Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I too am a Lonely Man of Faith

Doubleday has recently published Rav Soloveitchik's classic work Lonely Man of Faith (it may be the best $10 you'll ever spend). I haven't read the work in years and I'm only just starting it again, but I'm reminded of a topic that I think is really important.

Soloveitchik believes that people of faith are alone in the modern world; that contemporary society forces people who believe to feel like outsiders. Modern academic scholarship is foreign to the faithful.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with
Steg's brother. Jews are different. Jews have a different set of dilemmas than the rest of humanity does. Philosophic and moral issues for the rest of the world just aren't for Jews. Maybe that's because our tradition has dealt with these issues previously (i.e., Talmud) but I believe it to be more of akin to a separate reality. Our issues revolve around relating to HaShem, Halachik requirements and Bein adam l'chavero issues.

As Soloveitchik writes:

I have never been seriously troubled by the problem of the Biblical doctrine of creation vis-à-vis the scientific story of evolution at both the cosmic and the organic levels, nor have I been perturbed by the confrontation of the mechanistic interpretation of the human mind with the Biblical spiritual concept of man. I have not been perplexed by the impossibility of fitting the mystery of revelation into the framework of historical empiricism. Moreover, I have not even been troubled by the theories of Biblical criticism which contradict the sanctity and integrity of the Scriptures rest. (p. 7)

These are the things that do not bother the Rav, some of them bother me, some of them don't. Some may bother you, some may not. What is important is the overall message, what secular society deems important just isn't for the faithful. Even if Richard Elliot Freedman is correct, even if Spinoza is, it does not really affect me. I find it interesting, but they do not trouble my faith.

things may, but not this.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Rav Shmuel

I came across a live recording of Rav Shmuel and I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. He's a fantastic story teller, one-man show in the Carlebachian show - though it's not Carlebach music. Give it a listen; let me know what you think. It's a great show, I'd probably check him out if he came to town.

If you've never heard of Rav Shmuel he started an organization called Gefilte Fish, where he went on Phish tour setting up shop in an RV in the parking lots prior to shabbos and invited kids over. My friend Zev recalls one Erev Shabbat where he met Rav Shmuel and proceeded to go to the show, only turning around at the door handing his ticket to some unsuspecting fan and made shabbos in the parking lot.

I've met Rav Shmuel a few times (at Phish shows, go figure) and he always seemed like a great guy. Another friend Leib , who introduced me to Rav Shmuel, mentioned that (if I remember correctly) that he taught at YU - the website says he taught at various Universities, but no way to confirm this info.

Anyway, since it's on the LiveMusicArchive you can download it, burn it, give it to your friends legally and for free. The LaMA allows bands who agree to the service to upload live recordings - there are hundreds and thousands of them (Grateful Dead, Matisyahu, etc.). Here's the full band list.

I must apologize for the lack in posting recently, I've been rather busy. Hopefully, I'll be able to post some more shortly.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Meanwhile in Princeton...

This week's episode of House:

While discussing the merits of potential sperm donors...

Cuddy: "I'm leaning towards 613"
House: "Oh sure, go with the Jewish number"

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Spinoza and the Hebrew Theocracy

In Chapter XVII of the Theologico-Political Treatise Spinoza argues that the original Hebrew Theocracy is nearly a perfect government. The election of Moshe to be the intermediary between the people and God is fundamentally, Spinoza claims, a decent way for society to be governed; they transferred power (the covenant) from God to Moshe to be the “sole promulgator and interpreter of the Divine laws”. When the people can be sure where the rules are coming from; there is no corruption in power.

What is really interesting is what Spinoza has to say about why the government collapsed. Chet HaEgel is fundamentally what brought down the Hebrew Theocracy; prior to that monumental event the priests were to be the bechorim spread evenly among the entire nation. Afterwards, the levi’im where chosen to be the priests as reward for their refusal to take part in the Chet HaEgel. The levi’im, according to Spinoza, became a bourgeois class; an envied group that ultimately grew to powerful and corrupted the State from the inside out. [This critique could have come from Hegel and Marx; which is probably one of the reasons why the Theologico-Political Treatise was one of the most popular books in Communist Russia.]

The final chapter of the TPT (or TTP in Latin) discusses what the proper government (Democracy) needs to be founded on. Spinoza, uses a critique of Moshe’s government to show how modern kings have faults:
Moses, not by fraud, but by Divine virtue, gained such a hold over the popular judgment that he was accounted superhuman, and believed to speak and act through the inspiration of the Deity; nevertheless, even he could not escape murmurs and evil interpretations. How much less then can other monarchs avoid them!
Even Moshe could not make a perfect government and he was really supported by God. In a backhanded way Spinoza’s making sure everyone knows that modern monarchies are not supported by God (they’ve got more issues than Moses’ did).

