Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Times are Changing

The last essay I posted was on March 15, 2010 and for good reason. Most bloggers have something to say and seek a platform and audience, reminding me of the legendary Bughouse Square which operated from 1910-1960. It was the most noted American outdoor venue for free speech featuring socialists and anarchists like Lucy Parsons and Ben Reitman. Then, there was no Internet and access to the media was limited as it is today. Thank God for the Internet because it provides a venue for bloggers to comment on what they consider to be noteworthy.

What I have hitherto considered worthy, spending countless hours crafting essays has begun to pale when contrasted to the events of the day. Over the past year or so I began to suspect that certain troublesome and possibly threatening patterns were developing globally which made anything I had to say insignificant. For that matter, most of the bloggers commenting on Jewish themes began to seem irrelevant and in some cases even absurd, when measured against the real issues, the existential ones facing not only the Jewish people but western civilization.

At first I thought that much of what I was hearing and reading over the past year were isolated and that things would right themselves in tandem with the global economy turning around. To my chagrin, however, they weren’t isolated incidents but really a serious of events linked together, presenting a pattern that doesn’t bode well for any of us. Consider the diplomatic impotence of America and the West in neutralizing Iran; the great difficulty Israel is having in dealing with it’s existential threat, Iran; the shifting paradigmatic relationship between Israel and the United States in spite of all the spin meisters; the growing American debt and a president hell bent on continuing to grow the government until we become another second rate power and the recent dire warning of Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve warning that unless the United States reduces the national debt dramatically we will be in for some exceptionally hard times. In light of those concerns how important is the RCA ‘s decision on the women’s role in their version of orthodox Jewish life?

These are very uncertain times and don’t auger well for us and I like many others are confused. It shouldn’t be business as usual because I fear that life as we know it will never be the same again. Times are changing, and I’m worried. America’s special relationship with Israel is tarnished and can never return to what it was. There will always be this point of reference, when Obama dismissed Netanyahu in a cavalier manner, undermining Israel’s sense of security. And what about the “America of promise”, “the land of opportunity”, reduced to a country of high taxes and on the road to becoming a welfare state like our poor failed European cousins. This is the time that I remember and lean on my father’s advice. He counseled me that whenever I am confounded, perplexed and uncertain about the future I need to recuse myself temporarily, meditate or study and that would help me find clarity. Rarely have I felt the need to take him up on his advise, but this past March I began feeling that the time has come. And so I have taken his advise. One of the by-products is to stop concerning myself with the banal: disengage temporarily from blogging on the mundane and begin considering the bigger picture.

Over the past six weeks I have developed a study group with 4 other students of Jewish philosophy, all living in the “arba confot haaretz”, but with the aid of the Internet, distances separating us have disappeared and it has become an unbelievable experience. The five of us are able to conference call and skype, which makes the experience all the more meaningful and vivid. Because we treat this seriously, we have designed our course of study as though it were a graduate seminar. We are expected to do the readings, come prepared and present papers. The issues we are studying relate to the fundamental and core values of who we are as a People and as human beings. Is there a place for a libertine within ethical Judaism or do the social values of the prophets trump personal gain at the expense of the “zulat”? Is the Jewish God a personal one, guiding history, intervening at times in human history; or is He out there somewhere tending to other galaxies while leaving the Milky Way to fend for itself? Is there any purpose in remaining Jewish and committed to Israel when some of our own rabbis, teachers and leaders demonstrate ill regard for fundamental teaching of Judaism and see Israel as an embarrassing and bothersome stepchild?

There are no absolute answers and I certainly have no interest in eliciting responses, because I don’t think anyone has the answers. They may have small pieces of relative truths that are convenient for the moment and happen to fit their momentary quandary, but can be bent and realigned at a moments notice. So I shall continue slogging through the maze of questions, studying, asking, wondering and occasionally writing.

As I said, I’ve been at this for six weeks and haven’t found the clarity that I am seeking yet, nor do I expect to in such short order. Instead I have found only more confusion and more questions. Trying to get my arms around one question seems to open up a Pandora’s box with a plethora of more questions. Clarity? Not yet, but I am patient and determined to work this through. Besides, I believe in the wisdom of my father.