Judaism without Borders? Or Judaism without Boundaries?

blended-frappes-1-400-877401011Over the past several years, we have seen quite a number of Jewish or pseudo-Jewish practices picked up by non-Jews. While this isn’t exactly a novel occurrence – Christians sort of invented it with the creation of their new religion not quite two millenia ago, and Christian “Passover seders” of various sorts have been going on for some number of decades- it’s worth considering how Jews should react to the “democratization” of Jewish practices.

Whether it’s the pseudo-Jewish kabbalah center (whose practices misrepresent kabbalah quite a huge amount) and its superstitious practices, or Justin Bieber saying the Shema before concerts, we can expect to see more of this kind of thing.

To a certain extent, a certain amount of syncretism is inevitable. We live in a culture that views religion through a Christian outlook – quite different than Judaism’s: Judaism views religion as a system of practices, and primarily through a lens of communal practice for communal relationship,and salvation, insofar as Jews think about it, is a communal salvation. Christianity, on the other hand, views religion as primarily a belief-focused system (which is not to say that it doesn’t have behavioral expectation, merely that behavior is the result of belief; in Judaism belief is necessary, but what one must believe is fairly limited: one must believe in one, undivided, disembodied God, who has never been and never will be embodied, also one must believe in some kind of reward and punishment system after death, details unspecified. That’s it. All the rest is what you do: go and learn) and salvation is individual. There’s a lot we could talk about here, in terms of how Jewish behavior and practices have been affected by the culture, but let’s save that for another time, shall we?

The main point is that in a fairly philo-semitic culture, one in which religious affiliation has become extremely transient, and the average person changes affiliation at least once or twice over a lifetime, AND which is full of seekers, AND which views religious discipline as fairly boring, and spiritual fulfillment as something which is not entirely dissimilar from any other kind of consumable, it would be very surprising indeed if we did not see people experimenting with bits and pieces of various religious practices and attempting to grant them on piecemeal to create their own personal spiritual practice.

I already know – before I get a rash of comments saying so- that whatever I say about it here will have no effect on what people do. Jews aren’t the only ones who have to suffer through this – Native Americans, and (subcontinental) Indians do as well (want to buy a dreamcatcher, or maybe some nice bindi?)not to mention a whole host of other religions of various stripes.

To begin with, maybe it’s worthwhile to look at this from the other end, Jewish syncretism.

Jewish tradition tells us, (Pirke Avot,Chapter 4, Mishna 1)

“Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all people, as it is said: ‘From all those who taught me I gained understanding’ (Psalms 119:99). Who is strong? He who conquers his evil inclination, as it is said: ‘Better is one slow to anger than a strong man, and one who rules over his spirit than a conqueror of a city’ (Proverbs 16:32). Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot, as it is said: ‘When you eat the toil of your hands you are fortunate and it is good for you’ (Psalms 128:2). ‘You are fortunate’ — in this world; ‘and it is good for you’ — in the World to Come. Who is honored? He who honors others, as it is said: ‘For those who honor Me will I honor, and those who scorn Me will be degraded’ (I Samuel 2:30).”

In terms of”borrowing” from other traditions, I take this mishna as telling us a couple of things: First that it is fine to be aware of what other people do in the search for God and spirituality, and when it isn’t inimical to Jewish tradition, that it’s fine to use techniques that others have developed before us. Even within the Jewish tradition there are many ways to approach God, and some of them have been developed from seeing cultures around us use their own methods, and then using that kernel to develop a technique that works for Judaism.

In using techniques from other traditions as part of Judaism, the techniques need to be adapted – something that only happens over a long time- before they work, in the context of Judaism. More importantly, notice what I haven’t talked about: importing wholesale rituals. Using techniques – meditation, song, additional restrictions on diet, etc- from other traditions, can over time, be brought into a generous spiritual practice fruitfully. But bringing in a specific ritual is unlikely to be a good idea: spiritual practices develop as part of whole disciplines, and one can’t just take out a piece and expect it to help connect you to the universe.

Which is why learning from others isn’t the only thing the Mishna talks about: it also warns us that we need to respect what we already have – until one actually has some decent knowledge of one’s own traditions, running after others isn’t going to be spiritually enriching, at least not in the long term. For one thing, taking bits and pieces out of context from other traditions denudes them of their power. Rituals – in all traditions, as well as Judaism- grow up in a holistic context. They are part of a system, and without the system, the pieces are merely magic, or even worse, products. Any spiritual practice requires discipline – doing things over and over, including things that might be difficult, or boring, until the parts come together to make you whole.

