Introducing a New Flavor of Orthodoxy!

Then this is the movement for you!

EDAH Chareidis: The Modern Ultra-Orthodoxy

Our adherents will wear these GREAT half-velvet half-srugah 'yamakippot' that say
'Ani Oheiv Kol Yehudi', which means 'I'm better than everybody'!
Order them now, before everybody catches on, and then you're not so special anymore!
This is an experiment to see if cynical satire works better than attempts to communicate real thought.

Breaking the middle matzah and christian accusations

This came up in a discussion with 2 students (B and N, if you ever read this, it's you) and evolved into quite the thesis. It pertains to "Yachatz" of the Pesach Seder, its origins and purpose. Since Adar is around the corner, it's not quite too early to begin a discussion of Pesach.

First, some observations and 'clues' to help us along:
1) "Ha Lachma Anya", which immediately succeeds the breaking of the middle matzah, is part of 'yachatz', not maggid. it uses the definite article "THIS is the bread of affliction".
2) The paragraph of 'Ha Lachma Anya' was written in Babylonia - it's in Aramaic and explicitly states "This year we're here; next year in Israel".
3) In Temple times, it would not have been possible to extend an invitation at the beginning of the Seder, as the Paschal sacrifice required participation to begin much earlier, prior to the actual slaughtering of the lamb. it's only outside of Israel, or after the destruction of the Temple, that the invitation expressed in "Ha Lachma Anya" could work.

Here's where we get more speculative. The Afikoman as we know it is not mentioned in the Mishna. The Mishna states that one may not eat 'Afikoman' = 'dessert' after partaking of the Paschal lamb. Nowaday, we use Matzah instead of lamb chops for this final course. Thus, our eating of the 'afikoman' replaces the eating of the Korban Pesach.

If so, then perhaps we can take the afikoman/korban pesach connection further:
One can invite people to participate in the seder up until the point that the afikoman is designated. Thus, 'yachatz' is the last point until which anyone can join the seder!

And then we can suggest, perhaps, that the breaking of the matzah of the afikoman is a symbolic slaughtering of the korban pesach. I would marshall 2 bits of evidence for this:
1) The Gemara in Avodah Zarah discusses 'Toldot' - offshoots - of the central types of worship, namely, prostration, libation, animal sacrifice, and incense-burning. Amongst the 'offshoots' of sacrifice is breaking a stick in half as a form of worship. Thus, there is precedent for the notion of breaking something in half as a simulation of animal sacrifice.
2) One of the oldest and most bizarre Christian (specifically Catholic) accusations against the Jews was that they symbolically re-commit deicide by stabbing the wafer. given that the wafer derives its origins from the matzah of the pesach seder, that Passover symbolism has become a central part of Christian doctrine, including reference to Jesus as the 'Lamb of God', and that he was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.
It stands to reason that the Jewish practice of symbolically slaughtering the Paschal Lamb by breaking a matzah would have been misunderstood as an anti-Christological performance.

Cool, no?


Talmudic Reading: Kiddushin 29b - A Critique of Modern Orthodox Education?

Many people will remember this story from grade school. It's great in grade school. Unfortunately, many never really bothered to understand this Gemara in a more serious way when they matured, so they either laughed the Gemara off, or continue to believe it literally. Neither of those options is to my liking. So here goes my attempt to find some meaning in it:

"...Yaakov the son of R' Aha bar Yaakov - his father sent him to Abaye. When he (Yaakov) returned, he (R' Aha) saw that his lessons weren't sharp. He said to him, "I'm preferable to you; you return so I can go". (The context is a discussion of preferences if only one person can study Torah).
Abaye heard that he was coming.
There was a destructive force ('demon') in Abaye's Rabbinical academy, such that when the entered in pairs, even during the day, they would be damaged.
He (Abaye) said to them (his students/community), "Let no person offer him (R' Aha) lodgings. Perhaps a miracle will occur." He (R' Aha) entered and slept in the academy. It (the demon)appeared to him as a seven-headed serpent. Every time he prostrated himself, another head fell off.
In the morning he said to them, "Had a miracle not occured, you would have endangered me."

Say, what?
Seven-headed monsters haunting the Yeshiva?

As before, my assumption is that this story is a literary construct that contains a historical kernel. The historical kernel is often unidentifiable or so deeply embedded in the story that it becomes irrelevant.

Here, there are 3 elements that form a starting point for my reading:
1) The context: the Gemara had just stated that if a person can only afford to teach Torah to himself or his son, he should teach himself unless the son is of exceptional aptitude. The story was introduced as a 'prooftext', leading to the conclusion that Yaakov was a very bright child whose brilliance does not translate into academic success in this story. The broader context includes a number of mini-sugyot that have the common theme of individuation, that there must be an element of subjectivity when it comes to guidelines for educating individuals.
2) Abaye: One of the 'main characters' of the Babylonian Talmud, he's the guy who always loses to Rava. However, he outlived Rava, a fact that the Talmud ascribes to his integration of Torah and 'Gemilut Chasadim' - kindness. Furthermore, in another obtuse narrativ, the young Abaye finds God outside of the structure of the Beit Midrash, whereas Rava finds God within. These elements suggest to me that Abaye represents a broad-minded religious personality who has successfully integrated the Torah with the wealth of experience that exists outside of the 'four ells' of the Beit Midrash. It is not a stretch to imagine that his academy was modeled after the master himself, and sought to produce integrated, well-rounded students who would be as comfortable in the marketplace as they would in the Beit Midrash. And the educational model, whatever it was, wasn't working very well.
3) The most bizarre symbol of all, the seven-headed serpent: Try this - type in "seven headed" in quotes, on Google, and look at the pages and the images. This image appears in an astounding variety of cultures (this Talmudic reference being a pretty late employment for our venerable monster). While it's hard to determine precisely the meaning of this symbol, it's fair to say that it represents chaotic but creative force, uncontrolled multiplicity and uncontrollable diversity, a threat to convention and uniformity, something primordial and undisciplined.

The story begin with R' Aha sending his very bright son to an environment, Abaye's Academy, which is isolated from the community (the only place to stay was in the academy itself). Perhaps this was a last-ditch effort, or the one and only chance that R' Aha gave his son; if Abaye coudn't succeed, nobody could succeed. Why? Why weren't his lessons 'sharp'? Perhaps this student's brilliance translated into restlessness, an inability to stay anchored to only one subject for too long. Perhaps he was naturally curious, such that a more open educational experience would be the only one that could work. I can turn this reading into autobiography by suggesting that Yaakov was an ADD student, or that Abaye's multidisciplinary approach was attracting bright but restless students from all over Babylonia.

Yaakov's lessons aren't 'sharp'. he's learning. He's accomplishing. But he doesn't succeed in acquiring the 'sharpness' that comes with real acquisition of the material. He's not throwing himself into it with his full force, or giving it his full attention. Thus, R' Aha concludes that the experiment has failed, and he will go study himself.

Turns out, that Yaakov's lack of success isn't the exception, rather the rule in Abaye's yeshiva. 'Demons' are only supposed to attack at night, and only when people are alone. Here, it's attacking the chavrutot during the day. Something, some 'demon', is killing morning seder. The kids aren't learning.

Perhaps Abaye understands what needs to be done, but is aware that he's unable to solve the problem himself. Perhaps he's at a loss just as much as everyone else. I prefer the former read, as will become clear. He formulates a strategy for how to use R' Aha to destroy the 'demon'.

