Friday, July 30, 2004

Away ... 

We will be walking the maslulim (trails) and nechalim (streams) of the Golan for the next few days.

Returning with full reports and posts (Swiftian and otherwise) in a week.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2004

OOSJ Exclusive: New EU Peace Plan 

This past weekend's papers in Israel led with the story of the EU claiming that they will be involved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations whether Israel wants them to or not.
Now, we don't usually cover politics here and we are certainly not journalists.  But, following in the tradition of your average Israeli who always knows someone "in the know" I am providing for you a journalistic exclusive based on conversations heard by my (semi)important friends.   I am not a journalist by training, so please forgive me if we are not up to the level of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal.

During his recent visit to Israel, EU big-wig Javier Solana met with US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer.  During the long conversations regarding the tense situation in the Mideast, Solana brought up the serious situation of the fence which was declared illegal by the International High Court in The Hague as well as the specter of Palestinian violence.  Solana and Kurtzer discussed ways of convincing PA Chairman Arafat of reining in Palestinian militants at least during a limited period of negotiation. Kurtzer responded that it was the Bush administration policy that terror groups be uprooted and cleaned out before negotiations commence.

In a twist on events though, Solana presented a new plan being developed by himself and French President Jacques Chirac.  Citing the inexperience of the US in dealing with the Jewish problem, Solana quoted a letter from Chirac insisting that with "European experience in dealing with Jews for many hundreds of years" it would be a waste of the West's resources "if the Jewish problem in its 21st century form, be left to people from Texas and Colorado with little experience with Jews".

Pointing out the inexperience of dealing with Jews in their home states, Chirac asserted that "both President Bush and Vice President Cheney don't understand the nuances in dealing with individual Jews let alone with a country in which they have a government and army". 

Solana seconded this reasoning by stating that although during WWII his native Spain was noticeably absent in helping to solve the Jewish problem they did have "vast historical knowledge dating back over 500 years in creating a major center of Jewish learning and scholarship and then in spreading this center around the world for all to enjoy".   

Kurtzer was apparently shocked at the insult given out to his President and Vice President but requested time for his staff in the embassy and his superiors in Washington to craft a properly worded response.

The background of the Solana-Chirac letter is a special peace plan being crafted in France with help from the Belgians and new Spanish government to "create a mathematically based effort that will solve the vast practical, political and moral issues that are threatening the world with instability".

The official name of the initiative is "The Multilateral Effort to Bring a Resolution to the Plight of the Palestinian People and a Solution to the Problem of the Jewish People and the State of Israel".  This long name, typical in EU parlance is a hint to what is inside.  Whereas most plans assume that the problems in the Mideast are one, this plan tries the novel solution of breaking the issue up into two parts and thus solving the "threat that Israel has brought to western culture".
We were only able to get various parts of the report but by piecing together these sections we were able get at the basic framework of the plan.  As stated, the plan is a "mathematical solution" and as such is filled with many tables and charts.  The main chart presented on page 22 of the first section of the report and titled "Population Projections of Jewish Residents of the Fertile Crescent Through the end of the 21st Century" is a series of complicated mathematical formulas based on the assumption that Palestinian and other violence against Jews would continue.

As a matter of fact, the plan accepts the violence and considers it an "integral part of the overall solution" to the "problem of Jewish overpopulation in Fertile Crescent lands" that the report sees as the essence of the instability in the region.  The report states specifically that "resolving the numerical advantage of the Jewish people in parts of the  geographic area known in antiquity as the Fertile Crescent will be a first step to stability in the region and hence in global stability".  The EU report sees this as in its final stages a global effort to "tone down Jewish political influence in geographical sectors of the old and new worlds".

According to sources available at the time of this writing, Chirac was adamant in going "full force" in solving what he considers a "global problem and not just a regional annoyance".   Therefore, the report actively encourages "limited Palestinian and other incursions into Jewish population centers" in order to encourage a "further scattering of Jews of Israeli and non-Israeli origin" and to limit their activity in the region to "daily chores", this smoothing the way to the elimination of Jewish "industrial, scientific and military activity" in the Mideast. 

