(And they wonder why in the Yeshivot Ger, Alexander, Sochatchov and Izbitz are considered honorary Litvaks.)
Sunday, July 29, 2007
(And they wonder why in the Yeshivot Ger, Alexander, Sochatchov and Izbitz are considered honorary Litvaks.)
Bloglet appears to have died and I need to replace a subscription service. Any ideas? I have seen references to RSS and ATOM but have no idea how to use them. (I"d rather transcribe MS Budapest Kaufman 150A than try to figure out the web pages I've seen on these).
All assistance appreciated: firstname.lastname@example.org
Inter alia, Carmy writes:
An honest understanding of the Halakha about saving a Gentile on Shabbat is grounded in the fact that not all mitsvot can be violated to save life. Idolatry, sexual offenses and murder may not be allowed even to save life, however this flies in the face of our utilitarian mentality. Shabbat has much in common with the so-called “big three.” [Note R. Shimon’s view in Yerushalmi that a bystander may intervene to prevent Shabbat violation even at the cost of the transgressor’s life.] For Jews Shabbat may be violated to save life, but only on the basis of a special limmud (inference)—“desecrate one Shabbat so that he may observe many Shabbatot.” Where this principle does not apply, Shabbat is inviolable.
Where people understand that religion may on occasion make life and death demands, the law that Shabbat is so important that it is overridden only for those who are members of the community that observes it is difficult but not scandalous. In our culture this understanding is lacking; thus the failure to treat Jews and Gentiles identically will be interpreted as indifference to the fate of the non-Jew, and will be perceived as tantamount to connivance in his death. It will provoke hatred, and understandably so. In this case, the theoretical gulf separating secularists from halakhists is not universalism vs. particularism but the recognition that Shabbat is, in principle, worth the sacrifice. It is common to stress that Judaism, compared, let us say, with Hinduism, affirms the value of human life and eschews such sacrifices. That the value of human life is overridden only in exceptional circumstances is a significant element in generalizing about Jewish ethics. But an almost absolute principle is not the same as an absolute one.
In any event Feldman presumably knows very well that his high school teacher’s remark is not representative of grown-up halakhic thought, and he knows even better that it is not a guide to the practice of Orthodox Jewish doctors. Nonetheless, in his desire to satisfy himself against those who failed to properly esteem his choices and flatter his vanity, he has resorted to one of the most potent weapons of 19th-20th century anti-Semitism. He has made it easier for individuals or groups in medical schools to sideline or bar Orthodox Jews, in the name of high-sounding universalistic moral ideals, from positions in the medical profession. Whether he intends these consequences or not, and whether or not he envisions, in his wise shrewdness and genteel outrage, further punitive consequences to his classmates and their children, he has employed his power and prestige to those ends. He, and we, must live with the consequences of his decision.
Not only Feldman’s actions have consequences. There are rabbis and teachers, who sometimes feel that they must show their cleverness at any cost. At times it seems that the less they have to contribute, the more they wish to stand out. Like precocious children impressing the adults, they vie for the attention of their students with forced displays of cleverness and provocation. The point is to come up with something that nobody else would think of saying and to say something shocking and memorable. Surely the teacher whom Feldman quotes succeeded eminently in this game of pedagogical one-upmanship. He, and we, will have to live with the consequences of his judgment.
I recall reading that Professor Gerald Blidstein once asked the Rov if he was satisfied with the fact that Sabbath deseceration for a non-Jew was due to איבה, or the hostility toward Jews that would be thereby engendered. The Rov, reportedly, responded that while he was happy with the legal results, he found the actual argument morally unsatisfactory.
I've thought a lot about this issue lately, and I've come to two conclusions. First, any fine moral impulse must still find its expression within the terminology of the Law. Sometimes, indeed oftentimes, that terminology is somewhat jarring to the non-professional ear. Thus, making all sorts of allowances for non-observant Jews because they are 'תינוקות שנשבו' sounds paternalistic, arrogant and dismissive of the rich cultural context within which someone might have been raised. That, however, is the legal tool we have. That, however, does not mean it should be bandied about supercilliously and hurtfully. (Indeed, I've often thought we should create some sort of new category.)
