Wednesday, December 26, 2012

When faith is proven wrong, faith redoubles

In the New York Times a couple of days ago, Paul Krugman writes:
“Back in the 1950s three social psychologists joined a cult that was predicting the imminent end of the world. Their purpose was to observe the cultists’ response when the world did not, in fact, end on schedule. What they discovered, and described in their classic book, “When Prophecy Fails,” is that the irrefutable failure of a prophecy does not cause true believers — people who have committed themselves to a belief both emotionally and by their life choices — to reconsider. On the contrary, they become even more fervent, and proselytize even harder.”
The rest of his column is about the “fiscal cliff”. But the part above is relevant to every eschatological prediction in Judaism. There have been many dates when Mashiach was predicted to arrive. When he didn’t, Jews just figured that hadn’t been worthy and believed in the next date, be it 5. 15, or 150 years in the future, and that the geulah would occur then.
That 1950′s study is ever more relevant, however, to false messiahs, of whom there have been many. When Shabbatai Zvi converted to Islam, many, many followers convinced themselves that it was just the next stage in a  journey before he declared himself mashiach and led the Jews to redemption. Sabbetianism continued for another hundred years or so, long enough for the Vilna Gaon’s to express vociferous opposition to Chassidut when he felt it smacked of the still extant Sabbetianism.
More recently, when the Lubavitcher Rebbe died, (and no, I am not comparing the Lubavitcher Rebbe to Shabbetai Zvi, except in how the failure of his messiahship affected his followers),  huge numbers of his followers shifted their beliefs to make him a Jesus-like figure and believe that he would come back from the dead. They still believe it.
There is a remarkable universalism of the experience of true believers when faced with facts that contradict their established beliefs, a kind of cognitive dissonance. Most Charedim face this daily, and go into denial over facts that don’t fit their worldview. In this age of science and reason, as well as a wider and more pervasive reach of empirical facts due to the internet, that denial is forced to become more and more overt.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Silent Nacht, Holy Nacht

