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July 7, 2015 / 20 Tammuz, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Joseph B. Soloveitchik’

Republished: My Rebbe Rav Aharon Lichtenstein Is Awarded the Israel Prize 2014

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

Originally published in February 2014.

My chaver Billy Altshul informed me that our rebbe Rav Aharon Lichtenstein has been awarded the Israel Prize 2014 in Jewish religious literature.

He was one of the finest teachers that I studied with in college – a genius as an educator and a sincere and compassionate human being. He is the person that I chose to personify the quintessential scribe personality of prayer in my book “God’s Favorite Prayers (p. 71 ff).”

The Scribe’s Prayers

Shema — n 1. the central statement of Jewish belief, the sentence “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is your God; the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4) 2. the section of the liturgy consisting of this and related biblical passages, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41, recited in the morning and evening prayers and on retiring at night [Hebrew, literally: hear]

—Collins English Dictionary, 2009

I had the privilege of studying in Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s Talmud shiur (class) for two years, 1966-1968. Each December, he invited us talmidim (disciples) to his house for latkes (potato pancakes) on Hanukkah. There, in his apartment, we sat with his little kids and his wife Tovah, daughter of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik. The latkes were good and the Lichtensteins appeared to be a regular family. For some reason, that surprised me.

Once, during the years that I was in his shiur, while I was out with some of the guys playing basketball on the courts between the Yeshiva College dorms, Rav Aharon, a lanky, thin and tall man, came walking by. One of us had the chutzpah to ask him to join the ball game. He said okay and he played aggressively—and just like a regular guy. For some reason, that blew my mind.

And, one year, in our student play, the Yeshiva College Purim shpiel, a satiric revue for the holiday, I played the role of Rav Aharon. In my performance, I hemmed and hawed and exaggerated my rebbe’s mannerisms much more than I should have. And there in the audience sat my rebbe, laughing heartily along with us. For some reason, that really blew my mind.

These three anecdotes aside, Rav Aharon was not just a regular guy. He also was a special teacher who imbued me with indelible lessons that I have taken with me throughout my life.

Rav Aharon taught me that you could be both a humanist and a Talmudic scholar, a lamdan. He clearly loved English literature, which he had studied at Harvard. He often and freely quoted poets John Milton and Edmund Spenser. He happily contrasted the ideas of the enlightenment with those of the Torah. But all the time it was clear to me that literature was his avocation and that learning Torah was his true vocation.

Rav Aharon also taught me that you could critically study and deeply love the lifestyle instructions—called the hashkafah—of the Torah. Each week, we read and discussed a chapter in Rabbi Elimelech Bar Shaul’s inspirational Hebrew treatise, Mitzvah Valev (Tel Aviv, 1956), which means the commandments and the heart. Through that work, Rav Aharon taught us that the cognitive understanding of a commandment needed to be joined to the emotional commitment of one’s heart. His lessons had a profoundly powerful and positive impact on my faith.

Finally, Rav Aharon taught me that you could be a vitally creative pedagogue even in the most traditional subjects of learning. The college administration told him that he had to give us exams in Talmud, the main subject that he taught us, so he used that as an opportunity to teach us more. He gave us thought-questions. Based on something we learned previously, he would ask us to resolve a new scenario. Or he would give us text-questions. He would have us examine a brand new text, related to some passage we had learned before, and then he asked us to parse it and to comment on it. We had to decide what commentary he had plucked the text from, tell him what the text meant and then explain why we came to our conclusions. That was hard.

That is how Rav Aharon taught me that an exam could do more than ask a student to regurgitate what he had learned. The rabbi tested my knowledge and my thinking powers at the same time, and was the only teacher that I ever had who truly knew details of my personal styles of learning and of my own intellectual strengths and weaknesses. I happily confess that I used elements of Rav Aharon’s methodology of thought-questions and text-questions in many of the Talmud and Jewish Studies courses that I taught over the years at the University of Minnesota, the Jewish Theological Seminary and elsewhere.

After I went on to become a professor, I would take extended leaves to work on my research in Jerusalem, Israel. My father owns a Katamon-neighborhood apartment that he inherited from his parents, who moved to Israel in the 1950s from New York City. That is where I lived while in Jerusalem. In the mornings, I frequently would go to the shacharit morning services at the Shtiblach nearby. The Shtiblach was a veritable prayer mall, a busy set of connected, one-room prayer-halls in a single, modest neighborhood building. There, I would often see the saintly Rav Aharon at one of the services, sitting near him and thereby joining him de facto at prayer. That would lift my spirits for the day. Because Rav Aharon embodies the ideals of the scribe archetype, I use his name to refer now to that remarkable model of prayer that I met during my spiritual quests in search of perfect prayer….

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Adultery and Marriage: a Jewish Approach to Monogamy

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

It is well known that one of the Ten Commandments is the prohibition of adultery. Extramarital sex has historically been a man’s game, since the male sexual desire is stereotypically assumed to be uncontrollable. A recent survey by the National Opinion Research Center has shown, however, that the number of married American women having adulterous affairs has nearly doubled over the last decade. Today, 21 percent of men admit to having such affairs while 14.7 percent of women now admit to having them.