The same is true, or so it seems to me, about the allowance of Sabbath violation for a non-Jew on Shabbat. As Carmy points out so well, saving a Life is not always an absolute value. Even saving a Jew on Shabbat requires special license. Recall that, according to the First Book of Maccabees (2, 32-40) there were those who fled Antiochus' decrees and were slaughtered because they thought that self-defense did not justify desecrating Shabbat. Modern society is based on absolute human autonomy, together with a very strong dose of narcissism. Thus, the idea that Human Life takes second place to anything is at best impossible, at worst, an anathema.
Jewish Law realized that the question of treating a non-Jew on Shabbat had to be addressed and allowed. Halakhah came up איבה. Yes, in marketing terms it's terrible. That, however, is not the point. The genuine, Jewish moral impulse did find a cogent, principled legal category within which to function. Halakhah doesn't operate in philosophical categories, it operates in legal categories. One might add, though, that it's not much of a stretch to go from absence of hostility to co-fraternity. Or, alternatively, who says that Hobbes was wrong? Perhaps, Hazal and Rishonim had a more Hobbesian view of man than we (ostensibly) possess? Certainly, based upon the empirical evidence, Hobbes has the competition beaten, hands down.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
One such example is provided by Ms. Lisa N. Goldman, journalist and blogger extraordinaire. Lisa's Aliyah has been followed by thousands (at least) through her autobiographical narrative, 'How Lisa Came to Israel.' Her blog, On the Face, is one of the best-known in the relevant sectors of the blogosphere. Indeed, she's a blogging pioneer in more ways than one.
That, however, is not the point. Lisa worked over-time to find her place here. Through talent, grit and alot of very hard work she succeeded at carving out a place in the generally closed shop that is Israeli journalism. Recently, she appeared on Channel 10's London et Kirschenbaum, describing her trip to Beirut (sic!). It was incredible (and wonderful) to see the collegial respect accorded her by Yaron London (who I know somewhat, and can be difficult) his sidekick. A part of that respect, no doubt, was also due to Lisa's flawless Hebrew. (The lack of which is one of the biggest drawbacks among Anglo Olim.)
Now, let me just add a few notes. I've never met Lisa (though we did have a few e-mail exchanges). I know that we disagree on most things political (and, I assume, more than a few things religio-cultural). All of that, however, is quite beside the point. She is here, in Israel, successfully. She is living proof that one can make it here, even without Nefesh b'Nefesh.
So, on the eve of my Aliyah anniversary, kudos to Lisa. תרבינה כמותה בישראל.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
The case of Noah Feldman has elicited the expected mixture of outrage and condemnation (from Modern Orthodox circles), glee and support (from non-Orthodox and secularist representatives). One quarter from which I have yet to see a reaction, though it will doubtless come, is the Haredi/Hardali world. With undisguised glee and horror, the Jonathan Rosenblums will declare that Feldman proves the bankruptcy of Modern Orthodoxy (as if Agudah would have been interested in Rosenblum, if he hadn't earned a JD at Yale). These latter will be just as off the mark as the others.
At the same time, as my wife cogently observed, something clearly went wrong here. It could have been a matter of personal psycho-pathology, or of the vagaries of romance, but that's too neat an answer. It lets the rest of us off the hook far too quickly. Is it possible that, somewhere along the line, Dr. Feldman got the message that secular achievement is of equal value (or superior to) devotion to God and the Torah? Is it possible that somewhere along the line his loyalty to Torah was taken as a given? It certainly seems like a plausible scenario. The fact that Hazal constantly warned us not to become spiritually or intellectually complacent, arrogant or conceited would appear to indicate that this is a signal danger on our spiritual path (cf. Avot 2, 4 and Berakhot 29a). As such, perhaps it was specifically this young man's promise that should have set off alarm bells that he should receive more, not less, special attention and followup? [ I admit that I don't know the specifics. I do, however, know the then principals at Maimonides School and many members of the faculty at the time. They are wonderful, devoted educators and Modern Orthodox Jews in the finest tradition of the Rav, and Prof. זכרונם לברכה and תילחטו"א Dr. Twersky. I, therefore, want to emphasize that my comments here are in no way meant to imply criticism of them. I am discussing a more general phenomenon.]
