Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Jews by Choice

During the three weeks prior to Tisha B’av there was a plethora of articles and e-mails regarding the spiritual holocaust of the Jewish people resulting from the rapid assimilation of American Jews. In one particular article Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s film “From Out of the Ashes” is referenced. Apparently, Weinberg, concerned with the rapid assimilation of North American Jews, decided to take a group of Rabbis to Auschwitz in order to make the point that we are facing a spiritual holocaust today, and we need to wake up. Weinberg’s intentions are good, but to equate it with the European holocaust in order to shock the Jewish leadership out of their lethargy is mistaken.

There are significant substantive and critical core differences between the holocaust and assimilation and drawing any parallels is disingenuous at best and diminishes the meaning of the holocaust and the memory of the kedoshim. Let us not forget that from 1933-1945 six million Jews were slaughtered, tortured, burned, starved, dehumanized, gassed and eradicated. Today those who assimilate do so by choice. No one is pointing a gun at their head. One could hardly refer to this as a holocaust. One could even argue that whereas the six million martyred dead was final without reprieve, those who are in the transitional state of assimilation may find their way back to their Jewish roots circuitously. Just because one doesn’t identify religiously as a Jew doesn’t remove him from the Jewish corpus. Appreciating ones Jewishness through a cultural or humanistic value system has validity, and shouldn’t be dismissed.

There is another glaring error in some of these presentations comparing the holocaust to assimilation. Jonathan Rosenblum has the temerity to write in his article A Powerful Metaphor, that the “spiritual alienation from Hashem is a form of death, and even more horrible than physical death”. Really! Tell that to a survivor who lost his entire family, parents spouse and children by the fire and violence of the nazis. He then goes on to write “…if so how much more so should we expect that Hashem will give us what we need in order to save his children from spiritual oblivion…”Let us not also forget that it was God who distanced himself from us at the time of the destruction of the Temple and the Shoa. Our prophets cried out “eli, eli lamah azavtani…” Our twentieth century theologians have struggled with the problematic phenomenon of God’s eclipse during the holocaust. So why would J. R. consider God’s concern. Furthermore he objectifies God in the Christian tradition by assuming and expecting that God will provide us with “what we need” in order to avoid spiritual oblivion. If you are so convinced that by objectifying God in this manner you can expect receiving from God, than why the concern and worry about assimilation. God will respond and save his chosen from extinction!

The truth of the matter is that no one can second guess God. But I would assume that God has a deep and abiding concern for his suffering children regardless of their faith or belief system. That is why it is so puzzling that with all the mail I received during this three week period leading up to Tisha B’av, referencing the holocaust, assimilation and even the dismantling of the yeshuvim in Gush Katif. Not one of our spiritually religious sensitive gadflies’ referenced the ongoing physical holocaust at Darfur. Why is there no concern from the “Torah Jews” on behalf of the daily wholesale butchering of innocent men women and children? Why isn’t Rabbi Weinberg not physically moved and upset about this human tragedy, while not on the scale of our holocaust is nevertheless outrageous and heartbreaking. Is it his parochial and myopic vision that prevents him from having any compassion?

The silence and lack of palpable compassion on the part of the “Torah Jews” demonstrates fault in their world view and perhaps some deficiency in the Jewish role that ought to be assumed, pointing to lack of moral clarity amongst our orthodox clergy and spiritual/communal leaders. Perhaps this is a clue as to why there is so much assimilation among the Jews by Choice.

The freedoms we experience in our democratic system have recast Jews from Jews without Choice to Jews by Choice. As democracy carries with it responsibility of the individual, so does our role as Jews by Choice carry with it responsibility which connotes an upside as well as a downside. Those Jews who recognize their responsibility become fuller and more textured Jews versus those who shrug off their responsibility diminish their quality, become monochromatic and ultimately atrophy.