American culture has the unfortunate tendency to view everything as a product. If you spend your money, you should get something for it – and everything is for sale.

Buy a dreamcatcher, presto, you’re a Native American Shaman (never mind that there are hundreds of nations each with their own traditions), buy some incense and beads, viola, you’re a Hindu guru. But The hundreds of Native American traditions, Hindu spiritual practices, Voudoun, or whatever other religion- aren’t products, and it’s not enough to think that they’re cool to get results from them.

Many Jews have decided that their own tradition is boring and needs to be tarted up with a little magic paint, but what they’re missing is two things: first, that they probably don’t actually know that much about their own tradition, and their decision that it’s boring is a little premature.
When I was in college, I spent a lot of time thinking that Judaism needed to be rewritten here and there. I had the good luck that my temperament led me to do a lot of reading while I was busy working on this project. As I came to learn more about the extraordinary variety, various threads of tradition and how they work together, the tensions and richness of the incredible numbers of texts and commentaries that there are in Judaism, I came to see more and more that there was so much already there, that borrowing and changing from the outside wasn’t really a project that needed to happen -sure, no tradition is perfect, but the seeds of renewal are already inside Judaism.
Second, that simply dropping your own traditions to go haring off after someone else’s doesn’t solve your problem: that you bring you with you. Spirituality isn’t magic, and anyone who tells you that you can just run your finger over a string of letters and you’ll be protected from harm is a charlatan, who may understand the desire that people have for easy answer and not putting much effort into something, but does not understand God.

Finally, the last part of the mishna offers, “Who is honored? He who honors others.” The final thing is that we should honor the traditions of others. But using them without understanding their place in the system they come from is not honor. To the contrary, it’s essentially telling the followers of that practice that their spiritual system is just a grocery store for you- you can go in, pick out what you like, and buy it and leave.
“Honor” is to respect that different religions have spiritual meaning, and to learn from them and honor them means to let those who are deeply embedded in them tell us their experience, explain their systems and meanings, and when invited, to participate as a guest. Each tradition may have things to tell us about the way the world works, or should work.

When I think of what wisdom Judaism can bring to people who are not Jews, I think of teaching, for example, Jewish textual traditions on how workers and employers are obligated to one another: In Jewish terms, mitzvot, obligations to other people, delineated carefully and thoroughly are spiritual practices just as much as lighting candles on Friday night, or praying in a minyan (group of ten Jewish adults). There are many kinds of things that Judaism can offer as learning to others without having them say the Shema. Respect and honor -for those who are interested in Judaism, but are not interested in being Jews- would be to learn about Judaism – perhaps attend a seder, but attending a seder is different than a non-Jew having a seder and attaching their own meaning to the event. Seders and the Shema are Jewish practices, not Jewish techniques.

Now, I don’t think that Justin Bieber is a bad kid – in fact, I think it’s sweet that he respects his manager enough to pay attention to the fact that he has a different religion, and to try to take some of it on. In my opinion, what he’s doing is slightly different than some of the other reported celebrity syncretism that we hear about: Bieber does not appear to be seeking anything – he just wants to find some religious common ground. Nevertheless, while his motivation is purely sweet, I’m not sure that the way he’s found to carry it out is a respectful one (unintentionally, I’m sure). For millenia, Jews have said the Shema not only as part of our daily prayer, but also in bad times, while being tortured or killed by people who were trying to force us to accept other religions. For a non-Jew to take on saying this prayer that declares the unity of God (by a practitioner of a religion that holds that God is not a unity, but a trinity) is problematic, and I can’t say that I’m comfortable with it.

If non-Jews want to learn from Judaism, the same thing applies to non-Jews as to Jews looking to enrich their own experience – first of all, learn your own tradition better – you may find that it has what you are looking for within it already. Judaism tells us that the righteous of all nations have place in the World to Come, QED.

Secondly, if you still want to honor Judaism, or use it in some way in your own practice, borrow the techniques, not the rituals: learn about the Jewish idea of obligation as spirituality, think about how Judaism uses mitzvot, obligations, to make every (allowable) mundane thing you can do holy – there’s a blessing for not just eating, but for elimination of waste (do I have to elaborate here?) -think about that! (Almost) anything can be made holy. The idea of separation- I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. (Justin, if you want something to do to include your manager during your prayers, or something you could do together, perhaps you could make a short prayer that isn’t the shema, but which declares that you wish for all people to respect one another in their love for God).

