Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Responding to Feminism & Halakha

Formally Elder Avraham & now young Rabbi Bronstein, gives a post-hype-hock on Monkey-gate (not one of the entrances to Central Park, though maybe one should place it somewhere near the West Side). His take, though thoughtful as usual, takes a classic YU/Bais Medrash approach of only focusing on Halakha and making Halakha central to the discussion. It also indicates a complete lack of familiarity with any feminist theory, which is sweet & nicely naïve (but also means that I may slam him in this post).

Some observations on his post, though my hock on feminism is still in the works:

As I have often pointed out halakha is a floor, not a ceiling (though wood paneling is extra). As I (and others) usually mean is that halakha is the minimum for a religious life, what goes beyond that is The Question in life.

In this context though, I am using that phrase to mean that, for most people, halakha is not their entire existance. People do not experience their lives as halakhic constructs. They experience life as full human beings with a full range of emotional, intellectual, religious, etc. experiences. Take a wedding for example. Most people spend a lot of time thinking about what they will wear, who will walk down, what music will play, who will be mesader kiddushin, all of which have no halakhic significance. However, they do play a major role in defining your Judaism and your feelings about Judaism.

A similar understanding could be applied to Feminist Orthodoxy. Of course Orthodoxy is a cultural construct, consisting of keeping Shabbos, Kashrus, and Mechitzah. But one could live an Orthodox life with women playing a prominent role or women playing no role. One could say that since women are, by the basic inequalities within normative (i.e. Orthodox) halakha precluded from being equal to men, so the game is already over. But this is a disingenuous argument. Within the cultural/halakhic construct that is Orthodoxy, what role will women play? By using overarching general principles, the unnamed Orthodox Academic possibly argues, Rav Schechter is taking the matter out of the given rules of (the cultural construct) Orthodoxy and makes the matter open for debate.

Bronstein wants an everything or nothing approach to Feminism. Either women are equal both practically & halakhically or the matter is not open to debate.

The other disingenuous part of back-row Bronstein’s argument, is that if people choose non-normative Halakha, they get attacked. If they choose to count women for a minyan they are slammed. So the argument that people should choose non-Orthodox Judaism is they want “real feminism,” is also naïve. Let’s be honest, people want to live a life with a Judaism in which they are comfortable. This life is halakhic but not defined by halakha.

Feminists want to keep an halakha within a community that they feel is Orthodox & fill prominent roles within that community. Whether they should be allowed to is a separate question.

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Another Elul story

I heard the following story from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz a while back:

There was once a vagrant who, stumbling around drunk in the rain, collapsed on the street, in front of a monastery. Several passing monks took him in, bathed him and placed him, still naked, in one of the monastery’s rooms.

The vagrant awoke, naked, not knowing where he was. He saw some clothing in the room and immediately put them on. He looked in a mirror and saw that he was dressing as a monk. The vagrant thought that he must then be a monk. But he didn’t recall being a monk. He saw a book and thought, “All monks can read. I will try to read that book. If I can read it then I must be a monk.” He proceeded to open the book and discovered that, indeed, he did not know how to read.

The vagrant continued to think. I am dressed like a monk & yet I cannot read. What does this mean?
It must be that all monks cannot read, but they are all faking, and none of them can read.
The moral of the story is that many people when confronting religious obstacles think that they are insurmountable. And when they see someone who has made tremendous strides religiously where they have not, instinctively think that the other person must be faking.

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Thursday, August 26, 2004


In defense against a recent attack on me by Chakira, I was only speaking about R. Mordechai T. He played a role, in his Tuesday night shiur, as a counter voice that his father, both Roshei Yeshiva at YU, does not.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Communities & Avodas Hashem

What role should your community play in your Avodas Hashem?

Some mayue for living in a community which takes Avodas Hashem seriously. There are many problems with this. One is that different members of a community might have different paths to Avodas Hashem. If people have a different path, what would be gained, in the greater sense, by living with them. (If everyone is, in general, pro-Avodas Hashem and they all get along with their different paths, I suspect that their paths are lukewarm paths.) Secondly, Ovdei Hashem tend to include unstable elements, which are not good for community building.

