Tuesday, September 30, 2003

There is an interesting new quarterly out called "The New Atlantis" dealing with "technology and society". It is not as well written as, say Commentary but it covers a wide range of subjects from interesting (usually conservative) angles.
There is a fascinating article in this issue called The Nanotechnology Revolution by Adam Keiper, the journal's Managing Editor. Now the article itself is worth reading - although I don't buy all the "post-human" possibilities of the new technology. More about the article in a later post.
What I would like to discuss here is a quote from the controversial French Christian philosopher/theologian Jacques Ellul.
Kieper writes that Ellul argued "that the rise of technology leads to the decline of traditional spirituality, as man transfers 'his sense of the sacred ... to technique itself'. We develop a 'worship of technique' Ellul said, and we associate our technology with a 'feeling of the sacred' ."
What does this say about our own Jewish - even orthodox culture wars ?
We keep on coming back to the Haym Soloveitchik article where he speaks of the loss of tradition - where what was once a mimetic tradition has become a text centered one. Continuing in this vein it is clear to me that we have become a people who "worship technique". In an interesting twist, it has been the haredi world and their modern-orthodox mimics who have used the basis of the scientific method - mathematical measurement - to constantly develop a more "perfect" technique for the keeping of halacha.
As we keep on trying to perfect the "technique" of halakhic performance we loose sight of the mitzva itself.
We loose sight of, what Rabbi Reuven Singer in a recent Edah Journal article wrote, "these Torah values ... which stand behind halacha's technicalities".
There are three questions we must ask ourselves:
1. Have we become a people who worships technique instead of God ?
2. Is it the technique of the mitzva that brings us to kedusha, or is it the attainment of the "values which stand behind the halacha's technicalities" which elevate our lives ?
3. Is the perfection of the technique a help or a hindrance for the attainment of these "Torah values" ?

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Monday, September 29, 2003

Shana Tova.
Tephila (prayer) on Rosh Hashanah is about three things: Your own personal tephila, the communal prayer that the Chazan leads - and the personal reading or learning you accomplish.
On the first score, I find it difficult to judge my own prayers - although I have to admit, tephila on Shabbat-Rosh Hashanah - that is, without the Shofar -for me requires more effort. The second day was more successful.
As for the second - the communal tehpilot were wonderful. We usually go to my brother who lives on a small yishuv (settlement) in the northern part of Israel. The Chazanim are young but experienced and the congregation –the kehilla - enjoy participating. The tunes for many of the piyutim are easy to learn and sing and for the most part they get them right.
The basic "nusach" - (check here for samples or here for Chazzanut)) the basic tune that the chazzan uses is a work of musical genius. Starting from the psedukei d'zimra, the Psalms that are used for introductory prayers, to the start of Shacharit with the "HaMelech" and on to the longer parts of the repetition of the amidah - the 'nusach' allows the congregation to at once participate and concentrate on that which is important to him or her. Personally, I either try to figure out an upcoming piyut (religious poem) by using the Birnbaum and Koren Maachzor Yerushalayim - or by reading my chosen book or sefer.
There is one important prayer though that I have yet to find a proper tune for - the "U'Netanah Tokef" - the prayer said before the Kedushah in Musaf. For me, that prayer is the essence of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: From the legend of its composition to the words themselves.
The legend (first told in the13th century) is of a certain Rabbi Amnon who after hesitating when the ruler demands his apostasy, keeps his religion only to have his arms and legs cut off in punishment. He asks to be brought to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and before the kedushah asks to be brought to the bima where he recites this prayer. At the end of the prayer, he dies. The prayer then comes to R. Kolonymous ben Meshulam in a dream.
The truth of the story is irrelevant to the reality that we associate it with the prayer on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is a part of the prayer - even if we are not told it in so many words.
The beginning is either a description of the author's vision of Yom Hadin (the Day of Judgment) in the Heavens 'now' or in the world to come. The last part is a description of the Yom Hadin in the here and now. It is powerful, simple, sad and uplifting. It ends with hope - with the solution for our sinning: "Repentance. Prayer and Tzedakah (Charity) will cancel the stern decree".
Yet - with all the attempts to write a tune for it, none have succeeded in capturing the profundity of the words and story behind it. There was a noble attempt by some members of the secular kibbutz Bet Hashita in the Yizrael Valley between Afula and Bet Shean. Israel TV made a film of its composition - a story of members of this old and proud kibbutz who decided to go back to their roots and become if not observant in the full sense of the word - religious in most senses. The tune they wrote was a good effort and is used in many synagogues in Israel. It is a good tune, an interesting tune - “ but it doesn't quite match the prayer.
I would like to suggest to anyone out there with a strong musical bent - someone who can compose or adapt music to attempt a tune for this prayer. I would like, at the risk of sounding heretical to suggest the adaptation be based on a part of J.S. Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" - the part that starts "Have Pity Lord on Me". On my CD, the version by Leonard Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic (part of the Bernstein Century series - SM2K-60727) it is the first track on the second CD. Listen to it and tell me it does not belong to U'Netanheh Tokef.