It’s that time of year again tonight – Nitl Nacht! (Or at least it was last night, when I meant to post this.)
Silent night – that is without the learning of Torah.
rebbes chess
What is Nitl Nacht? Where did it come from? I recently listened online to a lecture by Marc Shapiro and ended up giving small class in my neighborhood about Nitl Nacht and some related topics. Here’s some of what I said. I took most of it from the Marc Shapiro lecture, but some is also from Dovbear (here and here), Miriam Shaviv (here), the Seforim blog (here), and Hirhurim (here). I can’t seem to find where I downloaded the audio of Marc Shapiro’s lecture from, but I suspect that the lecture was mostly the same as what he wrote in ”Torah Study on Christmas Eve,” Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 8 (1999), (which I didn’t read, due to the $40 price tag associated with downloading it.)
So what is Nitl Nacht? Well, basically, it’s a traditional approach to Christmas eve among most Chassidim, in that they feel it is forbidden to study Torah on that night. Generally, lithuanian style Yeshivas (basically, the Yeshivish world) do study Torah and criticize chassidim for their custom.
But it certainly didn’t start with Chassidim. Nitl Nacht was practiced in Italy hundreds of years ago, well before the Ba’al shem Tov established Chassidut. But where did it come from? There’s no source in the talmud, and not even in medieval rabbinic literature.
chabad chess
First, let’s take a look at the etymology of the term. Nitl refers to Christmas. All older sources refer only to Nitl, back to medieval times. “Nitl Nacht” is fairly modern term. So “Nitl Nacht” is the eve of Nitl, analogous to “Christmas Eve”. Marc Shapiro says that he is absolutely sure that the source is the latin term “Natali Dominis” – “The birth of our Lord”, from which “Noel” is derived. But Rabbis have not always been aware of that and assigned other resons for the term. Here are some of the other possibilities, as per Miriam Shaviv:
  • Derives from the Hebrew word “nitleh” (“hanged”), describing Jesus’ end (although Christmas of course celebrates his birth…)
  • Some say it alludes to negativity – “nit”
  • Nitl is defined as a yiddish acronom for “nisht tor lernen”/”nisht yidden terren lernen,’– ie. “not allowed to learn.”
I would tend to agree with Shapiro. These three origins seem kind of silly, unless you’re just not aware of the real origin of the term, in which case they represent a valid struggle to understand.
What are some of the practices of Nitl Nach?
According to Rabbi Chaim Elazar Spira, the “Minchas Eliezer”, who served as the Munkaczer Rebbe from 1913-1937:
MinchasEliezer
  • No Torah study till midnight
  • No interaction with his chasidim tilll midnight
  • After midnight, both torah study and interaction permitted
  • No sexual relations that night at all, even AFTER midnight, except:
  • If the wife just went to mikvah, then the couple abstains till midnight, but can have sex after midnight
Some chassidic rebbes felt that Shabbat superseded Nitl, some did not.
But what could be the rationale for such a strange minhag?
The Chasam Sofer, (Moses Schreiber), 1762 – 1839,  said that he heard from his teacher, Rabbi Nathan Adler
ChasamSofer
(1741–1800) that Jews are in mourning on Christmas eve, therefore sex is not permitted, just like a person in mourning, or like on Tisha B’Av, when we’re all in mourning. However, the Chasam Sofer didn’t agree with this reason and referred to the resulting practice of closing the mikvah on Nitl Nacht as a “minhag shtut”, a nonsensical custom, and points out that there’s no
tradition of following other laws of mourning at that time, such as not wearing leather shoes, not listening to music, etc.
Instead, he suggests a different, and rather insightful reason – Jews would normally study Torah at night, but go to sleep by midnight. Normally, non-Jews go to sleep much earlier, but on Christmas eve, they would have midnight mass, so for Jews to study only till midnight and then go to sleep would reflect badly on them in heaven, since Christians would still be up worshiping.
Therefore, the Chasam Sofer says, the original source of the minhag of Nitl Nacht was for people to go to sleep early then wake up at midnight to study again, in a sense countering the prayer of the Christians. This is a much more more logical, if not entirely rational origin.
EliezerZweifel
Another,more rational explanation for the practice was given by the Reformist Eliezer Zweifel (1815-1888), that it was simply dangerous for Jews to be out and about on Christmas eve, and therefore they stayed home from the beit midrash, the study hall. This explanation has become very popular. But there’s no evidence for this explanation.
Furthermore, it doesn’t explain the ban on sexual relations, though a case could be made that it was to keep women from going to mikvah, where they might be in harm’s way. Nor does it explain the midnight stipulation, unless perhaps the assumption was that after midnight people wouldn’t be venturing outside anyway, so there would be no temptation to go to the beit midrash.
The Dinover Rebbe, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Spira of Dinov (c. 1783 – 1841) took a more mystical bent. When some people started learning Torah on Nittel Nacht, a dog appeared in front of their house. Dogs were seen as evil omens for much of the medieval period, especially black dogs.
It’s easy to see why….
blackpuppy
Other explanations include that of Rabbi Shalom of Belz, who has a very chassidic persective.
He says that on Christmas eve, the sitra achra, a kabbalistic concept meaning “the other side” , and representing the forces of evil, is very strong, and therefore, dveykut with God must be at a maximum. For traditional chasidut, dveykut, closeness to god, through meditation and prayer is the most important thing. However, one must “come down to earth” as it were, and occasionally study the Torah, which often consists of mundane legal issues. But on Christmas eve, one must counter the Sitra Achra by maximizing dveykut, which means no semi-mundane Torah study. That would also explain the prohibition of sex.
Another chassidic explanation of that prohibition, even stranger, is that since the sitra achra is so strong that night, conceiving a child on that night can cause that child to become an apostate.
Getting even stranger, in Talmud Bavli, 90b, Rabbi Yochanan said, if you speak a halacha in the name of a deceased person, their lips move in the grave. This is understood as helping the balance of their souls move in a positive direction. Another chassidic explanation takes this idea and posits that if you study Torah on Christmas, you might accidentally study Torah that Jesus studied and that his soul would gain benefit and he’d be able to leave hell. Not sure why this is of particular concern on Christmas, but perhaps it being his traditional birthday would help his soul even more.
Some chasidim comemmorate nitl nacht on the Julian calendar Christmas as well, to be safe, sort of like our yom tov sheni shel galuyot, in a way.
Popular pastimes for nitl nacht included playing cards, or gambling on dice, or with a teetotum (see DovBear). I think it’s extremely likely that the dreidel, the Jewish version of the teetotum, migrated to chanukah because of the holidays’ proximity, so the connection between Chanukah & Christmas is not just a modern one.
But Nitl Nacht may have really been all about superstition and fear of the “bogeyman” Jesus:
Johannes Pfefferkorn (1469–1523) was a German theologian who converted from Judaism to Christianity. He wrote that the Jews “believe and maintain that the lord Jesus, punished by God because of his apostasy and false teaching, has to wander in all pits of excrement or latrines throughout the world that same night. Thus I learned and believed unthinkingly from my youth on. When it was Christmas eve I used to urinate outside of the privy because of fear and worry of the hanged Jesus.”