My personal take is that one should have a minimum required from the community where one lives and that it facilitate one's personal Avodas Hashem. Every person has different minimal standards for their communities. Mine include Shemiras Halakha, tzenius, no movies or TV (at least in public discussion), a basic ethical honesty, and a positive attitude towards non-Jews and non-Jewish religion. Others may include not being into externals (chitzoni'yus), not being racist, and menchlichkeit, or ehrlichkeit. Part of this is a function of what one's personal path in Avodas Hashem is. Once one clearly knows his path, then one can pick a community which facilitates growth along this path.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Elul & August

In earlier points in my life, Elul fell at a rather inconvenient time. It's difficult to focus on doing Teshuva and repenting when you are in the midst of a summer vacation. If one is in camp, travelling, or doing the "Summer in New York City" thing, it's kind of hard to switch gears and think about Yom ha-Din, Teshuvah, or reevaluating your whole life, while on vacation/summer mode.
Since I am not doing that this Augst, I am finding it easier to focus more properly on Elul and the Teshuvah process.

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Monday, August 23, 2004

Shaking & Quaking

Rabbi Carmy once quoted Rav Aharon Lichtenstein about educating one's children in Avodas haKodesh. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein noted that you could be a Shaker but your kids might not shake. You could be a Quaker, but your children may not quake. But it's easier to transmit lomdus to one's children.
The problem is that it's easy to create a community where all one has is Halakha, Lomdus, & Learning, without any spiritual paths. It's difficult to create communities where Avodas Hashem is engaged seriously across an entire community. So Avodas Hashem becomes either based upon Yeshivos, Chugim, or in individuals.
The problem with the first is that Yeshivos primary focus is in learning Gemara; rarely do we select a Yeshiva for it's path in Avodas Hashem. About the others, I may blog later.

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Brewing Scandal

Before the Forward comes out this Wednesday and the browbeating, attacking, and fingerpointing commence, I would like to jump the gun and frame the discussion about the latest Rabbinic abuse scandal.

1) We will have to wait until we see what evidence was available to whom. One can only implicate people who were aware of actual evidence (and not only rumours) and had the power to change things. People who did not have actual evidence or did not have actual power are innocent until proven otherwise. In RIETS the only two people with such power are the Dean & the President. The same questions apply to the Agunah activists.
2) If anything immoral or illegal activity was done on RIETS campus (like, for example, an Agunah Bais Din), then YU could be held accountable. If not, any responsibility would only be incidental.
3) What information was available to the RCA and when? The RCA has set up a procedure to report and deal with abusive Rabbis. If it was not used, why not? If it was, then they would not be liable.
4) I find it interesting that the Forward waited until the end of the summer, the weekend when YU begins school to publish their expose. I will judge them for their merit and not assume that they waited on publishing their research until would have the biggest impact on YU and Modern Orthodoxy.
Of course we will know more if & when the Forward article comes out.

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Friday, August 20, 2004

Loving God (another story)

A young Hindu was walking with his Guru to immerse in the river. The student asked his master what it means to love God. The master did not respond. As they neared the water, the student asked again, what it means to love God and, again, his master did not answer. When they finally reached the riverbank, the student asked a third time. The master immersed in the river and emerged and the student followed his master into the water. When the student tried to get out, the master put his hands on his disciples head keeping him underwater.... for 20, 30 seconds. Then a minute. After a minute and a half the teacher took his hands away and the student burst out of the river, gasping for air. "When you desire God as much as you desired air a minute ago," the teacher said, "then you will know what it means to love God".

I considered converting this into a Chassidic story before blogging it, but I thought that that would be inauthentic.

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Belief, Faith, Beyond Halakha (Elul continued)

Rabbi Shalom Carmy has a (chiluk) distinction based upon two major twentieth century Jewish thinkers:
Rabbi Elchanon Wasserman stated that people choose not to believe so that they can live a hedonistic lifestyle. But without their desire for a hedonistic lifestyle, these people would be believers.
Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik said that people would like to believe, but cannot bring themselves to faith/Emunah.
This distinction underlies much of the Modern Orthodiox vs. Chareidi attitude towards the non-religious and therefore kiruv.