Being a ritually observant Jew doesn’t necessarily imply that one is a fuller more textured Jew. He can be as monochromatic as the Jew who has shirked his responsibility. The secular Jew with the ponytail may be a fuller, more textured Jew with a robust understanding of who he is and his mission on this earth, than the yeshiva bachur who puts on Tefilin shel Rabeinu Tam. The real issue isn’t the fulfillment of ritual, because ultimately that is really only a “means to an end”. If one has arrived at the desired “end” via short circuiting a particular ritual – so be it. The ponytailed secular Israeli, referred to, unfortunately in such a judgmental manner may be the future hope and paradigm for so many humanistic Jews searching for alternatives to a myopic view of Judaism.

More on this theme, when I return from Israel and Italy in a few weeks.

Monday, July 30, 2007

A Muse: Ekev 2007

Parshat Ekev presents us with a fascinating challenge regarding the observance of the mitzvoth. Rashi, referencing Midrash Tanchuma translates Ekev as heel, rather than the preferred translation of the conditional, rendering the verse to men “It shall be that if you heed the commandments…” Rashi reads the verse to mean that if you practice the lighter mitzvoth (that a person treads with his heel [casually]), then God will keep for you the covenant.

Rashi’s interpretation opens up for us a whole panoply of questions surrounding the nature and quality of Mitzvot. If the law is divine, then how do we really determine which mitzvoth are “lighter” and which carry more weight? Scholars such as Ephraim Urbach point out that our sources are not totally uniform in assessing the value of the mitzvoth. In some instances it would appear that there is a universal value to the commandments yet in other places it would appear as though there is a relative value to the commandments. He references for example the different rewards and punishments associated with the various mitzvoth; on the other hand Urbach points to Pirkei Avot which admonishes us to be heedful of the minor mitzvoth as of the weighty , “for you know not the reward” (Avot 2:1)

It is probably comfortable to avoid the problem of assessing value to the mitzvoth by treating them all with the same weightiness. By doing so, however we avoid the responsibility of making choices. Many of us are aren’t comfortable with this and wish to approach the performance of mitzvoth with the critical understanding of its place in the mitzvah hierarchy. Understanding that there isn’t one approach offers a challenge to the “shomer mitzvoth” in valuating the mitzvoth. Why are some mitzvoth considered lighter than others? Does this change with time or circumstances? In other words, is it possible that at a particular time in history and due to circumstances a weightier mitzvah can be reduced to the status of a lighter mitzvah? Can personal circumstances also have a role in determining the weightiness of a mitzvah?

We live in a society that is the most free and open in human history. Accompanying those freedoms is the responsibility of making the right choices in order to safeguard those freedoms. Being able to make the right choices adds meaning, value and appreciation to our freedom. It would appear to be the same for the practice of mitzvoth. Understanding them and making the right choices will make the practice more meaningful.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tisha B’Av: A Muse

Tisha B’av commemorates the destruction of our Temple, the national spiritual/religious center of the Jewish people. It also marks the expulsion of our people from Spain as well as other numerous catastrophes that our rabbis thought appropriate to associate with Tisha B’av. And so on Tisha B’av we gather at the synagogue or other appropriate venues and mourn our national destruction through the recitation of Lamentations and Kinot.

While mourning the national destruction of our people, institutions and the consequent exile for two thousand years I wonder if there ought to be another state of mind other than mourning shared by all of us on Tisha B’av. The Three Weeks leading up to Tisha B’av is a period of mourning, characterized by sadness of the loss of our spiritual center as well as deep sorrow for the loss of life and the deep suffering of our people over the course of our history. When approaching the season of Tisha B’av this observer however believes that confrontation with God is in order, and as such is drawn to the Book of Job more so than to the Book of Lamentations. Lamentations of course is valuable in that it recreates in a masterful manner the very eerie feeling of catastrophic doom palpable to the sensitive reader of text. However, along with that sense of utter loss, of total doom, of Shoa ought to be the emotion of anger.

Tisha B’av presents us with the collective opportunity to challenge God and to emote anger: anger at God for turning his back on his people, anger at a God who eclipsed his presence in the face of utter and total evil. If we view, as the rabbis do, that Tisha B’av marks not only the commemoration of the destruction of the Temples but also other national catastrophes than how much more poignant is the question that we have to ask out of anger, as Job did: how dare You toy with human life, how dare You eclipse your presence from the suffering of the innocent, how dare You withhold you munificence and benevolence from your innocent suffering holy people!