Friday, August 10, 2012

Modern Orthodox Siyum haShas

This past Monday evening, August 6th, I attended the Modern Orthodox Siyum Hashas which was held at the Spanish & Potugese Synagogue on the Upper West Side.
All in all, it was a beautiful and inspiring evening. There was no sense of “We’re modern & proud!”, just a sincere celebration of Limud Torah.
Everyone was handed a program as they came in, together with a sample of the new Koren English Talmud, which contained the first few pages Masechet Brachot, I think up to Daf 8. I flipped through it and I have to say I’m quite impressed.
There were several hundred participants – I’m terrible at judging crowds, so don’t ask me how many exactly. I was pleasantly surprised to see a handful of Chasidim at the Siyum.
There were three 40-minute time slots, each filled with a choice of several lectures. The ones I attended were all excellent.
The one I enjoyed most was by Wendy Amsellem, a brilliant young woman who teaches at Drisha.  She very animatedly taught about the evolution of aggadita, specifically using the story of the death of Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon, which appears in several versions in midrashim and in the Bavli and Yerushalmi, with both subltle and huge differences. One interesting thing she pointed out was the appearance of his students at his side as he was being killed by the Romans. This detail is absent in all sources other than the Bavli. Wendy pointed out that this is a common theme in the Bavli, to insert students into stories about Rabbis, since it was unimaginable to them that the students wouldn’t be there.
After the three classes, everyone joined together in the main sanctuary. (There was mixed seating, so no $250,000 mechitza was needed.)
There were several excellent speakers, both men & women, including Rabbi Dov Linzer, Rosh Yeshiva at Chovevei Torah. They all spoke about the importance of Limud haTorah, and of the maginificence of the accomplishment. There was no “politics”. One of the best speeches was Charlie Hall’s (frequent commenter in the JBlogosphere) moving account of his journey from conversion just 9 years ago, to finishing the full cycle of Daf Yomi.
At the end they asked all the mesaymim (those who had actually completed the Daf Yomi cycle) to come up to the front. I have to admit that I was disappointed by the small percentage of the crowd who actually were mesaymim, only around 20 or 25, but as I wasn’t one of them either, I don’t have much of a right to complain. Around a third of them were women.
The Hadran was read all together by the mesaymim, while we followed along. Afterwards, a band struck up music and we all danced (separate circles, but no mechitza, for those interested in those sorts of details.) Then a couple of speakers took us through the beginning of Masechet Brachot, and we all followed along in our Koren samples.
Afterwards, there was pita, vegetables, spreads, and cheese for the seudat mitzvah. There was also a table selling the Koren Talmud, who were one of the sponsors.
That’s it – not exciting to tell, but very inspiring to be there. It inspired me to do daf yomi, though I’m not sure how long I can keep up – I’m already behind.
Shabbat Shalom!
Update Aug 13, 3PM: Additional observation about the purpose of the siyum, from a comment I wrote on another blog.
They were purposely having their own perspective on study and inclusion of women, but not to be “davka”, but just because they sincerely believed that women’s participation and a more academic approach are integral parts of the world of limud torah.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Why are frum men so obsessed with women’s tzniyus?

It’s about control. Control of a particular lifestyle in the face of increased freedoms for women in the secular world. Control over women’s bodies when their minds are being set free. Control when women are getting college degrees and men are emasculated sitting in kollel all day. It’s about trying to say “look, I’m a man, and I’m in charge!”, when they clearly are losing that traditional control. It’s about saying to women that they’re just a bunch of female parts, and that’s ALL they are, reaffirming frum men’s notions that they are the masters of the Jewish universe.