Of course, in Elul this question is much less important, as if you are interested in Teshuva during Elul, I am assuming that you are already committed to Halakha, God, etc. Why do Teshuvah if you don't believe? Unless it is an expression of a nostolgia for a time in your life when you were a believer/maamin?

A friend of mine once claimed that it's easy to keep halakha, though learning Torah is difficult. Austensibly it is easy to keep halakha, as Professor Walter Wurzburger pointed out, Halakha is a Floor not a Ceiling (meaning its the minimum not the maximum of a Jewish life).

What is beyond Halakha? What is more than observance of the laws and rituals? Well, that's one of the big questions of Elul.

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Thursday, August 19, 2004

The King has Left the Field

When I was younger, I found spiritually appealing the Chassidic idea of Elul being a period when the King leaves his palace and travels around his Kingdom. During this period, you can go out into the field and meet the King. In the field the King (God) will be.

However, in recent years, I have become disenchanted with this idea. I find now more appealing the Mussar idea as Elul as an before a Day of Judgement and this period of Teshuvah and Cheshbon ha-Nefesh as preparation for that day.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

A Story

To illustrate our earlier post let me tell a story:

Two Buddhist monks were traveling down a road and came to a river. At the river, which had been swollen by several days of rain, waiting to cross was a beautiful woman. While the younger monk turned away from the woman, the older monk picked up the woman and carried her across the river. Afterwards, as the monks continued on their journey, the younger monk was clearly agitated by the actions of the older monk. The older monk responded by telling the younger monk: "I left her (the woman) back at the river; why do you still continue to carry her?"

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Mussar vs. Chassidus (Cheshbon ha-Nefesh)

One of the major differences between the traditional derachim (paths) of Mussar & Chassidus is their attitude towards personal introspection (Cheshbon ha-Nefesh).

Traditionally, Mussar placed a heavy emphasis on personal introspection, and reviewing one's life and actions, while Chassidus thinks what has happened has happened and one should now focus on the future and the New You (more of a break with the past).

Interestingly when Ben Franklin's autobiography was translated into Hebrew, by the maskil Lessin (a.k.a Leffin, Levin), it was partly meant to be a polemic against Chassidus and the Chassidic attitude towards repentence and sin. The book, Sefer Cheshbon Hanefesh, was embraced by the Mussar movement and has become a central text of the Mussar life.

Nowadays, the tendency, from what I have seen, is to integrate the two approaches (or to have such a superficial approach to Avodas Hashem that one loses any distinction between different approaches). Overall, self-examination was one out, mainly because of the influence of psychology as the driving force in Orthodox Jewish life.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Paths of Avodas Hashem

I stongly believe that in one's Avodas Hashem that one should pick a path and follow it. My reason is that any serious path of Avodas Hashem (e.g. Mussar, Chassidus, Misnagdus, Kabbalah, Torah U-Madda) has been developed by its practitioners & there is enough literature by them about the path so that different situations, challenges, and difficulties are discussed and analyzed. Furthermore, if a derekh has been around for a period of time (and therefore developed by enough different people for long enough) there is a range within the literature of the derekh which would resonate at different stages of one's life.

Not that I am objecting to using pieces of different paths. But the difficulty with eclecticism is it is easy to be so eclectic that one paints oneself into a corner. If one is working within a path, there are enough people who have traveled that path beforehand then one can find those who dealt with one's issues or crisis before.