Sociologists explain that women today are more willing to cheat since they have stronger careers and aren’t as worried about the financial loss they would incur in a divorce. A recent Pew Research Center poll showing that working mothers are now the primary “breadwinners” in 37 percent of American homes (up from 11 percent in 1960) seems to bear this out, as these numbers roughly match the proportion of men and women having affairs. Most of these breadwinning women are single mothers, but 40 percent of them are married and earn more than their husbands. Perhaps it is true that when women began to enter the workforce in greater numbers and rise in the corporate world, they learned from and now emulate corporate male behavior.

In What do Women Want?, Daniel Bergner notes that women may be no different from men in their struggle with monogamy and desires for sexual novelty , although there may be differences depending on the situation. For example, research on rhesus monkeys demonstrated that males initiated sexual relations when the monkeys were kept in smaller cages, but in larger spaces the females initiated sexual relations. Significantly, this and other findings have occurred at the same time that the number of women in scientific research has soared. We hope that science has passed the era when scientists could claim that women suffered from “hysteria” (based on the Greek word for uterus), irrational behavior supposedly caused by disturbances in the uterus.

One might think that monogamy was considered to be against the norms of evolution, since a male biologically wants to have as many offspring as possible. Analysis of various animals living with their brood show that anywhere from 10 percent to 70 percent of their offspring have a father different from the male animal currently staying with the brood. Professor David P. Barash of the University of Washington famously quipped, “Infants have their infancy; adults, adultery.” Even among primates (which include humans), more than 200 species are not monogamous. However, British scientists have found that in the three species of primates in which monogamy evolved, it did so after a period where males had earlier committed infanticide. In reaction, fathers began to remain by their children and mothers to protect them from rival males, thus establishing the monogamous nuclear family. The virtual universality of this system among humans, and its staying power across civilizations, argues for its value.

Even among other species from beetles to baboons, while exogamous sex occurs, one mate will often react with a ferocious jealousy if it observes the other straying. Promiscuity may be necessary among some species for survival, but that does not mean that these creatures like it.

Marriage is one formal marker and arrangement for monogamy. In the Jewish tradition, marriage is a central institution, and Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik wrote about this unique commitment:

On the one hand, the great covenant [of marriage] has been compared by the prophets time and again to the betrothal of Israel to G-d; on the other hand, the ordinary betrothal of woman to man has been raised to the level of covenantal commitment. Marriage as such is called berit, a covenant. Apparently, the Bible thinks that the redeeming power of marriage consists in personalizing the sexual experience, in having two strangers, both endowed with equal dignity and worth, meet. And the objective medium of attaining that meeting is the assumption of covenantal obligations which are based upon the principle of equality. Hence, we have a clue to the understanding of the nature of matrimony. All we have to do is analyze the unique aspects of covenantal commitment and apply them to the matrimonial commitment (Family Redeemed, 41-42).

Knowing how hard it is to find the perfect partner, the Rabbis taught: “It is [as] difficult [for G-d] to match up [a man and a woman for marriage] as it is to split the sea (Sotah 2a).” Elsewhere in the Talmud, the Rabbis debate whether the primary goal of marriage is to produce offspring or about the marriage itself:

Rav Nachman said in the name of Shmuel that even though a man has many children, he may not remain without a wife, as it says: “It is not good that man be alone.” But others say that if he does have children then he may abstain from procreation and he may even abstain from taking a wife altogether (Yevamot 61b).

But even those who subscribe to the latter position, that it is not obligatory to get married, must agree that it’s still desirable and good (i.e., not legally required but clearly very good and important) to marry.

Rav Soloveitchik further explains:

Within the frame of reference of marriage, love becomes not an instinctual reaction of an excited heart to the shocking sudden encounter with beauty, but an intentional experience in reply to a metaphysical ethical summons, a response to the great challenge, replete with ethical motifs. Love, emerging from an existential moral awareness, is sustained not by the flame of passion, but by the strength of a Divine norm whose repetitious fulfillment re-awakens its vigor and force. The marriage partners, by imitating G-d who created a world in order to be concerned with and care for it, extend the frontiers for their communal living to their offspring, and by questing to love someone who is yet unborn, defy the power of erotic change and flux. The ethical yearning to create and share existence with someone as yet unknown redeems hedone by infusing it with axiological normative meaning and thus gives it a new aspect — that of faith. Since our eternal faith in G-d is something which defies rationalization, the mutual temporal faith of man and woman united in matrimony is just as paradoxical. History does not warrant our unswerving religious faith; likewise, utilitarian psychology denies the element of faith in the marriage institution (Family Redeemed, 42).

No one claims that monogamy is easy. We know from psychological studies that young people often have cognitive skills that are still evolving, and it is difficult to tell whether two people can grow compatibly over decades. The choice of a partner is a serious matter. Honest and loving marriage is central to the Jewish faith. We must do all we can to collaboratively preserve the holy covenant that strengthens our families and societies.

We must protect our own marriages and the institution of marriage. Adultery, as one of the many causes of failed marriages, must be rejected through ethical conviction and spiritual commitment. We must all have personal moral accountability, legitimate caring for our spouses and children, and Jewish commitment to the pledge of monogamy and shared covenant of love and devotion.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/adultery-and-marriage-a-jewish-approach-to-monogamy/2013/08/21/

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