In 1996 I was working for the International Center for Peace in the Middle East, a now defunct NGO based in Tel Aviv. One of the things it did was lead trips of various sorts in Israel and the Occupied Territories. For example, a trip with loads of journalists from the Arab world (Morocco, Jordan), Israel, Palestine and other countries – and a smattering of diplomats. I was a coordinator of the trip, though my main function was fundraising.
So there I was on a bus in Jerusalem, at the height of the imploding peace process. Rabin had already been assassinated, and Hamas was pushing back against both Arafat and Peres with suicide bombers. Anyway, it was March 4th and a suicide bomber detonated himself at Dizengoff Center, on a cross walk, It was Purim evening, just before 4pm, which was pretty close to the time that my daughter Esther was to be picked up from her pre-K childcare situation, over on King George Street. Right by the corner of Dizengoff, you know – right by Dizengoff Center.
We are all on the nice tourist bus in Jerusalem, listening to the radio describe what is known about the latest bombing. Multiple victims. Many children. And of course the cell phone towers couldn’t handle the traffic spike, so it wasn’t possible for me to call my Esther’s mom and find out if she is safe. Traffic gridlocked from one minute to the next. And right then, in front of all the diplomats and Arab journalists, I lost it and began crying hysterically as the entire bus retreated into silence, that is, except for the radio which continued to speculate on the number of casualties.
That was the last time I can credibly say that I’ve ‘lost it’ and I can’t help but hope that my capacity to do so is gone forever. FYI my daughter was unharmed and pretty far away from what happened.
Let me go out on a limb and say that all of us have different ways of dealing with traumatic events. I spent a few hours today coming up with funny/tasteless one liners (“they hate us for our Nikes”).
Living in New York City, I bet there are lots of folks who experienced what I did back on 9/11. And a few more who went through that today, in Boston. The world being what it is, you can count on the number of folks with this type of experience to increase over time, even in the United States. And if I could speak to all of those folks at one time, I’d ask them if they have any tasteless jokes about what happened today.
This thing we humans do, to look on a tableau of death and suffering and find that one thing that makes us laugh or snark – that’s a precious thing. Don’t feel like it has to die as well. At a time like this, it might be laughter or falling apart. That not a choice we can make for anyone but ourselves.
The NY Times recently published an article about an unusual public apology by Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, a prominent psychiatrist. In the early 1970’s, Dr. Spitzer was instrumental in the American Psychological Association’s decision to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder. Much later in his career, he interviewed individuals who were undergoing reparative therapy intended to change their sexual orientation, and published a 2003 article concluding that reparative therapy could change sexual attraction in individuals who were highly motivated to change. Although this article was published in a peer reviewed journal, due to his prestige, instead of actually undergoing peer review, the article was published without review alongside commentaries critical of his methodology and his interpretation of the evidence presented. Spitzer has come to agree with the critics of this work, publicly declared that his conclusions were wrong–giving detailed explanations of why these conclusions were wrong, and apologized to those who underwent reparative therapy based on the prestige and credibility he lent to such treatments. You can read more about this in The NY Times article.
So what does this have to do with Judaism? In 2006, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) of the Conservative Movement voted on several respona regarding homosexuality and Judaism. Much was written at the time about the fact that conflicting respona each received sufficient votes to be considered acceptable interpretations of halacha. The Dorff, Nevins, and Reisner Responum narrowed prohibited behaviors sufficiently to open a path to homosexual Jewish marriage and ordination. Two others, the Roth Responsum, and the Levy Responsum, concluded instead that homosexual Jewish marriage and ordination were not compatible with halacha. The Levy Responsum uniquely claimed that reparative therapy to change sexual orientation could be effective, explicitly suggested such therapy as an option for adults unable to have opposite-sex relationships, and also implied that such therapy should be suggested to teenagers.
This is my favorite page on Wikipedia.
It’s a called List of Cognitive Biases, and besides showing what a nerd I am, it basically maps out all the ways in which our brain, on a daily basis, screws up how we perceive the world. These aren’t vague ideas, or suggestions – for the most part, they’re laboratory-tested, easily repeatable things that all of our brains do wrong. Some of them are familiar: the Gambler’s Fallacy (“If I just got three heads in a row, the next flip MUST be tails!”); Hindsight Bias (“Oh, yeah, I KNEW she was going to do that.”); and, getting into sinister territory, the Just-World Hypothesis (“Wow, look at that prisoner. He must’ve done something AWFUL! Fuck him.”).
There are well over a hundred of these biases, just listed on the one Wikipedia page; and, as amazing as it is to go through that page and just “click!” “Oh, I do that!” “click!” “Oh my God, that too!” it’s still a tiny amount. We’re juuuuuust starting to understand ourselves. Philosophers posited the atom in India and Greece in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, and the physical world has been studied for as long as we’ve been a species, if not longer. But the social survey didn’t exist until around the 1000′s; many people consider the 14th-century Arab Islamic scholar Ibn Khaldun as the first sociologist; and the term sociology wasn’t even defined until 1780, in an unpublished manuscript by French essayist Emmanuel-Joseph Saiyes.
Our very own Sigismund Schlomo Freud didn’t start hypothesizing about what makes individual human beings tick until the late 1800s, and the first social psychology experiment, fusing the social with the psychological, wasn’t published until 1898, when Nathan Triplett wrote down his findings of Social Facilitation, the idea that people do better on simple tasks with other people around. The machine gun, the telephone, the automobile and aspirin are all older than the scientific field of social psychology.