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Rambam vs. Tur

I was learning Halakha recently and I thought that one could use the difference between the Mishneh Torah and the Arbah Turim to illustrate the difference in the approach of the Modern Orthodox & the Yeshivish.
The Mishneh Torah clearly demonstrates the Rambam's philosophical background: it is logically ordered with general principles followed by case examples. It digests the Gemara to present the Halakha in a very rational and logical fashion. The Tur in contrast presents Halakhos as one actually deals with them over the course of the day. What you need to know when you wake up, then put on Tefillin, Daven, eat, etc. Furthermore we will bring in quotes from other opinions when he thinks it relevant.
While the Mishneh Torah may be more logically structured, the Tur is much more practical for actual living your life as a Jew.
I think the same could be said about Modern Orthodoxy's tendency to present Judaism is a way that is philosophically sound, historically accurate, and logical. But less practical for someone who wants to live his life as a frum Jew. In contrast, the Yeshivish Velt might be less philosophically rigorous, but the Judaism that they teach is much easier to keep and more immediately accessible to ordinary Baal ha-Baatim.

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Rosh Chodesh Elul

Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul.
There was a time in my life when I would shudder to utter that statement.

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Monday, August 16, 2004

Israel & Machshavah

I try not to prophecize or interpret prophecy, given the traditional Jewish attitude to bearers of prophecy these days, but I have to say when you compare the creativity and sheer amount of Jewish thought which takes place in Israel versus what which takes place in the diaspora, one might be convinced of Rav Kook's predictions about the Jewish people in the Diaspora vs. the Jewish people in their own Land & State.

Because the Jewish people are free in their own country they can actually do serious machshavah and philosophy. Even though there are as many Jews, more money, and more Jewish studies departments in the diaspora.

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The trouble with Nextbook & the like

The superficiality, sillinesss, and naivity in the Jewish content of this article on Hamodia by Stephen Vider in Nextbook is a bit of a shonda. I would not have mentioned it, but it's typical of how Jewishly shallow many of the avant gard new-Jew projects are.
One cannot solve the Jewish identity crisis without knowing something about Judaism, despite Jonathan Sarna's article (which I finally found online @ Reboot), which serves is everyone's manifesto on re-inventing Judaism.

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Friday, August 13, 2004

The Most Important Jewish Thinker that you haven't heard about

Marc Alain Ouaknin: Presumably because he is French and teaches in Israel no one in American Modern Orthodoxy has heard of him. But given the dearth of Orthodox Jewish thinkers alive in the world today, one would think that someone should have brought him in to speak somewhere.

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Blogroll re-rolled

I noticably did not include in my theoretical blogroll any Israel or political themed blogs. That was a deliberate choice on my part. For the most part, I have found that almost all Israeli themed blogs too political for my tastes. Not that I actively dislike Israeli politics, but they tend to preach to the converted. Does anyone who reads an Israel-political blog disagree with it (with the possible exception of blogs like Jewschool or Protocols, which attract readers not interested in its political posts)? What's the point of reading a blog which just emphasizes what you already believe? In my experience, these blogs have already picked a side and just digest and interpret the news from their chosen position. Which is why I try to avoid them if possible.

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Thursday, August 12, 2004


Simcha recently asked me when I will put up a blogroll. Though I once explained why I won't blogroll (which I see is a wise choice given how many short lived blogs clutter the internet), I decided to post who I might include in a blogroll if I were to have one. So here goes:
Aldaily (which, though technically not a blog, but never fails to provide me with interesting content), The Town Crier, Hirhurim, the new Protocols (which is always an iffy question on a blogroll these days, but still is a source of hock, when it is not the source of the controversy; if Luke keeps up his good posting, it will be a better blog than before), Bronstein, Chakira & (as a New Yorker) Gothamist. I might consider put up Oz Dating Theory (which is more truthful and accurate than Endthemadness) or Adam Davis (long story) . Other than those, the blogs I read on a regular basis are the blogs of friends (or friends of friends) or people I know.

I honestly tried to read those blogs of people who quoted me or blogrolled me, but I had to give up, finding them painful reads.
One of the amazing things that continues to suprise me is given an opportunity to present themselves and their thoughts to the world how many people choose to post the silliest, most mundane, and rediculous ideas on their blogs. This reminds me of Williams Golding's explanation of Lord of the Flies. Paraphrasing Golding, LOTF is not about how man is savage or cruel, but rather given the opportunity to recreate human civilization, the children choose the most savage and barbaric parts of humanity in building their society. Similarly with blogs. When chosing how to present themselve to the world, bloggers often choose their worse traits; not that blogs are necessarily accurate reflections of the authors.