The main table assumes that the current annual level of approximately 5-700 Jewish deaths at the hand of Palestinian militants will increase to 1,500-2,000 by 2008 and to double again to 4,000 by 2010.  Only by 2015 does the projection increase to 15-20,000 Jewish deaths by violence which would be at a level that would still be acceptable to various UN agencies and EU commissions on Human Rights. 

The report continues that if by the 2015 levels of 20,000 Jewish deaths a year does not encourage enough emigration to "acceptable geographic settlement areas for Jews" then they would consider providing "temporary military assistance in order to increase levels to as much as 50,000-100,000 per annum".  It is assumed from previous experience in Europe dealing with the problem of the Jewish People that those numbers would cause enough insecurity and dislocation to return the Jewish population of the Fertile Crescent to "pre-Zionist levels".

Our reports also indicate that Israeli leaders and politicians have been actively lobbying their French counterparts to modify the report.  Although former Meretz leader Yossi Sarid has stated that the plan is "unacceptable since it does not allow a clearly defined democratic state to exist", the new leader of the Meretz successor party Yachad, Yossi Beilin has been lobbying hard to keep the maximum allowable levels of Jews killed by Palestinian and other violence to the 2008 levels of  1,500 -2,000 per annum.  Beilin has been quoted as saying that "we can accept those levels as long as the coastal plain included as the Jewish State in the Peel plan of the 1930's is exempt from the violence" and "the French government allows Jewish academics positions in the French academy if they so desire". 

"These issues" stated Beilin "are red lines that no Israeli leader can cross".

Labor leader Shimon Peres condemned his former poodle, Yossi Beilin, by stating that Beilin's "elitism" shows through via his concern only with Israeli academics and intellectuals.  According to Peres "all Jews with university degrees should be given guaranteed access to French territory and culture".  Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, on hearing of the new plan apparently just laughed and stated "any plan not originating in my office has no future".

A spokesman for Palestinian Chairman Yassir Arafat stated that "the Chairman has always and will always object to artificial limits on violence against Jews in general and Israelis in particular so long as they still inhabit Arab-Islamic lands". "This", the spokesman continued, "impinges on the sovereignty of the Palestinian people".

The concluding section of the report states that "we feel that the partial European success in dealing with the problem of the Jews over that past 1,000 years puts it in a unique position to offer and implement this detailed plan to finally bring stability to the region of the Fertile Crescent in general and the world in particular.  We in the European Union feel that the Jewish people must accept limited violence against them and the eventual dismantling of the State of Israel for the good of mankind.  In standing with our longtime human rights tradition, we will hold firm against any and all attempts to completely eliminate the Jewish people as that would be genocide.  We give our word and honor that we understand the lessons of the Holocaust and will not allow a genocide of Jews to happen.  Our only condition for this solemn oath is that Jews understand the danger they have put the world in and assume responsibility to implementing this plan by allowing Jews of Israeli and other citizenship to become victims of Palestinian violence so as to make the world safe for all peoples".

According to our sources this report will be published in its entirety after the US presidential elections with the goal of beginning implementation on New Year's Day, 2005.

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Sunday, July 25, 2004

Questions for Tisha B'av 

I have to admit that although I take Tisha B'av seriously, I have never cried on Tisha B'av.  As a child too many year ago I spent one Tisha B'av hearing Eichah (Lamentations) at the kotel and very much wanted to cry, but didn't.

In general, I spend Tisha B'av evening and morning studying Eichah and the kinot and reading passages from one the most fascinating compilations of Jewish literature in English – David Roskies' "The Literature of Destruction". I am moved, challenged emotionally and intellectually and truly feel the pain of national destruction that was the sacking of Jerusalem and is the essence of Tisha B'av.  But I don't cry for Jerusalem.

When I read the kinot, especially the ones about Jerusalem as written by the Kaliri, or when I read what is my favorite book of the Tanach – Eichah, I try to understand what the loss of Jerusalem meant for those in the generations immediately following the destruction and even what it meant to those Jews ho lived until the modern era. 

