R' Lichtenstein and Modern Orthodoxy

Imagine the following scenario: Somehow, every Rabbi in Israel is compelled to go to Binyanei Ha-Umah and locked in with the following instruction: nobody leaves until you decide on a single individual who will be reinstated with the original semikhah, invested with the power to authoritatively decide the normative meaning of the Torah, to share that authority with others, and to grant the authority to adjudicate the full range of legal issues that may arise. It would become clear pretty quickly that factionalism and ideology, not to mention politics, would take over the discussion. But a mandate is a mandate; nobody is leaving. Pretty quickly, it would become clear that the person chosen would have to be a 'compromise' candidate, not in the sense that he's not the most accomplished or greatest, but in the sense that his own personal stances are most agreeable to most people. Someone conservative by nature, but fully articulate and capable of expressing religious ideas in a contemporary, if obtuse, manner. He would be a staunch traditionalist, and an exemplar of proper religious behavior and attitude, yet have his eyes wide open to contemporary ideas and reality. He would need to be fully at home in both the language of the tradition, and the language of current international discourse. After much debating and deliberating, it would be clear that the obvious choice would be Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein.

Granted, the entire scenario is unrealistic (unfortunately). But to reinforce that, given the scenario, the outcome itself is likely, note that the current Pope was selected by a very similar process

I have not yet begun to read works of Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), though I plan to, but I've heard and read that his basic attitude and relationship with contemporary thought is very similar in many ways. Of course, they both draw from the writings and legacy of perhaps the greatest hero of faith in the face of the condition of modernity, John Henry Cardinal Newman

Newman, an Oxford professor, Anglican by birth, training, and life, converted to Catholicism and thereby provoked the ridicule of his colleagues. His autobiographical defense of his own religious experiences and choices, the Apologia Pro Vita Sua, remains a masterpiece of modern religious thought.

Regardless of R' Lichtenstein's location along the spectrum of modern and postmodern religious thinkers, his ability to digest the full range of encounter between the Halakhic community and its interface with the contemporary world, and articulate both problem and solution in contemporary language is of tremendous significance to each and every one of us. We are fortunate to belong to his generation.


The Name I Call Myself

The following question can be applied to any named group: Did they name themselves, or were they named by others? I think the answer to this question can go a long way to understanding the formation and development of the group.

As a very simple example, whites were the first to call blacks 'black', and vice versa. That's a no-brainer. Here are some others:

Ultra-Orthodox - nobody ever calls themselves Ultra-anything. This is a moniker invented by those who wish to believe that a certain group is extreme.
on the other hand, the term
Chareidi is a form of self-identification, originally applying the usage from the Book of Ezra, where the community of returnees refers to itself as those who 'tremble at the Word of God'. It appears several times throughout the book.

The term Orthodox in general was used by the original reformers to refer to halakha-observant Jews. It actually had (and to my mind, STILL has) a negative connotation of rigidity and self-importance. It doesn't do justice to the multiplicity of ideas and lifestyles that are possible within a halakhic framework. It's a bad moniker for halakha observant lifestyles.

It's not the first time that adherents of Rabbinic (or proto-Rabbinic) Judaism have been thus victimized. The term 'Pharisee' or 'Prushi' was invented by members of other communities (see 3rd Chapter of Mishna Yadayim; the only time that the term 'Prushi' is ever used by Chaza"l is when it's placed in the mouths of the Zadokites (who actually called themselves the 'Sons of Zadok')).

I think that understanding the origins and meanings of these terminologies help us to avoid being trapped by them. We're not going to be able to eradicate the somewhat derogatory term 'Orthodox' or 'Ultra-Orthodox' from the standard vocabulary; it is possible, however, to expand their meanings and allow these conventional terms to signify more than their original narrow meanings.


Ekev: The Little Things and the 'Greater Good'

יב וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן, אֵת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים הָאֵלֶּה, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם וַעֲשִׂיתֶם, אֹתָם--וְשָׁמַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְךָ, אֶת-הַבְּרִית וְאֶת-הַחֶסֶד, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע, לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ.
And it shall come to pass, because ye hearken to these ordinances, and keep, and do them, that the LORD thy God shall keep with thee the covenant and the mercy which He swore unto thy fathers
Rashi, ad loc.
רש"י דברים פרק ז פסוק יב

(יב) והיה עקב תשמעון - אם המצות הקלות שאדם דש בעקביו תשמעון:
ושמר ה' וגו' - ישמור לך הבטחתו
If you will listen (lit. 'On the heels of your listening') - If you listen to the 'light' mitzvot that everyone tramples with their heels
And God will observe his... - He will keep his promise to you

It seems that the second part of Rashi is pointing out that this 'vav' is a conjunction which connects the two sides of an 'if...then' statement, in distinction from the 'vav's of the preceding words. The startling part is the first part - it's all about the details. The little 'mishpatim' which we take lightly.

We might be tempted to say that Rashi's instructing us to be vigilant about the observance of lesser rituals, like washing mayim acharonim or putting on one's shoes and socks in the proper order. The things which are possibly or probably obligatory, but which we tend to trample.

However, the verse refers to mishpatim specifically. These generally include what we refer to as civil law, social regulations, and torts. It can also include not-regulatory mitzvot such as tzedakah and chesed, taking care of widows and orphans, welcoming the stranger, etc. If this is the case, the implications Rashi's words are radically altered and incredibly profound. It's the 'little' and 'trampled', routine engagement with other people which form the bread and butter of observing the mishpatim and thereby fulfilling the covenant. It could be that in reality the term 'mishpatim' here refers to all of the Torah's commandments, but one can't escape the formulation which refers specifically to justice.