Our prophets were preoccupied with the issue of collective retribution verses the idea of individual responsibility. Their witnessing of the suffering of the righteous individual wasn’t accepted and in a sense was challenged. There wasn’t the complacent acceptance of death and destruction then as we seem to be so accepting now. Amos struggled with the dilemma – how was it possible for God to employ collective retribution if it meant that the righteous would suffer. Amos trying to reconcile the dilemma was one of the early architects of the idea of Shearit Israel; that because of the righteousness of the minority, Israel will be saved. Isaiah too, struggled with this very same issue of collective punishment and although he didn’t frame his approach in anger his rhetoric reflected his deep frustration in the suffering of the innocent. Like Amos, Isaiah attempted to reconcile the polar tension and introduced the doctrine of the Suffering Servant. Israel is not only God’s witness but also man’s teacher. The implication here is that all mankind is intertwined and we share each other burden whether we wish it or not. According to Isaiah, Israel was suffering not because of her sins but because of the sins of the nations.

Jeremiah and Ezekiel witnessed the destruction of the Temple and they agonized over the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous. Here lies the tension between the divine sense of fair play and justice of the collective verses the concern of the individual. The dilemma is sharpened when one considers the disposition of our holy writings which taught that the individual played a significant role in the religious thought of the nation. Thus, the people might prosper but an individual may suffer. The conviction that justice would prevail in the life of every man was the foundation of the psalmists (ps.25:12, 13); or another psalm which we read at the conclusion of the benediction over a meal “I have been young now I am old; yet I have not seen a righteous man forsaken…” (Ps 30:4, 5)

The book of Job is concerned precisely with this problem: pitting Job on the side of the individual and the lack of fairness verses Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar who believe that children without guilt are expiating the sins of their fathers. Herein lays the dilemma and why on Tisha B’av we have an obligation to not only mourn the destruction of the Temple but also to process the idea of collective retribution and how it fits in to our theological construct. In the final chapters of Job it is noteworthy that God never charges Job with any sin, nor does He try to explain his suffering. Suffering of the innocent is a reality. This conclusion doesn’t sit well with Job nor should it with us.

Job denounces his friends for defending God in the interest of their orthodox teachings and at the expense of Job’s emotional needs. Job is so angry that he believes tat if he had the right arbiter he could be vindicated before God. Ironically, in the end Job becomes that arbiter who intercedes on behalf of his friends. The message we learn is that for one to establish a personal relationship with God one has to confront God. God favored Job’s confrontation more than He did the complacency of his friends.

Perhaps the lesson we must learn from Job is that while we may not be able to understand the workings of God and his cosmic plan we have an obligation of challenging and investigating to the best of our ability, rather than passively accept that which has been handed to us. Job understands that we can’t really get to the root of the beauty of existence, and but he refuses to abdicate the use of reason to ponder the tragedy of existence.

Job also teaches us that the sufferer has a right to be angry with God, but also to understand that there are many paradoxes to God which we can’t understand such as the dark side of God and on the other hand His everlasting goodness. Job’s probing into God’s cosmic plan, although incomprehensible to a mortal frees Job from the mechanical and blind submission to a greater freedom where he can challenge God even in anger and in so doing forge a personal relationship with Him. Ought we not attempt at doing the same?

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Muse: Devarim 2007

In reviewing Devarim what comes to mind is what Biblical scholars refer to as Deuternomic Law. The authorship of Deuteronomy isn’t as obvious as one would think and as such is treated as a separate text not having the same sacred quality as the first four books. Raising this issue causes a certain level of discomfort among the more conservative traditionalists rejecting this and ascribing to Deuteronomy the same divine quality as the other four books.

What is most fascinating however is the fact that our precursors in the Middle Ages were more open to intellectual inquiry than contemporary conservative traditionalists. Whereas the medievalists had inquiring minds reflecting significant intellectual curiosity our contemporaries are living somewhat in the Middle Ages when it comes to intellectual inquiry of text because it isn’t consistent with the “frum party line”.