He instructs his communiy not to offer hospitality. How ironic! Abaye! Mr. (or Rabbi) Integration himself! Torah and Gemilut Chasadim's champion, instructing his community not to offer hospitality to an accomplished Rabbi! But that's just it - Abaye seems to be recognizing that the success of his institution is being hindered by his focus on 'Gemilut Chasadim'. In order for a 'miracle' to happen - and I can't help but think that Abaye said this with a sarcastic tone - we're going to have to hold back on the Chessed just a bit.

Abaye's overarching educational goals remained the same. But he's re-evaluating how to get there. Perhaps a well-rounded adult doesn't start off as a well-rounded child. Success of the Abaye model relies heavily on the motivation and passion necessary to embrace divergent extremes. Certainly, it's necessary to sensitize to the plight of the Other, to a culture of Chessed. But that doesn't mean that the bachurim should be running around volunteering when they belong in the Beit Midrash. Adulthood is all about competing claims on my time, energy, and focus. Preparing children for that might not mean pulling them in numerous directions, rather developing a wholesomeness and a completeness that will enable them to find meaning, duty, and fulfillment when adulthood sets in. Perhaps that development would demand that more attention is paid to developing the whole personality - Torah and Halacha at its best. A balanced adult may be the mature version of the imbalanced child.

R' Aha confronts the problem. It appear to him as a seven-headed monster. Chaos. Multiplicity. The students in this Yeshiva are burdened with so many competing claims - Torah, secular subjects, community service, yearbook, debate, varsity, etc., etc. etc. Their minds are divided. Passion is generated by 'single-mindedness'. When the mind is all over the place - naturally, as in the ADD student, or de facto, because of the particular style of education - everything becomes a burden, and nothing inspires. Again, autobiographically, I can report that a 'seven-headed monster' is an apt symbol for ADD. At its worst, the distraction created by a large variety of responsibilities can be completely debilitating. And modern Orthodox schools often drive to distraction even those who are not naturally driven there.

His solution is 'bowing'. Connotations of prayer, submission, inwardness. Abaye was a great man but not a great role model. One does not become like Abaye by imitating Abaye. That was his educational failure. R' Aha demonstrates how to overcome the demon. A mind which is bifurcated cannot generate passion. A whole mind, however, can apply tiself in several different contexts. Abaye wanted to train students to lead broad lives. Instead, he was training them to lead double lives. The answer lay in an overhaul - emphasis on inwardness, spirit, prayer, devotion. Experience single-mindedness. Throw yourself into ONE thing only, and then, over time, allow that ONE thing to grow, expand, embrace more and more of God's world. The counter-symbol to the serpent is the Menorah - seven branches, but all of one piece, representing the unity that can underlie all of human wisdom and intelligence, and it's radiance and beauty when it does.

But just because R' Aha can demonstrate that it CAN be done, doesn't mean that there are any guarantees. 'Miracles' don't happen every day. If there's a flaw in the system, then an overhaul is called for, not a patch. Abaye is a long-term goal. An ideal. His approach might not ever work in an educatinal setting, except for the occasional 'miracle'. Perhaps the prerequisite for an integrated adult is serious time spent in intense Torah study, and Torah study alone. Perhaps a 'right-wing' educational style is the best prerequisite for truly 'modern Orthodox' adults.

Shabbat Shalom,


Tocho ke-varo ke-bloggo

I feel terrible.
By what right do I have a blog?
I'm not Orthoagnostipraxatheist, not flexicompulsiguiltidox, not multiposttransnonmetadenominational.
I don't live a double or split or bifurcated life in any sense.
I feel so inadequate.

I guess it's this. First of all, I'm attracted to the authenticity of the people in the blogospere. The authenticity enabled by the anonymity is a God-send. My preference is to converse with 'real people', not projected images of the agglomeration of expectations and demands which are the reality of the 'outer' world.

More than the attraction, I feel that I have to hide much of what I've become from 'public consumption'. Not that I think it's dangerous, but because it's different. I'm very, very dissatisfied with the conventional 'metaphysics' of the 'frum' community.
I don't hide it well in 'real life'. Those who know me know that I don't hold it back - my bigger problem is that i sometimes get carried away.
But it's hard to find people who aren't busy looking over their shoulders, but who still are open and care enough to discuss. I thought that this community, the community of Jewish bloggers, would be different.
I hope I'm right.

But there are signs of disappointment. Here's the issue:

Most of us self-define in political categories; a quick survey of the j-blogs will show that there are still many political tags out there. atheists. chasidim. orthodox. ultra-orthodox. modern orthodox. orthoprax. and the list goes on and on...

As if there are a limited number of paths to God and the one I choose is determined primarily by synagogue affiliation. No two Jews are the same. No two shuls are the same. Denominational affiliation is a political necessity; no one can be alone. But can't we recognize it as being just that and no more?
it's like democrat or republican - not proscriptive, yet convenient to transform individual power into group power.
there's no need to vote the party line.

ideally, everyone would be their own 'poseik' - understanding how to apply the Torah to their own life and circumstances. alas, it can't happen. man is a political creature.
but at least we can try to transcend the political reality here on the web. we can try to understand and discuss and arrive at perspectives that make is feel whole, at least on the inside, and hopefully, eventually, on the outside as well.


SHR, RIP. Welcome ADDeRabbi

Apparently, there were some who misunderstood my old moniker, and I wasn't careful enough about my identity, so there was fear that i'd give the wrong impression.
I hear it. It's not just pressure from superiors.
And I'm kafuf to Da'as Torah, though i'm not sure what that has to do with this.
From now on, only Torah. And if my understanding of s/t in Torah is in any way offensive, then I'm afraid you'll have to take it up with my Creator (who, incidentally, Authored the Torah).

Thus, the new moniker, ADDeRabbi.
It's a double entendre (duh).
The Aramaic word Aderabah is an exclamation, found all over Shas meaning - "On the Contrary!". It reflects the fact that I will often challenge assumptions and understandings that are prevalent in the Orthodox community, not out of spite or malice, but because i genuinely believe and lament that so much is misunderstood or superficially understood. witness the angst of so many fellow bloggers with such anger and pain stemming from their negative experiences within Orthodoxy; experiences that I don't think were necessary or the exclusive representation of Torah or Halakha. It encapsulates my desire to present an alternative viewpoint which is still part of the discourse 'on the daf.

The second intent stems from the well-known condition called 'Attention Deficit Disorder' or ADD, which applies to me. Many people believe that ADD is a handicap.
the ADD mind can see things that others can't, can make connections that othrs can't, are naturally restless, critical, dissatified and brutally honest. They tend to be impulsive, creative, unconventional, and intuitive. I wonder, if polled, what the ADD rate is amongst bloggers. I'd be really interested.

[there we go; i've set up a poll in the margin to track exactly this issue]

There are types of situations for which the ADD mind is extremely well suited, and others for which the conventional mind is. The contemporary educational system is very well suited to the contemporary mind, and has become a Procrustean bed (mittat S'dom) for the ADD mind, which we treat as a handicap and medically lobotomize some of our promising youngsters.
[I sometimes feel that the plight of those with ADD is like the plight of the mutants in X-Men - people misunderstand and therefore seek to destroy]

I don't have ADD. I am ADD. This fact, no doubt, has caused me a fair share of pain; but it also has been my greatest asset when it comes to all of the things that I believe I am, everything that I think I can offer, and
everything that I hope to become.