This came home earlier today, when I read the following passage, which was penned by the Russian-Jewish author Vasily Grossman in Life and Fate, and cited in full by Levinas in a chapter of In the Time of Nations entitled 'Beyond Memory', on p. 91:
...I do not believe in the good, I believe in kindness...Not even Herod shed blood in the name of evil...

Humanity had never yet heard those words [from the New Testament - AR]: "Judge not, that ye shall not be judged...Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you. Bless them that curse you. Pray for those who curse you..."
What did that doctrine of peace and love bring to humanity? The tortures of the Inquisition, the struggle against heresies in France, Italy, and Germany, the war between Catholics and Protestants...

I have been able to see in action the implacable force of the idea of social good born in our country (i.e., Russia - AR). I saw it again in 1937; I saw that in the name of an idea of good as humane as Christianity, people were exterminated. I saw entire villages starving; in Siberia I saw the children of deported peasants dying in the snow...

There exists, side by side with this so terrible greater good, human kindness in everyday life. It is the kindness of an old lady who gives a piece of bread to a convict along the roadside. It is the kindness of a soldier who holds his canteen out to a wounded enemy. The kindness of youth taking pity on old age, the kindness of a peasant who hides a Jew in his barn. It is the kindness of those prison gaurds who risk their own freedom, smuggle the letters of prisoners out to wives and mothers...

The history of man is the struggle of evil trying to crush the tiny seed of humanity. But if even now the human has not been killed in man, evil will never prevail.
Levinas himself asks about this passage:
"Were these truths lying dormant in a forgotten corner of some letters or syllables of the Scripture- only to awaken as Word of God in the Jewish and non-Jewish suffering of the twentieth century?"

Shabbat Shalom


Defenses of R' A. Shapira

Link to two responses to R' Lichtenstein's letter to R' Avraham Kahana-Shapira:

I haven't read them yet, but when I do, I hope to post a summary or a link to whomever posts an English translation.

To be sure, I'm posting these links in the spirit of Beit Hillel, who recorded and taught the positions of their oponents.


The Evolution of a Gadol

If you've seen what the Godol has been posting about lately, you might be surprised to know that he was the author of the following comment on this blog seven months ago:

Great post. However, evolution of religion is a slippery slope. Whats to stop me saying that Judaism has evolved away from having to do these silly rituals. Sure, in the old days they were required, but nowadays we have a more sophisticated understanding of G-d. Or is that where you were heading with this ?

Posted by Godol Hador to ADDeRabbi - 'ATAR DI BEI YECHDUN RUCHIN VE-NAFSHIN' at 1/21/2005 12:02:34 AM

Godol: Next Ban (And This Time I Agree)

This reminded me of a statistic that I find to be highly disturbing.

The town of Kiryat Sefer has between 20 and 30 thousand residents (at last count).
They are now constructing their first swimming pool (see Kiddushin 29a).
They have yet to construct a single basketball court.
In this context, the ban that the Godol tells us about becomes horrifying.


Be Comforted

I love the Haftarah of ‘Nachamu’. I blogged once before about Bialik’s usage of terminology from Eicha and Nachamu in his poem ‘Al Saf Beit Ha-Midrash’ .

There’s an image in this Haftarah that I don’t really get. In clearing a path for God in the desert, the prophet declares that ‘every vale will be raised, and every mount and hil lowered’. What’s this great equalization, this smoothing over of everything. Personally, I’m a fan of rough edges, texture, and imperfection. In order for the world to be ready for God, must everything be smoothed over?
· The 19th Century British aesthetes (who I’ve never read but have heard RAL speak about) would say yes. These folks were offended that the Earth is elliptical and not perfectly spherical, kal va-chomer that there are ‘pock-marks’ on its surface.
· Marxists (we know you’re still out there) can have a field day with this image (if they were inclined to learn Na”ch).
· Rashi speaks about how the mounts and vales are landmarks, reminding us of those places where we sinned – that mountain was a holy place for this pagan deity, etc. Smoothing it all over creates allows for our relationship with God to start fresh, without reminders of past failures. I think this can be interpreted symbolically as well – these mountains and valleys exist within our own personalities. They are hang-ups, handcuffs, things which don’t allow us to progress.

A Parsha Query

I’ve always been bothered by this verse:

דברים פרק ז

(יד) בָּרוּךְ תִּהְיֶה מִכָּל הָעַמִּים לֹא יִהְיֶה בְךָ עָקָר וַעֲקָרָה וּבִבְהֶמְתֶּךָ:

“There shall not be amongst you a barren male or female, and so amongst your livestock.”

Here’s my question: Who cares if there are barren males amongst the livestock? Not every male needs to be fertile in order for the flocks to be productive; on the contrary, only the ‘best’ males are used to fertilize the females? Is there any kind of value or ideal if there are no infertile male animals?

I’ve come up with a few possible answers:
1. It’s easier that way. Things can happen without the owner having to make them happen, without having to engage in husbandry. Not much net gain, but less work.
2. The last word is only going back on the word before it. The expanded verse (without contracting by use of conjunctions) would read: There will be no barren males among you. There will be no barren females among you. There will be no barren females among your animals.
3. We’ll have an abundance of fertile males which we’ll be able to sell to non-Jews, who aren’t recipients of this Divine blessing

I’m not enamored with any of these, though they’re all plausible. If I had to choose, I’d take #2.