Spinoza may have been a heretic, but he’s got some really interesting views on the Torah – he, at the very least, takes knowledge of Torah very seriously.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Constitution by Consensus

JPost is reporting that IDI (Israel Democracy Institute) has released a draft of what it believes should be Israel's Constitution. I have not been able to find a full text of that document, but I'm eager to read it. Israel needs a Constitution, for the same reason America and the rest of the world did; to show consensus on the form of Government. Israeli Democracy has issues.

It occurs to me that they've done nothing to fix a problem with the democratic nature of the country - namely the need to break Israel up into districts (similar to American States) so that parties with a few thousand votes don't get too much say in the government (I
blogged about that before). Nor does the Post mention anything about Amendments to this Constitution.

On the plus side, this Constitution bans torture and limits the number of ministers to 18. Two things that I think are crucial; a statement about the Death Penalty would be welcome too. However, that the Constitution "does not...specify which territory constitutes Israel" is problematic. It wasn't an issue for the US Constitution for it was an Union of sovereign states forming a more sovereign federal government. For Israel, the borders are an issue; one that needs to be in the Constitution. It was not up to these scholars what the borders should be, so the omission was probably pragmatic, but a clause stating the "final borders of the State of Israel will be decided by Amendment".

I wholeheartedly welcome the prospect of an Israeli Constitution, and this one sounds good. There are kinks to work out, but that's Democracy in action.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Shaving During Sefirah

Hence, since kevod Shabbat takes precedence over mourning customs of the Omer (based on Ta'anit 26b), it is not only permissible, but obligatory to shave before Shabbat.

- Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

"Shaving in Honor of Shabbat During the Omer"

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What a Shidduch....Rambam and Torquemada

Maimonides is a regular Torquemada when it comes to heresy...When you've got the wrong opinions you're dammed to hell forever.

Dr. Charles Manekin

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Darfur Rally

If you weren't there, you missed out on something special. I've never been to another rally of this size so I can't compare it to (I was in Israel for the Spring 2002 rally, and my parents never took me to the Soviet Jewry rallies). I'm not going to take a guess on the number of people there, but whatever it was I think about half (if not more) were Jews. There was the expected Reform groups, a good showing from the Conservative crowd, but I was pleasantly surprised by the number of Orthodox there - Day Schools, YU, some Schules - it seemed like there was just a bunch of groups-without-name (friends and families) there together.

I was not able to stay the whole time, but I did get to hear Elie Wiesel speak - something I have not had the opportunity before.

These t-shirts were being sold by the SaveDarfur organizers. I cannot express how offended I was by these shirts, people with the audacity to wear them inside the Holocaust Museum too. When will people learn that it doesn't matter where your context comes from when trying to stop a genocide, be it the Holocaust, any of the numerous other genocides, or your humanity - it's all the same when it comes to the people of Darfur. They just want our help.

It should have read "While remembering one genocide, there's another that you can stop". I would have worn that.

Yom Ha'atzmaut and the Hitnatkut

With Yom Ha'atzmaut just around the bend I am curious how the Hitnatkut will change the way Israelis celebrate their Independence. Does the disengagement from Gaza change the way that Israelis relate to their state? On a political level, Israel is a democracy and citizens must accept the decisions of the state, even the ones they hate and move on. What about on a religious level? How does it feel to say reishit smichat geulateinu after being evicted from your home by the Israeli Army? Did the Hitnatkut change anything? For Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen (Chief Rabbi of Haifa) has already started to publicly say: "Bless the State of Israel, so it will be the beginning of the flowering of our redemption."

This little semantic change has major implications, this isn't just a statement about Gush Katif, this is Israel has never been the "dawn of the redemption". Nothing Israel has done up till now, for R' Shear-Yashuv, has been part of the redemptive process. That a major theological statement. One that I don't think is shared by many of the Da'ati Leumi.

I think R' Shlomo Aviner's statement here sums it up:
But Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of Beit-El refuses to give up. He addressed these teenagers in a brief article entitled: "I say a prayer for the state's wellbeing." Aviner wrote that despite the state's desecration of the Sabbath and the sanctity of the land, he would never stop praying for its wellbeing, "because this is my state. I have no other, and I love it the way it is." And though the government causes him great distress, it is his government and he will "continue to pray for it with all my heart," and take pride in the fact that the Jewish people governs itself and is no longer subject to others.

The vast majority of religious Zionists are still of Aviner's mind. Even the Yesha rabbis' committee has called for celebrating Independence Day, adding that the state's very existence is a central pillar in the redemption process. But for many the celebrations will not be wholehearted.
I hope that last sentence is wrong. This is still Israel, still the reishit smichat geulateinu, if Gush Katif was supposed to be part of the State then sometime in the future it will become re-inhabited when the time is right. So, enjoy your Yom Ha'atzmaut (but please don't forget about Yom HaZikaron either).