Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Marc Shapiro on R' Ovadiah Yosef

Prof. Marc Shapiro wrote a very interesting article on three recent biographies on Rav Ovadiah Yosef. I am a big fan of Rav Ovadiah's and Shapiro provides substance to my feelings. He has entitled the article "Mi-Yosef ad Yosef Lo Kam ke-Yosef" which after reading it I think is a very appropriate title. The article almost makes me want a full biography by Shapiro - like the one he did on the Sridei Eish - on Rav Ovadiah.

Shapiro's exaltation of Rav Ovadiah is nearly perfect until he gets to the section on comparing him to an academic scholar. I think he makes his point very well and I never really thought of it until now but Rav Ovadiah's talents would make him a very poor academic. Photographic memory and an Encyclopedic knowledge are not necessary for success in academia.

As a few of you know I don't particularly like Rabbis getting involved in politics and Rav Ovadiah is the proof text for my reasons. But, as Shapiro mentions, he got involved in politics and stayed involved because he thinks it's the right thing to do despite the fact that his name as a Rav may become tarnished. He's intelligent, committed, head strong, among a thousand other ways to describe him. I truly believe that Rav Ovadiah is the last true Gadol we have. I hope that another generation can produce a person with half the stature of Rav Ovadiah.

If you're a fan of Shapiro (like me) check it out and like wise if you're a fan of Rav Ovadiah (again, like me) check it out.

(Hat Tip: Gil)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

You Can Believe in Anything You Want Except...

Steven at Canonist has a nice post about the differences between each movement's theology and what's a no-no for each one. The money quote is this: "An Orthodox Jew saying “the Torah is inspired by God” would most likely be characterized a heretic for his liberal views. This is a good example of how many Christians don’t understand just how right-wing Jewish theology is." I think he's right on.

He's also right on here:
3) No, you can’t believe Jesus is the Son of God in Conservative Judaism, though that has far less to do with Conservative Judaism stating a positive theological doctrine, than with the absolute negative in pretty much every major segment of Judaism declaring Jesus the big no-no. And this is probably a good statement of what mainstream Jewish belief means today: you can believe whatever you want, except for Jesus.
Though I'd probably amend that last sentence with this:
You Can Believe Anything You Want, Except for Jesus and go to Holocaust Denial Conferences.

That's a statement that would pretty much describe Judaism today. All three movements (I don't consider Reconstructionist a movement) have come out and publicly said that Jews for Jesus and the Neturei Karta (well specifically those who went to Tehran) are outside of the fold. If the CJLS and the Reform Movement practiced it today you can bet that the Neturei Karta would have been placed in Cherem. That would have been interesting. Oh well, maybe Joel Roth and reinstitute that.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Wedding D'var Torah - The No Longer Lonely Man of Faith

At the Chatan's Tisch I was unable to give my D'var Torah due to time restrictions. We could not find the Rav who was honored with reading the T'naim for - what seemed like - fifteen minutes so I did not have time to share my speech then.

I wrote this speech in ten minutes sometime the week before the wedding at work and never saw it again until the day of the Chatanah. I thought that some of you might like to read it - though a few of you already have.

In Genesis 2:18 the Torah tells us "Lo Tov Hiyot HaAdam L'vado", which is usually translated as "It is not good for man to be alone." This verse is often used when speaking about marriage. However, the verse seems to be misunderstood. Rav Soloveitchik explains that the word would be translated as loneliness or aloneness. Preferring the translation "It is not good for man to be lonely", the Rav shows us that man needs more than a helper- that two can accomplish more than one. Man cannot be lonely. Man cannot live up to his potential - again, not a utilitarian purpose - but for ontological reasons - without an Ezer K'negdo - without a soul mate. This is what soul mate really means, a person with whom we achieve more, a person who gives life meaning and direction. A marriage is always greater than the sum of its parts.

Lo Tov Hiyot HaAdam L'vado - It is not good for man to be lonely. I am no longer lonely.
It was a wonderful wedding, more than I could have ever wished or asked for. This past week of Sheva Brachot has been the most exhausting week ever. We've been up and down the east coast (my parents are making "East Coast Tour" t-shirts). Now it's time to go back to work and finally settle in.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

And it begins...

I don't know when I'll be able to post again but I wanted to share with you the picture of the Ketuba. It was made by Rosie Weisel of Kibbutz Sa'ad, she was my Kibbutz Mom while I was living there.

If you can't read the Possuk on top here it is:
My soul yearns, yea, it pines for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh pray fervently to the living God.
Psalms 84:3
There's a couple connections between our names Naomi Liba and Natan Chai within the possuk, I don't remember them all but Rosie was very excited while explaining it to me. Besides the Sheva Minim and the Beit HaMikdash there are two pictures in the Ketuba with meaning for us. The top flowers on either side are alstroemeria which Naomi chose for the wedding. On the bottom left is the dugma for the wedding. It is two Nun's creating a candlestick and a Fey that becomes the flame of the candle for the last name.

Anyway, I hope to post again sometime next week but I will not promise anything.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

It's been One Week...

As ADDeRabbi mentioned, he is the Mesader Kedushin at my upcoming wedding. I've made very few comments about the wedding on the blog because I started the blog after we were engaged and until now there hasn't been anything all that important. (For those keeping track we've been engaged for 13 months - please don't let your own engagement last longer that 6 months).