And on to the third aspect of the tephilot - the learning and reading. For me - it usually makes or breaks my tephila - I usually read something by R. Soloveitchik or AJ Heschel. This year I decided to try - again - "The Star of Redemption" by Franz Rosenzweig. This apparent work of genius is unreadable to me. This is my third try and I need some help to get through it. I would appreciate any suggestions.
However, all was not lost - I found in the library of the synagogue the memoirs, in Hebrew, of R. Meir Bar-Ilan called "From Volozhin to Jerusalem". Bar-Ilan was a great religious Zionist and son of the last Rosh Yeshiva of Volozhin - Naphtali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin - or the Netziv: And he is the namesake of Bar-Ilan University and numerous other schools here in Israel.
There is one story which I must share with you. We had a small argument at the table on the saying of Tehilim (Psalms) for no particular reason - a custom that has become a fad here in Israel. It is a Chasidic thing and a Sephardi thing. Being a good 'misnaged' (opponent of Chasidut) though - I tell my children that you can learn Tehilim - but mumbling the words is a waste of time. They are not magic words.
Anyway, Bar-Ilan tells that his mother (the Netziv's wife) was very ill. The students in the Volozhin Yeshiva were very close to her (that is another story) and they wanted to say tehilim for her. They asked the Netziv and he said that they are better off learning Torah. After a few days they returned and demanded that he let them pray for her. He contemplated the issue and agreed - but for only 15 minutes. After that quarter hour he made them stop and return to learning.
K'tiva Va'chatima Tova and have an easy fast.

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Thursday, September 25, 2003

As we end this very difficult year where our people are facing yet another global wave of anti-Semitism and here in Israel we face daily threats to our lives we often wonder what it is we are doing. Whether its living in Israel or just being an observant Jew in the United States or elsewhere in the West, we have to wonder why we remain Jewish.
Sometimes it occurs to me that we could still be good people – even according to the halacha - if we were born believing Protestants in Iowa or upstate New York. None of the agonizing over what to do with our children – how to raise them as rational men and women of faith under the daily strain of halacha and the faith that goes with it; how to raise them as Zionists and send them off on buses here in Israel every morning and then to the army – where they will be trained to fight and risk their lives for the sake of a Jewish state.
Would we (Jewish men) have done better for our children by marrying that Protestant woman in Iowa or upstate New York and forgetting all that we were raised to do?
Would we have saved them from a future of the same strain that we go through by fighting to confront this world while keeping our belief in the revelation at Sinai and the traditions that follow from it? Would we have saved them from the personal danger that it is to be a Jew in this world?
It is Erev Rosh Hashana and the new year will bring us here in Israel more of what we have known over the last three years. That to me is a certainty. Contrary to the graffiti current in the country the messiah is a long way off.
But even if by accident the Islamic world accepts our presence here, we as observant Jews still must confront the world as it is – every day.
We who refuse to give in to temptation and withdraw to the physical and ideological shtetl as the haredi world has done, know that each day brings new difficulties and challenges: Often ones we don't want to take on, but do nonetheless.
Yet, because we have chosen to meet these challenges head on and refuse the easy way out of intermarriage, assimilation or withdrawal to a closed world we must not despair.
In the religious, literary and Jewish masterpiece "Lonely Man of Faith" R. Soloveitchik begs us to go on. Towards the end of the next to last chapter the Rav writes:
"Modern Adam the second, as soon as he finishes translating religion into the cultural vernacular and begins to talk the 'foreign' language of faith, finds himself lonely, forsaken , misunderstood, at times even ridiculed by Adam the first, by himself. When the hour of estrangement strikes, the ordeal of man of faith begins and he starts his withdrawal from society, from Adam the first – he an outsider, be he himself. He returns, like Moses of old, to his solitary hiding and to the abode of loneliness. Yes, the loneliness of contemporary man of faith is of a special kind. He experiences not only ontological loneliness but also his social isolation. This is both the destiny and the human historical situation of the man who keeps a rendezvous with eternity, and who, in spite of everything, continues tenaciously to bring the message of faith to majestic man."
Shana Tova.
Ktiva V'chatima Tova.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2003