Every day, I thank God for making me who I am, and for letting me be comfortable with it. And I thank my wife for seeing it for what it is and complementing it.
Elokai, neshama she-natatah bi tehorah hi.


undestanding what we say vs. saying what we understand

ok. now to the meat of the issue raised by the Godol and superficially addressed in my last post.

Let's face it. It's hard to educate people to not only read but also understand the traditional Jewish liturgy. Try "k'for ka-efer yefazer" on your average Balabos. Forget about learning from non-English texts. But I'm not the first and won't be the last to comment on the ArtScroll generation. I'm more interested in implications and attempted solutions.

The first question that one would need to ask is - is it better to pray in the 'original' without understanding, or in the vernacular with understanding?

To a large degree, this question has been answered differently by Orthodox and non-Orthodox movements. Of course, there are Orthodox services in the vernacular, but, significantly, they're called "Beginner's Services", acknowledging that advancement will entail changing the language.

On this issue I'm totallt with Orthodoxy, with some caveats, and 'lav mita'amaihu'. In instances that what's necessary is an immediate, spontaneous prayer, the more meaningful for the pray-er, the better. One-time deals also, and sometimes for individuals, especially if they're older, even on a consistent basis. The standard charedi rationale for non-vernacular prayer, based on the Nefesh Ha-chaim, is that "matbe'a she-tav'u Chachamim" contains hidden and mystical meanings that can affect the world in unknown ways by their mere recitation.

I don't buy it at face value, and I'll assume that R' Chaim Volozhiner meant something along the lines of what I'm about to write:
Language = culture. The language of our prayer reflects the values, norms, goals, and assumptions of the culture in which they were formulated. Ideally, prayer in that language recaptures those original meanings. Those meanings, however, become more and more difficult to recapture the further away we are culturally. It requires a lot of learning (which Chaza"l understood when they put the "Da'at" as the first petition in 18; R' Shalom Carmy has an excellent article on this, but I don't remember where). Nevertheless, using the original as opposed to a vernacular translation will, at the very least, not empty the prayers of their original cultural context, and, indeed, allow for subtle and often imperceptible absorption of some of that original meaning. Granted, it's not possible for anyone to really transport themselves back to whichever centuries our liturgy was formulated in, but there can always be some transfer of that original meaning to the modern pray-er. Perhaps R' Chaim is saying that there's always some transfer of that original Jewish culture coming through and subtly transforming the person who prays in that language.

The more we introduce the vernacular, the more we deny access to the Rabbinic culture in which our prayers were born, and the less prayer is a potentially meaningful experience.

One last point. Language acquisition is intuitive. Every child does it. It only becomes hard in scholastic, didactic settings. The French don't complain about how French is so difficult.
Moreover, Howard Gardner has documented what many of us already know - that scholastic knowledge doesn't alsways transfer into life situations, i.e., isn't always understood in the sense that it can become functional (sounds like Gardner is a Chabadnik, no?).

Thus, having students memorize translations of prayer words, or publishing siddurim with linear translations, or even with line-by-line Hebrew explanations of the words, isn't much better than praying without understanding. My goal is to say "Shma" and think and mean "Shma", not to say "Shma" and think "Listen". I'm pretty well convinced that the Bais Yaakov Biur Tefilla courses miss the mark entirely. The ability to sit down and write out a translation of Ashrei is pretty meaningless. Even if committed to memory, the maidelach will either be too busy translating while davening, or will mumble through it like everyone else who doesn't understand.

Do I have a solution? Not really. It requires one to be able to think in Rabbinic Hebrew. Practice by reading, thinking, speaking, writing. No shortcuts along this 'Pathway to Prayer'.
Halevai it'll work for me, too.

Actually, one FINAL thought. Perhaps the end of this will be that, someday, just as korbanot had become empty of meaning and had to be replaced, for all intents and purposes, by prayer, maybe that will happen to prayer itself. Maybe prayer will continue pro forma, but our real meaningful acts of submission to God will be through a different medium. Who knows?


Explaining my own jokes and other miscellany

First of all, thank you to The Godol HaDor and Mis-nagid, from whom more and more of my hits are coming, and whose conversation I enjoy.

Thanks also to the Godol HaDor for giving his Haskamah to one of my posts, which also happens to be controversial (in that it asks questions and doesn't provide answers, and that it encourages serious religious thought). I sincerely hope that now that the Godol HaDor has given me his approbation, unsolicited, mind you, and even has actually read the post, that he will continue to support me even if I come under fire from some lesser lights than he. Please, please, please don't retract.

It was an exchange with the Godol that inspired this post. He reported of a group that sang an enchanting rendition of "Kah Ribbon" but didn't understand what the words meant. In fact, the Godol himself didn't understand what the words meant.

[either he was being an anav, or his sincerity is his true gadlus, or we can't expect our Gedolim to be familiar with the Aramaic of Sefer Daniel - from which the phrases of Kah Ribbon are taken, which is much earlier than the Aramaic of the Talmuds, the Targumim, and The Passion of the Christ. How many dialects can our Gedolim reasonably master?]

As for me, I am now compelled to explain the by-line of my blog's title, "Atar Di Bei Yechdun Ruchin Ve-nafshin". As many people recognize, it's a line from Kah Ribbon which refers to the Temple in Jerusalem as "The place in which spirits and souls will rejoice". The Aramaic word for 'place', 'atar', has been adopted into modern Hebrew as the term for 'site', as in an archaeological site, a historical site, and, more recently a Website. Thus, "The Website in which spirits and souls will rejoice". I thought that was very clever, but nobody gets my jokes. Especially when they require some rudimentary understanding of both Modern Hebrew and Ancient Aramaic. Story of my life, already lamented in my first post.

I'll call this yesterday's post and get to the meat of my musings in the next post.


Bialik's 'Al Saf Beis HaMidrash'

This poem came up twice in conversation this week - once during a discussion about what the word 'saf' means in last week's parsha: bowl or threshhold (turns out it's a machloket between R' Akiva and R' Yishmael in the Mechilta - ayen sham, and see the Netziv who has a nice explanation of the machloket). The second time was on another blog (Hirhurim, actually).
So it's on my mind. And here's why this is one of my favorite poems.

First of all, the symbolism is intense. His own disillusionment with the enlightened world, his feelings of nostalgia and at the same time alienation from the religion of his youth, and his vision of 'renovating' it, is beautifully portrayed in the image of an old yeshiva bachur who finds his way back to his abandoned beit midrash. There's little doubt that Bialik himself identifies with this returning alumnus, though at some point in the poem the 'narrator' seems to begin to speak for all of Israel. His own ambivalence toward traditional Judaism is reflected in some of his phrases (like 'Mikdash El Neurai' - does 'ne'urai' modify 'Mikdash' or 'El'?) as well as some of his suggested 'renovations', specifically sweeping out the cobwebs and 'tearing' new windows.

Second of all, a close reading of the poem yields that much of the imagery and terminology of the first part of the poem comes directly from the book of Eicha. he's linking the desolation of his beit midrash to the desolation of Jerusalem and the destruction of the BH"M is itself stark. he's not talking about physical destruction - this is well before the Sho'ah - rather the collapse of the traditional Eastern European modes of Jewish living.

Thirdly, the second half of the poem, which is forward looking and optimistic, borrows HEAVILY from the imagery of Isaiah 41 - Haftarat Nachamu. The everlasting quality of God's Word, the transience of evil, the strong messianic faith of a brighter tomorrow - all there, all completely modern in their application and yet totally rooted in Yeshayahu's vision. Chaim Nachman, nechamtanu. Chaim Nachman, nechamtanu.