Does this, therefore, put the lie to the entire Modern Orthodox enterprise? If the Rav's own school can produce this type of product, is his life's work thereby refuted. Some, it may be sure, will reach exactly that conclusion. However, such a conclusion is patently unfair. Would the same critics totally dismiss the Netziv because of the bad apples that grew in Volozhin? Are we to devalue great Hassidic Rebbe'im because some of their disciples apostasized? Was R. Yehiel of Paris a failure because of Nicholas Donin? Was R. Eliezer of Tarascon a nobody because of Paulus Christianus?
I categorically reject such a conclusion.
Nevertheless, the case of the Noah Feldmans in our community should give us pause. Those of us who firmly believe that Judaism has nothing to fear from the wider world must ask ourselves some serious questions. At what price do we engage that world? Given that there are tangible risks involved in our path, how do we provide for them? Obviously, there are no guarantees in this world. It does, however, behoove us to be forearmed (as we are all fore warned).
It seems to me, and this is only the starting point, that our point of departure must be intellectual and spiritual humility. This is a very difficult quality to develop, especially in a neurotically narcissistic culture such as ours. It is, however, a conditio sine qua non for a Jewish existence.
By humility, I mean that we are obliged to cultivate in ourselves, in our children and in our students the readiness to withhold judgment. Human knowledge and understanding are, by definition, conditional. That is the essence of the scientific method. For an Orthodox Jew the truth of Torah is not conditional. There may, albeit, be a number of legitimate doctrinal or halakhic alternatives on specific issues. The whole, however, is a datum. It is a given. That given requires tremendous sacrifices of the Jew. It determines what one eats, who one marries, where one lives, and how one behaves. That, as the Rov said so many times, is the essence of Qabbalat Ol Malkhut Shamayim. One is encouraged to master the totality of human creativity and culture. However, it remains just that, human, conditional. God's Torah, the Divine logos, trumps it. Period.
Acknowledging this fact of religious life is very difficult. It requires an ongoing, titanic struggle with doubt, misgiving and sincere feelings of humanity. The struggle is legitimate. Impulsive, ultimately self-serving resolutions are not. As Reb Haim Brisker is reputed to have said: Fun a kashe shtarbt man nit. One doesn't die from a question. One does, however, need to develop and hone the emotional, spiritual and intellectual muscles to sustain that question. The greater the intellect, the more pressing the need to cultivate exactly these tools of question-maintenance and surrender that balance it. [This is not a new circumstance. The achievement oriented, individualizing tendencies of Tosafist France led to the cultivation of German Pietism (חסידות אשכנז) with its heavy emphasis on humility. Ultimately, both were correct.]
Tisha B'Av starts with mourning and ends with consolation and the possibility of repentance. Rather than simply mount the barracades against someone who is clearly having an immature tantrum, we should look to our own souls and develop the emotional and spiritual modalities required to both constructively engage the wider world, while simultaneously surrendering to God's greater wisdom.
As someone observed last night in shul: 'Would he have been so open minded about a Jew who adopted an 'in your face' attitude when marrying out, if that Jew were not a famous Rhodes scholar, known as the 'Rock star of the Legal Profession'?
In his unforgettable Tisha B'Av shiurim in Boston, the Rav זצ"ל, pointed out that this expressed God's commitment to us, as a People, to preserve us for another day; to offer us the opportunity to do Teshuvah, to rebuild the Land of Israel, to rebuild the Temple.
The comfort, the consolation is the our covenant with God cannot be broken and we willnot break it.
It is not true that Amor vincit amnia.
It is true that Amor Dei vincit omnia.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Then again, what is there to add? Noah Feldman (whose family I recall very fondly from my years growing up in the Athens of America, and who can't be kleibing nahas from Noah's internationally broadcast temper tantrum) is a typical True Believer. In this case, though, he doesn't believe in Orthodox Judaism. He believes in himself. He dogmatically maintains that everyone must accept him, irrespective of their own views and beliefs. As a devoted follower of contemporary Western, post-Modern relativism he cannot accept a Judaism that does not adapt itself to his perfect form, much as the phylactery straps tied on to the statue of Apollo, immortalized by Tchernichovsky.