A Thought Experiment

Imagine the following scenario (It’s fictitious, so don’t take it too seriously):

In the aftermath of the Civil War, before white southerners reintegrated into the Union, the US Supreme Court hatches a plot to make sure that there will never again be a civil war. Instead of making Constitutional Amendments, they decide to be more ambitious and change the text of the Constitution itself to reflect stronger Federal government and individual rights, with an eye toward demonstrating that the Rebs never realy had any sort of legal basis for their secession. The North goes along with it and the ‘revised’ Constitution replaces the ‘original’. Very few people know about the plot, and very few notice the changes. The defeated South is imposed upon virtually at will.

It’s only after a number of decades that legal scholars get wind of this conspiracy; they’ve compared the ‘original’ to the ‘revision’ and figured it all out. By then, there were 50 years of Supreme court decisions and interpretations working off of the new one. At that point, what should happen? Should the old one be reinstated – essentially erasing 50 years of development of the law? Should the new one be acknowledged de facto as the authoritative one, since it had been implicitly accepted as the authoritative one?

I’d imagine that you can see where I’m going with this: If one accepts the latter possibility, which is the most realistic and least disruptive, and probably the ONLY plausible alternative, then it says that the authority of a text derives not from its origin per se, but from how it was perceived and accepted.

In this light, all questions about the Torah’s authorship and human fingerprints that may have found their way into the text become almost irrelevant.


A Kinnah for the Azzah Evacuees

קינה לפינוי עזה[‏א

אוהבי ה' המחכים בבנין אריאל[‏ב
שאמרו וקיוו לחיות לעד בצל[‏ג
צדו צעדיהם מלכת ברחובותיהם[‏ד
נסגרו הדלתות ויצאו מבתיהם[‏ה

לנצח לא נפסח על עזה[‏ו
נזכור איך לזרים נחלתנו נהפכה[‏ז
ואיכה נמחול על חטאת נביאנו[‏ח
בבא קציננו כי בא קצינו[‏ט

מנהיגינו, שרינו, רודפי שלמונים[‏י
איכה האמינו למלכי ארץ ולאומים
שציפו לראות אויבנו בשערי ירושלים[‏כ
ונחשבנו לנבלי חרש[‏ל], נמכרנו בעבור נעלים[‏מ

ה', א-ל רחום, אל תוסיף להגלות[‏נ
אל תתן רוח אפינו להלכד בשחיתות[‏ס
בכתם טוב[‏ע] ותכלת תאחה קרעינו
ושמחינו לעד בבנין ביתינו

‏א] מאת מ. א. פ., נו יורק, התשס"ה
‏ב] ע"פ זמירת שבת "כל מקדש שביעי"
‏ג] ע"פ איכה ד:כ
‏ד] ע"פ איכה ד:יח
‏ה] ע"פ הקינה "בליל זה יבכיון"
‏ו] ע"פ מלכים א ה:ד
‏ז] ע"פ איכה ה:ב
‏ח] ע"פ איכה ד:יג
‏ט] ע"פ איכה ד:יח
‏י] ע"פ ישעיהו א:כג
‏כ] ע"פ איכה ד:יב
‏ל] ע"פ איכה ד:ב
‏מ] ע"פ עמוס ב:ו
‏נ] ע"פ איכה ד:כב
‏ס] ע"פ איכה ד:כ
‏ע] ע"פ איכה ד:א


TABLE OF CONTENTS (updated 8/11))

The following topics are in no apparent order. I hope to continue updating the Table of Contents when I return to blogging regularly, and to keep a link to it on the sidebar. The categories sometimes overlap.

NEW: I've put an asterisk (*) before the post that I think are most characteristic of this blog and/or are the posts that I'm most proud of (and not necessarily the most popular).Double asterisks are for those posts which best articulate my thinking.

Moral Development
Tefillin and Teaching One's Children: An Observation
**"...Gam Ki Yazkin Lo Yassur Mimenah"
Offensive Lines: Why football makes me sick
*jewish sexual education
Money Quotes from Howard Gardner
Excellent Article
**The Tuition Crisis and Disengagement: A Common Denominator
Another Observation Regarding the Public School Proposal

Readings in Talmud, Mishna, Chumash, Tanach, etc.
*Mazal Tov and Shabbat 33b-34a
**Alienation, Translation, and Reconstruction - A Talmudic Reading of Shabbat 33b-34a: Part I
**Shabbat 33b - 34a: Part II
**Shabbat 33b Part III - Markets, Baths, and Bridges
**Shabbat 33b - 34a: Part IV - R' Shimon Withdraws
**Shabbat 33b - 34a: Part V - The Cave
*A reading of Mishna Avot 3:7 - not how they taught it in yeshiva
*A Lesson in Basic Talmudic Vocabulary
*Meat and Wine: A Talmudic Reading of Pesachim 109a
*Mi-Bnei Banav Shel Haman Limdu Torah Be-Bnei Brak (Sanhedrin 104b)
**Talmudic Reading: Kiddushin 29b - A Critique of Modern Orthodox Education?
*Bialik's 'Al Saf Beis HaMidrash'
**Chana vs. Eli
*Chana vs. Eli part II: Change from Within
*BEHAR - Two Aspects of Holiness and the Price of Tea in China
**Ad De-Lo Yada
Ramban on Emunah Peshutah
**Talmudic reading of Menachot 29b: Zoo Torah, ve-zu scharah?
*kol ha-meivi davar be-shem omro
**A Talmudic reading - Brachot 48a
*Tzara'at: Psoraisis or Psychosis?
*Reading of Shabbat 56a : David's Sin (or lack thereof)
*Reading of Shabbat 88a: God and Israel's Shotgun Wedding
One Man's Korach is the Next Man's Moshe
**Parshat Chukat: Speak Softly, but Carry a Big Stick
More on the Big Stick
The Torah and Science Challenge: Round II