And then there's the final touch - the epigraph marks the occasion of the composition of this poem: Tisha B'av 5654 (1894). The themes of the poem and the themes of the day seems to be completely intertwined in his mind - the destruction of the Temple and the desolation of his old Beit Midrash are manifestations of the same pain, the same insecurity, the same Exile.
Perhaps not insignificantly, Bialik's own old Beit Midrash of Volozhin closed its doors in January of 1892.



Holy Heresy

This was also prompted by my reflections of the ongoing Rabbi Slifkin controversy.

And also by a friend who once made the following fantastic comment about why a shidduch didn't work out:
"She couldn't even understand the depth of my kefirah, how could she possibly understand the depth of my emunah"

(this also assumes that spouses understanding each other's inner religious worlds is a value. it also assumes that most people have inner religious worlds. if you don't, stop reading here)

Let's say that am ha-aretz A, let's call him Berel, believes that HKB"H is an old man with a white beard who sits in the sky, kind of like Zeus. And he's very frum, davvening to Gandalf or whatever thrice daily, etc.

I'm not one to knock Berel. He's a good guy. But in a moment of honesty, I don't believe in his God. In my own view of things, his God doesn't exist. There's no old man in the sky.

Oddly enough, that makes me a kofer in Berel's eyes. And he's right. I deny what he believes in. And the truth is, if I thought that Berel could handle a more sublime, mature (there's that word again) type of belief, I might try to lead him toward greater emunah - a theosophy in which HKB"H's relationship with the world is closer, more sublime, more immanent, more inward. But if it backfires, then I'm forever a heretic in Berel's small mind.

Let's translate this into historical terms. Human knowledge has gone through some changes. We have been forced to confront questions that has refined our view of the universe over the millenia. So when somebody like, let's say, Maimonides, thanks to an Aristotelean or Neo-Platonic worldview insists upon God's non-corporeality, he has taken emunah to the next level. Before Rambam, there was an awareness that God was 'invisible' or 'unseeable', but 'incorporeality' wasn't in the otzar ha-milim. Thus, Rambam was a heretic at one level - he denied the existence of the object of worship of many, many Jews - but paved th way for a different kind of faith - one that has become the norm.

Thus, R' Kook can write about the holiness that pervades 19th century atheism. He saw the resistance of the human psyche to an enslaving or dominating commanding Presence, a phenomenon which sparked the atheisms of Freud and Nietzsche and some characters in Dostoevsky, as a gateway to emunah which saw human will itself as a reflection of Divine will. Thus, he denied the tension between G-d's will and man's will. Nietzsche's Emancipation Proclamation from God's enslaving spirit opened the door for God's ennobling and sublimating spirit. V"acamol.

It's a pattern - kefirah opening doors for greater and greater emunah.

Back to Berel. I drop a pen and ask Berel, "What made the pen fall?". He says, "retzon Hashem". I say, "Gravity". In his view, God's Presence is more palpable superficially, but external to the Universe. In my answer, God has receded into the background, but thereby becomes the ground and matrix from which all of reality rises. Who has greater emunah? I know what R' Kook would answer.

One final point: none of this discussion pertains to what God 'is', only to how we percieve Him. Emunah is a human scale. In the developmental model that I keep going back to, one view can be more mature than another - it reflects a later stage of cognitive or emotional or moral development. One's aspaklaria can be clearer than the other's. but both are views of Truth, not Truth itself.


Moral Development

I've felt for a long time that Kohlberg's stages remain intact but take on a different character within Jewish Moral Development. For example, the notion of a covenantal relationship with HKB"H would correspond to level 5. 'Halicha Be-drachav', would correspond to stage 6, where abstract ethical principles guide behavior, and not concrete rules. Sifrei Chassidut often talk about a higher level, that of a Tzaddik, where one no longer perceives himself as an independent entity, rather as a pure manifestation of God's will.

Also - I don't believe that a higher stage means that someone is 'better', rather, 'more mature'. I will return to the notion of religious maturity (I've alluded to it in my post called "Gam Ki Yazkin"). A level 5 isn't necessarily 'frummer' than a level 3, but frumkeit at level 5 is more mature than frumkeit at level 3.

Kohlberg is a map. No reason to be dogmatic about his levels, but they're useful., even in a gestalt or constructivist approach to morality.


Tefillin and Teaching One's Children: An Observation

I realized this over Shabbat. All 4 places where the Mitzvah of tefillin is addressed in the Torah also talk about something that must be transmitted to future generations.
Moreover, in Bo it's unclear textually whether the references to tefillin are part of the formula that the father is supposed to use to answer his son, or part of what God is exhorting the father to do in order to make sure that the relevant messages are perpeutuated.
The two more well-known references both contain exhortations to teach your children. In fact, a case can be made, more easily for 'Ve-haya im shamo'a', that the mitzva of tefillin is a vehicle for effectively teaching one's child.

I'm not really sure what to make of this. Are tefillin designed to be some sort of concrete object of memory - like the pesach, matzah, and maror that also appear in this context?
Could it be that, from a literary perspective, it's not referring to tefillin at all - rather it's saying that in addition to instruction, the father must provide visual and tactile elements into his child-raising? It's easier to read that into 'zikaron', harder for 'totafot'.

And if this is how the Torah frames tefillin, how and when did the symbolism of tefillin become one of a romance between God and the Jewish people (i.e., the notion of 've-eirastich', the Aggadot about what it says in God's tefillin, the themes of the 'le-shem yichud')?

something to think about during chazarat ha-shatz.


Chana vs. Eli

First Chapter of Shmuel, pretty well known story. Chana is the hero, sincere. Eli misjudges her.

I was bugged by a Midrashic comment, though. Midrash explains that Eli asked the Urim Ve-Tumim for a 'p'sak' on Chana. Urim Ve-tumim is consulted on matters of national consequence, not personal issues. It wasn't a stam azoi oracle. So why, according to this Midrash, would Eli be consulting it in this instance.

What I came up with reframed the entire chapter. Eli is the religious establishment, and promotes the continuation of the religious establishment. He really believes in the religious establishment, to the extent that he doesn't see how it will corrupt. Thus, when confronted with a woman whose actions run against the grain of the establishment, he feels that there's a true threat, a matter of national consequence.

The question remains, however, where di he go wrong. Is he correct in consulting the UvT in the first place, except that he 'misunderstood' its answer? Or does the flaw reside in his consultation in the first place?
In other words, was Eli's suspicion of Chana's motives appropriate? Is it his responsibility to judge each and every mode of religious expression that he encounters, giving a hechsher to some and disqualifying others?
Depending on the answer, Chana can either anti-establishment or simply naively non-establishment - temimusdik. Is her consecration of Shmuel, in addition to an expression of gratitude, also her attempt to reform the establishment from within (alluded to by another strange Aggaddah, whereby Shmuel is challenging Eli's authority already on day One, as though his very presence in the Mishkan is a threat to Eli's authority)? Or are those God's machinations, not her own? The central issue would be whether or not Chana was self-conscious of her own innovation.

Shmuel does, ultimately, succeed in reforming the system from within, until the cycle repeats in the next generation.

Eli's dilemma persists. To what degree should the Rabbinic establishment insist on evaluating the motives behind religious expression? And if they do, how do they insure that their evaluations are unbiased?
Open question.