Apart from the fact the Talmud ( Megilla 31b) touches surreptitiously on this very subject when discussing the division of aliyot, Don Isaac Abarbanel is very open and blunt regarding his inquiry of the authorship of Deuteronomy. In his preface to Deuteronomy completed after the expulsion from Spain he wrote to his mentor Rabbi Joseph Hayyun questioning whether or nor Mishne Torah was from God or from Moses. In his lengthy question Abarbanel sites Nahmanides who divides Deuteronomy into two sections: The first section given by God, but the second section, that of the tokheka was ascribed to Moses. Rabbi Hayyun, in addressing Abarbanel, divide Deuteronomy into three sections: 1. The section on admonishment; 2. The commandments in the main body of the text; 3. The clarification of the commandments. According to Hayyun, the first and third sections were authored by Moses, while only the second section was authored by God.

Others such as Rabbi Isaac Karo believed that Deuteronomy was divinely inspired but the work of Moses, including the admonishments. Rabbi Meir Ibn Gabbai and Rabbi Moses ben Joseph Trani (16th century Safed) also shared this view. There are numerous other scholars of that period who shared this opinion with modifications and clarifications of sorts. The point here is not to compare and contrast the finer points between the various scholars, merely to point out that there was a significant place for scholarly discourse regarding Torah and its authorship. Intellectual discourse and inquiry was the hallmark among these scholars of the middle ages something that is unfortunately missing in contemporary yeshivot and their exponents.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Harry Maryles’ survey of the Hebrew Theological College was fascinating, to say t the least and provided a portal by which to gage the growth and development of a segment of the Chicago Jewish community. The Hebrew Theological College, known by Chicagoans as the ‘Yeshiva” or in later years as “Skokie yeshiva” carried a certain mystique that Harry managed to convey well. Harry’s four part survey is important for what it says as much as it is important for what it doesn’t say.

The Yeshiva from its inception existed in sort of a schizophrenic capsule, which for a significant period of time was repressed as a result of the social milieu in which it existed. It was however a time bomb, waiting for the right convergence of social patterns to develop before it would explode. The name itself, Hebrew Theological College was indicative of there identity crisis. Did they want to be a yeshiva or a college? Even the name Hebrew Theological College was a heavy hitter and I wonder to this day who thought it up. Did they actually believe that as an orthodox yeshiva they would be able to pursue theological studies? It brings to mind Rabbi Jacob Perlow’s comment that the Hebrew Theological College reminded him of the Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire wasn’t holy, it wasn’t Roman, nor was it an empire. The Hebrew Theological College wasn’t Hebrew, it wasn’t theological, nor was it much of a college. So what was it?

Over the years the Yeshiva struggled with self definition. They looked to Yeshiva University as the model of what they aspired to be. They saw themselves as a modern orthodox institution whose goal was to produce educated “well rounded” Rabbis capable of serving communities in the south and Midwest. To a limited degree they were successful, especially in their earlier years when the yeshiva produced able very able well educated rabbis who left an indelible mark on the Jewsh community. They also had inspirational teachers who were not only excellent teachers but were connected to the community and sensitive to the encroachment of Conservative Judaism.

Rabbi David Regensberg, an unusual and outstanding torah scholar and sensitive to the needs of the broader Jewish community masterminded the concept of the traditional synagogue that became very prevalent in Chicago as well as many Jewish communities in the Midwest and South. The prevailing thought was that if traditional synagogues could be created that would be linked to the national orthodox institutions, educational systems and youth camps and organizations. The reasoning was that if this could be accomplished generations of kids could be redirected from Conservative Judaism to orthodox practice.

These years, the years prior to Rav Aharon Soloveitchik were the golden years of the yeshiva. It was the years of the late 50’s and early 60 are where the institution attracted students from all over the United States. Students from California, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida attended the yeshiva because it was their rabbis from traditional synagogues who prevailed over their parents to send them to the yeshiva. The rabbis who went out to thee communities were idealistic and believed that they had a mission. When they succeeded in sending students to the yeshiva there was a gratification and vindication that assuming these non-mechitza pulpits had been the right thing to do.