A quick review of the various Machzorim (prayer books) available for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The best, in my view, English translation remains that done by Phillip (Paltiel) Birnbaum, first published in 1951. There are some errors in it like the left out verses in Kol Nidre (which he notes at the bottom).
I don't really like anything put out by Art Scroll. There seems to be dumbing down of anything given to the orthodox community (modern as well as haredi) and I lay much of the blame to Art Scroll. As a good capitalist though I hate to blame a company that is apparently reacting to a growing market of lazy orthodox Jews. (For a more intelligent analysis of the dumbing down of the post-Holocaust orthodox community see the brilliant essay by Haym Soloveitchik.)
In any event, the Birnbaum Machzor is a pleasure to use (even for those of us who live in Israel).
But I am someone who needs more than one machzor when praying on the Yamim Noraim (high Holidays).
If you are looking for a good Hebrew only Machzor, the standard Rinat Yisrael is great to daven with - clear print and you don't have to go looking for things.
However, if you get bored as I do and need things to read, then purchase the Koren machzor (Machzor Yerushalayim). It is based on the Goldschmidt edition and as opposed to ALL other machzorim ,when printing a piyut (religious poem) , it has the entire piyut - even the part no one says. That doesn't mean that you have to say the whole thing - but they explain the words and give the sources for the piyut. The poetry is truly fascinating.
If you use the Koren for example you will see that the original text for the piyut 'Ma'aseh Elohenu' (The Works of God) alternates stanza with 'Ma'aseh Enosh' (the works of man). In our version we say most of the 'Ma'aseh Elohenu' stanzas with the Ark opened - followed by one stanza of 'Ma'aseh Enosh' - with the ark closed and conclude with 'Aval Ma'aseh Elohenu' - again with the ark opened. A very good friend and a medieval Jewish historian at Tel-Aviv University told me that the editors cut the verses because it was too cumbersome to keep on opening and closing the ark !
This year as your second machzor - its light, small, easy to hold - try the Koren edition - Machzor Yerushalayim.

Oh yes - one quick note: While sitting in the Bet Midrash of my son's yeshiva in Ra'anana listening in on "parent's night" - I saw on the shelf an old machzor. I picked it up and it was a an old version ( I think the Silvermintz machzor of the '50's - not 100% sure) of the Conservative machzor. At that point there were almost no differences between the texts of Conservative and orthodox machzorim. What was interesting though was that in the acknowledgements section the translator thanks David de Sola Pool - then rabbi of the (Orthodox) Spanish Portuguese synagogue on the upper West Side of Manhattan and the editor of the Orthodox RCA (Rabbinical Council of America) Shabbat siddur - you know the one before the dumbing down. Is there an Orthodox rabbi today who would agree to be acknowledged in a Conservative siddur ? Any relation to the dumbing down of Orthodoxy ?