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Starring Sean Connery as Israel Singer and Leonard diCaprio as Pinky Shapiro

(From the August 9 issue of New York Magazine)
In the Works:
THE ROBBERY REPORT Big-screen veteran Sean Connery, who's been largely absent from theaters for the past few years, is headed to Manhattan this fall to shoot Josiah's Canon, a big-budget dramatic bank caper for 20th Century Fox that will be filming in Europe as well. Action love Brett Ratner (Red Dragon, Rush Hour 2) directs the film, which focuses on a Holocaust Survivor who leads a crack team of bank robbers in an assult on a Swiss bank that they believe is holding money deposited by Jews before World War II.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Don't Pish Where I Fish

I think that that line pretty much sums up many people's attitude. They can't stop bad things from happening in the larger world, so they want those things outside their immediate environment.

This is similar to NIMBY (not in my backyard), but DPWIF admits that such things exist, but if you have to do bad things, don't do it in my community.
This is not a Tzaddik-in-Pelts attitude, because it is not a lack of caring, but rather it is a drawing in of the wagons.

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Bergenfield & Passaic

"Bergenfield is a place where you move to put on a black hat if you so choose (not that you will necessarily put on a black hat) and not have anyone comment."
-Quote from a friend
"Passaic is a place where you move to put on a black hat."

Explanation: People move to Bergenfield to stay culturally within Modern Orthodoxy/YU, but moving to the right (e.g. no TV or movies, wearing a black hat, being shomer negiah, etc.).

Passaic, on the other hand, gives people an opportunity to begin the slow process of culturally moving out of Modern Orthodoxy towards a more Yeshivish community.

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Baal HaBaatim

Though we often talk about Baal ha-Baatim, and most blogs are written by Baal ha-Baatim, we don't often explicate the difference between being a Baal ha-Bus and a Rav/Rosh Yeshiva. So I would like to roughly draw the three major factors in distinguishing Baal ha-Baatim and Rabbinic Elite/Clergy:

1) Expectations:
People in Avodas Ha-Kodesh and their families are usually expected to maintain a higher level of religious and ethical standard that others within the same community. Even a Baal ha-Bus with smicha is not looked at with the same public eye as a Rabbinic figure.

2) Stability/Financial:
Though there are many notable exceptions, generally, being a Baal Ha-Bus gives one a greater degree of stability (career, financial, geographic) than a life of Avodas Ha-Kodesh. Choosing a life in Avodas Ha-Kodesh often means losing this stability for both the Rabbi and his family.

3) Power:
Rabbinic Elite have power that the laity do not. Being a Rabbi or Rav or even a Mechanaich gives one religious power and authority that a stam Baal ha-Bus lacks. Their opinion about halakhah or even Judaism in general carries more weight that a layman.

So many who choose a life of one or the other have to factor in the above three issues in their choices.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The Mis-yon

(Israeli) Chareidi society has solved the problem of different and confusing types of Christianity. Among real Israeli Chareidim (meaning not Anglos, etc.) all Christians and Christianity is categorized as the Mis-yon (i.e. Mission). Part of a massive unified attempt of Christians to convert the Jews.

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Monday, August 09, 2004

The Meaning of Mesorah

When people speak of having or lacking a "Mesorah" (tradition) they usually mean one of three things:

1) Mesorah in the grand sense as a chain from our generation back to Moshe Rabbeinu at Matan Torah. This is similiar to how Mesorah is presenting by the Rambam in his introduction to Peirush Ha-Mishnayos.

2) Mesorah is the most immediate sense: "This person has a mesorah." or "Baalei Teshuvah lack a mesorah". This means a complete Jewish worldview inherited from the previous generation, usually through osmosis.