Ultimately, while, I’m sure that people will go on borrowing practices whether I think it’s a good idea or not, I would encourage people to think harder about what they are doing. Spirituality isn’t there to make you feel good. In fact, sometimes it’s there to make you feel bad. Doing someone’s religious practice because it looks cool, is probably not a good way to develop spiritually. Religion is not a consumable, and you can’t buy it. It is work, and you have to be committed to it.

Heh, let the flames begin.

XP to Kol Ra’ash Gadol

21 Responses to “Judaism without Borders? Or Judaism without Boundaries?”

  1. Christianity is not so much a ‘child’ of Judaism, as the sibling of Rabbinic Judaism, which only became real after the fall of the second temple. Both of these are children of temple-cult Judaism, and both differ from that one in several key ways. We can reject the doctrine of superseccionism (sp) which says that xians are the new Jews, without denying a much closer link than is usually taught.

    By the same token, look at how the Christian practice of Spiritual Direction has infiltrated Reconstructionism, Renewal and other parts of the Jewish world, how the largely ‘tribal’ values of older generations are being replaced with largely ‘universal’ values of younger cohorts, and the de-emphasis on Jews as blood in favor of softer boundaries that include Chinese babies, converts, non-converted family members, and patrimonial descent.

    I for one welcome the slow dissolve of old school Jewish identity into the American multi-culti soup. It provides endless opportunities for Jack Black style hipster sneering at the lameness of the outer circles of wannabes who lack that trufan status. That is our Ray of Light….

    Victor? Justin? This is your cue!


    Jew Guevara · April 7th, 2011 at 10:58 am
  2. well, and spiritual direction is definitely a technique, and not a ritual. I however would be sad to see multi-culti soup. You know what happens when you just dump everything in a pot and cook until it’s mush? Well, it isn’t very tasty.


    Kol Ra'ash Gadol · April 7th, 2011 at 11:39 am
  3. Heh, here comes the anti-flame post.

    While I don’t agree with you about the role/definition of “spirituality,” I certainly won’t flame you for such a difference in opinion.

    In fact, I respect and admire your willingness to express a discomfort with people mixing/matching spiritual practices as though they are items on a buffet table. It does smack of consumerism to a degree.

    Personally, I believe that spiritual practices can both “make you feel good” and enhance/deepen one’s spiritual sensibilities. And such practices can come from outside one’s inherited cultural/religious background and be used both seriously and effectively.


    David EHG · April 7th, 2011 at 12:37 pm
  4. First, I commend KRG for a thought-provoking article. Second, Justin Bieber says the Shema, out of respect for his manager? That’s weird. I’m fairly nonplussed on the matter, and intend to continue my day as planned, without punching any mirrors. I think, in general, having non-Jews acknowledge G-d’s Oneness, Kingship and Sovereignty – surely Bieber doesn’t read the entire Shema, right? – is a good thing. A traditional Jewish response would be to ignore the matter, before someone accuses us of murdering a baby that died of typhoid and launches a pogrom to steal our cattle and rape our women.

    KRG, I want you to consider something. One of the main themes throughout your article is that Judaism and its rituals are not a commodity used to scratch a spiritual itch, though they are often used as such (by Jews and non-Jews). At the same time, you seem to be saying that, taken holistically, Judaism is very much a type of product, or as you put it, brilliantly, a consumable (a desired exhaustible that needs replenishment). Your only caveat is that Judaism must be taken holistically in order “to work”, as such.

    So, yes, I could use my computer to play solitaire, but that probably isn’t very fulfilling in the long term. I’m just taking the bits and pieces I find interesting, without understanding the full value of the thing. What I should do is take a class on computers, or perhaps a series of classes on computer science, system architecture, etc., and I’ll come away with a real understanding of how to use a computer properly – all the right “techniques” – in a way that transforms my life.

    I find something problematic with this approach. You’re still treating yiddishkeit as a product consumed to resolve some issue – in this case, a need to “develop spiritually”.