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A quick note: For those who need, who know someone who needs an American Sign Language (ASL) translation of the prayers for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Sometimes things happen in two's and make you think.
I just finished Gershom Scholem's masterpiece "Shabbtai Tsvi" and today in the OpinionJournal Tunku Varadarajan has a short piece on Bernard Lewis.
There are three types of intellectuals that have influenced my life. The first is the thinker in the guise of philosopher, theologian and in the words of traditional Judaism "gadol". The one or two people a generation whose words you must listen to. You may not agree with everything they say but you must take their words seriously. R. Soloveitchik and A.J. Heschel are two such "gedolim".
The second is the writer – the stylist who writes well and has something to say. It could be a novelist or an essayist. Norman Podhoretz of Commentary or Robert Bartley of The Wall Street Journal are two such essayists. Robert Alter, the literary critic and interpreter of the Hebrw Bible is another. Saul Bellow, Agnon and Kafka come to mind as the novelists of the past century who you need to be read and re-read.
Scholem and Bernard Lewis are the third type of intellectual. They made their names in the scholarly world by painstakingly analyzing texts and documents in order to tell a story for all times. Their sources were bills of sale, private letters and government documents – as well as theological and philosophical texts of the highest order. They did not decide to write only for their colleagues but insisted on writing essays and books that could be understood by the educated public. They understood that their scholarship was important for the world and they wanted to share their love of learning with the world at large.
Besides his most recent books, Lewis has written wonderful tomes such as "The Jews of Islam" and "The Arabs in History". Of his most interesting books is his concise, readable and wonderfully titled "The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years". Even more important for understanding this strange and difficult region that so many of us call our home is "The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East".
Scholem is known as the historian that legitimized the study of mysticism in Jewish life. Among his many books, Scholem's introductory "Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism" is a wonder in clarity – but "Shabbtai Tsvi" can be read as a warning to all generations of Jews – most specifically ours – one that is swept up in Chabad as well as secular messianism of a sort that doesn't let facts and reality get in the way of their faith. The highly personal "From Berlin to Jerusalem" tells his own story.
Read the writings of Gershom Scholem and Bernard Lewis – you could spend your time on worse things.

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Monday, September 22, 2003

A certain "JP" commented see Comments below on our discussion of Fakenehim's re-reading of the two "complaint" stories at Marah and Masah-Meribah. First he asks if I am saying that "post-Holocaust, the lessons put forth by the Torah are contradictory?"
In essence what we were discussing was the possibility of re-reading and therefore re-interpreting the Torah in light of the Holocaust. (Not, unfortunately, my idea).
Most of what we understand in the Torah really comes through the commentators or translations that we grew up with. For example, for those of us with a religious education we assume that Avraham's shaliach (messenger) in search of a bride ( Genesis 24: Hebrew; English) for his son Yitzchak is his trusty servant Eliezer – simply because Rashi told us so. The Torah mentions no such thing.
In other words – for Fackenheim, contemporary Torah commentators of all stripes should have a different understanding of that which is told in the Torah in light of, for him, a "unique" event in the history of the Jewish people.
Are the lessons of the Torah contradictory ? Of course they are, pre or post-Holocaust. Just look at the different interpretations of the Akedah (Binding of Isaac- Genesis 22 -Hebrew; English).

As far as what to I mean by "invoke" ? When we mention the patriarchs at the start of the Amidah service we 'invoke' their names and their memories so as to use their "goodness" to our benefit. So too in the slichot – we mention the patriarchs. We also mention the innocent children who were killed "al kiddush hashem" ? My question is - ought we still to do that ?
No – I didn't really give an answer – mainly because I am not sure I presently have one. I wanted to bring up the question and hopefully deal with it (either myself or through comments of readers) by Yom Kippur.

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Sunday, September 21, 2003

We are saddened by the passing of one of the great Jewish thinkers of our time, Emil Fackenheim, z"tl at the age of 87.
Amongst Fackenheim's books are: Jewish Return into History, To Mend the World, The Jewish Bible After the Holocaust, God's Presence in History, Quest for Past and Future.
Yehi Zichro Baruch.