3) Mesorah as tracable back through history. Most Yeshivos will claim a Mesorah back to the Vilna Gaon for their Derech ha-Limud (usually through Rav Chaim of Volozhin, then the Volozhin Yeshiva, and then, however that Yeshiva's history goes). This idea is applied to even contradictory Darchei ha-Limud. The essential point is to give yourself validity/Mesorah/authenticity.

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Comment Sections

I was reflecting this weekend about the article from Spiked which I linked last week. Explicit in the article is that people really take their comment sections seriously (because blogs, for good or for bad, are an extension of the bloggers egos). So therefore, if you see a post that you think is good, why not mention it in the comments section and make the bloggers happier?

Practically there are three ways that bloggers can gauge the impact of their blogs: 1) Comments section, 2) Hits, & 3) Links from other blogs. So anyway that you can make bloggers feel better (and thereby blog more), why not?

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Friday, August 06, 2004

Sinners in the Hands of a [ ] God

From Today's Opinion Journal:

GOT GOD? MTV.com says that hip-hop is getting religion--that "Kanye West has the song of the summer with 'Jesus Walks.'" The first verse, MTV news reports, is about a drug dealer who prays that the Lord will protect him while he hustles. The next verse begins as follows: "I ain't here to argue about his facial features / Or here to convert atheists into believers / I'm just trying to say the way schools needs teachers / The way Kathie Lee needed Regis / That's the way y'all need Jesus." To tell you the truth, we're not sure whether this is tony or tacky.

There is a Reb Shlomo story about that featuring The Baal Shem Tov, Reb Baruch of Mezibodz (sp.), and, I think, Reb Yaakov Yoseph of Polonoye.

(Slow week in blogging.)

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Monkey-Gate Wrap-up

A final reflection on the shiur, article, & assorted ensuing discussions. The problem with any discussion about this issue is that anyone who is knowledgable about what is going on and the issues involved are so religiously, emotionally, intellectually, culturally, etc. involved that objectivity is not even a viable option.
The same I predict holds true for any future discussion on these issues (e.g. women's issues, change in halakhah, YU, RIETS, RHS, The Jewish Week, Modern Orthodox, RYBS, WTG's, et cetera). Knowledge of people, incidents, and issues involved, almost by definition, any objective take on the topic. Therefore, we can only look forward to more conflict, until everyone gets too tired of these matters and the hock is dropped from sheer exhaustion.

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Nachem II or Meaning What We Praying

I mentioned earlier this week an underground controversy regarding revising the Nachem prayer to reflect the current reality of Jerusalem.

I was by the Gemara in Yuma which explains the greatness of the Anshei Kneset/s ha-Gedolah (them Men of the Great Assembly) as having been able to return the glory to Hashem by radically reinterpreting Tefillah to mean the God is great for holding himself back while letting the enemies of the Jews destroy Israel.

The upshot is that the Anshei Kneset haGedolah, according to this passage of the Gemara produced radical theology, but maintained the ancient formulations of prayer.

In contrast Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, who is adverse both to radical theology and liturgical revisions favors the shev ve-al taaseh approach.

An alternative approach would be to revise our understanding of the "simple" "Pshat" of Prayer and adopted a more "Drash" approach to either prayer or Kavvanah. But this goes against Modern Orthodoxy's tendency to favor "Pshat" over "Drash" unless the Tradition forces them otherwise..

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Thursday, August 05, 2004

Starman and American Jewry

Continuing the theme of the Jewish Communities and Comic Books...
I have a soft spot in my heart for the (new) Starman. I think when it manages to stick to Earth (and Opal City) and its original vision, it really resembles the state of young American Jewry.

Like non-religious young American Jewry, Jack Knight, was sort of thrust into his role in life. For Jack it means taking on the mantle of Starman when his brother David was killed, from his father the original Starman, who invented all the tools. For American Jewry it means making sense of what it means to be Jewish in the twenty-first century. Especially after a large chuck of the Jewish people have been killed in the Holocaust. Jack Knight's exploration of the Superheroes of his father's age mirrors American Jewry's picking and choosing what their Judaism and Jewish roots mean.