"...Gam Ki Yazkin Lo Yassur Mimenah"

(to my dear wife and revered father - don't worry, this is a key part of the paper i'm supposed to be working on)

Recognize the end of the verse quoted in the title to this post?
it's not so famous.
but you probably recognize the firt part:
"Chanoch la-na'ar al pi darko..."

yes, yes, that mantra of jewish educators everywhere, that iron-clad proof that the jewish educational system has always been individuated, that gardener with all of his intelligences has got nothing on us, and that underpaid, underqualified, brutal cheder rebbes were and are an abberration. and the rabbis always can weasel out of the whole 'chosech shivto sonei beno (spare the rod spoil the child)' embarassment, which occurs in the same biblical book.

Unfortunately, the passuk of 'chanoch le-na'ar' is completely misunderstood by those who don't bother learning the second half of the passuk.

[i guess Chaza"l were onto something when they reccomended not quoting partial verses. then again, Chaza"l were pretty clever, and it's usually possible to appreciate their ingenuity despite the artscroll generation's best efforts to drag Our Sages ob"m down to their own level. ]

Here's the meaning of the full passuk:
"Initiate a child upon his path; even as he grows old, he will not deviate from it".

The passuk evokes the image of a young child and a mentor standing at the beginning of a path. The mentor is exhorted to take those first few steps along that path, and then to let go. Then, the child will autonomously continue along that path as he matures.

The job of the mentor is to be the training wheels.

I don't know about you, but that doesn't describe my education.

Let's just take the standard explanation of the first part of the verse:
"Educate a child according to his own ways"
For now, let's forget about the textual inconsistencies with that understanding of the passuk. I'm going to point out the implications of neglecting the second half of the verse for an educational philosophy:

1) Both understandings agree that each student is unique and individuated. However, only the proper (i.e., my) understanding acknowledges that each student ought to take his own 'path' through life. it's not a question of devising strategies for getting each student onto the same path, rather how to give each student the independence to follow his own.

2) Related - the misunderstanding adresses individuated pedagogic strategy - how am i going to get through to THIS child. It speaks nothing of the goals of education. The proper understanding sees the goal of Chinuch as an autonomous, mature adult who remains true to the values he was taught.

3) The proper understanding renounces all forms of demagoguery, and sees any skills acquired, knowledge amassed, or habits formed during the process of education as worthless to the degree that they do not translate into something meaningful for an adult.

4) Children are viewed, in this passuk, as adults with training wheels. Anything that we hope for from an adult must in some way be communicated to the child. A child's education must grow with him, constantly reinventing itself and updating itself for a constantly maturing human being. Whatever is transmitted must be dynamic (in the sense that it adjust itself to its surroundings, not in the sense that the teacher has to stand up on the desk) and intuitive, so that it can be applied to new circumstances. Jerome Bruner's idea of a 'spiral curriculum' and argument for encouraging intuitive thinking are very instructive on this point.

5) Finally, the adult's world must be seen as the child's laboratory. Here he can experiment with adult responses, adult decisionmaking, and adult responsibilities under the watchful eye of someone who is already there. Adult concepts can and should be transmitted to children on their developmental level (see my post on sexuality). Experience is the greatest teacher. The goal of the mentor is to maximize experience and make it efficient by controlling the environment in which they occur and providing access to the skills that will be useful in encountering those experience.

And now for a little surprise: there are many 'educators' who unconsciously exhibit most, if not all, of these attitudes when mentoring children. Unfortunately, you won't find them in our schools. You will find them in our homes. None can ever hope to replace a parent as primary trainer of youth, and a parent that looks to the schools to be his surrogate is in deep doo-doo, though it won't stop him from blaming the school system for his kid's drug problem, or complaining that the role of the parent has been usurped by one teacher or another, as though any teacher has a chance at winning the child's allegiance against an involved and aware parent, or for wondering why the kids go 'off the derech' when they get to college.

[interesting isn't it. i understand that the passuk that we started with is an if-then statement. if the chinuch is right, then the adult will not deviate. and if the adult does deviate, well, then, don't be surprised when, exactly as the passuk literally implies, the kid grows up and goes 'off the derech']

Intelligent parenting (like the kind that I had growing up and that I hope to God that my kids do) is the name of the game. The school is a tool of the parent, not vice versa. I believe that the parent is the only thing keeping the Procrustean bed (mittat S'dom, S'dom bettl) that we call the school system from messing up our kids. And i'm not convinced that the parents are doing a great job right now. but at least we can afford rehab. Baruch Hashem.

I've got particular applications to a numebr of specific areas within Jewish education, including the teaching of Machshavah, Halacha, Gemara, Chumash, and Midrashim. I'll leave those for other posts. I think I've got the venom out of the system for now. ve-acamol.


Works in Progress

"The work is not yours to complete; and you are not free to neglect it" (Mishna Avot)
"Tis' more important that Heaven exist than that I ever get there" (CS Lewis)

I wonder if the point is that no one person or group of people can ever arrive at any type of completion or correction. Perfection is in two places - the far distant past and the far distant future. Both are necessary in order to make the present state of affairs palatable.

Over Shabbos, I noticed that the structure of Parashat Ha'azinu may reflect this; at first the psukim all begin at the beginning of a line and end at the end. Same at the end of the Shirah. In between, specifically starting with the first passuk of 'breakdown' - va-yishman yeshurun va-yivat - until the end, when God makes it whole again (Re'u atah ki Ani Ani Hu), the psukim start and end in the middle of the line (obviously there are 2 psukim that form the transition. for our purposes they seem to be in the category of 'whole' psukim). Same structure - whole past, whole future, broken present.

I saw (perhaps R' Zadok) that this is the symbolism of Tekia-Tru'ah-Tekia, and I'd add Malchiyot-Zichronot-Shofarot, or the PoMo cycle of identification, differentiation, and integration, or Franz Rosenzweig's Creation-Revelation-Redemption.

Maybe this is AD/HD talking, but I like being in the middle of projects. It's OK that it's not perfect. That way, it can just keep getting better.
I'm just not sure if perfection is fundamentally impossible or functionally impossible. I'm inclined toward the former, except that I believe in the Coming of the Messiah.
Ella mai, must be that Yemos Hamoshiach won't be characterized by static perfection, rather a way of life in which all will work together to acheive greater wholeness, overcome obstacles, solve problems. Isn't that the essence of the Torah? Of Halacha (lit. walking, path, Tao)?

"Talmidei chakhamim have no rest: not in this world and not in the next"
"But they that wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint."


Talmudic reading of Menachot 29b: Zoo Torah, ve-zu scharah?

R’ Yehuda said in the name of Rav:
When Moshe ascended to the heavens, he saw God sitting and tying crowns to the letters [of the Torah].
Moshe asked, “What’s the hold up [i.e., why can’t you give the Torah as is]?
God replied, “there’s a man who will be in the future, after many generations, named Akiva b. Yosef, who will find in every jot and tittle mounds of halachot.
Moshe said, “Master of the Universe, show him to me!”
God said, “Turn around”
Moses went and sat in the eighth row of students in R’ Akiva’s class, and had no idea what they were saying. His strength deflated.
The class asked R’ Akiba about a certain matter, “From whence to you know this?” He replied, “It is a Law transmitted to Moshe at Sinai. Moshe’s mind was put at ease.
Moshe turned to God, “if you have someone like this, why are you giving the Torah through me?”
God said, “Silence! This is what arose in my thoughts!”
Moshe continued, “Master of the Universe! You’ve showed me his Teaching, now show me his reward.”
God said, “Turn around”
He turned around and saw that R’ Akiva’s flesh was being weighed out in the marketplace.
Moshe confronted God: “This is Torah and this is its reward?!”
God said, “Silence! This is what arose in my thoughts!”

