. This even includes sending his children to an Orthodox Jewish day school.  Interestingly, he admitted that Shabbos still meant a lot to him… that this weekly day of rest was rejuvenating to his spirit – as it were.

I actually understand that.

Although not all Orthoprax Jews are atheists (some are just skeptics and simply doubt God’s existence – not going so far as to deny it) Misnagid is an atheist. How he became one is irrelevant to this post. The point is that he is one of many such people. They exist in all segments of Orthodoxy. I recall an interview in Mishpacha Magazine with a Charedi Posek who was one such individual! (Since his exposure he is no longer a Posek.)

I think few people are aware how many people are Orthoprax. How could they be? These closet skeptics and atheists must remain there if they want continue their lives without the major upheaval that often goes along with going OTD. They want to remain in the environment they are used to. They want the continued acceptance by their family and friends they have always had. So they remain Frum on the outside, and atheists on the inside.

The appeal of an Orthodox lifestyle can be seen among Baalei Teshuva. They will often choose to be observant for non-theological reasons. They believe that living their lives according to the Torah and its moral teachings makes them better human beings. And they are meticulous in their observances.

This appeal is apparently the case with some Jewish atheists. Like Zeke Emanuel, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanual’s brother. In a Washington Post article he describes himself as a Kosher atheist:

Judaism isn’t about what people think, he seems to be saying. It’s about what they do. It follows, according to that argument, that it’s more Jewish to keep kosher than it is to believe unthinkingly in God.

In what has to be an amazing statement for an Orthodox Rabbi, especially one who claims to be a practitioner of the Chabad Chasidus and follower of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe – Rabbi Shmuley Boteach seems to agree:

“Judaism,” he told me in a phone call, “is not a religion primarily of faith. It is a religion primarily of practice…”

How any Orthodox Rabbi can make an unqualified statement like that and still call himself Orthodox is beyond me. The most fundamental tenet of Judaism is the belief in one God. The first 3 of the 10 Commandments deal with matters of faith!

While it is true that Judaism is a religion based on acts, those acts presuppose a belief in God. All the Mitzvos in the world are spiritually meaningless if one does not believe in the ultimate Spiritual Being, God.

I understand that there is a practical side to observance that may even be its main selling point to those considering Orthodoxy. I know people who have told me that they became observant because the lifestyle appealed to them. They saw the community of religious Jews and found it much more rewarding than the hedonistic ways of their friends or even siblings.

I recall at least 2 weddings where the all the siblings and friends of two Baalei Teshuva getting married had lifestyles that were very self-centered and hedonistic. Lifestyles that included a great deal of non-marital sex and even drug use. None of them were interested in getting married and having a family.

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