    That’s really putting the cart before the horse. I think the more important question is, do I even need to develop spiritually? Why? Because someone important said it’s a good thing to do? Because it makes me more interesting at dinner parties? Because it makes me feel superior to people who aren’t? Am I just bored with myself? Nothing more to talk about on twitter? Is spirituality my fashion accessory, my identity enhancer?

    It sounds like a snake oil salesman out-competing the other snake-oil salesmen. Judaism isn’t magic, you’re saying – a quick fix, a “getting something for nothing” – but if you put in the time and effort, if you give something, you can get something. Why do I want to get anything?


    Victor · April 7th, 2011 at 1:05 pm
  5. @Victor,
    While overall, I’ll take your critique, I don’t think I said that the purpose of Judaism is to develop spiritually -if I did, I didn’t mean to – my goal was to remain agnostic as to what Judaism “is for,” in terms of this post, anyway.

    I don’t think I like the computer analogy, just because I believe that there is something primal about having a relationship with God, and there is nothing essential whatsoever about using a computer, despite the discomfort it causes many of us (including me) to do without one for even ten minutes (although I have to admit, I don’t so much notice it on Shabbat; I’m too busy to bother with the stuff I can’t do).

    As far as “getting” anything… well, that’s human nature, partly, but I don’t think that we have to be too specific. It could be that Judaism “is for” us to develop a relationship with God, to fulfuill a mission in this world, to develop us spiritually ) which can sometimes mean living through boredom or pain or discomfort) – I don’t know that any of those are the same as “getting” something.

    After all, people fall in love all the time, and there are good ways to be in relationship and bad ways, and it often makes us feel good, but there are also things we have to learn to compromise on, rules to follow (i.e. don’t commit adultery), and sometimes it’s boring and you’ve got to get through it (for that matter any relationship can be described this way if you live the other person – my kid is sometimes very obsessive about his lego when I’d really rather just read a book, but I still get down on the floor and play with him, because that’s what has to be done). But does that mean a relationship is “for” something?


    KRG · April 7th, 2011 at 1:49 pm
  6. why are hating. Why the need to just criticize and point fingers elsewhere. With the world in complete chaos, and what christians would/should call armaghedon, shouldn’t we all be happy that any “group” of people are trying to make this world a better place, one without chaos pain and suffering?
    Religions, all, have been on the way to complete happiness for thousands of years, all religions.
    Time for peace, love, TOGETHERNESS.
    cheers


    raffi · April 7th, 2011 at 3:44 pm
  7. KRG, I understand your intention: to urge a deeper, holistic understanding of yiddishkeit and divine service. Everything you said is fine, as far as it goes, and I did not mean my comments to be a critique, but a kick in your butt, because you can do better.

    The relationship aspect you brought up in your comment is a personal fascination of mine, and is a completely different way of looking at Judaism and its rituals than I think you presented in the article. Chassidus teaches us how to categorize and think about relationships – those which are based on a “something”, and those which are based on nothing.

    In the normal way of things, when you meet a person, first you find out things to like about them – their body, their character, their intellect. Then you develop systems of personal payoff – money, status, satisfaction, companionship, personal pleasure, etc. This is the “get” the “something”, the conditions which make your affection for this individual possible. You’re not relating to who they are, but what they can do for you, and they are doing the same. Your relationship is dependent on conditions, and when those conditions end, the relationship ends.

    In contrast, there’s something that psychology calls a “primary relationship”, as between a parent and a child. The commitment to the relationship was made unconditionally, before anything to base it on. In essence, the relationship was not based on a “something”, but on nothing. Almost counter-intuitively, the more a relationship is based on nothing, the more likely it is to endure, because it was never premised on a set of conditions which are liable to change.

    You know how whenever someone is convicted of some terrible crime – cold blooded murder, let’s say – the media interviews the parents? What do the parents always tell us, without fail? “He’s such a good boy. He never meant to hurt anyone.” But your son is a murderer who certainly disappointed whatever expectations for his life you had, and will spend of the rest of his useless days in jail. How can you still love him? This is a primary relationship. It’s unconditional.

    Now let’s think about our relationship with G-d. Really, when we approach having a relationship with G-d, we can do so in two ways. First, we can “begin” a relationship. We can say, “I want to have a relationship with G-d.” And how do we have a relationship with G-d? The Torah teaches us – we learn this and do that and think about so and so. Ok, that’s one way to do it.