**On Absolute Truth
**Absolute Truth II
**Absolute Truth: Part III - Simon Says
**Absolute Truth IV
**Absolute Truth V: Truth vs. Justice
*Evening, Morning, Resurrection, Evolution, and Entropy - and a Talmudic Reading of Shabbat 10a
More on Entropy and Resurrection
**Understanding Shekhina, God's 'Urges' and Why Leonard Nimoy is Out of his Vulcan Mind
*Waiting for the Messiah
**Broken Vessels
**Historically-conditioned Exegesis and Progressive Revelation

‘Machshavah’ and (sometimes humorous) Musings on Contemporary Judaism
Postmodern Pantheon
*Postmodern Postmortem of MO
Modern Orthodox Pantheon
*Evolution of Religion
*the 12 principles? -בא ה"אדרבי" והעמידן על שנים עשר
Cutting Inspiration Down to Size
Jewish Evangelism Revisited
*When You've Got a Hammer, the Whole World Looks Like a Nail
**Holy Heresy
Dignified Disagreement
*R' Tzadok vs. R' Chaim Schmulevitz on Yom Yerushalayim and the Road to Hell
Must Read
Clarification to Ha'aretz Interview
*Review of 'Ushpizin'
The Secret of Chareidi Fundraising
One Dilemma, Two Solutions (and a possible third)
*Lay Leadership Training
Link to Full Text of R' Aharon Feldman's Essay
The Science of Tefillah
*On the Origins of Chasidut
A Tale of Two Aarons
Is it a Mitzvah to be Happy?
Two Types of Ethics
Why I Love Levinas
The ArtScroll Women's Siddur: Men and Women, Dumb and Dumber
A True Story Concerning Women and Kaddish
*YU's Tzelem Project
The Greatness of Gush
*A Postmodern Read of the Nishtanu Ha-Teav’im Theory
*The Hardest Mitzvah (Which Also Happens to be my Favorite One)
Maimonides Magical Mystery Tour: Part II
Reading List Update, and the Rav's use of Scheler
**Superstructures of Knowledge

*עיני העדה and the role of narratives in land disputes and conflict resolution
A Better Date for Yom HaShoa
**Of Jet-lag, covenants, and BBQ on Yom Ha'atzma'ut
*Yom Ha'atzma'ut Part II - Hallel
**Yom Ha'atzma'ut Part III: The Theme of the Day
**Yom Ha'atzma'ut IV: The Haftarah
*Ran on Nedarim 28a and Israeli Democracy
**Genesis Chapter 1, the First Rashi, and Yashar Books
Disengagement: One Issue or Two
The Politics of Sports
Religious Zionism from an Unexpected Source
Baltimore: Anti-Disengagement Mecca

Philosophy of Halakha
*Historical Twins: Canon and Heresy
*Historical Twins: Part II – Translation and Esotericism
*Minhag Avoteinu Be-Yadeinu
*Al Capone on Da'as Torah
**Pygmies on the Shoulders of Giants? An Attempt to Come to Grips with Yeridat Ha-dorot
Kosher Sects
**On Chumra
*understanding what we say vs. saying what we understand
Breaking the Middle Matzah and Christian accusations
Baskin-Robbins: Chalav Yisrael?
Answering Amen to the Bracha before Shema
*Mistaken Minhag - Not Answering 'Amen' to the Second Bracha of Shema: The Unabridged Version
*More on 'Amen' to "Ha-bocher'
*Chazon Ish Shiurim
Making 'Brachot' on Non-Kosher Food
January 20, 1961 : A Black Day
*''Brachot' on Non-Kosher Food
**Rabbinic Power and Rabbinic Force : The Case of Marriage Annulments
The OU and Stem-Cell Research
**Monogamy as the Biblical Ideal
**IS there an answer to this question?

Gender Identity in Judaism
**LGBT in a Halakhic Community
*More on LGBT and Halakha
Another Musing on the Transgender Issue
*On Shelo Asani Ishah
A Woman of Valor
Reflections on Blogging and Misc.
*Hineni He-ani Mi-ma'as, nir'ash ve-nifchad...
*Explaining my own jokes and other miscellany
*SHR, RIP. Welcome ADDeRabbi
*Tocho ke-varo ke-bloggo
What I'm Currently Reading and Learning
*Works in Progress
Unwanted Intrusions
Counting the Cars...
To Be Continued...

Holiday Humor
*Introducing a New Flavor of Orthodoxy!
*...Bayamim Ha-hem, Ba-zman ha-zeh
*A Purim Riddle for FRUMTEENS Moderator
*Selling Snow to Eskimos OR Water Water Everywhere...
*Sometimes I Think that the Rasha had a Good Question
I Love This Job!
If one were to set their ShasPod to 'Shuffle'...
*Safam Out-takes
Who pos' de mos'?
An Alternative Reading of a Well-Known Midrash


To Be Continued...