Since the wedding is this coming Sunday, Naomi and I will not be seeing/speaking/IMing/whatevering until the Bedeken. I will take this oportunity to mention that there is no halachic basis for this minhag.

Two of my Rebbeim have debated this minhag, Rav Blau saying "there's no basis and I didn't do it" while Rav Brovender says "It's nice". I seem to fall somewhere in the middle on this issue. I feel no compulsion to follow it, but it is nice. Especially since Naomi deems it necessary here I am talking to the computer. I thought I had a copy of this shiur on my computer but unfortunately I do not, if I can find it I'll post it. It's quite funny, two giants of Torah debating such a seemingly silly topic.

I hope this week goes by quickly.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Gan Eden and Olam HaBa: Immortality and Omniscience

Back in April I wrote a post entitled Adam and Eve: Is Gan Eden Really Our Goal? I argued that the planting of the two trees inside the garden and the subsequent eating of the Etz HaDa'at Tov u'Ra was equal to the choosing of knowledge over life. And thus when God expels Adam and Chava from the garden they are forced to remember how tough life is an eternal remembrance of that choice.

I'd like to revisit that discussion.
God purposely planted the Paradise for man, who was called upon to cultivate and guard it. Man is encouraged to build, to plant, to beautify his life, to enjoy his life as much as he can. 'And the Lord God planted a garden eastward, in Eden, and there He placed man whom He had formed; and the Lord God made grow out of the ground every tree delightful to the eye and good for food...' (Gen. 2:8-9). But two horrible fears haunt man steadily, trailing him like an everlasting shadow: the fear of nihility, of nonbeing - death - and the fear of ignorance. Man wants to live and to know. He is eager to lead an intelligent, enlightened, inextinguishable existence. His greatest aspiration, his most fascinating dream is to defeat death and to grasp the mysterium magnum, the great mystery of creation. God did plant the garden with trees pleasant to look at and delightful as far as taste is concerned. And in the middle of the garden grew the two mysterious trees representing the two basic aspirations of man: to live and to know. Yes, God planted the garden in Eden in order to place there the man whom He formed, for man is entitled to desire, to quest, to long for and be fascinated by something great and wonderful - immortality and omniscience.

Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik Family Redeemed p. 10-11
The Rav would have likely amended my conclusion by stating that God was punishing Adam and Eve not because she ate of the tree - it was only a manifestation of the desire for immortality and omniscience - but rather because she chose one of those desires over the other. We live in a world where immortality is out of our reach, we will never be able to find that "Fountain of Youth" to give us immortality. Likewise, we will never be omniscient. Despite our best efforts to record all of human intelligence - as the encyclopedia was originally intended by the French after the French Revolution of 1789 and wikipedia - we will never be omniscient.

An interesting side point: How does this fit in with the Rambam? Rambam realized that there can never again be the combination of immortality and omniscience as there was in Gan Eden. In describing Olam HaBa he speaks about the immortality of the mind because - well for one thing, his Aristotelian foundation - but also because he cannot fathom that Gan Eden was anything more than a dream. I believe that the Rambam would argue - not that creation did not happen - but rather that Gan Eden was not the earth that we understand. It was not a physical place, you cannot go to the spot where it was. Omniscience, by definition for the Rambam, excludes a physical body because God is omniscient and if/when people become omniscient we cannot have a body either.

I'd like to point out that I don't believe that the Rambam would suggest that the human mind could, in Olam HaBa, achieve the same omniscience that God has, but rather that during our lives we strive for that goal. We do everything we can to achieve that omniscience because we have an eternal desire for what was lost in Gan Eden - immortality and omniscience.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Hasidic Police Officer Joel Witriol

I'm sure many of you have heard that NYPD graduated its first Hasidic Police Officer, Joel Witriol, this past month. I, like many of you, read about it - said "cool" - and moved on to more important stories than your run-of-the-mill human interest story. That was until New Years Eve.

As my sister and I were traveling to a concert at Radio City Music Hall (great place to see a show), we got off the C line at 50th and 8th Ave. It turns out that 50th was blocked off and the Police there told us to walk to 52nd and cross. At 51st we over heard the Officer telling people that only those with tickets could cross. I didn't know what tickets they wanted, but we had two so I flashed them and through the barricade we went - crossing 5 more until we came to 6th Ave.

As we crossed the barricade I noticed that the Police Officer standing next to me had peot tucked behind his ears. I glanced quickly to see the name tag and it read "Witriol". I told Bethany (my sister) to wait a minute as I got inline to speak to him. Finally my time came.

He noticed my kippah, but didn't mention anything. I asked him if he had just graduated - he responded yes - then I said "You're the one that I read about in the papers?" "Yes". "Awesome, great job." To which he said "Thanks". And I walked away.

I really should have mentioned how great of a Kiddush Hashem he was doing and that despite the fact that many people disaprove of his profession there are those of us frum yidden who care. I didn't know at the time that it was his first duty assignment either - he looked spiffy in his brand new Police uniform and (blue PO) hat.

Joel, wherever you are, sh'koyach and keep up the good work.