But it is not only Starman who is making sense of the position that he inherited. His enemy Mist also gained her powers and enmity for the Knight family from her father the original Mist. And Jack Knight must negotiate relationships that he inherited from his father, such as those with O'Dare family, The Shade, and Blue Starman.
Unlike most comic books, Starman actually deals with a Superhero not created nor completely chosen by the protagonist, but rather something both inherited, chosen, and negotiated by all the superheros and supervillians, something like Judaism for most American Jews.

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Eliezer Berkovits and the Authority

One of the most revolutionary "team comics" in recent years has been The Authority. More than X-Factor/X-Static (which never lived up to its original promise) and even more that the varous Ultimate Marvel series, skirting irony/non-irony issue, it plays out the question of what would you do with unlimited powers and a clear "moral" vision. If one can tolerate the downsides of the series, this is one of the better Superhero teams in recent years.

Eliezer Berkovits is one of more underappreciated Orthodox Jewish Philosophers of the 20th Century. Though now that David Hazony of the Shalem Center is working on a PhD on Berkovits at Hebrew U. , Azure and the Shalem Center is created more buzz about Berkovits and bringing his writings and ideas into the public sphere.

EB had many interesting and important ideas, and one of them, as highlighted in a recent Azure article was his vision of Zionism. For Berkovits, Zionism was not about the creation of a Messianic Era, but rather the fulfillment of Judaism and its moral vision as it was meant to be without the shakles of exile. This is tied to his ideas about opening halakhah from its fossilization by hundreds of years of codifications. In Berkovits thought, the Jewish State is where where an autonomous Jewish people can fulfill the Biblical mandates, as expressed through halakhah.

The Authority, as led by Jenny Sparks, saves the world as they see fit and feels no compulsion about overthrowing tyrants, challenging the United Nations and the United States, or letting some people die for the greater good of humanity. Their vision is not the messianic vision of Miracle Man, Earth X/Universe X, or Kingdom Come, but an application of their sense of right and wrong on a global and universal scale.

For both the Authority & Berkovits, realizing your moral vision does not require a Messianic era, but rather the autonomy to impliment your own sense of right and wrong.

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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The Death of Superman (A thought)

One of most notable comic book events in the D.C. universe in the early nineties was the Death of Superman after a battle with Doomsday.

After the death of Superman he was "replaced" by four superbeings, which took on the mantle of the Man of Steel:
Superboy (created by Cadmus & cloned from Superman's DNA)
Steel (John Henry Irons)
Cyborg (Hank Henshaw)
Last Son

I was thinking last weekend about how this can be seen as a metaphor for Judaism in the modern era. When Judaism was first confronted by Modernity (Doomsday), many thought it "dead".

Among that which replaced traditional Judaism was (and possibly continues to be):
Reform Judaism (Cyborg): A combination of the "ethical monotheism" of Judaism with (then) current religious & philosophical trends (e.g. Kant, Hegel).
Jewish Culture (Superboy) which is cool, young, hip & relevant.
Academic Jewish Studies/Wissenschaft des Judentums (Steel) which shares much of the texts (symbols) with Judaism but would be the first to admit that it is different than Jewish religion.
Zionism (Last Son) who was more violent and manly than the "original" Judaism (see Guy Gardner's take on the Last Son) but also the most insecure about its identity.

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Reports from various fronts have reached us here; all giving King Richard the thumbs up. Apparently, in addition to tighting the good ship YU, and creating responsibility & transparency, he is also working on making YU into the heart to pump lifeblood into (Modern) Orthodoxy.

If one reads Victor Geller's Belkin book, one sees how Dr. Belkin largely cared only for YU & making building the school. To a significant degree, the rest of Orthodoxy only mattered in that they served to create students for YU & jobs for alumni.
Rabbi Lamm has carried on this noble tradition, by emphasizing YU & creating the institutional mentality of "What's in this for us?"
So word on the street is that President Joel is intent on transforming YU into a resource for (Modern) Orthodoxy, American & world Jewry, and American society.