Won't be blogging for awhile because:
  • Busy at the office
  • Blogger's bloc
  • Haven't had a regular chavrusa for the summer so the learning - which gets the creative juices going and where the Chiddushei Torah come from - has suffered
  • Real news has been taking up more of my free time. I can't think about what's going on in E"Y without getting empty-stomach feeling. I guess that's appropriate during the 9 days. Reality occupies too much of my mental energy.
  • I'm ADD; do I really need any other reason?
I'll be back soon.


IS there an answer to this question?

Hirhurim poses the question, "Why do we do Mitzvos?" and then gives an answer.

I'm not going to debate whether his answer is correct. Rather, my belief is that the question has a flawed premise.

Take a different, but similar, question: Why be moral?
Here also, a lot of ink was spilled trying to give an answer. Until developmental psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg and his researchers began to pose 'moral dilemmas' to children of all ages, and analyzing the answers.
In a nutshell, he demonstrates that human beings progress through distinct levels of moral development (you can find a summary here). He (being a secular humanist male) was pretty monistic about where those stages led. Critiques, starting with Carol Gilligan's classic feminist critique 'In a Different Voice' (written, actually, as a response to Kohlberg) posited alternative hierarchies to Kohlberg's moral development. She succeeds in demonstrating why, in Kohlberg's experiments, women were strangely coming up more morally underdeveloped than men, but also essentially accepts his premise of a constrined moral development in humans.

Doing Mitzvot because God commanded is what Kohlberg would call stage 4, which is part of 'conventional morality'. Doing things because it's the law, not because of how you'll be percieved, or to gain reward, but because the law itself is important. At this stage, one wouldn't ask the question "But why obey?".

We can ask that question to R' Gil's answer - OK, God decreed mitzvot upon us. So? Why should I obey?
The conventional moral thinker wouldn't absorb the question. Preconventional thinkers would say things like 'Because then I'll get candy in Olam Habah', etc.

But if Kohlberg's right, there are still stages beyond this; we might not accept his definitions of those stages, or at least not define them as narrowly as he does, but there is something beyond.

For example:
In Stage 5, the reason for doing the mitzvot would be to maintain my covenantal relationship with God, a strong identification with God which generates a desire to carry out his will as a function of love.
I'd suggest that the Torah's 'stage 6' would correspond to 'Halicha Be-drakhav', imitation Dei, where my actions are determines by a desire to become more Godly, to live up to a moral Ideal. Interestingly, here the machloket between Gilligan and Kohlberg is whether that ideal is compassion or justice, whereas Chazal recognized 13 separate 'ideals' heare - 'Just as He is called 'Compassionate', so to shall you be compassionate...'.
Perhaps a 7th stage (and here we move beyond Kohlberg) would mean that asking 'why do you do Mitzvot?' is like asking 'Why do you breathe?' - it's the most normal, intuitive, authentic thing to do. It's the true expression of my soul, which is itself a spark of the Divine. Here, the doors to the soul are completely thrown open, such that there's no percieved imposition, no barrier at all, between my own will and God's Will - because no separation is perceived. This stage is desribed in Jewish literature, especially in late 19th/early 20th century Polish Chassidut, as a complete loss of self-consciousness.
There may even be a further stage where one relates to him or herself completely as an expression of Divinity, reaching beyond conventional categories of good and evil and envisioning all as pure expression of God's Will. Let's just say that not too many folks reach high enough on the ladder to be taken seriously when they talk about 'aveirah lishmah'. Maybe the Amshinover Rebbe. Some would say Shlomo Carlebach. In general, there's a lot of danger when people start relating as though they've acheived higher stages when they haven't. Ve-acamo"l.

Maybe I'm being a bit too monistic even within a Jewish view of moral development. Maybe some of the stages can manifest themselves in different ways even within a Halakhic perspective. Maybe similar experiences are understoof or 'unpacked' differently by different people. We'll let the good folks at Lookjed worry about that.

For us, though, it's important to recognize that the answer to R' Gil's question changes as we change, that we don't expect young children to give the same answer as adults, and that as long as we're still 'baynonim' (as the term is used in Tanya) we should hope that our answer will continue to change, and that we remain dissatisfied with 'level 4'.


Superstructures of Knowledge

There's a concept that I've found very useful in understanding how Judaism can seem to demand consciousness of many things at the same time (examples will be mentioned throughout the post). I first heard this idea from REB of Gush, have applied it to a number of contexts, to the point that I think it relates directly to some of the Torah's overarching goals, yet remains completely neglected.

I'll call the idea 'superstructures of knowledge' because I think it relates to what that term has come to mean in sociology, though this application will be a bit different.