    Another way to think about it, is that we already have a relationship with G-d. Like your son, KRG, who may not understand those tradeoffs you make by playing with him, by loving him. In the same way, this entire time, our entire lives, we’ve been too busy playing to understand that G-d is having a relationship with us, an unconditional and loving relationship involving tradeoffs that we will never know.

    We “start” a relationship with G-d because we want something from Him – health, prosperity, but even without being so coarse, so grub, even in the most enlightened case, “spirituality”, self-actualization. These are tangible things He can give us – that “something”, that “get”, those conditions again. We’re not loving G-d, we’re loving what He can do for us.

    There’s a Chassidic saying that goes something like, there are two ways to “use” the Torah. The first is for self-help, self-improvement. The second, for self-transcendence, to let the Torah use you.

    G-d loves us unconditionally, as you loved your son before you even saw his face. He always has loved us and always will, no matter our actions. Yes, as with a father, we can disappoint Him or make Him proud, but He won’t love us more if we study Torah and learn mitzvot, or less if we don’t. He doesn’t need us the way we need Him – there’s no co-dependency in this relationship. There is nothing we can complete in Him, nothing for us to fix in Him or bribe Him with in exchange for favor.

    I could just keep writing for a while, digging deeper until I’m incomprehensible, which is how many such discussions end, so let me just back up and bring this home. Yiddishkeit is not about starting a relationship with G-d, but recognizing the relationship which was always there, and engaging in it, in the relationship, without preconditions.

    You engage in a relationship with your wife through action – from taking out the garbage to cleaning your son’s diapers. The relationship isn’t premised on you doing these things. If you stopped doing these things, your wife might be upset, disappointed, angry, but she won’t stop loving you. Doing these things comes from your desire to bring expression to the relationship, to manifest your affection in physical action.

    To a Jew, this is what Torah and mitzvot are – an expression of our relationship with G-d, a manifestation of our unconditional affection in physical action. This is why we say that “the reward of a mitzvah is the mitzvah”. The reward is our own expression of affection for G-d, our connection with Him.


    Victor · April 7th, 2011 at 3:46 pm
  8. If you stopped doing these things, your wife might be upset, disappointed, angry, but she won’t stop loving you.

    Maybe, but I wouldn’t push it for too long.


    em · April 7th, 2011 at 5:52 pm
  9. If you stopped doing these things, your wife might be upset, disappointed, angry, but she won’t stop loving you.

    To the contrary, every relationship has a deal ,and if you violate the deal, depending on how and how often, your partner will stop loving you. Adultery, or axe-murdering small children are obvious huge deal breakers, but even not taking out the trash will do it, if that’s part of the deal, you keep not doing it, and you don’t offer an awfully compelling explanation.
    I’m willing to go with the argument “God is different,” but there are different traditions on this, even in Judaism. Although I do have to say,that God does put up with an awful lot. I guess he just cain’t quit us.


    KRG · April 7th, 2011 at 6:12 pm
  10. I accept the limits and flaws of that particular analogy. Most marriages are not based on unconditional love, but are a contractual (conditional) relationship in which unconditional love may develop.


    Victor · April 7th, 2011 at 6:37 pm
  11. So, Victor, what I guess I would ask is, for most people – let’s exclude the saintly for purposes of argument- how many people would pursue a relationship with God in which there was no response, no return whatsoever, ever, at all?
    I think this is an important question, because, I think indeed, many people do feel that way. Thus the shrinking numbers of deeply engaged people – even among the engaged, many are engaged not for love of God, but for other reasons – community, seeking a better world, and so on. For many people, the hope that there is a response from God through the medium of spiritual exercises are really the only reason they can stay engaged with a broader religious project- they want the feeling of awe, wonder and connection – they yearn for it. How rare is the person who loves according the code of chivalry -and to be frank, I’m not sure that such a love is either very Jewish, or even that it’s a good thing.
    I’m not convinced that love with no condition really has anything to do with the beloved – I think it has more to do with the lover – and in that sense, is really only a different kind of conditional love. I’m glad of those people who can love everyone with no expectation, but me, I think expectations are a good thing. If I became convinced that God was evil, nothing could induce me to keep worshiping anyway – and if I did, that would make me evil too. power isn’t enough, and I think that humans should have expectations of God – we might have to argue for a while about what a valid expectation might be, but I do thik we should have them.


    KRG · April 7th, 2011 at 6:49 pm
  12. @JG

    what am I being cued for?