Rav Aharon Soloveitchik, zt”l, changed all that when he was appointed the Rosh Yeshiva. While this isn’t the forum to go into his strengths and weaknesses, there is a direct correlation between his premiership and the decline of the Yeshiva, from which it never emerged. Rav Aharon’s tenure spelled the beginning of the end for the traditional movement. He wasn’t able to understand that there was a vast Jewish community in the Midwest and south, communities that were in need of spiritual growth and development which couldn’t be harvested over night. His refusal to be “masmich” students devoted to serving the Jewish community with the right intentions spelled the beginning of the decline of the yeshiva. The yeshiva no longer was a distinct and unique institution serving the South and the Midwest. It was no longer there to serve the broader Jewish community. The yeshiva now became an insular institution serving its own interests. It had become just another mediocre yeshiva with a struggling budget a graying building fading out of the mind and sight of the community it had been designed to serve.

Prior to Rav Aharon’s tenure the yeshiva had a goal – it had a mission and saw itself in distinction from the classical yeshiva. It stood apart from the others in that it regarded itself as serving and developing a vibrant modern orthodoxy. It was full of promise and saw a bright future for its stated mission. Because of this they were able to attract not only good students but also a wonderful staff of highly unusual scholars. On the faculty of the yeshiva were men who combined critical scholarship with their incredible scope of Torah and Poskim. Teachers such as Prof. Leonard Mishkin, zt”l had an encyclopedic knowledge of Jewish history, Rabbi Hirsch Eisenberg, zt”l was a great scholar of the Hebrew language and a consultant to the Vaad Halashon in Israel. Dr. Joseph Babad, zt”l was a fine and recognized scholar of Bible studies and Akkadian. Prof. Eliezer Berkovitz, zt”l a world renowned philosopher and author on approaches to halacha. Match these great minds to the faculty in the beis medrash of Rav Herzl Kaplan,zt”l Rav Selig Star, zt”l and Rav Mordechai Rogow, zt”l. Each brought with him unique qualities of sensitivity and significant scholarship.

In my moments of nostalgia thinking about the yeshiva I realize how privileged I was to have studied under some of the greatest Jewish minds in the second half of the twentieth century. And then I compare that institution to that of today and I can’t believe it is the same one I once attended. I ask myself whey aren’t there scholars like that there today so that our student would have the same advantages and benefit I had. And I’m reminded of the song “Where have all the flowerers gone”.

I know where all the flowers have gone. They have gone to other fertile fields where they can grow and flourish, not be held back, unappreciated and ridiculed. Once upon a time the yeshiva had created a vital, unique institution with a delicately balanced faculty, a symbiotic relationship, a spiritual echo system between the dreamers and doers, between limudei kodesh and limudei chol, between the rabbaim and those that wanted to become rabbis. Rav Aharon’s vetoing the traditional movement terminated that delicately balanced spiritual echo system and gave fresh meaning to Rabbi Yaakov Perlow’s question as to what was the Hebrew Theological College other than a name etched into stone.

Monday, July 9, 2007

A Muse: Matot-Masei 2007

There certainly is a level of ambivalence in the Torah when it comes to blood revenge. The first reference to blood revenge appears in Genesis 4:10, 12. Rather than Cain being killed for the murder of Abel he is banished, and assurances given that he won’t be murdered by another. Following this tradition we are introduced to the cities of refuge mentioned four times in the Torah: Exodus 21:13; Deuteronomy 4:41-43 and Deuteronomy 19:1-13 and in this weeks reading, Numbers 35:9-34.

Notwithstanding these four references to Cities of Refuge and the very first reference in Genesis against the idea of blood revenge we also find in this weeks reading provisions for the Goel Hadam, the blood avenger. What does Torah prefer: Blood Revenge or its avoidance by establishing the Cities of refuge?