Comments from old blog:

  1. July 30, 2012 at 1:41 pm | #1
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    Here, here! Not to mention see here.
  2. July 30, 2012 at 2:32 pm | #2
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    Of course.
  3. July 30, 2012 at 4:54 pm | #3
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    Agreed.
  4. July 31, 2012 at 7:03 pm | #4
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    i agree
  5. July 31, 2012 at 9:02 pm | #5
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    My wife and I have had several conversations about this. I wrote one of them down.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Teshuva, anyone?

I’m a big fan of teshuva, if teshuva means optimistically looking ahead and planning to be more engaged in the things that make Judaism meaningful for me, as well as resolving to be a better friend, husband, and overall human being.
But personally, I see no emotional benefit to wallowing in guilt and feeling bad about myself, nor do I see any value in feeling bad that I didn’t live my life in adherence to strict interpretations of religious rules that don’t make me happy or a better person.
Comments from old blog:
  1. July 19, 2012 at 9:04 am | #1
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    I was looking at that picture from the funeral yesterday of a little kid crying hysterically. I thought there is no way this kid should feel this sad or emotional about the death of someone who was likely already out of it by the time he was born. It occured to me that this is what he was trained to do. It was ingrained in him that Elyashiv was a great man and his absence will affect the world, people cry when things like this happen and so his brain told him to cry.
    Its the same way with sin. We are told stories of people crying in Elul, people dreading the Judgement on Rosh Hashana and so we are trained to associates sin with sadness and remorse. The people who taught us conditioned us to associates “sins” with crying and sadness and depression, so while 7 billion people eat cheese burgers and are happy about it, an orthodox jew absolutely dreads it, there is sadness, guilt, anxiety, and not because there is anything negative happening or because he is doing anything wrong, but because of the conditioning. The religious prespective has little to do with it psychologically.
    • Philo
      July 19, 2012 at 9:24 am | #2
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      I didn’t see that picture, but I can imagine. You’re right, it’s about how one was trained. It may even just be a visceral emotional response to the group sadness. His parents, and the entire community he lives in is crying, so he cries too.
      I simply can’t relate to a Judaism that’s about feeling guilt and sadness all the time. My Judaism is about being happy and fulfilled. There’s more than one approach to Judaism, and it’s sad that the “oy, being a yid is hard, and the ribbono shel olam is disappointed in us” approach is ascendant in contemporary charedi (and even MO) circles.
  2. Philo
    July 19, 2012 at 9:33 am | #3
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    I once dated a woman who was wonderful – she loved to sing, she took joy in life and Judaism. Then, when Elul rolled around, she said “I’m scared”.
    I said “scared of what?”
    She said “You know, it’s Elul, and I haven’t been a good enough Jew. What will happen to me on Rosh Hashana? What if I can’t do a good enough teshuva?”
    It was the beginning of the end for us, and a revelation for me. I simply couldn’t relate to her at all on her concept of teshuva and fear of God’s wrath, and I realized that I didn’t really believe in punishment. I’m not scared of God, and I think it’s a little weird to be. It’s like being a small child scared of punishment by daddy. I’d think God has better things to do. My God is a source of inspiration and kedusha. And by Judaism is an uplifting experience. If there’s a detail of halacha that I think is counterproductive to that experience, I simply don’t do it. And as a result, I feel closer to God, not less.
  3. tesyaa
    July 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm | #4
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    I’m with you here. Anecdotally, I’m a much happier person since I stopped worrying that every little misfortune that befalls me (or my kids, or my community, or my extended family) is due to my own shortcomings. I have much less anxiety too, even though I’m dealing with the same issues. A few years ago, right after I totaled a car, all I could think about was that I hadn’t davened properly that morning. (Not that the accident wasn’t my fault, but it’s way more productive to realize that it’s a bad idea to grab for a phone on a highway ramp than to worry about whether you set aside enough time for prayers).
    Come to think of it, my own transformation began shortly after that incident.
    • July 19, 2012 at 11:50 pm | #5
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      worrying that every little misfortune that befalls me (or my kids, or my community, or my extended family) is due to my own shortcomings.
      I’ve never done that! As a frum Jew, am I supposed to be doing it?
      • tesyaa
        July 20, 2012 at 11:11 am | #6
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        I think you are. When you suffer a misfortune, you are supposed to examine your deeds for the source of your suffering. I will try to get you the source.
        However, when you see someone else undergoing suffering, you are NOT supposed to try to examine their deeds for the source of their suffering.)
      • July 20, 2012 at 11:41 am | #7
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        tesyaa :
        Raba says “if a man sees that painful sufferings visit him, let him examine his conduct.” (Berachot 5a)
        That sort of makes sense. For example, you have a car accident and get injured, you need to examine what you might have done to help ensure a better result (no accident or less injury). Maybe you were going too fast, maybe you didn’t buckle the seatbelt, maybe you had too much on your mind and wasn’t paying roper attention, etc.
        Another example might be someone who neglects to get an education in anything useful, and neglects to be trained in a trade. Then 5-10 years later he is living in poverty and just can’t make ends meet. He perhaps should look back at his bad decisions (“deeds”) to pinpoint the source of his suffering. And, if possible, make better decisions and take better actions to try to remedy the situation.
        I guess I can see it in some cases.
      • tesyaa
        July 20, 2012 at 11:13 am | #8
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        Raba says “if a man sees that painful sufferings visit him, let him examine his conduct.” (Berachot 5a)
  4. July 20, 2012 at 7:48 am | #9
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    There’s a lot of room between “walking around wallowing in guilt” and “optimistically looking ahead and planning to be more engaged”. One is Catholicism, the other is “hope”, not “teshuva”. I think Judaism’s approach, of limiting the wallowing to one day a year, is pretty good, actually. Yes, one should spend Elul and the 10 days of teshuva reflecting, but again, reflecting on one’s past actions and resolving to do better, is not wallowing.
    Even mussar has schools that emphasize guilt (like Novardok, which has all but died out as a method, even in its own postwar yeshivas), and schools that emphasize self-work and planning to do better, like R’ Shlomo Wolbe – who was writing for the modern Israeli yeshiva student, from the 1960s to the 1990s, because the old idea of s’iz shver tzu zein a yid doesn’t speak to many people in this day & age.
    So I’d say that “wallowing all the time” is not so much a failing of Judaism, as a failing of Jews who are more affected by Christianity in the modern age, now that Christians have stopped trying to kill us.
    • Philo
      July 20, 2012 at 8:31 am | #10
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      I don’t think it’s a failure of Judaism, only of a particular school of thought that I am aware of based on my own experiences. I don’t think that the wallowing is written doctrine, just that it seems to be common among many in the Yeshivish community, and that I, personally, can’t relate to it. I don’t know about the Christian influence, but you could be right.
      But I agree that there’s a spectrum of behavior, and I don’t begrudge those who engage in some introspection and guilt, I just know that it makes my personal Judaism less rich to spend too much time doing so, though I do think that a certain amount of introspection over issues of bein adam lachaveiro is needed for everyone.
      • July 20, 2012 at 4:50 pm | #11
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        It seems to me that the Jewish concept of Teshuva is the way out of wallowing in guilt, because the essence of teshuva is the resolution to change. After all, what are the classic stages (according to Rambam, and following him, Aquinas): acknowledging the act, regret, decision to change, actual change. Without teshuva, we’d have no choice but to obsess over our failings until death or Divine grace granted us absolution.
        To that end, we have teshuva in each daily prayer (the two brachot harotzeh biteshuvah, and chanun hamarbeh lisloach), vehu rachum on Mon/Thurs (which is pretty wallowy, and many people skip it; we were not taught to say it at Ramaz, f’rinstance), and Yom Kippur (keep the wallowing to one day a year).
        The Tanya suggests spending 15 minutes once a week in a cheshbon hanefesh, which can be pretty intense if you think about it, but it’s only 0.5% of your waking hours. That’s a bit much for me, and probably for most of us.
        So I don’t see that you really don’t believe in teshuvah, only in a certain distortion of guilt that you seem to see in some people. The basic idea of teshuvah being fundamentally hopeful.
        Tesyaa: what I think your source is talking about is “yissurim mei’ahavah” – that is, any little misfortune in your life, like mislaying your Metrocard for 10 seconds, or missing the train, can be chalked up to God punishing you for your misdeeds. That can itself be a comfort for the misfortune, if you think about it – God is punishing you in this world for your sins, which means you’re probably on the side of tzidkus – get the punishment out of the way in this world so your fate in the next world will be almost all good. So that too can be an impetus for teshuvah. Bikur cholim is an impetus for teshuvah, there but for the grace of God go I, and that sort of thing. Similarly attending a funeral – seeing the box go into the ground reminds us that the wages of sin is death, and we should work to better ourselves.
  5. Yitzchak Sprung
    July 25, 2012 at 1:13 am | #12
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    i know this isn’t what this post is about, but i thought you might be interested in some misleading stories haredim tell about the modern orthodox…http://thinkjudaism.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/four-stories-talking-smack-in-story-form/

Friday, June 1, 2012

How can I respect Chazal?

My last post, on how I find Judaism meaningful, even if I believe that much of the basic facts are mythology, (and where I mentioned Rabbi Akiva), elicited this response, from Yitz:
I’m probably too literal-minded, but what value could Rabi Akiva have to you if he was lying about Moshe Rabbeinu’s existence?
From what you say, either: 1. Rabi Akiva was misguided and falsely believed Moshe Rabbeinu existed. 2. Rabi Akiva knowingly deceived people because it was for their own benefit. or 3. Rabi Akiva wasn’t sure about Moshe Rabbeinu, but like you, thought Judaism had enough to offer that perhaps it was worth it to perpetuate and evolve Judaism into something better for people.
Either way it seems you have a relatively low opinion of Rabi Akiva, or a relatively high opinion of yourself. (In the most optimistic scenario (3), you are his equal, in the worst scenario (1) you are smarter than he.)
My response:
Of your choices, I’d have to pick #1, sort of. Why on earth would you think that I believed either #2 or #3?
But even your #1 is flawed. It’s a matter of perspective. You assume that I would see believing in a mythical figure literally as being “misguided” and “falsely believing”. I don’t. I see it as sacred myth and it doesn’t matter whether Moshe Rabbeinu existed or not. (My educated guess is he probably didn’t, and if he did, his portrayal is still a massively mythologized version and doesn’t reflect reality.)
Rabbi Akiva valued the Torah and stories within it and felt they contained deep spiritual value. So do I.
I value Rabbi Akiva as a great teacher and leader of his generation. Does that mean I have to agree with his exact world view? And if I disagree, it’s because we live in vastly different cultures and times with a vastly different set of information available. The scientific method had not yet been invented, and myth and fact were all mixed together. Fiction didn’t exist per se. Stories were assumed to be fact. The surrounding cultures had stories about the gods, stories that they assumed to be true. Rabbi Akiva not only didn’t have the facts we do today, he didn’t have the methodology and likely couldn’t even conceive of an empirically based approach.
Acknowledging all of that doesn’t mean I disrespect Rabbi Akiva or deny his greatness. It just means he was a man of his times and so am I. If I was a Jew living back then in the first century AD, I probably never would have doubted Moshe Rabbeinu’s existence either. But I live today, and I choose not to ignore empiricism.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Is God meaningful or just Judaism?

I don’t have much of a relationship with God the individual, per se, but I do have a strong relationship with spirituality.
Part of the problem is that I don’t believe that the Torah is divine, though I’d like to think it has divinity in some of the parts that ended up making it into the composite document. And it seems unlikely that many of the events in the Torah really happened or that many of the characters really existed. So what does that leave God to do? Create the universe, I guess – set in motion the grand 14 billion year old symphony of the cosmos. I believe in God, but in a rather abstract way.
But I DO believe in Judaism. And in spirituality. When singing zmirot on Shabbat, or studying an amazingly fascinating piece of gemara, I feel connected to 3,000 years of our history in a very deep & meaningful way. I may think it unlikely that Moshe Rabbeinu really existed, but Rabbi Akiva almost certainly did exist. So did Rambam. And so did 100 generations of our ancestors, striving to reach for the divine, trying to make sense of the world, and sensing SOMETHING greater out there, something elusive that they called God. They devised rituals and created narratives to reach God. That is how my ancestors connected to that divine spark, and that’s why it’s meaningful to me.

Original comments from old blog:
  1. April 2, 2012 at 6:46 pm | #1
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    Very nice. But you do realize that if you were a Rav you’d be ostracised by the defenders of the 3000 year tradition.
    • Philo
      April 5, 2012 at 10:49 am | #2
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      I realize. Even if I just used my own name on this, some people would ostracize me.
  2. tesyaa
    April 5, 2012 at 12:24 pm | #3
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    Don’t you think it’s hypocritical to hide your heartfelt beliefs from people, just because you’re worried that they’d ostracize you?
  3. May 31, 2012 at 6:33 am | #4
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    I’m probably too literal-minded, but what value could Rabi Akiva have to you if he was lying about Moshe Rabbeinu’s existence?
    From what you say, either: 1. Rabi Akiva was misguided and falsely believed Moshe Rabbeinu existed. 2. Rabi Akiva knowingly deceived people because it was for their own benefit. or 3. Rabi Akiva wasn’t sure about Moshe Rabbeinu, but like you, thought Judaism had enough to offer that perhaps it was worth it to perpetuate and evolve Judaism into something better for people.
    Either way it seems you have a relatively low opinion of Rabi Akiva, or a relatively high opinion of yourself. (In the most optimistic scenario (3), you are his equal, in the worst scenario (1) you are smarter than he.)
  4. Philo
    June 1, 2012 at 8:22 am | #5
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    Yitz,
    Of your choices, I’d have to pick #1, sort of. Why on earth would you think that I believed either #2 or #3?
    But even your #1 is flawed. It’s a matter of perspective. You assume that I would see believing in a mythical figure literally as being “misguided” and “falsely believing”. I don’t. I see it as sacred myth and it doesn’t matter whether Moshe Rabbeinu existed or not. (My educated guess is he probably didn’t, and if he did, his portrayal is still a massively mythologized version and doesn’t reflect reality.)
    Rabbi Akiva valued the Torah and stories within it and felt they contained deep spiritual value. So do I.
    I value Rabbi Akiva as a great teacher and leader of his generation. Does that mean I have to agree with his exact world view? And if I disagree, it’s because we live in vastly different cultures and times with a vastly different set of information available. The scientific method had not yet been invented, and myth and fact were all mixed together. Fiction didn’t exist per se. Stories were assumed to be fact. The surrounding cultures had stories about the gods, stories that they assumed to be true. Rabbi Akiva not only didn’t have the facts we do today, he didn’t have the methodology and likely couldn’t even conceive of an empirically based approach.
    Acknowledging all of that doesn’t mean I disrespect Rabbi Akiva or deny his greatness. It just means he was a man of his times and so am I. If I was a Jew living back then in the first century AD, I probably never would have doubted Moshe Rabbeinu’s existence either. But I live today, and I choose not to ignore empiricism.
  5. Tuvia
    March 2, 2013 at 5:42 pm | #6
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    This is a very good view of religion. Very healthy. I spent a year in a kiruv yeshiva. This would never fly – if you were to teach this, I think they would blow their top.
    The reason is, kiruv exists for two reasons.
    The first is to bring people back. Assimilation is rampant. Intermarriage is rampant. Jews are leaving or have left orthodox Judaism in huge numbers.
    Secular Jews actually may share your perspective (they certainly could respect it.) But it is not nearly enough to get them to feel compelled to live halachic lives. It just jibes with their overall appreciation for films like Fiddler on the Roof, and the occasional marking of a holiday, certainly Passover.
    Therefore, the only way kiruv felt they could fight the rampant disinterest in halachic Judaism is to fight fire with FIRE. So they torture the text, assert the literal truth of Torah, back it up with empty, hollow proofs, love bomb you, do some supernatural fear mongering, tell you they’ll find you a wife or husband, and tell you it is ok not to work – this sounds pretty good!
    It is also pretty shameful, weak, and wicked. I do believe in the concept of the “evil inclination,” and this is an appeal to that. Pretty seductive.
    The second reason kiruv exists is to inspire the kiruv professionals and other orthodox people to continue to practice Judaism. You get students who think you really know. You get to idealize and package Judaism as this fantastic and true thing. You get to watch seculars buy what you say, revere you as someone special and with spiritual expertise. It’s a rush, an appeal to your ego, and will push you to remember why you are frum in the first place. But it is also an appeal to your evil inclination.
    Hmmmm….
    Tuvia