The example that REB used was from the sugya of 'Moda'ah' (disclaimers) in Bava Batra. If a person is forced to give something away, to divorce his wife, to marry a man, etc., he or she may issue a 'disclaimer' beforehand, notifying two witnesses that the transaction that he is about to enter is being affected under duress, and therefore invalid. However, there's such a thing as a 'counter-disclaimer' in which one issues notice that he is not acting under duress. This can get pretty complicated, because a person can also issue a notice that his notice of non-duress is being issued under duress. The Rishonim discuss what happens if a person makes an 'infinite disclaimer' (i.e., "no matter how many times I say I'm not under duress, I'm under duress"), followed by an 'infinite bittul (no matter how many times I said I'm under duress, I reject each and every one of those statements"). Those Rishonim who say that the disclaimer remains intact, REB, used the following logic (I shold really look this back up in the Rishonim and the Gemara; maybe another time):
How are we to understand a moda'ah? Is it a disclaimer of future actions, essentially telling us to disregard later actions? Or is it deeper - instructing us to view everything that ensues through the context that the moda'ah creates. If the former, then words can counterbalance words. If the latter, then anything that's said later is interpreted under the rubric established by the first Moda'ah! All subsequent statements are interpreted through the prism of the moda'ah. It's not coordinate with all other statements. In other words, it becomes part of the 'superstructure of knowledge', whereas all other discourse takes place in a 'substructure of knowledge'.

Another example: There are certain mitzvot, such as matza and tzitzit, whose objects must be created lishmah - for the purpose of that mitzvah.
Anyone who has ever made tzitzit or seen the old ladies bake matzah knows that this requirement is taken very seriously. Regarding Tzitzit, before tying the first know one will inevitably recite the formula of le-shem mitzvat tzitzit and bring the fact that this is for tzitzit to the fore of his consciousness. With matzah, a similar formula is muttered from the time the water hits the dough until it enters the oven.

That's not the requirement. Lishmah doesn't mandate that things must be in the forefront of consciousness, i.e., in the substructures of knowledge. Rather, it should be in the superstructure. I must relate to my current context as one of creating the object of a particular mitzvah. Awareness of the context will generate the appropriate attitude and behavior. Think about driving a car - if I constantly thought, over and over, 'I'm driving my car to go to the supermarket, I'm driving my car to go to the supermarket', I'd probably get into an accident. My knowledge of purpose can fade into the background, but my behavior will continue to actualize that knowledge.

Moving to deeper examples - there's a famous Midrash that refers to Yir'at Shamayim as a 'preservative' of Torah study. The Nefesh Ha-Chaim discusses this at length in Gate 4, as part of the discussion about the lishmah of Torah and its relationship to Yir'at Shamayim. He makes a similar case - Yir'at Shamayim doesn't mean that one must be enraptured in awe of God while studying Torah. Rather, the entire enterprise of Torah study must exist as a substructure within a superstructure of Yir'ah. This is what it means that Yir'ah is the 'Origin of Wisdom (Reishit Chokhmah)'. Torah study within this context is thus no less of an intellectual and critical endeavor than an 'objective' academic study that remains 'untainted' by dogma. The difference is in the context - one is in a religious context, the other is not. One is an act of communion, as it is never divorced from its context of Yir'ah, and the other is not. 'Religion' doesn't affect Torah study at the level of the substructure (i.e., I don't say, well, you can say X, but that would go against dogma Y), rather, if the entire endeavor is within a context of Yir'ah, a certain attitude toward the text is built-in. I would add that superstructures can come in the form of a meta-narrative, which, in this case, can mean that the individual act of Torah study happens in the context of the ever-present script of the Sinaitic Revelation. Again, I don't need to actively think about it in order for it to be a part of that, as long as the Sinai narrative is a superstructure of my knowledge.

Vaiter - what are fundamentals of faith? Are they dogma? Things I must profess belief in to be included in a particualr club? Catechism? I think not.
Rather, they form the over-arching story of who I am and what I'm part of. They're those elements which, if one of them isdenied, then the story of myself no longer makes sense. They form the superstructure of my entire existence, the context in which I can begin to understand myself. Every person has fundamental beliefs, but not all are aware of them. They are not to be formulated, rather discovered. All of my actions are somehow rooted in that preconsciousness that I'm Jewish, part of a group that was selected by God, Who created the world, to fulfill a particular mission, etc... I don't need to recite these beliefs regularly, or memorize them, or check new data against them. They are part and parcel of what makes me me, or what makes us us. I'd say that a 'fundamental' is that which lies at the top of the superstructural hierarchy of religious knowledge - those things that 'knowing' then means that I will not look as the world the same.

We all talk about relationships, and in a religious context especially, about a relationship with God, and it usually involves images of scrunched-up faces or smily, happy people. The Chassidim came up with the innovation of saying special prayers, 'Le-shem Yichud's before every religious act, so that it's celebrated and incorporated into that relationship.
In human relationships, not everything is a candle-light dinner, not should it be. When I take out the garbage or change a smelly diaper, it's an expression of my relationship with the ADDeRebbetzin. I don't dance on the way to the dumpster, singing about how by taking out the trash, I'm actualizing our relationship, waxing all romantic about how this brings our love to a new level, one step closer to the ultimate fulfillment, blah, blah, blah. I don't even think consciously that I'm doing it as part of our relationship, just as I'm sure that she doesn't while she's folding my socks (well, if you've seen my socks, maybe you'd disagree. my undershirts, ok?). Being in a REAL relationship means that you rarely have the opportunity to get starry-eyed, but that it's a very real part of your life and day-to-day existence, informing nearly everything you do. In fact, I'd evaluate a strong marriage based upon the mutuality of living one life, even if one spouse is buying groceries while the other washes dishes. Of copurse, intimacy is a necessary ingredient - romance and lovemaking in a marriage, prayer and Torah study in a relationship with God (those analogies are VERY purposeful), but the relationship only becomes functional when it becomes the backbone of life itself. I think that in our religious world, too much emphasis has been put on the romance - the substructure - and not enough on the 'particulars of rapture' - the superstructure.