The Goel Hadam is rooted in Genesis 9:6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man; by man shall his blood be shed”. Without going into detail as to how and when the Goel Hadam may operate we can see that there is ambivalence as to the value in preserving life as seen in the need for Cities of Refuge and the need for taking life by the Goel Hadam. According to M.D.Cassuto, it would appear that the Torah shows a tendency to reduce and minimize the incidents of the Goel Hadam. He refers back to Genesis 4:15 where Torah gives opposition to blood avenging preferring human judges acting in God’s name, not relatives acting in anger.

If Torah discourages the blood vengeance than why do we have a parsha of Goel Hadam? Again Casuto believes that Torah is providing the apparatus by which we are to be weaned off of Goel Hadam. In essence concessions were made to us as long as we were in the developmental stage. We have other examples of this. The Rambam speaks of this in great length when referencing commandments referring to the yifat toar, the eved ivri, and sacrificial worship. They are all, according to the Rambam, examples of concessions.

This would bear out and explain Nehama Leibowitz’ puzzling comment in Studies in Devarim when she says “ It will perhaps sound odd to the reader to learn that the commandments of the Torah are not absolute…These dispensations, concessions to human frailty that they are, so long as man has not yet achieved the ideal of ‘all of them shall know me’, constitute the greatness of Torah.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Proud to be a Zionist

I held back, hoping that the David Klinghoffer’s essay entitled Why I am Not A Zionist , Jewcy.com, May 28, 2007 would be appropriately answered. As of yet I haven’t read any response to his essay other than some comments. When I was a T.A. we used to say that the most dangerous students are sophomores because they think they know it all. A freshman is still in shell shock from his first year in college. A junior is just coming to the realization that he knows so little and a senior has been humbled by in anticipation of graduate school where hopefully he will again some knowledge. D.K. unfortunately reminds me of that sophomore.

Rereading his essay for the third time he reminds me of the baal teshuva who has become obsessive compulsive about the ritual without having the broad contextual knowledge and understanding of our tradition. Until he grows in understanding he is at the stage where he is mimicking, making the right moves, wearing the right clothes saying the right things, quoting the right gedolim all in order to fit in to his new culture.

D.K. believes “that Zionism, in making a pedestrian and foreign 19th-century-style nationalism so central to contemporary Jewish culture, has caused us to neglect the higher mission God has in mind for us.” Which Zionism is D.K. referring to? Is he referring to that of Herzl or perhaps that of Achad Ha’am. I don’t mean to be pedantic but the two are very different. The distinction is important because the former represents a political emphasis while the latter emphasizes culture.

If D.K. has a problem with political Zionism he surely should support a variation of Achad Ha’am which advocated the cultural development of the Jewish people, highlighted and focused in Israel.. Achad Ha’am, some would say was in the great and venerable tradition of our Rabbis and sages who developed our prayer book. After all, D.K. I’m sure you recite the tefilla “ki metzion taizeh torah, ud’var hashem meyerushalayim”. How do you suppose that this tefillah could ever be fulflled with the absence of Zion and Yerushalyim and the Zionist entity. How would we be able to fulfill these prophetic words D.K? The great Yeshivot of Ponovez and Mir, the chassidic courts of Belz, Gur, Vishznetz and others, the sephardi chachamim and mikubbalim do you suppose all these are pedestrian?

You go on to say that you “don’t see any holiness in Jews squabbling and voting in a Knesset that happens to sit on top of the Holy Land.” If you weren’t Jewish I’d think you were an anti Semite. Jews don’t squabble in the Knesset any more than congressmen and senators squabble in Congress. How dare you insult our lawmakers with your arrogance that borders on blatant ignorance? Many of those “squabbling” lawmakers happen to be Jewish scholars, talmedei chachamim who are concerned with the physical and spiritual welfare of the Jewish people. Luminaries such as Yosef Burg, Zerach Warhaftig, Haim Meir Druckman, Avraham Ravitz, and Meir Porush, to list but a few were not ever squabbling in the Knesset, they were legislating in the best interests of Am Yisrael. There is holiness in legislating our own lives rather than leaving it to your Christian friends. It was by virtue of an independent State that we were able to save the Jewish communities of Yemen, USSR, and more recently of Ethiopia. What if there had been a Jewish state in 1939?