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In our continuing attempt to re-read our Rosh-Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers in light of the Holocaust (thanks to the book by Braiterman, see posts below) we should take a look at some of what was said in the Slichot service last night.
We end every Slichot, which we say from the Saturday night before Rosh Hahanah until Yom Kippur with a request of God to "do" (aseh) for us - in other words to have mercy on us – in the name of many things such as: "Your (God's) name, Your mercy, your goodness". We continue asking God to "do" for us in the name of the patriarchs, of Kings "David and Solomon", even in the name of "Jerusalem".
Then it hits you right in the face. We ask God to do for us in the name of "Those who were killed on (for the sake of) Your Holy Name"; "those who were slaughtered on (for the sake of) Your Unity" and then a series of requests that God show us mercy in the name of "those who were killed by fire and water in sanctification of Your Name (Al Kidush Sh'mecha); "for the nursing children who sinned not"; "for the children (Tinokot shel Bet Raban)".
Emil Fakenheim in his book "The Jewish Bible after the Holocaust" pays special attention to the parallel stories of the newly freed slaves demanding water from God – once, the incident at Marah (Exudos 15-Hebrew) and then at Massah and Meribah (Exodus 17-Hebrew).
The incident at Massah and Meribah is important for Fakenehim because there they plead for water to save "us and our children" whereas in Marah they make demands only for themselves.
Fackenheim is disturbed by these stories because the Torah barely reacts about the "complainers" at Marah, yet condemn those at Massah and Meribah in spite of their pleading for their children.
For Fackenheim: " As this is read by Jews of this (post-Holocaust) generation, they perceive just how radically their religious situation has changed: they have no choice but to take sides with the mothers of the children, against the narrator, against Moses and , if necessary, against God Himself".
Let us ask ourselves two questions in light of the suffering of these children just fifty years ago:
First, do we have the right to invoke these innocent children in order press God to forgive our actual sins?
Second, why do we want to invoke these innocent children as a way to gain God's mercy if He had so little mercy on so many of them such a short time ago?
I am of the opinion that the prayers we say are timeless – that they do speak to all generations of Jews, that the language is exacting, that the words were thought out both theologically, morally and halakhically.
Yet, can we still invoke these children's names in our age ?

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Friday, September 19, 2003

A six year old girl was left locked in a small school bus in Israel for 16 hours and suffocated to death. Its hard to imagine the horror that the little girl went through and the horrible death she endured.
The police will investigate both the driver as well as the parents who didn't notice their daughter was missing for over 16 hours !
Today's Ma'ariv print edition (can't find it on the internet) reports that at the gravesite a rabbi told this haredi family with 11 other children that this was not a case of "negligence" but was God's will.
Is this the haredi jump into the post-modern world where we refuse to define evil ? True, there is a time-honored Jewish concept of "Tziduk Ha'din" - where we "justify" what has happened - yet there is no place in the halacha where we use it to make the guilty innocent.
The new post-modern haredi definition of evil seems to be that amongst apparently observant "shomrei mitzvot" people, evil - when dealing with deeds between man and man (mitzvot ben adam l'chavero) - does not exist.
A tragedy happened, it appears that more than one person is at least partially responsible for the death of this child - yet the attitude seems to be to let these people alone because: a. they suffered enough and b. - they are good Jews.
Tziduk Hadin is meant to remind us that we don't really understand the ways of God - it is not meant to justify the acts (or in this case the 'non-acts')of man.

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Thursday, September 18, 2003

We spoke a few days ago about the book by Braiterman "(God) After Auschwitz". Specifically we mentioned his discussion of the post-Holocaust thought of R. Soloveitchik, among others.
Braiterman stated that we must re-read much of the Bible and midrashim in light of the Shoah and we extended that to our prayers on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
One of the most exquisite prayers we say is the Avoda- the order of the Temple work as performed by the High Priest (Kohen Gadol). R. Soloveitchik spoke often about the Avoda service and a summary of one of his lectures is available.
It is worth reading in its entirety, but let us discuss a small part which relates to our discussion and is (could be ?) an example of his post Holocaust thought:
"In his 1979 Teshuva lecture, the Rav describes the avoda
recitation of his father and grandfather in this way:

"They said it with so much enthusiasm, such ecstasy, that they could not
stop. They were no longer in Warsaw or Brisk: they were transported to
a different reality. Although I am not a musician or musicologist, all one
had to do was hear the nigun of "Hakohanim Veha'am" to understand .
One did not even need to hear the words in order to feel the nostalgia for
what once existed and is no longer. Similarly, "V'kach haya moneh: achas,
achas v'achas". Towards the end of the avoda, when the scarlet thread
turned white, the piyut describes how the nation exuded happiness,
expressing pleasure and delight, a feeling of closeness to Hashem : He is
right beside me."

But that is not the end - we continue with true happiness:
"The avoda description culminates in the majestic piyut "mar'eh kohen",
describing the luminous appearance of the Kohen Gadol after successfully
completing the avoda:

"Why the happiness in reciting "mar'eh kohen"? Why was it sung with such
a happy tune? The answer is that the Kohen Gadol reflected the radiance
of the shechina. Through witnessing the radiant appearance of the Kohen
Gadol, there could be no doubt about Hashem's acceptance of klal
yisrael's prayers."