It’s a pretty well known narrative, as its implications for the evolution of the Oral Law are profound. I’ve found, however, that most are content to deal with the first part of the story without relating to the last part.

Two key points that I think point to an explanation of this Gemara:
· · God’s ‘answer’ is identical for both of Moshe’s challenges. I think that God’s answer really is an answer, not a n excuse for cruelty and arbitrariness, but one that Moshe was perhaps ill-equipped to grasp, much as he was ill-equipped to grasp R’ Akiva’s shiur. In which case, we need to figure out what Moshe lacked in his understanding.
· · The image of R’ Akiva’s flesh is shown in response to Moshe’s request to see R’ Akiva’s reward. The Gemara is clearly saying that this is R’ Akiva’s reward. This horrible death is his payment for his Torah. We. Like Moshe, are bothered by this.

Here goes my (abbreviated) attempt to make sense of it:

Moshe was a Prophet. THE Prophet. His knowledge of the Torah was completely whole and intuitive. He was as close as a man can get to sharing a mind with God.

As history unfolded, the role of the prophet in determining God’s will for the Jewish people diminished and was replaced by Torah study. The original, intuitive state of affairs was replaced by formulae and proscriptions. What we lacked in intuitive clarity and shared meaning, we compensated with our intellectual endeavor.

R’ Akiva is considered the greatest contributor to that endeavor of all times. His development of the methods by which the Torah is studied, his absolute commitment to Torah study, his confidence in the security of a Jewish future through Torah study, and his insistence on perpetuating Torah study have made him the hero of the Mishna, the brightest star in our large constellation of Rabbis.

Of course Moshe couldn’t understand R’ Akiva’s shiur! For the same reason that the Rambam wouldn’t be able to understand R’ Hayyim’s shiur (aside from the Yiddish)! R’ Akiva is taking a microscope to look for meaning in every last dot in a text whose meaning for Moshe was as intuitive as Dr. Suess! Moshe is disheartened until he knows that this exposition that seems so foreign to him is actually the direct continuation of the work that he’s starting.
Thus, he asks God why, if the Torah is destined to undergo such radical development, will be mined for shades of meaning that Moshe and his generation couldn’t have dreamt of, remains his Torah.
God’s response – ‘kach alah be-machshava’ – indicates that this is what must be. In this world, a Moshe is a prerequisite for a R’ Akiva, Rashi for Tosafot, Rambam for R’ Hayyim, and childhood for adulthood. As crazy as it sounds, G-d response was akin to a parent telling his child “you’ll understand when you get older”. Moshe’s complete absorption into God’s mind, his total immersion in prophecy, made him unable to approach Torah as would R’ Akiva – a late bloomer, a descendant of Haman, whose own relationship to Torah began as and remained an adult one. But the Torah must be given to children, to the dependent and infantile generation of Moshe, and not to the rebellious and cocksure generation of R’ Akiva. If they resisted the rule of Rome, they certainly wouldn’t have taken the imposition of the Torah’s demands lying down.

And R’ Akiva’s ‘reward’ is to be skinned alive. That’s his destiny. The hero of Torah She-be’al Peh ripped to shreds in the marketplace. This is Torah and this is her reward?

The answer is the same. The transition from childhood into adulthood demands a rebellion, an independence of mind, a willingness to reestablish old relationships on one’s own terms. R’ Akiva, by furthering the cause of Torah by speaking it and teaching his understanding of it come what may, invited disaster upon himself. Such a person will always be misunderstood, antagonized, and figuratively if not literally, torn to shreds and cut down to size in public opinion.
Such is the fate of innovative thinkers who insist on being true to themselves. Such was the fate of Socrates. Such was the fate of Galileo. Martin Luther King Jr. Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Such was the fate of the Rambam, Ramchal, R’ Kook, and R’ Soloveitchik. The path to the future is a dangerous one for all those who dare blaze it. And so it must be, for the very same reasons that the generation of Moshe must receive the Torah, and for the very same reasons that childhood precedes adulthood.

I will end by mentioning a friend of mine who is paying a price for bringing his love, creativity, and intellect to bear (no pun intended) upon his relationship to Torah. I hope that this Aggadah provides some comfort to R’ Natan Slifkin – the Zoo Rabbi – as he faces those who wish to silence his Torah.

[To St. Olaf students - good luck on your midterm paper].


kol ha-meivi davar be-shem omro

ok. we all know the 'vort' from prikei avot. very nice.
But when I hear Rav Kook quoted to a largely yeshivishe audience as 'a Talmid of the Netziv' and see the Rav quoted as 'the Masbir',it seems that 'Kol ha-meivi davar b'shem omro meivi ge'ulah le-olam' isn'tjust a cute 'vort'.
maybe, just maybe, if someone hears good Torah from someone 'mi-chutz la-machaneh', whatever your machaneh happens to be, it will give pause for reflection and appreciation of an alternative viewpoint, whether you agree with it or not.
Beit Hillel didn't think that it was dangerous to quote Beit Shammai. Can't say the same for Beit Shammai. Look whose Mishna we learn.

Shabbat Shalom.

[anecdote relating to the above. A friend of mine who was at R' Tzvi Kushelevsky's yeshiva in J-town heard from one of his chaverim, "I came up w/ a svara, which i then saw in the Chidushei Basra b'shem the Masbir and in the otzar meforshei hatalmud (green monster) quoting from R' Abba Bronspeigel b'shem Rabbo, so i knew i was mechavein to the emes]


Offensive Lines: Why football makes me sick

There's an issur de-orayta against injuring a fellow human being, even if he/she permits, and even if it's self inflicted (though mechila does have ramifications for the chiyuvim.
Wonderful, so we're not allowed to play any contact sports, right?
Not necessarily.
I heard that R' Lichtenstein (who was quite the baller in his day, mi-pi ha-shmu'a) distinguishes between sporting activities where the violence is incidental (baseball, basketball) and where it's an integral part of the game (boxing).
This latter category constitutes real chabalah.
Some might argue that violent contact is incidental in the game of football.
That's crazy naive.
High school kids in Texas are trained to be monsters.
Players dance in celebration after beating opponents like rented mules.
And it's worse than violent movies, because here the violence is real and valued. No "kids can distinguish between reality and fiction" nonsense here.
Implication: I don't think it's a good idea to participate in, encourage, or otherwise promote the culture of college and professional football. Bad chinuch, as they say.
You're better of just watching the halftime show.
Incidentally, it amuses me how these upstanding 'family men' get all bent out of shape about how they want to enjoy a good, clean game of football with their little tykes without having to worry about any 'wardrobe malfunction'.
I'm not just saying this because my team didn't make the playoffs.
I grew up watching football. My kids won't.