Holiness is defined as something that has sanctity or godliness. You don’t only find holiness in the synagogue or Beit Midrash. The greatest form of holiness is when we can sanctify the profane. When we transform our lives from the profane to the sacred that is holiness. Sitting in the Discovery Institute as the token Jew isn’t holy, certainly not, when you, in the employ of the Christian institution take cheap shots at our national institutions.

It is because of our Kenesset that there is a national and political value to halacha. Great Justices like Chaim Cohen were determined and intent on creating a legal system that reflected halacha, what modernist call the “mishpat haivri”. Today every law student in Israel must learn the mishpat haivri, because much of the legal system has morphed from British and Turkish to include also the mishpat haivri. That may be pedestrian to you, but very profound to me.

D.K. goes on to say that “Zionism has tragically distracted us from the historic role of the Jewish people…” What is the historic role of the Jewish people? Is it to sit in Galut? I understand Christian theology is most comfortable with that image of the Jew- punished for our part in killing Jesus Christ, destined to wander the planet in perpetual exile, until we repent by accepting him as our Lord. Never. Our theology never echoed those sentiments. Our theology always praised Hashem, with faith that one day we will be restored to our rightful place. It’s there if you understand what it is you are davening. The prayer “V’techezenu” said three times a day gives testimony to our everlasting faith and belief that Zion is the center of the Jewish universe, never to be abandoned.

D.K. also contends that our preoccupation with Zionism “has caused us to neglect the higher mission God has in mind for us”. How would you know what that mission is? Has your vanity and pomposity no limit? Where do you get the hubris and temerity to assume that you know of God’s intention? None of us can read God’s mind, none of us have a crystal ball. At best we have the sacred Tanach which is our spiritual map that can give us some clues. But as you may know there is much discussion in our sources and texts as to the meaning and understanding of our Tanach. We are not fundamentalists like the evangelicals (by the way traditional Jews and Evangelicals do not share the same reading of the Bible. They have made numerous mistakes in the translation) and approach and understand the Bible very differently than our Christian neighbors. We interpret text and search out meaning in the tradition of Pardes.

I never thought I would read an essay by a Jew, a religious Jew as I have from D.K. It’s the kind of writing I would have expected from the far right, the far left or from the Neturie Karta. In spite of all the detractors over the years whether it is from Norman Finkelstein or Noam Chomski I am a Zionist and am proud of it, you D.K. should be ashamed of yourself!

Monday, July 2, 2007

A Muse: Pinchas 2007

Parshat Pinchas presents us with the difficult and morally agonizing episode of Pinchas killing of Zimri and Cozbi in the name of God. Pinchas is rewarded by God by being awarded the “Brit Shalom”. On the surface one would think that God is rewarding Pinchas for his act of zealotry.

Is zealotry a quality that the Torah encourages? Was the behavior of Baruch Goldstein legitimate and even to be praised because of his zealotry? What about the behavior of Yigal Amir’s assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin (z”l)? Ought he to have been rewarded for his act of zealotry? Perhaps more important – what about the zealots of Hamas or Hizbolah who ostensibly are acting in the name of God, that His will be done? Ought we to be able to rationalize violence on the basis of religious beliefs? How we to understand the text and what is the message that the text wishes to present?

Talmud Sanhedrin (Mishna9.6/82a) deals at great length with the question of zealotry, setting up parameters as to when it is permissible. But Harav Kook gives us an interesting portal into understanding the act of zealotry. It is a rule of law that one is not instructed to perform, because it requires a level of spirituality of the highest order. If the intention isn’t absolutely pristine then the act of zealotry is considered murder.

This episode of Pinchas thus becomes instructive. The Torah isn’t presenting us with a license for zealotry, nor do we have an obligation to act out of zealotry. Rather there is an unstated granting of permission by default if one’s motivation is of the purest spiritual quality. The Torah does not support or command that one should behave as a zealot. Pinchas acted on his own initiative and not commanded by God. It was only after the fact and as a result of the purity of his intent that he was granted the Brit Shalom not as a reward but as a means by which Pinchas was vindicated.