I have news for Professor Feldman. It does not work that way. Thirty years ago, the founder of his school and my beloved and revered teacher Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל, put it this way:
We are facing an awesome challenge, and I am mindful of all that. However, if you think that the solution lies in a reformist philosophy, or in an extraneous interpretation of the halachah, you are badly mistaken...If we say to our opponents, or to the dissident Jews, "This is our stand" -- they will dislike us, they will say we are inflexible, we are ruthless, we are cruel. But they will respect us. However, if you try to cooperate with them, or if certain halachic schemes are introduced from without, you will not command love. You will not get their love, but you will certainly lose their respect...What can we do? This is Toras Moshe. This is surrender. This is Kabbalas Ol Malchus Shamayim. We surrender [to God].*
This is something Noah Feldman never understood, and may never understand. To engage him in debate or reproach is nothing short of humiliating for us. As the kids here say, חבל על הזמן!
[FYI, our friend Feldman led the anti-Eruv forces in Tenafly (waving the establishment clause) and is the most eloquent defender of Hamas in the younger echelons of academia.]
* The transcription is from Eitan Fiorino's posting (corrected based upon the original tape.)
Sunday, July 22, 2007
There are a number of different Jerusalems. There is is the city of dreams that kept Jews alive through the ages. There is the obviously Holy City that is familiar to tourists and pilgrims. Then, there is the intimate of its residents (and suburbanites, like myself). The latter includes Mahane Yehudah (for REAL shopping), the tailor you know since when; the barber whose cut your hair as long as you can recall etc. And, for a number of years now, there's Rami Levi. Rami Levi is a chain of supermarkets that has superior products and prices 10-30% lower than anywhere else (except for fruits and vegetables in Mahaneh Yehudah...and even then....). Those of us whotry to live on Israeli salaries, and who know full well that 'Zol This' and 'Cheaper That' are anything but, buy in Rami Levi. You meet your neighbors there. You see friends you haven't thought about in years. The customers are a cross-section of the population, including Arabs.
I've been buying there since last Pesah, and it's been a fixed part of my weekly routine. Howevcer, in Israel, routine is an oxymoron.
Last Thursday, I was just about finished with shopping. Guiding my overflowing wagon to the end of the last aisle, past the meat counter, a guy asked if I'd davened Minha. I looked at my watch. It was 7:15PM, and I gratefully replied: No. 'We have a minyan in the left hand corner,' he said. 'Go there.' So I proceeded to the paper goods section, piled high with paper towels and toilet paper. I was expecting the typicalkind of ersatz minyan that Jews get together and which are typically Israeli. As I parked my wagon, I heard some guy ask: 'Where's the shul?' 'Shul,' I thought tomyself, 'the guy must be quite the cynic.'
I was wrong.
Between the piles of tissue was a corridor, leading to a small but beautifully appointed Sephardic shul. The walls were lined in marble. The furniture was Qibbutz Lavie (and upholstered!). The library had siddurim for Ashkenazim, Hassidim and Sephardim. One bookshelf had the complete popular works of R. Ovadiah Yosef. It was strikingly beautiful. I couldn't believe I was in the supermarket. (Azrieli should have a shul like this).
The room was full. No, it's not what you think. There were, of course religious Jews and Haredim. Then came the surprise. In walked three or four greasy kids, who looked like JD's. They did nt look like the Minha type. Wrong. The put on three day a year white kippot and davened with the best of them.
The davening was beautiful. The epiphany was better. Only in Israel could you see a scene like this. For those who swear the country is weak, you should have scene the determination in the eyes of the kids (who then removed their kippot and returned to work). This scene only reconfirmed my experience over the past ten to twelve years that despite the best efforts of the politicians, the Supreme court, the media and the academics- this country wants to be Jewish. As long as that is true, we will overcome all our internal and external enemies. With God's help.
Monday, July 16, 2007
"Shoes Along the Danube"