    Justin · April 7th, 2011 at 7:32 pm
  13. KRG, I don’t think most people think sufficiently about spirituality to even have a frame of reference for nurturing a relationship with G-d. Take the notion you just presented in which G-d does not “respond” or “return” anything to you. Look at the very inadequate terminology you’re using, which is unfortunately in wide circulation:

    If I became convinced that God was evil, nothing could induce me to keep worshiping anyway – and if I did, that would make me evil too. power isn’t enough

    Let’s think about what this means. G-d is the source of your life, the One bringing your existence into being each instant. Nothing exists outside of Him. Stop and meditate on that for an instant. Really, close your eyes and consider it. We should really study Shaar Ha’Yichud V’Emunah together.

    If G-d were to cease bringing your essence into being, you would revert to nothingness, without a trace, as if you never were, because nothingness is the natural state, and it is only G-d who can make nothing into something. No memory of you would be left. No body which to bury. No idea of you which to mourn. You wrote earlier of a “disembodied” G-d, but we need to spend some time really thinking about this concept, and G-d’s role in our existence. Your conceptualization of a “self”, an existence independent of G-d is, in chassidic terminology, folly.

    There is no such existence apart from G-d. You are less than G-d’s shadow, a reflection of fragment of light emanating from Him, infinitely muted and contracted. Your every thought, your every action, your every experience – it is not yours, it was brought about in order that you, a something created from nothing, which is really still nothing except by the constant force of G-d’s will, should think of yourself as an independent being having a thought, taking part in an action, participating in an experience – with the purpose that G-d assigned for you.

    So, in this context, what possible sense does it make to say that G-d is evil?

    In a general sense, in our faith, evil and good are not concepts left up to the arbitrary judgment of human beings. Whatever is close to the source of your life, to the source nourishing our existence, EVERYONE’S and EVERYTHING’S existence, to the G-dhead, to use an archaic term, is good. Whatever is distant from Him, which denies His unity and Oneness, which sees itself as independent from Him, is evil.

    Some seem to conceptualize G-d the way they conceptualize a human ruler – as someone who can exercise power. But this is nonsensical. There is no “power” outside of G-d – time, space, energy, matter, love, hatred… every concept you cherish and abhor is a creation, a permutation of G-dliness in the physical world, which only has meaning because He brings it into being.

    Look, these are lofty concepts that aren’t for everyone. Most people who are interested in learning them are those who can’t but feel something missing in their lives, a type of pain, a sensitivity, a distance from truth and essence. I haven’t met a person who hasn’t felt it yet, but we do a great job hiding it, masking it, learning to become numb with twitter and iphones and red kaballah bracelets. And this knowledge doesn’t help, but only structures the loss, organizes it, makes you more sensitive, provides a way to find meaning which isn’t based on emptiness.

    So, yes, there is a system of reward and punishment within the blueprint of existence, the Torah. The misnagdim are really into it, the earning of schar, heavenly reward, G-d’s brownie points. Chassidim do not emphasize this approach.

    Action is the main thing. If people want to receive a reward for their good deeds – whether that reward is physical or spiritual – well, that’s fine. There is a level, however, at which this reward system is disengaged from spirituality, retasked with self-gratification (even self-glorification) and chained to the boundaries of human intellect. This disengagement is not a modern invention, and it is not conducive to spirituality, but in conflict with it.

    The only way I have found to approach truth is by approaching truth. Other traditions have their way to do this, and our tradition has ours, and it is more rich, textured, nuanced and esoteric than anything else I have ever learned. Sometimes I read modern philosophy – deep thinkers struggling with impossible, existential conflicts, an inside I am burning up, wanting to shake them.

    Have you ever read two hundred pages trying to describe the purpose and function of the animal soul, without calling it “the animal soul”? It’s like watching someone grope and stumble around in the dark. I WANT TO TEAR MY HAIR OUT, THEY”RE SO CLOSE! And why? Why need they do this when the knowledge is right there, “near to you that you may do it”, that even I, some country bumpkin, with a few years of learning can run rings around lifelong thinkers.

    But there is no way around it, at least that I’ve found. He who desires truth, essence, spirituality, come learn chassidus.


    Victor · April 7th, 2011 at 8:07 pm
  14. I didn’t answer your question. Let me try again.