jewish sexual education

I've often asked myself why it is that keeping Shabbat and Kashrut, which require a tremendous amount of restraint and entail tremendous lifestyle commitments are observed by the committed as second nature, whereas the Halakhot governing sexual propriety remain a lifelong struggle.
I don't think it's merely a question of the force of temptation; everybody has their 'red-lines' when it comes to sexuality as well. For example, one who would routinely succumb to the temptation of Internet pornography (sorry, not providing any links) would not violate Shabbat in order to do so. Smokers as well seem to find a reserve of strength that carry them through havdalah, though I suspect that the temptations of nicotine are, for the addict, comparable to the temptations of sex.
Furthermore, even those who 'can't control' themselves have sexual taboos, be they related to gender, species, race, size, or religion.
I suspect that, to take the example of Shabbat nd Kashrut, and the other taboos in a more subtle sense, the attitudes and values that shape our later decisions are formed at a very young age. The rhythms and routines of Shabbat and Kashrut are absorbed into the psyche of the young child in a very deep and intuitive way. Long before the child is sophisticated enough to comprehend Halakha, the notions of "Treyf" and "Muktzeh" (classic overjustification, by the way, for all you Ericsonians), have become an integral part of the child's worldview.
But how many of us palpably sense the sanctity of our own bodies to the same degree that we sense the specialness of Shabbat?
How many of us are so secure in our commitments that we can stare down an opportunity for sin as though it were a cheeseburger, whistling 'Efshi ve-efshi' as we walk right on past McDonalds?
It goes without saying that topics of sexuality, including pornography, masturbation, affectionate contact, and homosexuality need to be broached as soon as the students are being tempted, if not sooner. Our prudish educators stand opposed to R' Kahana (of Babylonia, not Brooklyn) who proclaimed (in a very awkward moment - ayen sham) "It is Torah, and therefore I must learn it!". This is a double statement: yes we must learn it and teach it. And it is, in fact, Torah. Perhaps that knowledge will fortify us enough to face a classroom full of smirking teenagers and utter words that make us blush. Practice in the mirror if you need to. Torah hi, ve-lilmod anu tzrichim.
I'll go even further and suggest that for the desired attitudes to truly take root, we must be communicating them to our children and students much, much earlier. I'm not advocating teaching the facts of life to 4-year-olds. Rather, the values themselves that undergird our entire attitude toward sexuality: tzniut, chessed, kedushat ha-guf, kedushat am yisrael, taharat ha-mishpacha, and shalom bayit, to name a few, can and should be communicated to our very young children without any reference to sexuality qua sexuality. Of course children learn mimetically for the most part, which implies that we need to become (*gulp*) role models.
Given the centrality that sex has assumed in contemporary modes of self-identification and self-fulfillment, it becomes all the more important to foster a healthy and holy attitude toward sex, or at least lay the groundwork for it, before those attitudes are formed by our oversexed culture.


If you recognize this from elsewhere, it's not plagiarism. Ve-hamaskil yidom.


A Talmudic reading - Brachot 48a

Ok, as promised, some real Torah (at least I think so).
We start with the Gemara Brachot 48a, which relates the following narrative (my translation):

King Yannai and the Queen broke bread together. Since he had killed all of the Rabbis, there was nobody to lead the post-meal benediction.
He said to his wife, "would that we had someone to bless for us".
She said to him, "Swear to me that if I bring you someone, that you won't torment him!"
He swore.
She brought him her brother, Shimon ben Shetach.
He (Yannai) seated him (Shimon) between himself and his wife, and said to him, "You see how much honor we're giving you?"
He (Shimon) replied, "You are not honoring me; rather, the Torah is honoring me, as it is written, 'caress it and it will exalt you; it will honor you when you embrace it (Proverbs 4)'. "
He (Yannai) said, "I see that you don't recognize authority".
They gave Shimon a glass of wine to propose the blessing over.
He asked, "How shall I bless? Blessed is He from whom Yannai and his pals partook?" He drank that glass. They brought him another, and he proposed the blessing.

Ok, really weird story, right?
I think that this is the Talmud's version of a political cartoon; it uses a kernel of historical truth to satirize social phenomena. The following exposition is based on R' Kook's commentary on this passage in Eyn Ayah, his work on the non-legal sections of the Talmud, but I've adapted it and made it my own. Here goes:

The characters are real. King Yannai and his wife, Shlomzion or Alexandra Salome ruled in the first century BCE, and were part of the Hasmonean dynasty. He also really had a bone to pick with the Pharisees, or proto-Rabbis. Salome's brother, Shimon b. Shetach, a leading Pharisee, began some sort of grass-roots campaign for universal education and judicial reform which left a lasting mark on the emerging Rabbinic culture. That's the historical kernel of this narrative.

I operate under the assumption that this text was composed much later than the time in which the story is set. This for several reasons:
1) in general that's how Talmudic narrative operate
2) talking about 'Rabbis' is anachronistic at the time of Yannai.
3) The Talmud itself, several lines after this narrative, assumes that any Halakhic implications of the story are purely coincidental not to be taken seriously. although the Bach emends the text because he's troubled by the Talmud's blatant disregard of one of Shimon b. Shetach's halakhic position, the thrust of the sugya and the understanding of the rishonim indicates that they were not troubled by this. v'acamo"l.

I also operate under the assumption that once the surface meaning of the Talmudic passage in sufficiently clarified, it is legitimate to attempt to discover new and even contemporary meanings within the texts, and that any number of literary techniques can be brought to bear on the sugya. R' Kook elaborates on this in his intro to eyn Ayah. A great read if you're supremely confident in your Hebrew skills, v'acamo"l.

Ok, then, so what exactly is going on in this narrative?

The opening image is almost comical. King and Queen dining (breaking bread) together w/ their whole entourage, and all of a sudden, OOPS! Nobody to lead bentching! Too bad we offed the Rabbis. Darn!

This is an exaggeration of an all too common phenomenon. People complain about the Rabbi, talk behind his back, spread rumors, etc., etc. Ultimately, he may lose his job over it. for a few months there's usually a 'ding-dong the witch is dead' kind of attitude. no speeches. we're free to talk during davening and all kinds of other more or less mild forms of prikas ol. in fact, rashi here mentions that yannai had the rabbis killed because they had cast doubt upon his lineage with ramifications for whom he can and can't marry. the gall! the rabbis telling me how to run my life! i'll show them! but all of a sudden there's a bris or a bar mitzvah or r"l a funeral, and "hey where's the rabbi?"

"breaking bread" is the quintessential mundane act (chayei sha'ah). this is borne out in other talmudic passages, in the Torah itself ("man can not live by bread alone, rather by the word of God shall man live"), in contemporary culture (money = 'bread', 'breadwinner', 'bread and butter'), and let's face it, it makes sense.

so for Yannai, the non-religious jewish leader par exellence (i.e., the symbol of a non-religious Jewish leadership), everything's dandy as long as everybody's busy rendering unto caesar what is caesar's, going about their daily lives and business. who needs a rabbi during the week? thus, there are yannais big and small within the ranks of the lay leadership.

yannai can go about breaking his bread just fine, until he reaches a point where somehting's telling him that there's a moment here that calls for some type of religious expression, which he feels wholly unqualified to carry out. he's reflecting an attitude which is still prevalent. it's called "the shul that i don't daven in is orthodox". yannai knows where to go to scratch his religious itch. ok, there are moments in life that i need a rabbi, i'm going to go find a frum one.

this attitude is rampant in contemporary judaism. at the founding of the state of israel, one of the greatest mistakes that the religious community made was accepting jurisdiction over weddings and kashrut. they essentially conceded that there's a complete bifurcation of realms, of like. there's normal life of 'breaking bread' for which we have nop use for rabbis or religion, and then there are the times that we acknowledge a religious moment, for which we want as 'authentic' an experience as possible. the rabbi's got to be orthodox. for some reason, the more irrelevant the religious component is, the more 'authentic' it's perceived to be. for the sake of nostalgia, the 3 times in my life that i have a need for a rabbi, i want to make damn sure that he looks like he just stepped out of the 17th century. that's authentic. that's tradition. that's the type of thinking that our Gemara attributes to Yannai. unflattering to say the least! here's to all you balabatim who look to us rabbis to make you feel all warm and fuzzy and religious when it's convenient for you! to provide the sabbatical cherry atop your secular sundaes (pun intended)!

ok we last left yannai with this religious itch that he needs to scratch. so he negotiates with his wife to bring in her brother. shimon and shlomzion are smart enough to know that if there's ever a time to get a concession from a board led by the likes of yannai, it's right at the beginning. once he starts to take you for granted again, it's all over. forget any concessions, you're lucky to keep your job! get everything up front! contracts are important!

so yannai gives shimon the place of honor at the table. why? to demonstrate his esteem for shimon or to keep him on a short leash? perhaps a bit of both. with a big smile and a warm embrace for he public, nobody notices the knife you're holding to his ribs.

then our beloved king yannai turns to shimon and comments on the great honor that he has chosen to bestow upon him.

