Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Experientially Challenged

For a very long time, I've been fascinated by the ways that medievals and moderns have perceived time and space. The way that medievals organized the way that they viewed their chronological and geographic existence was, in my opinion, incredibly rich a subtle. They were able to live on several levels of reality-perception at once, without losing their grounding in the here and now. A Jewish case and point is the Pesach Seder. The operative statement there is 'In every generation, one is obligated to see himself as if he went out of Egypt.' This is not pablum. It is an existential directive, aimed at the celebrant, to transcend the limits of time and space and to transform himself into a liberated slave on the morning of the 15th of Nisan c.1200 BCE.
Furthermore, it was an eminently doable charge, because of this multi-level type of time-awareness that is endemic to traditional societies in general, and to Judaism in particular. [There is, I am well aware, an irony in the fact that this represents a point of agreement between Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל and mutatis mutandis Mircea Eliade. Perhaps that makes it all the more credible.] The ability to connect so intimately to the past was critical to Jewish continuity in general and to the success of the Zionist message, in particular.

Post-modernity, together with the so-called 'Information Highway,' have seriously wounded (and in some cases destroyed) this rich, nuanced human capacity. A life based upon sound-bites and instant images cannot sustain critical thought and leads, inevitably, to far-reaching, all-encompassing, superficiality. Such superficiality, which is the hallmark of contemporary culture, retards the capacity of the individual to think 'out of the box' and to feel 'out of the box.'

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that contemporary Israel (and Diaspora) Jews, find it extremely difficult to 'connect' (the widespread Hebrew word is להתחבר) to the same vital experiences that sustained their forefathers for two millenia. The thirst for just this type of deeper awareness is the challenge of the contemporary Jewish Leadership, which too often denies its existence.

[The above is, in a sense, a continuation of this posting.]

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