Finally, there's one concept, central to Judaism and all other religions, which I believe we make a big mistake about when we relegate it to our substructures of knowledge. The concept is - belief in God. Steg said it well when he defined belief as 'looking at the world through God-colored glasses'. Belief isn't something I hold; it's something I'm held by. Beleif is not binary - an up/down yes/no proposition about whether or not I accept something as true. The more my knowledge of God penetrates the superstructures of my knowledge, the greater is my 'belief'. [How does that happen? Well, Chazal believed that making brachot has a lot to do with it, but that's a topic for another time.] Belief doesn't mean thinking 'God, God, God' all the time. That's not what 'Shvisi' is all about. It means that there is no event for which He is not the context, that all of my knowledge of myself, the world, etc. falls without God-knowledge as its base and context, where doubting God's Reality is one and the same as doubting the reality of anything and everything else. Becoming a greater ma'amin isn't just about being 99.7% sure instead of being 90% sure. It's about transforming the very lenses with which one sees the world into ones which not only see God in everything, but can't conceive of anything without Him, much as we can't see anything without light. This is an avodah. This is Shvisi H' Le-negdi tamid.


Money Quotes from Howard Gardner

Having just finished reading Howard Gardner's "The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and How Schools should Teach", I wanted to share some of the sharper formulations. Note that I only thought of doing this as I approached the end of the book. There are some sharp formulations at the beginning as well, and the entire book is reccomended; his critique of the scholastic environment is quite profound, and his understanding of the developing human mind is excellent and very readable.

All of these quotations will have bearing on the Jewish scholastic environment as well:

What such efforts at sowing cultural literacy seem to skirt are the reasons for attaining such knowledge. Unless students have some rationale for wishing to attain this knowledge and regular occasions on which to use it and build upon it, its attainment seems essentially useless. (p.189)
The fundamental idea of whole-language programs is to immerse children as early as possible in the world of text and to allow them to become meaningful apprentices to competent literate individuals...
Children read not because they are told - let alone ordered! - to read, but because they see adults around them reading, enjoying their reading, and using that reading productively for their on purposes... (p. 211)

Children attending a traditional school, when asked what they have done in school that day, are often heard to answer "Nothing". This response communicates a deep truth, as well as a flip reaction, because typically school is done to students...(p. 243)
For the most part, children's earliest conceptions and misconceptions endure throughout the school era. And once the youth has left a scholastic setting, these earlier views of the world may well emerge (or reemerge) in full-blown form. Rather than being eradicated or transformed, they simply travel underground; like repressed memories of early childhood, they reassert themselves in settings where they seem to be appropriate. (p 29)
And finally:
In the first half of the century, when women had few alternative professions from which to choose, the ranks of teachers were supplied with many skilled women who read and wrote in a natural and meaningful way in their own lives. Nowadays, highly literate mean and women rarely enter the teaching profession below the collegiate level; most people in the profession do not lead a life in which literacy is greatly featured (it has been reported that the average schoolteacher reads a book a year).

Reading List Update, and the Rav's use of Scheler

Some stuff that I'm reading I'll be blogging about in the very near future. Wanted to update the list first:

Still reading (but sparsely):
- Expanding the Palace of Torah (Tamar Ross)
- Jewish Nationalism (Hebrew- Eliezer Schweid)
- In Time of Nations (Emmanuel Levinas) -this one not so sparsely
- Kelim Shvurim (Hebrew - HaRav ShaGa"R)
- Lo Bashamayim Hi (Hebrew - Prof. Shalom Rosenberg)

Add to the list:
- The Hedgehog and the Fox (Isaiah Berlin). This book isn't at all what I expected, and I'm not sure I'll get through it.
- The Social Construction of Reality (Peter Berger). This one's an eye opener.
- Apologia Pro Vita Sua (John Henry Newman). One of the first and best to address the conflicts between modernity and orthodoxy. His contemporary intellectual heirs include R' Lichtenstein, R' Shalom Carmy, and the Pope. Not too shabby.
- Seinfeld and Philosphy (William Irwin). Dumb book. Won't leave the john.

On Order:
- The Heretical Imperative (Peter Berger).
- Judaism and Imperialism (or somesuch) (Seth Schwartz).
Both of these books look seriously at s/t that currently really interests me, namely, the impact of a dominant culture on religious minorities, and the reactions of those minorities.

Here's a passage from Berger's 'Social Construction' (p. 8, anchor edition, 1967), discussing Scheler's sociology of knowledge:
'...the 'real factors' regulate the conditions undre which certain 'ideal factors' can appear in history, but cannot affect the content of the latter. In other words, society determines the presence (Dasein) but not the nature (Sosein) of ideas. The sociology of knowledge, then, is the procedure by which the socio-historical selection of ideational contents is to be studied, it being understood that the contents themselves are independent of socio-historical causation and thus inaccessible to sociological analysis. If one may describe Scheler's method graphically, it is to throw a sizable sop to the dragon of relativity, but only so as to enter the castle of ontological certitude better.'

Does that passage sound familiar? MAybe it reminds you of this:
'However, the mutual connection between law and event does not take place within the realm of pure halakhic thought, but rather within the depths of the halakhic man's soul. The event is a psychological impetus, prodding pure thought into its track. However, once pure thought begins to move in its specific track, it performs its movement not in surrender to the event, but rather in obedience to the normative-ideal lawfulness particular to it.'