Shimon's response? get real. let's face it. you have a need. an itch. you brought me here to scratch it. it's not honor any more than you'd honor a prostitute by hiring her for a one-night stand. however - if i'm honored, i'm honored by the Torah. vos maint dos? the fact that yannai needs to fill some kind of religious void means that he needs to turn to someone who can authentically represent the Torah and its values and institutions. the fact that shimon is the address is a testament to shimon's capacity as an ambassador of the Torah, not of yannai's esteem for shimon. shimon is being brutally honest with yannai. let's call it what it is and dispense with the nonsense. it's tough to stare down a yannai like that.

yannai reacts by suggesting that shimon has no respect for authority. IRONY OF IRONIES! who has no respect for authority? who had to eradicate the one remaining balance on his power (the Hasmonean kings were preists as well; they usurped those two bases of power - kingship and preisthood - leaving the rabbis, heirs of the prophets, as the only other somewhat legitimate power base)? who refused to submit before the law? the problem with yannai is that he thinks he's doing shimon some kind of favor. look at the honor i give him, and he pays me back with this kind of ingratitude! boy, there are still a lot of yannais out there. rabbonim and mechanchim can work 100 hours a week and there will always be balabatim who feel like they're owed something because they didn't fire you or because they pay the bills.

until now, the relationship described between rabbinic and lay leadership, symbolized by yannai and shimon, is really pretty bad. the finale of this gemara gives direction for a possible solution.

so it's time for shimon to lead the mezuman and he can't. he hasn't eaten anything.
the institution of zimun is the antidote to the entire problem described above. zimun happens within a communal context. it is a communal obligation which only devolves upon an actual community. this community has come together for a ather mundane purpose- to eat. to fress. the obligation to be mezamen mandates that food not be the sole basis for this community. if we eat together as a group, then we have an obligation to pray togethr as a group, to learn together as a group. there are responsibilities that each individual has for his own betterment, and there are responsibilities that a community has as a whole, as a single entity.
furthermore, zimun rejects the thinking that life is divided in to the realms of God and caesar, of religious and secular, or spiritual and material. it's all one. if there's no bread there's no torah, and if there's no torah, there's no bread. a communal meal without torah is pagan. it divorces God from our everyday existence.

In light of the earlier part of this narrative, shimon's message is loud and clear. a rabbi is not a functionary. he's not someone who services our needs on weekends. he's not a temple prostitute. rabbinic leadership means that the rabbi can't be providing guidance and leadership from the 'outside', as a consultant on religious matters. he must be part of the community in the fullest sense. he must be part 'balabos'. this is shimon's question - how can i lead this community spiritually if i'm not part of it materially? takka - a good kasha. he must partake before he can lead.



Hineni He-ani Mi-ma'as, nir'ash ve-nifchad...

vey iz mir if my wife finds out that i'm starting a blog. like i don't already waste enough time. she thinks i'm writing a paper that i've started 4 times, and which is preventing me from getting my master's degree.
funny, though, how the topic of the paper and the impetus for this blog are really one and the same, but here i can jump straight to conclusions w/o the farshtunkene footnotes

[aside - i will frequently use terms like 'farshtunkene footnotes', which betray the fact that i've got feet in several, often incongruous, worlds. this leads me to my working definition of a 'modern orthodox' jew:
someone who can correctly understand and employ the sentence, "one man's reductio ad absurdum is the next man's in hachi nami". ve-hamaskil yidom.

i should also put in a certain caveat: i will often make reference to all kinds of statements and lines from jewish and non-jewish culture, mostly from rabbinic culture, and often pretty obscure.
klal gadol - the more obscure, the sharper it is.

for example, the last line 2 paragraphs ago - 've-hamaskil yidom'. it's a passuk in mishlei that Ibn Ezra employs in Bereishis (i will not be consistent in my havara; though i've tried to convert to sfaradit with vbm transliteration rules, there are certain words that i can't bring myself to leave the ashkenuzis. 'bereishis' is one such word, and for obvious reasons), when masking the true meaning of the 'sod shneim asar', i.e., the fact that he holds there are certain verses in the 5 books that are of non-Mosaic origin (i.e, that the chumash was mostly Mosaic, but was still a mosaic). i'm convinced that if ibn ezra had been blogging, he'd have finished his commentary there with a ;-) . given the modern connotation of the term 'maskil', the usage of the term becomes even more delicious. ve-Acamo"l. ]

[oops. i did it again. Acamol is the israeli version of tylenol, and in hebrew is spelled in the same way as the acronym for "ein kan makom le-ha'arich" - loosely translated as "nuff said". ]

i'd like to explain the whole 'self-hating rabbi' thing before i get carried away.
basically, i think that 'rabbi' is a job description, not a type of person. a din in the cheftza, not in the gavra, if you will. i think it's dangerous for rabbis to become too rabbinic. it creates distance between the rabbis and the balabatim, creates double standards, in short, catholicizes judaism. the real evil is when people start to think that there's a real differences between rabbis, or, if you prefer (and i don't) 'klei kodesh', or, the ever popular 'klei kodesh and wives of klei kodesh', and non-klei-kodesh. it creates a situation where rabbis and balabatim take a fundamentally utilitarian view of each other. it's tough for a rabbi to become a true role model. if you don't believe me, ask your average modern orthodox balabos if he wants his kid to go into education. then you can ask him how he feels about the fact that all of his kids' teachers are 'black hatters', which, by the way, reinforces the 'us-them' mentality that exists in the communities of mechanchim vis-a-vis balabatim and vice versa. ve-chazar ha-din. lo re'i zeh ke-re'i zeh, ve-lo re'i zeh ke-re'i zeh.
therefore, though i'm ordained by the israeli chief rabbinate (no small feat, grz"n punks), and though my job description entails much rabbinating (a verb that should have been around a long time, but that i had to invent) - like counselling, teaching, answering halakhic questions, ve-chuli - i don't see myself as being different from anyone else by virtue of my title and job description- thus, self-hating rabbi. not that i don't think that talmud torah refines us, or at least should refine us, as human beings (you should have seen me before i started learning), but that it has nothing to do with titles or job descriptions. if i can convince one rabbi to stop condescending, one balabos to actually befriend his rabbi as a true friend - and by that i mean that you won't alter your vocabulary or storehouse of jokes around him - then, well, i'll probably still have to consider this endeavor a waste of time. but i'll have what to work with when trying to justify it to myself.

one last point. theree will be a lot of sichas chullin in this blog, but much divrei torah as well. as you will see, the boundary between the two isn't always so clear. next post will be an exposition of a gemara of brachot based on the writings of r' kook that will reinforce some of the points that i made above.

kol tuv,