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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The Myth of Jewish Literature

One of the persistent problems of Jewish Arts & Culture arbiters is their need, consciously or unconsciously, to maintain that the myth of the Immigrant Jewish Experience as the most authentic Jewish American Experience. This, despite the fact that most American Jews are third generation Americans who haven't chosen the either/or options of one world of the other, and are beyond assimiliation or acculturation, or are even negotiating their Jewish identities, but are rather just living their lives as American Jews.

This explains the persistent (and possibly prurient) interest in Russian Jewish immigrant authors. Because Russian immigrant authors writings can be used to connect to the"glory days" of Malamud, Roth, Bellows, at al.

UPDATE: Incidentally, there is an unusually good piece dissecting Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle in the Sunday Times a week ago as illuminating how identity plays out in America & in American culture today.

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2nd Generation Writers

Ruth Franlin recently wrote an excellent review essay several so-called Second Generation books for the Jew Republic, which was unfairly attacked two weeks ago by Nextbook's Paul Zakrzewski in The Jewish Week. (Zakrzewski's critique was just wrong & not worth repeating).

Personally, I don't like most of either first or second generation Holocaust literature. However, it would be difficult to underestimate the impact of the Holocaust on American (and world) Jewry and it's influence is felt in matters both large and small. Therefore, dealing with the Holocaust through literature seems like an inescapable way of engaging the Shoah. So if you have to have Second Generation literature, it should be good and not narcissistic.

But why is Paul Zakrzewski criticizing Ruth Franklin in The Jewish Week? Presumably because PZ is promoting young Jewish artists ("Jewish Culture") as the savior of American Judaism & the key to rescuing its young and disaffected from the assimilationist void. Much of this literature & culture is about Holocaustism, but if you argue against Holocaustish Jewish literature, then you lose your opportunity to engage the (largely) Jewishly ignorant young educated Jewish masses.

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The Naked Bloggers

There is an thought provoking, psychologically insightful, and prophetic essay by Professor Jeffrey Rosen in Spiked Online. I would summarize it, but that would not do the essay justice. Suffice it to say that the essay has strong implications about jBlogs, OnlySimchas, comments sections, and how we live our lives.

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Monday, August 02, 2004

"Mea Culpa"

In this week's Mishpacha magazine, Jonathan Rosenblum apologizes both for mistaking Professor Samuel Heilman for Professor William Helmreich and for calling Ephraim Zuroff a psychopath. As I earlier attacked Rosenblum for the latter matter, I would like to call attention to his retraction as a sign of his integrity. In his column, he noted that the Israeli & Chareidi press tends to favor sharp comments and aggressive attacks & that, unfortunately, JR had fallen into the patterns established by the genre.

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Best line (not my own) from the weekend re: Monkey-Gate

"I would prefer a Rosh Yeshiva who is not P.C. on women's issues, but acts towards all women with derekh eretz, than a philanderings academic who says all the "right things" about halakhah being anti-women, anyday."

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The warlord Simcha points to a major story bubbling within Modern Orthodoxythat seems to be under the radar screen, with the exception of the list-servs.

Should we modify the Nachem prayer in Shemoneh Esreh to fit into modern reality? Now, when we talk of modification, there is the shev ve-al taaseh approach (i.e. skipping words) and the kum aseh approach (i.e. composing new sections of Nachem).

Rabbi Soloveitchik was extremely conservative about prayer and changing prayer, at least partly as a reaction to Conservative changes in the prayer service. However, he himself often changed prayers, to fit into his conceptions about the proper nature of the tefillah (presumably because he thought that the modications created a more appropriate nusach ha-tefillah.

I heard multiple reports that Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, shlita, favored the shev ve-al taaseh change. Presumably because Rav Aharon takes tefilla extremely seriously and does not utter a word to God that he does not believe to be true. I also received a report from Lakewood that Rabbi Yitzchak Abadi, shlita, reacted strongly, against any suggestion of changing the nusach of Nachem. But let's wait for confirmation from the website.

I am aware of the Halakhic literature on the question, but am looking for firsthand reports from the current debate. I know of at least one RCA Rabbi who blogs. Anyone have any more info?

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