Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Halachic standards in Orthodoxy today - it's never been done before


Observant Jewish life used to be much simpler. We lived in cloistered communities where notwithstanding our rose colored nostalgic glasses, Jewish literacy wasn't high. Halachic observance was cultural, not legally-driven.

But nowadays, when understanding of what halacha apparently demands of us is part and parcel of the education of most Orthodox kids, there's an obsession with "getting it right". Of course culture plays a huge role now, too. But the culture is more informed by a strict legality and everyone is trying prove themselves within that context.




But here's the thing - it's never been done before! In prior times, Jewish observance was much more flexible and relaxed. People did what they were taught by their parents, not what they learned at Yeshiva. Not everyone got it "right", and there was far more variety in practice in different communities than the insistence of one-size-fits-all halachic Judaism of today.

So of course it's obsessive and rigid now, and insists on ever more unobtainable standards.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Avinu Malkeinu? How do we relate to God with modern sensibilities?

Much of our liturgy and classical literature focuses on obedience and worship of God with the analogy of subjects relating to a king. This is often the case even when the analogy is not explicit.
Such analogies worked for most of Jewish history, when the prevailing cultural context was subservience to human rulers who were often believed to rule by divine right. Thus, a similar worship of God came more naturally.

But since the rise of the enlightenment, democracy, individual autonomy, it's harder to relate to God using the old ideas. And the more one is steeped in western ideas, the harder it is to profess utter subservience to another being, even if we fully believe in God. I for one, find many of the words in the long prayers of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur hard to relate to.

What's needed are new paradigms to relate to God that really resonate with a modern mind. But what would those paradigms be? Friend, Partner? How do we reconcile that with traditional ideas about God?

Monday, May 1, 2017

Ten years blogging!

Actually, that was back in February. I only realized now that I missed noticing that milestone.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Iran deal revisited

I was just having an email discussion with a friend who was incredulous at Jewish support for the Iran deal and for supporting Obama's efforts there. Here was my response:

I said at the time, and I still believe this, that yes, the Iran deal was a bad deal. But that's because any deal with Iran would be a bad deal. There was no possibility of a good deal. So the question becomes, was a bad deal better than no deal at all? I tend to lean towards answering yes. The deal wasn't meant to be an absolute guarantee that Iran wouldn't develop nuclear weapons, it was meant to slow down that program dramatically, and at the same time bring a rogue nation into the sunlight of international diplomacy, which would gradually move them towards some kind of relative moderation. Simply ostracizing them would have caused them to work harder to get a bomb and they wouldn't have much to lose by threatening its use later.

You can disagree with Obama's reasoning, but he wasn't just being naive - he had a method to what he was doing, the belief that diplomacy, even in the cases where such diplomacy will be tough and take years, is the only thing that will guarantee peace in the long term. I agree with that approach, even if I sometimes disagreed with Obama on details.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The OU pronouncement on women clergy

I'm surprised at how little I find myself caring about the OU pronouncement. 10 years ago, I would have been angry and posted about it extensively here. Now, I just shrug and go "meh". I think I've stopped caring what the establishment Orthodox community does, since I don't really consider myself beholden to them. I just carve out my own comfortable niche, and that's where I live, religiously.