The latter quote is from R' Soloveitchik, zt"l, in 'Mah Dodech Mi-dod' (p. 77 in Divrei Hagut Ve-ha'arakhah). I confess a lot of joy in making connections like the one that exists between these paragraphs. I'm inspired by the way that the Rav uses Scheler's conceptualizations to articulate his grandfather's vision. That's what they mean when they talk about 'Torah U-Madda'. 'Yaft Elokim le-Yefet, ve-yishkon be-oholei Shem'

[Whether or not I buy into that particular vision is a separate issue. ]


Excellent Article

I've struggled to formulate my thoughts, especially the critical ones, on education and ideology. Soem times I've been successful, sometimes unsuccessful.
I recently came across an article that articulates VERY WELL a lot of what I've been thinking. This one gets two thumbs up.
I'd like to thank the author, Prof. Koppel, for allowing me to post this link:

Shabbat 33b - 34a: Part V - The Cave

So they went and hid in a cave. A miracle occurred and a carob-tree and a water well were created for them. They would strip their garments and sit up to their necks in sand. The whole day they studied; when it was time for prayers they robed, covered themselves, prayed, and then put off their garments again, so that they should not wear out. Thus they dwelt twelve years in the cave.

In the cave, R’ Shimon and his son lose all contact with humanity. Their subsistence consists of only two elements: carob and spring water. The carob fruit and tree appears elsewhere in Rabbinic literature. For R’ Shimon’s immediate purpose, it’s sufficient as a nutritious food that is not processed in any way by human hands. Spring water, as well, is characterized by being uncontained, never touched by human hands or gathered into man-made vessels. Even his diet is untouched by hands other than his own!

R’ Shimon withdraws beyond all commonality with fellow humans, all cultural and linguistic trappings, when he removes his ‘clothing’. If Israel lies beyond the contingencies of history, as Ramban and Yehuda Halevi, and in their wake Krochmal and Rosenzweig have articulated, and only the relation to God Himself remains stable and central to Jewish being, then R’ Shimon here represents that ‘pure Jew’. By implication, a total removal of any cultural or historical conditioning would mean that R’ Shimon has entered into a state of pure relation, pure communion with God. Thus, he studies Torah.

But R’ Shimon’s Torah-study is almost without parallel. It is communion with God’s mind without the ‘vessels’ of culture – words and sentences, oxen and donkeys, laws and exceptions. The ultimate in Talmud Torah merges the mind of man with the mind of God, and and consumes man’s entire being. The further that man can penetrate beyond the details, to experience the Whole, the pure Will of God, in its pristine expression, before becoming 'earth-bound' by the contingencies of the mundane, the stronger the communion and the purer the Torah. R’ Shimon’s Torah, devoid of cultural trappings and linguistic constraints, becomes an ineffable modality of Torah. To put it into words is to limit it, to make it something of this world. Not coincidentally, Jewish tradition marks R’ Shimon’s study in the cave as the birth of the Jewish mystical tradition, that branch of Torah which is characterized, more than anything else, by the inability of language to contain its concepts.

In contrast to Torah study, prayer does not merge man and God. Whereas Torah tolerates and welcomes contributions from both God and man in its unfolding, the act of prayer tolerates no such blurring of the lines between the Divine and the human. The difference between temporal and Eternal, subject and King, creature and Creator, or slave and Master is central to the face-to-face encounter of prayer. When R’ Shimon interrupts his learning to pray, he must first distance himself from God and become creature once more. Thus, he puts on his clothing.

A final observation about the time in the cave relates to the carob tree which fed R’ Shimon. In addition to representing a wholly ‘natural’ and unprocessed nutrition, the carob tree had another outstanding property in the Rabbinic worldview, namely, it is the slowest-growing tree. The Gemara in Ta’anit (23a-b) relates that it takes the figurative 70 years – a man’s lifespan – for a carob to bear fruit. When a man plants a carob, he cannot expect to see it bear fruit in his lifetime; he plants for posterity and posterity alone. Perhaps the carob symbolizes the condition of R’ Shimon himself; whatever contribution he makes will not come to fruition until he is long gone. The most that a ‘cultureless’ man can hope for is that somehow, something he says or teaches will resonate with someone, somewhere, who will translate it into a form that is comprehensible to the contemporary generation. In order to contribute to a host culture, time must allow for the host to learn the idiosyncrasies of the guest. Perhaps, going a bit further, in this instance the carob, startlingly, reaches maturity instantly to tell us that there may be a shortcut, that what should take a lifetime can miraculously be completed in an instant! How is it possible for the resistor to make himself heard in his lifetime? How does this miracle happen? The full answer is contained in the unfolding of this narrative, but already R’ Shimon has undergone a transformation, from a resistance out of rejection and denial, to resisting out of transcendence.


Baltimore: Anti-Disengagement Mecca

While we're on the topic, this is from Ryne Sandberg's speech upon being inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame yesterday:

It reminds me of the guy walking down the beach. He finds a bottle, pops the cork and a genie comes out to grant him one wish. The guy says my wish is for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. Here's a map of the Middle East. The genie takes the map, studies it for hours and hours. Finally gives it back to the guy and says, "Is there anything else you want to wish for? This is impossible." The guy says, "Well, I always wanted to see the Cubs in a World Series." The genie looks at him, reaches out and says, "Let me have another look at that map."