For the first few generations the pain of the loss of Jerusalem must have been a real sensual pain – for they knew, or had parents who knew Jerusalem.   For the generations after that, with Jerusalem as an abstraction rather than a real city, the pain I think, was one mixed with guilt – with Jews taking responsibility for the continued exile and the continuous destruction.  If you read some of the history of the Jews if the medieval period – (especially a book , in Hebrew, by a good friend of mine and professor at Tel-Aviv University, Simcha Goldin, called "Alamot Ahavucha, Al-Mot Ahavucha")  - you will see the intense connection these Jews had to Jerusalem in general and its destruction in particular - and the responsibility they felt for their own predicament.

And today, Jerusalem is not an abstract principle or far off location, or a longed for utopia.  We are no longer (involuntarily) in exile. We have all, most of us, prayed in Jerusalem, walked its streets, eaten in its cafes and cursed out its storekeepers.  We have gone on its buses, parked on its streets (or sidewalks as the case may be) eaten its foods.  Many of us are as familiar with certain neighborhoods of Jerusalem as we are with our hometowns.

So what is it that we are mourning now, what is it that we ought to cry about? 

Our inability to build a Third Temple?  Hardly.  How many of us really can cry over our inability to bring sacrifices on a regular basis?  The loss of the Kehunah (priesthood)?  Really, in our egalitarian mindset how are we to cry when the Kaliri writes beautifully of the lost mishmarot (the groups of Kohanim who served in turn in the Temple) in three of his piyutim?

Although Tisha B'av is about mourning various attempts at the destruction of the Jews and today many of us chant piyutim written in memory of the Shoah: Even though we are taught that the Second Temple was destroyed because of intra-Jewish hatred (sinat chinam) and the parallels today are too obvious to mention: Even with all that, Tisha B'av in its essence is still about an actual physical place, a city and home to hundreds of thousands of Jews – it is still about Jerusalem.

And the question I think we all need to ask ourselves is – can we still cry for Jerusalem? And if that answer is no – then have we lost some of our Jewishness? And if we have lost some of our Jewishness, is it lost forever?  And if it is lost forever,  will we ever have the right to cry for Jerusalem again?

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Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Moral Common Sense 

In our recent post on Moral Lives or Technical Lives? we were not really specific enough about where we wanted to go.  Many of the comments were interesting in and of themselves.  Really, though, the post was supposed to be only marginally about abortion – using it as a springboard for a discussion about the foundations of our moral decision making.  From the secular utilitarian basis so prominent in Israel and the West to the contemporary techno-Halakhic foundation that dominates the Jewish-religious moral debate, we claimed that society in general has lost that sixth sense, the "common sense" if you please, that used to the basis for moral action and judgment.
The London Spectator has a similar article in the current issue dealing with the abortion debate in the UK.   Bruce Anderson claims that "aesthetics" has become the main basis of the abortion debate in that country and morality has no place in the discussion at all.  It is an article worth reading if not just to allow us to re-orient ourselves.
But what of that moral common sense?  Hannah Arendt wrote in "The Human Condition" about "common sense" or society's "sense of the common".  She means those things which people "inherit" just because they are part of a common culture or society.  Those things that don't have to be said or taught, because people just "know" them.
There had always been a Jewish moral "common sense" – where people understood without asking a rabbi or a judge what was right and what was not right. This was true with the keeping of the Shabbat, where people instinctively knew what was and what was not "shabbos-dik".  This was also true when dealing with other people's personal property or the proper way of doing business.  It is not that everyone was honest – its just that the dishonesty was not given an Halakhic justification.  
I am not sure how we work to regain this common moral sense, or even if it is possible.  I am not sure if it requires more Torah study or less.  What I do know, is that without it we will have lost that intangible that for so many years has made up the "mensch".

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Monday, July 19, 2004

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly 

Remember when there were the "good Christians" – the mainline Protestants and there were the "bad Christians" who felt that those of us who refused the accept Jesus would burn – you know who I'm talking about?  Then there were the Catholics and their anti-Semitic Popes?
You don't need me to tell you how the world has changed even though so many in the Jewish establishment refuse to accept it.  You don't need me to tell you how Pope John Paul II and the fundamentalist Protestants like the Southern Baptist Convention are suddenly supportive of Israel and world Jewry.
But if you look at the lead story  in the Forward you will see how the Presbyterians have now equated the Jewish State with apartheid and are "disinvesting" from it.  No surprise here – the old "good" turned "bad" a long while ago – now they have turned "ugly".   My guess is that if you look at the other "moral" decisions made at the latest Presbyterian conference (and I haven't and don't plan to) you won't be too surprised. 
Meanwhile, the same article reports that at a meeting in Buenos Aires, Catholic officials equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. 
For the western and Islamic worlds, anti-Semitism is THE moral issue of the day – and anti-Zionism as only some people understand is just another way to spell it.   

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Thursday, July 15, 2004

Moral Lives or Technical Lives? 

When does a society move from a concern with (extra-legal) morality to a point of view of amorality? At what point and for what reasons does a community move from judging its actions on the basis of its "inherited common-sense of the good and bad" to the technical considerations of law and utility?

We Jews believe that the way to a moral life is to be had through the habitual study and practice of the law – or the halacha. Yet, our literature is filled with non-legal tracts from the narrative and poetry of the Tanach to the midrashim of the Talmud and the piyutim and slichot of the middle ages. As we are to see, our Halakhic practice has become so technical that leading Halakhic lives and being moral don't seem to jive any more.

Lately we have tended to ignore these non-Halakhic writings or at the best have consigned them to secondary classes on "machshevet Yisrael" or "mussar". Our Yeshivot have not even begun to analyze these extra-legal texts (with the possible exception of the Tanach) with anything close to the intellectual rigor that we demand when analyzing Halakhic matter. Not being a scholar or a talmid chacham I can't answer to the obvious question of why the Amoraim who composed the Gemara intermingled agada with Halacha. Could it be not only a literary tool to hold our interest on a hot summer's day, but a statement insisting that our technical Halakhic decisions be modified by the lessons of the agada?

We in Israel (and I fear the Jewish community in America as well) have become technicians in the management of our moral lives. And manage them we do. The religious use the Halacha as an excuse to do what fits their particular lifestyle. This is true as much for the haredi as for the religious-Zionist and modern-Orthodox. The secular (or more properly, the religiously-secular) have come to view "utility" as the only yardstick (or meter) with which to judge their actions.

This harangue did not come to me out of nowhere but is a response to an article in this past week's Ha'aretz magazine that discusses genetic testing in Israel. It appears that Israel is the world's leader in genetic testing - and in the abortions that result from them. We are not talking here about testing for tay-sachs or other diseases that are 100% fatal - but for hints that the fetus might have some small chance at the smallest disability. People are apparently testing (and aborting) for cleft palate – and the article opens up with a case of an abortion because the penis was too small! Geneticists apparently will soon be testing for genetic pre-dispositions for alcoholism.

Tamara Tenenbaum, the author of the article quotes Yael Hashiloni-Dolev as saying that "More prenatal tests are performed in Israel than anywhere else in the Western world, including genetic tests that are not done anywhere else. Depending on how you look at it, the prevailing attitude here could be seen as permissive and progressive - or as murderous and horrifyingly selective."

Regarding a genetic pre-disposition for alcoholism, she quotes a comparative study of American, German and Israeli genetic counselors by saying that: "10 percent of the American counselors said they would encourage abortion, compared to 3 percent of the Germans and 43 percent of the Israelis."

For Downs Syndrome the resulting numbers recommending abortion is Americans 13%, Germans 23% and Israelis 73%.

Sadly, Jewish doctors compare dis-favorably with their German counterparts when tolerating disabilities. Tannenbaum writes: "Germany and Israel turned out to be mirror images of each other. Israeli society appears to have little tolerance for disability and encourages abortion when there is the smallest risk of a genetic defect; German society seems to go the other way in its insistence on accepting people with disabilities. While in Israel, a woman who opts not to go for all the prenatal tests is considered 'primitive,' and a woman who doesn't want to abort a defective fetus is 'crazy,' most of the tests that are routinely performed here are not even done in Germany. The very use of such tests poses serious ethical issues, and German doctors appear to appreciate women who go ahead and give birth to babies with the most serious defects."

The writer goes on to discuss more disturbing findings but she also blames the Jewish tradition for intolerance of disabilities. My first thought was to disagree, but then I remembered a series of essays in the Torah U'Maddah Journal a few years ago discussing human cloning. While all the rabbis discussed the technical Halakhic aspects without alluding to any extra-Halakhic moral objections, the scientists brought up the moral and ethical issues that would come from the cloning of human beings.

So, where have we gone? Have we totally disengaged ourselves from not only the Western but from the Jewish moral tradition? Have we -religious and secular alike – become technocrats not only when it comes to our finances and work lives, but also when it comes to that which is (and has always been) most precious to us – our children?

We have not discussed the "difficult" cases of sure death or massive disfigurement – but cases that may not even be cases themselves. I myself know women in Israel whose doctors suggested abortion for the smallest chance at a "defect" and who gave birth to as "perfect" a baby as you could want.

And where are we going? We discussed in the past a lack of moral authority by the religious, literary and intellectual establishment in Israel as well as the worldwide Jewish community. Maybe its time that the Yeshivot that emphasize rigorous intellectual standards for Halakhic study can start to see that that in and of itself is not leading us to a higher moral plain – only to a technical perfection in that part of our lives that is technical not at all. And maybe the secular Jews amongst us, can adopt the classic Jewish moral tradition shame the religious Jews into a more moral and less technical life.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2004

70 Years from Bialik 

It has been 70 years since Bialik has died. Israel's (or the Hebrew language's) national poet, Bialik along with Agnon are the only two literary figures of the past century who hold a certain moral authority in Israel. Bialik was a fascinating figure, a great poet not only of the Hebrew language, but as Robert Alter has demonstrated, a great modernist poet.

This past Friday Ha'aretz had a few articles on the occasion of his 70th yar-zeit. Unfortunately, they choose not to translate the best of the bunch – an article about a series of letters written to Bialik on various topics of interest to the Yishuv (the name given to the pre-1948 Jewish community in Israel) in the pre-state Land of Israel.

The first letter is from the "Committee for the Shabbat in Haifa" written as an invitation and a plea to Bialik to help save the Shabbat from the "public desecrators of Shabbat" on the one hand and the "violent" "keepers of the Shabbat" on the other (sound familiar?). The letter invites Bialik to come to Haifa and to lecture there as was his custom in Tel-Aviv to lecture on Shabbat afternoon on midrash and agada or to invite others to lecture (they called this get together "Oneg Shabbat).

The letter was sent in the early '30's and according to the article Bialik did make it up to Haifa to help consecrate the Shabbat there.

A second letter is about the Oneg Shabbat lectures in Tel-Aviv. It was written apparanlty by from the court of Ger who complained about a lecturer who spoke about holy things without a kippah and who insulted the Chidushei Ha'Rim – the Gerrer Rebbe. What is interesting about this letter is that apparently it was not uncommon for Hasidim and other haredim to come to the Oneg Shabbat lectures. As a side note, it is a little known fact that Tel-Aviv was home to nearly ten major Hasidic courts in the '30's.

Another letter is from a member of Kibbutz Ginogar imploring Bialik to help him teach the next generation about our holidays by changing the holidays to be more modern (and again , where have we heard that before?). Bialik answers (in my unworthy translation): "Celebrate your father's holidays and add a little of your own according to your … tastes …The key is to do all in faith and with a living feeling and spiritual need – and don't be too smart" ("V'al Te'tachkemu" – which really means and don't make yourself smarter than you have to be for this, or don't overdo it).

There are three other letters featured here, all dealing with the spiritual and intellectual "emptiness" of the Yishuv. What is fascinating is the authority that Bialik really had amongst so many parts of the small community that made up the Yishuv in the 20's and 30's.

If we look at that last generation or two of European Jewish intellectuals and leaders we really do see the greatness that that civilization was and the immense loss the Shoah was to the Jewish people. If you look at those spiritual and intellectual leaders who came to Israel and to America during those years you really do see true moral leadership. Rav Kook, Bialik, Agnon, Scholem, Jacob Katz, the Hazon Ish, Meir Bar-Ilan and others in Israel. Rabbis Soloveitchik, Schneerson, Kotler, Hutner, Leiberman, Heschel and others in America.

Seventy years since the death of Bialik – we haven't even begun to understand the void that has yet to be filled.

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Sunday, July 11, 2004

100 Years From Herzl 

This past weekend was the 100th anniversary of the death of the founder of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl and the 70th anniversary of the death of arguably the greatest poet of the Hebrew language of the last 200 years, Haim Nachman Bialik.

Herzl is the Jewish leader people love to denigrate. He was a mediocre writer a second rate intellectual and not really what you would be called a knowledgeable Jew. Yet, like so many great leaders of so many peoples he had the vision and the energy to move and unite a people who have been fractious Abraham and Lot had to split up many thousands of years ago.

In last week's Jerusalem Post Hillel Halkin wrote of Herzl that :
"Herzl created the international movement called Zionism from practically nothing. There were Zionists long before him, of course, not only in the traditional sense of Jewish longers for and dreamers of Zion, but in the guise of several thousand modern Jewish colonists in Palestine and their supporters. Yet the latter represented a tiny fraction of the Jewish people, and were taken seriously by few. Even their one major backer, the French-Jewish philanthropist Baron Edmond de Rothschild, considered them more a charitable cause than a revolutionary movement. They had no masses of Jews behind them, no effective organization, no political clout, no long-term strategy, no publicity, no international interest. Nor did it occur to them that they might create a reality based on such things.
"He was a prestidigitator, a jongleur. He knew that if you juggle three balls in the air they look like five; that five look like 10; that seven, if you can manage them, look like 20 - and that none, as long as they remain in the air, can be examined to see if they are real.
The Turkish sultan owned Palestine and didn't want Jews but needed international loans? Then convince him you could deliver those loans even if you didn't have a penny to your name, and then convince Rothschild you were the sultan's best friend. Kaiser Wilhelm didn't give a hoot for Zionism but was eager to expand German influence in the East? Then make him believe that the loan you were obtaining for the sultan could lead to a German protectorate over millions of Palestinian Jews. It didn't matter that Rothschild, the sultan, and the kaiser all laughed and thought you were mad. You had gotten to speak to one of them, had an audience with another, and met the third face-to-face - three more balls in the air with which to hold your audience spellbound. What mattered was to keep the balls moving."

In yesterday's Ha'aretz there was an interesting piece on Herzl and the British philosopher Herbert Spencer. Spencer was a proponent of social Darwinism and in this it seems odd that Herzl sent Spencer a copy of "The Jewish State" in order to get the philosopher's blessing. But as Ya'akov Shavit explains it was Herzl's adamant belief that a Jewish state would rise within 50 years of 1898 that connected the two. Herzl's optimism about Jews went hand in hand with his view of the idea of progress and of his utopian energy – an energy we know all too well that can lead to destruction quicker than to construction.

Shavit ends his article with these words:
"Herzl's belief in modern man's ability to create - even out of nothing - a "new environment" is therefore a boundless belief, and in his writings there is no hint that he believed that immanent human characteristics could also lead the future society to a moral retreat, which would mean that doubt must be cast on the possibility of realizing a utopia. In "Old-New Land," he describes a conversation that takes place in the living room of the home of the artist Isaacs in Jerusalem. One of the speakers strenuously rejects the pessimistic worldview of Ecclesiastes and argues that this view has gone "off the rails"; that is, it has disappeared from the world as a result of the invention of the train - one of the most important tools of modernization and progress. Those responsible for spreading the pessimistic view, he adds, are the socialist tribunes, but it is only a myth and an illusion, as positive values are eternal values. However, Herzl did not explain how his model society would exploit science and technology only for the good of society and man, and in this respect he was no different from other utopians of his day."

Next, on Bialik.

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Thursday, July 08, 2004

Shabbtai Tsvi, Then and Now 

For those of you who have enjoyed that great work by Geshom Scholem, "Shabbtai Tsvi", Alan Nadler reviews a new (and smaller) book on the same subject in The Forward.

The book, "Sabbatean Prophets" by Matt Goldish, adds to the Scholem masterpiece by concentrating on the world that Judaism was a part of during the Sabbatean controversy. According to Goldish (or at least the review) messianic and millenarian forces were "in the air" in Europe and the Ottoman Empire.

Nadler writes that: "The intellectual and spiritual turbulence of the early modern period, particularly in Western Europe, gave rise to a dizzying array of novel religious ideas and mystical enthusiasm, most notably a variety of what Goldish broadly defines as new forms of 'prophecy.' There were many, widely divergent factors that led to this spiritual outbreak, all ably described by Goldish. The Reformation's challenge to the Roman Catholic Church's monopoly on religious truth in the 16th-century eventually led to the rise of a variety of charismatic sects whose leaders relied on direct personal access to the word of God in the 17th century….More surprisingly, Goldish makes the counter-intuitive argument that the scientific revolution — far from leading to estrangement from religion — was deeply and inextricably wound up with a particularly messianic form of spirituality. His discussions of the prophetic postures and messianic expectations of noted scientists such as Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon complicate accepted wisdom about the place of the scientific revolution in the trajectory of early modern intellectual history."

He goes on to explain how Goldish believes that there were these "Sabbatean prophets" before Shabbtai Tsvi and that the real heresy started earlier and were "exemplified by the very existence and growing influence of charismatic figures such as Nathan of Gaza and the lay Sabbatean prophets. It was the shifting of power from rabbis (whose authority was based on sound Talmudic scholarship) to charismatics (whose authority emerged from supernatural prophetic abilities) that represented the real heresy against traditional Judaism. In that sense, the 'Sabbatean Prophets' were anti-establishment heretics well before Shabbetai Zevi's total defection from Judaism."

I read Scholem's book less than a year ago and I would recommend it to all who want to understand the sudden rekindling of belief in charms, amulets, prayers to the dead, etc. that has infected not only the lower class Sephardim in Israel's development towns but the upper middle-class cosmopolitan Ashkenazim of metropolitan New York.

After reading Nadler's review, it seems first that we were right in connecting the dots between Shabbtai Tsvi and contemporary history – but that we should probably keep on reading so as to more fully understand what we are up against and why.

Just a few thoughts: First, had the Zohar not been written (or discovered??) in medieval Spain would that have prevented the AR"I from laying his claim to Jewish greatness? Would we then not have seen the destructive force of the Sabbateans and would we then not have had the Hasidic revolution? Would the Lithuanian rabbis of the 19th and 20th centuries have then been so opposed to the Haskalah and to Zionism and to modernity in general?

And one more thing, - was the Gaon from Vilna right after all?

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Monday, July 05, 2004

Performing Jews in Berlin 

This past Friday's Ha'aretz has an interesting piece on the Israeli classical music scene in Berlin. The article is, as far as I can see, only available in Hebrew.

There are apparently over 100 Israelis working in music in Berlin besides the many music students. The Concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic is Israeli and there are numerous Israeli only or Israeli dominated ensembles.

In Berlin?

Professor of Violin Ilan Grunich, in Berlin for twenty years is quoted as saying that "you can still see the seeds of destruction here, but its good for me, because I work in music". On the one hand I can sympathize with the first rate musicians who reluctantly leave Israel in order to ply their trade. There is a lot of classical music in Israel but with a population of six million, the opportunities are limited.

But in Berlin?

Had the article centered on Prague or Moscow or New York or even Paris you would be sad that we can't provide the necessary opportunities and training here in Israel but you would understand.

But to learn the universal language of music in a city where you still see and hear the "seeds of destruction"?

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