But R. Soloveitchik is not satisfied with the ecstasy, and neither is the editor of the Machzor.
"Suddenly the payettan and the reader of the piyut are rudely
awakened from a dream (8). They cry 'This is no longer the reality in
which we live'. It existed once, yes, but is no more. One finds himself
alone in a stormy night, dark, lost, and yells 'all this occurred while the
temple was in existence: happy the eye which saw all these things' --- BUT
While reciting the avoda, the Jew was transported to a different, beautiful
world. He is now rudely awakened to find himself in a bitter exile. The
detail we just discussed: "vekach haya moneh, vekach haya omer,
hakohanim veha'am..." we no longer have."

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Wednesday, September 17, 2003

If you have any interest in the goings on of medical science and research a magazine called The Scientist can be interesting. I have to admit I don't understand all of it, but for the most part if you took a good "Science for Poets" course (they used to offer these things 20 or more years ago) you should get the gist of most of what is written.
In any event a few issues ago there was an article on rebuilding Iraqi science. The article was not anything special, but a young Iraqi doctor from Mosul wrote an uplifting yet sad letter.
This letter ought to be forwarded to all those presidential wannebes who feel that change is only good if the elite decides it is.
This young doctor writes:
"We have indeed suffered and for a long time, not only from the UN sanctions, but also (and arguably more) from the underinvestment in education and scientific research by the murderous regime of Saddam et al. The state of our educational facilities, including laboratories, is unfortunately pathetic. The policy of the former regime was to spread ignorance as much as possible, and, I am sorry to say, they succeeded. Iraqis were indeed once proud of having some of the best scientists in the Middle East, but the decline was rapid since Saddam and his gang had "other priorities" like war, war, and more war. "
He ends the letter with a heartfelt and sad plea:
"For the time being, our labs and scientific institutions would welcome anything you could send us. Please do not be shy to send a 10-year-old piece of equipment or a couple-of-years'-old journals, fearing that it would be of no use. We can use all the help that we get. The lab I work in (The histopathology lab at Al-Zahrawi Hospital) is in a very poor shape. It is poorly equipped, and that would be true of all hospital labs in Iraq. So please, feel free to send anything you want or don't need."
And what of the rest of the Arab world in general and the Palestinians in particular ? Has their leadership been any better ? Are the Palestinians any better with a leader whose "scorched earth" policy has led to waste wherever he has gone ?
Is the "just" thing to help a people to "self-determination" whatever the human cost, or to help individuals lead lives of dignity ?

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Tuesday, September 16, 2003

As we approach the period of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we by our nature ask ourselves questions relating to our own personal conduct and place in the world. Here in Israel we often wonder which bus to take and when to go to the café in order to lessen our chances of being another "sacrifice for peace". As we pray or read the texts that have accompanied us throughout our life we look at situations that happened to us, our families, our people and ask not only if we can find some Psalm or midrash which comforts us but if we can find a text that challenges us and our comfortable thoughts.
"Religion", according to a most wonderful footnote in Rav Soloveithick's "Halakhic Man " is not, at the outset, a refuge of grace and mercy for the despondent and desperate, an enchanted stream for crushed spirits, but a raging, clamorous torrent of man's consciousness with all its crises, pangs and torments".
I found an introductory chapter to what appears to be a fascinating book by Zachary Braiterman called (God) After Auschwitz Tradition and Change in Post-Holocaust Jewish Thought. Braiterman goes through the thought of Fakenheim, Berkovits and Rubenstein as well as assessing the works of Heschel, Soloveitchik, and Kaplan as the major Jewish thinkers who have confronted modernity. According to Braiterman "we see that the Holocaust has radically complicated the project of 20th century Jewish modernism".
And so it has. The Holocaust is under the surface of much the writings of two of the greats who have guided us through the modern world in a most unapologetic way: R. Soloveitchik and AJ Heschel.
We must read these great thinkers in the light of the Shoah - we must see how their interpretations of texts and prayers are effected by the Shoah. What does the Avoda on Yom Kippur or the U'netaneh Tokef now mean in light of, as Braiteman puts it, "post-Holocaust thought"?
For the Holocuast, Braiterman continues " has exacerbated extant questions about God, Torah, Mitzvah and covenant by placing them before the historical presence of monumental horror". Further: "I argue throughout that the reconstruction of Jewish religious life and thought after the Holocaust has depended on rebuilding community and rereading texts …"
It is worth reading the entire introduction and maybe even buy the book. We will comment on this as Rosh Hashanah approaches.