    So, Victor, what I guess I would ask is, for most people… how many people would pursue a relationship with God in which there was no response, no return whatsoever, ever, at all?

    This is what I was trying to get to in my initial response to you. There is an inherent problem with structuring a relationship with G-d based on what He can do for you. That problem is, that He might not do it.

    If your relationship with G-d is conditioned on you earning a nice paycheck, being at the head of a healthy and happy family, a rewarding marriage, that’s great, thank G-d! But what happens when someone loses their job, or the health of their family is negatively impacted, G-d forbid? Does G-d not like you anymore? Does G-d hate you, and therefore you should hate Him?

    This is a very problematic (and unsustainable) approach to building a relationship with G-d, for the reasons that I talked about earlier. Relationships which are conditional will end when the conditions which made them possible end. If you tell someone that they should worship G-d in order that they be happy, and they end up not happy, their reason for worshiping G-d ends. This is not the Jewish way.

    Our tradition teaches to pursue a relationship with G-d regardless of what happens, for the reasons I specified earlier – there is no other god to go to, there is only Him. We can pretend He doesn’t exist, we can try to hurt Him, to punish Him “for what he did to me” by not serving Him, but this doesn’t change our reality, which is that there is only G-d. There is no one else for us to appeal to or to serve, except vanity and nothingness.

    Can we be angry with G-d? Can we be furious with G-d? Can we express our outrage at what He has done? Yes. Emphatically, YES! We are INSTRUCTED to do so, to TELL HIM what is on our mind, to convince him to change His will for our sake. That’s what a real relationship is, a commitment which underlies EVERYTHING, which is beyond amendment or question. There is no event, no calamity, no betrayal capable of breaking the essential bond which ties us up with Him.

    If this is how we structure our relationship with Him, unconditionally, then it will never falter.


    Victor · April 7th, 2011 at 9:01 pm
  15. Let’s bring this down some more. What are some of the reasons why Jews disengage from Jewish observance? I would list what I think are the reasons, but since I’m not such a Jew, I don’t want to be a presumptuous ass.


    Victor · April 7th, 2011 at 9:11 pm
  16. @Justin – sorry. Nothing to do with you.


    Jew Guevara · April 8th, 2011 at 5:07 am
  17. This Passover, let’s take seriously the idea of “service”–not necessarily in terms of worship or ritual, but in terms of acting with humility, of playing by the rules and treating others with respect, and of acknowledging the limits of our humanity in the face of God’s .Let’s practice our religion as we want to , walk in the streets wearing freely our knitted kippotand not being afraid of any anti-Semitic activists.I don’t feel that we have to apologize for anything. I am a proud Israeli who happens also to be a jew!


    Zaramart · April 11th, 2011 at 3:15 am
  18. If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.May God bless the land and the people of Israel with health, with happiness, with prosperity, and yes, with peace so that the day will come when our sons won’t have to go to war and those living outside of our country will come without fear and find out what Israel is actually like.Our goal should be to get 2 million people who care out on the street and if half of them wear kippotthan be it.


    Zaramart · April 11th, 2011 at 3:35 am
  19. Tornadoes, flooding, forest fires, runaway inflation, massive foreclosures, food shortages, record unemployment and gay marriage; aside from the fact that we are at war for our very survival against unseen enemies who are plotting who knows what. We have weather woes, fiscal firestorms and a public character plunging into moral chaos, while we worry about terrorists being among the thousands of illegal aliens pouring across the Mexican border every day; perhaps this is the perfect storm. America, the society that G-d has blessed with more power and wealth than the world has ever known, is facing enormous challenges on all fronts. Yet most of us seem to be living our lives still intact, thank G-d, so we need to look at all these unfortunate circumstances as a series of warnings. If you would ask what these warnings are about, take your pick. We have a social order that has clear distinctions between moral and legal. Immorality can be legal and the police can arrest people for doing the right thing. That is very different from living a Torah life where morality is the law.


    Moshe Sharon · April 13th, 2011 at 1:25 pm
  20. Moshe Sharon writes:
    Tornadoes, flooding, forest fires, runaway inflation, massive foreclosures, food shortages, record unemployment and gay marriage

    One of these things is not like the others…


    BZ · April 13th, 2011 at 3:59 pm
  21. OK, get back on topic everyone, please. Or I’ll have to make you eat matzah and won’t let you have any prunes.


    KRG · April 13th, 2011 at 8:04 pm

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik