Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Let's rebuild the temple!

You want to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash? A few problems with that, unless you believe in the idea that it will be rebuilt miraculously.

But otherwise? Seriously, are we really going to go back to animal sacrifice and a priestly caste system? Those are ideas that were popular among all cultures in the ancient near east, were not unique to the Jews, and are rather distasteful when you take a few minutes to think about it.
And what about the actual building? Trying to build the beit hamikdash on the temple mount for the foreseeable future would spark a massive war. Not to mention that destroying the mosques there would be an archaeological crime, just like the Taliban destroying those Buddha statues, which is universally condemned.
But here's an idea for actually building the third temple, in a realistic manner:
Find a plot of land near the temple mount. Maybe on what was once the slope of that very mountain
Let's say, a big open plaza that is in Jewish hands. Hmm, I wonder where can we find that? Build a big shul on it modeled after ancient temples. Maybe Herod's temle wouldn't fit, but Shlomo's would. There are plenty of architects that could come up with an innovative design. Get some big donors from America. Can't you imagine the sign on the side? "The Harold and Bertha Goldberg Temple". Make the Kotel the eastern wall. Have a giant aron kodesh, put some sifrei Torah inside, and call it the kodesh hakodashim.
Then call it the whole building the beit hamikdash and hold regular daily minyanim there.
Problem solved.
(Except the question of whether Charedim will allow Women of the Temple to daven there in peace. Or whether talking during davening will be tolerated).

Yoram Hazony and Open Orthodoxy

I just read Yoram Hazony's piece on Open Orthodoxy.

On the one hand, despite excellent writing, the article harps on the same issue that people over-focus on: what is Orthodoxy? Why not let Open Orthodoxy be? It's all semantics. If they called it "Open Traditional Judaism", no one would are. It's only the inclusion of the word "Orthodox" that makes people upset. Then again, a good part of that is the fault of the Open Orthodox themselves, by vociferously claiming that they are Orthodox.

On the other hand, as others have pointed out, it's a substantive article, and is mostly respectful, not engaging in any name calling or targeting specific individuals. And he has a point about the stifling of dissent. Those of us who believe that academic biblical criticism has a place in traditional thought have to make sure that we don't become what we claim our detractors to be; close minded and intolerant of opposing viewpoints.
In response to the article on Facebook, Elli Fischer makes a good point. He says that the fault line doesn't run between Modern Orthodoxy and Open Orthodoxy, but through OO itself. He may be right.

One thing that is notable about Open Orthodoxy, is that philosophically and socially, they are, in many ways, better classified as being in that growing space between Orthodoxy and Conservative, the space that contains the independant minyan movement and Mechon Hadar. The divide, therefore, is between those who loosely classify themselves as "Open Orthodox", for convenience sake, but are comfortable dropping in to daven at an egalitarian minyan sometimes (full disclosure - I'm one of them), and those who are firmly clinging to the "Orthodox" part of "Open Orthodoxy" and are determined that the Orthodox world legitimize their status. I think the YCT hanhalah and most of the students and musmachim there fall into the latter camp.

One minor point about Hazony's article: He writes "...the launch of the egregiously named www.thetorah.com website, whose purpose, as far as I have been able to understand it from conversation with Farber, is to popularize views of this kind among young Orthodox Jews...". Zev Farber did not found TheTorah.com, though he has contributed greatly to its growing popularity. Hazony should have spoken to the founders, David Steinberg and Mark Zvi Brettler.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Where did Jews come from?

So, leaving ideologues (like Shlomo Sand) or weak science (like Eran Elhaik) aside, the fact remains that our genetic heritage is murky.

Also, the question of where the explosion of the Ashkenazi Jewish population came from is a valid one. Without a strong outside influx, the late medieval appearance of Ashkenazim on the scene in extremely large numbers is highly improbable.

Unfortunately, exploration of these questions is deeply tied to politics these days. Proponents of the Palestinian cause use Sand's theories to claim that Zionists are just European interlopers. And supporters of Israel counter with genetic studies that bolster the ancestral claims of today's Jews, while ignoring other studies that cloud the issue.

The fact is, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew, whether by birth or by choice. The claim to Eretz Yisrael is based on a combination of ancestral heritage and of a grand journey of millennia through the diaspora, in which that ancestral land was never forgotten, and never abandoned. When people, either individually, or en masse, willingly joined that journey, they joined in the claim of an ancient dream.

So whether Jews around the world have an 80% or a 20% share in the genetic material of ancient Jews, or whether they are Jews by choice today, they share an equal part and an equal right in that dream of shivat tzion.

All that being said, the question "where did we come from" is still a fascinating one that in a perfect world would be open to exploration without any greater ramifications. Are we Ashkenazim the descendants of Khazars? Or did our Jewish male ancestors spread out by way of Italy and marry (and convert) local Eurpoean women? Orthodox Jewish children running around with red hair, fair skin, and freckles clearly have ancestors that didn't come from the Ancient Near East. And what about the Palestinians? Many studies show a genetic connection between them and many Jewish populations. Are they descended from ancient Jews? Or from the same mass of ancient populations in the area who also produced the Jewish people.