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Monday, September 15, 2003

Occasionally, Ha'aretz will surprise you with real reporting in the old style. More often than not their news articles are either veiled editorials or pieces where editors are asleep on the job. Today there is the second of a two part article on Abu Mazen's "Secret" speech ot the PA right after his resignation. It is worth reading in its entirety, but here is a short quote:
"In his speech, Abbas shed light for the first
time on these issues and showed clearly that
there has been no connection between Western
expectations and his actual progress. He was
surprisingly candid: "Many say that I intended
to take control of the security forces, and
wrest them from Arafat. This is a fabrication;
it did not happen. I didn't ask for even one of
the security mechanisms, but when I was asked,
I said that the efforts of the security
services, not the services themselves, should
be unified. All we were demanding was
coordination between the organizations, nothing
more. The Palestinian Basic Law, the foundation
for the government's existence, states that
only internal security mechanism are under the
prime minister's control, and all we ever asked
was coordination among the services, nothing
further. When the Americans demanded that the
forces be unified, we rejected their demand. "
The texts of the various agreeements between the Israelis and the Palestinians are never really the problem. The problem is that they don't really care what is written and we don't seem to mind that they don't care.
Can you imagine this in Ben Franklin's Poor Richards Almanac: "Don't look at what he does, just listen to what he says"?

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Sunday, September 14, 2003

For those of you who can read a bit of Hebrew, Ma'ariv has an interesting piece on an upsurge of "Ashkenazi Pride" here in Israel. As many of you might know, for the last thirty years or so Shas has created an "Eidot HaMizrach" victim-elite - where all who are not of the downtrodden Sephardim must genuflect to their neighbors. The Ashkenazim were not allowed to take pride in their own culture, food or music because that would be racist. The secular left loved this since it meant that Ashkenazi Judaism was "foreign" to the State. That essentially left Ovadiah Yosef as the only moral authority left in the country.
The really scary part of Ovadiah's ideology is his pure hatred of Ashkenazi Judaism. He believes that the only legitimate Jewish practice in Israel is that which comes from the pen of R. Yosef Karo (writer of the Shulchan Aruch) as interpreted by Ovadiah Yosef.

The question of course with the resurgent Ashkenazi pride is if it will end with Gefilte Fish or maybe continue to probe their intellectual roots from Vilna, Warsaw and Frankfurt.

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I am nearly done now with a most wonderful book, Shabbtai Tsvi by Gershom Scholem. It is an old book of course but certainly apt as we have seen messianic droolings from the secular left and the religious right for the last ten years or so.
The Israeli Left specifically won't take "no" for an answer - even when accompanied by many exclamation points. Like the Sabbatians of old, they worship the false messiah even after the apostasy. Just take a look at what the diplomatic genius Youssef, er Yossi Beilin wrote in Friday's JPost. I was going to list the outright lies in his little article - but I didn't want to give him too much space.

On the religious front, take a look at the new Edah Journal especially the article by Sperber on the importance of "human dignity" or "kavod ha'briyot" in halakhic decision making. Sperber's claim is that where things are halakhically permissible but are forbidden due to "congregational dignity" or "kavod hatzibbur" - we need to look at the dignity of the individual affected and permit what was not allowed. The case he is speaking about is that of woman in the synagogue- more specifically aliyot for women in Orthodox synagogues.
Rav Soloveitchik has in the past been opposed to these types of innovations for various reasons. One of the reasons he gave was not to separate ourselves from the (rest of the Orthodox) community. That the unity of the (orthodox) world is an important value that trumps others.
Today though, its safe to say that the haredi community accepts us not. Its even safe to say that so many of the dati-leumi or modern orthodox rabbis are haredi wannebes that we must find rabbis who accept that the correct way to be a believing Jew is to confront and not run away from modernity. Those that reject our confrontation with modernity ought not to be involved in the halakhic decision making process of our communities.
More on this in the future.

In any event, refuah shlema for Rav Eliashiv .

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