My guess is that the answers to all of these questions are "all of the above". We have a long a complicated history. I just wish it was easier to explore it in an intellectually objective manner.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Chas VeShalom they should date someone poor

While the writer's topic here is about lying for shidduch purposes, something else caught my eye:
"The groom was from a 'good family'; his father is head of a large hospital unit. The bride is also from a 'good family.' Her father has a dental clinic, which employs around a dozen employees. His father is a professor, hers a doctor, it seemed like they were two peas in a pod. My friend only knew the mothers, but the similar socioeconomic status and background seemed an adequate indication for a good match."
Really? Socioeconomic status is the basis of a good match? Chas VeShalom that a rich person should date a poor one.


Monday, May 5, 2014

"Lo tevashel g'di" - why 3 times?

Yesterday, I wrote about the comparison between "Lo tikach ha'em al habanim" (Shiluach HaKen)" and "Lo tevashel g'di bachalev imo". Quick recap:

Two different mitzvot in the Torah, that upon a simple reading would seem to be similar. They're both about the mother/offspring relationship in the animal kingdom, and about compassion or respect for that relationship.

Yet the former is a limited circumstance mitzvah, limited by the chachamim even further to precise conditions. But the latter controls half our lives as observant Jews.

A couple of commenters (on on FB and one here on the blog) mentioned that the chachamim use the fact that "lo tevashel" is repeated 3 times in the Torah as the source for all the laws of mixing meat & milk. Like so many other things gleaned from the Torah, the repetition is taken to mean that it must be understood as much more than the plain meaning. Which is, of course, true.

As those who follow me know, I don't believe in a literal Torah MiSinai, and believe it to be a composite document based on oral narratives. In that light, like so many other things in the Torah, the repetition simply indicates that it comes from differing documents.

The new thought I have today is this:

There's no question that the laws regarding meat & milk are quite ancient. So at the time of redaction, the line of "lo tevashel" may have already been understood to refer to all ruminants and to any meat & milk, not just the mother-child relationship. Therefore, the redactor(s) may have purposely left it in 3 times, to deliberately highlight the way in which it was already understood. So the traditional explanation may have some truth to it.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Shiluach HaKen vs Lo Tivashel G'di

לֹא-תִקַּח הָאֵם, עַל-הַבָּנִים

לֹא-תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי, בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ

Two different mitzvot in the Torah, that upon a simple reading would seem to be similar. They're both about the mother/offspring relationship in the animal kingdom, and about compassion or respect for that relationship.

Yet the former is a limited circumstance mitzvah, limited by the chachamim even further to precise conditions. But the latter controls half our lives as observant Jews.

Imagine if Shiluach HaKen was treated like meat & milk? Imagine if we derived a vast body of laws from it the way we do with those 5 simple words about a kid and mother's milk?

We probably wouldn't be allowed to eat eggs and chicken together. And we'd have separate sets of dishes for egg products and fowl products. Or something along those lines.

Why are they so different? I know the traditional answer is that Torah SheBa'al Peh was given at Sinai, and that's the interpretation that was given at that time.

I've been thinking that there might have been an existing tradition of separating meat & milk before the Torah was (re)reveled in Ezra's time, and those laws got shoehorned into a simple line about a baby goat and its mother, so as to provide a divine rationale for the practice. But there weren't any elaborate laws that could tie into Shiluach HaKen, so the original interpretation remained.

After all, the gemara is full of such source seeking - it enlessly asks "minalan"? - where do we know this from? What's the source in Torah SheBichtav? And invariably, the answer is: because pasuk x says something that might parsed in an obscure manner to provide our source. That was likely a part of our tradition well before the Mishna and the Gemara.

So what came first? The chicken or the egg? Just some food for thought.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Religious Jew but Secular Zionist

This is some of the same stuff I wrote a few weeks ago, but with a couple of new thoughts. The impetus was a post on Pesach Sheni. This was a comment that I left there.


I got an emotional shot in the arm from my recent trip to Israel. But I have become fond of saying lately that I am a religious Jew, but a Secular Zionist. I'm not sure if I believe in the classic idea of Mashiach and the Geulah, an idea which, frankly, has undergone many iterations and has evolved considerably.

But I can still espouse a Zionism that is proud of what our people have accomplished. That just in time for the bloody 20th century (but unfortunately not even earlier) we made a place for ourselves in a legendary ancestral land, a place where our people could regroup from genocide and persecution. That we revived a language that was used only for ritual purposes and made it come alive again as a spoken language. That the pattern of the Jewish calendar is the pattern of the entire country.

What is the geulah anyway? Is it really rebuilding an Ancient Near East style temple and bringing sacrifices again? Is it fracturing our unity into tribes again?

Or is it this? Building a homeland where to which we gradually return. Hopefully eventually maturing enough that we are really Or LaGoyim. Becoming a home for Jews of all sorts who understand and learn and keep Torah in myriad different ways.

When I was a kid growing up Orthodox in Brooklyn, I assumed that the geulah meant going back to what we once were. That the prior 19 centuries would have been just an interlude.

But those 19 centuries created Judaism. And Zionism. It was a maturing process. If we hadn't been exiled, and if the chachamim had not made Torah central to our lives, Judaism would have disappeared, just another ancient civilization with quaint practices for a museum. Instead, we are vibrant and with a state of our own.