Recently there has been a little buzz about the not-really-so-new ideas at Kohenet, the Hebrew Priestess Institute (founded in 2006), which was founded Holly Shere, a folklorist, and Jill Hammer, a JTS ordinee and her co-director. Tablet ran a short article about it, reasonably even-handedly attempting to explain what they are and do.
The responses in the article, from Rabbi Daniel Nevins, dean of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s rabbinical school,“I don’t see how Kohenet, to judge from its website, is compatible with Jewish belief and practice,” and from Rabbi Moshe Tendler, a dean of the seminary at Yeshiva University, are, respectively, accurate and a bit over the top. Nevertheless, they both really miss the point anyway.
Upon setting out to write this dvar Torah, I had grand visions of talking about the halakhic status of coed toilets. If a woman is ritually unclean, how can other members of her family use the same toilet, for example?
There was going to be a blow-out Foucauldian analysis of the halakhic sources, followed by a lengthy exegesis on Melanie Klein’s partial object; Kohut’s narcissistic transference, and Freud’s paranoia “syllogism” as taken up by Lacan. And then the ground-breaking revelation that we have been/are currently/always will be sinning.
It was going to be fabulous.
Perhaps fortunately for you, Masechet Niddah, Masechet Khullin, and Masechet Keilim (11:2) took me to school. Once again. We can use the same toilet as someone who is ritually unclean because the toilet is “מחובר לקרקע” (it is connected to the ground)—this is the loophole. (For those following at home, this is the same term used in reference to mikvaot, or ritual bath pools.) Furthermore, I learned that in our times–i.e. post-Temple times–we are all tamei met already, and thus this is a non-issue.
Now that we’re all breathing comfortably…
I will tell you, instead, about how I first learned about sex. (What does this have to do with tazria metzorah, you ask? Just wait. You’ll see.) More »
“The main time King David secluded himself with God was at night, under his covers in bed. Hidden from the sight of all others, he would pour his heart out before God. This is the meaning of the verse; ‘I speak every night on my bed in tears’ (Tehillim: 6:7).” –Rebbe Nahman of Breslov
Borei Hoshech is a new blog that aims to explore the intersection of Jewish liturgy and depression, mental illness, and hard emotions.
It’s just getting started, but there’s some lovely stuff up there already, and has the potential to be a valuable resource in a number of different ways. The first post sets up the framework quite nicely:
…Since I was very young, [prayer] served as a safe space—for a time, the only safe space—in which to feel a full range of emotions, from the most terrifying to the most deeply comforting. Prayer was where I could let down my guard; let down my walls; let down my iron-clad boundaries; open my Pandora’s box of sadness, yearning, and tears. Prayer is where I was able to be alone with God and free from the insistent voices of family, society, school, and work. Prayer was where I could stop and listen to myself–to my wants and needs, but also to my feelings of gratitude and thanksgiving. Prayer was where I could focus. Prayer was a place where I could go when I couldn’t focus.
Through this blog, I hope to learn more about what the use of tefillah [prayer] as a staging ground for experiencing emotions and for working out the primal relationship with God has meant and means to me and to classical Jewish commentaries on the siddur [prayer book].
I also expect to learn a tremendous amount from the experiences and reflections of future commenters and collaborators about how they experience the intersection between their religious and inner emotional lives. I expect to hear similarities to my experience, but also hope to hear of very different experiences.
The blog is here, and it welcomes submissions–contact info can be found on the website.
(translated from the Yiddish by Sol Liptzin)
A Jew of my acquaintance sat down near me in a Warsaw park and asked me why I was so sad.
“Graetz is dead,” I answered.
“God’s will!” said my acquaintance. “One of our townsfolk, I suppose?”
This question, which 90 percent of the Jews would have asked in his place, is a measure of the abyss into whichÂ we have fallen…
When I informed my neighbor that Graetz was an historian who wrote the history of the Jewish people, he commented:
“Oh, history!” His voice had the same ring as if he were told that somebody had just eaten a dozen hard-boiled eggs at one time.
Just as I was about to get angry, he continued very naively:
“And what’s the use of history?”
Kalman Kaplan, a visiting lecturer and Fulbright Scholar in the department of psychology at Tel Aviv University, provides an interesting analysis of ancient Hebrew philosophy and psychology in contrast to that of the ancient Greeks, in an essay over at the Jewish United Fund of Chicago’s website:
Freedom is a central and fundamental idea in the literature and thought of both the ancient Greeks and Hebrews. But the way in which the two cultures understand and deal with freedom is very different.
To the Greeks, freedom is a struggle against the control of others and an effort to establish some sense of control over one’s own life. The highest form of control over one’s self is the freedom to decide whether to continue to live or to die; i.e., suicide.
Biblical thought, in contrast, sees freedom as a central feature of the foundation legends, and the issue of control is resolved in a direct manner. Freedom can be achieved only by accepting the realities of man’s relationship with God.
This sets the stage for a striking psychological contrast. For Greeks and Romans, suicide represents a very high form of creativity. In biblical thought, life itself is the essence of creativity and suicide only destroys this opportunity.
I just got back from the Matisyahu concert in Boston. Like, the I’m still sweaty kind of just got back. I am totally blown away. And not necessarily by what you might think.
I felt a little weird going tonight because of the whole Jdub break. But I’m pulled to any places that have some twinkle of reaching upward. So tonight I left my history paper on second Temple period apocalypticism and ventured over to Lansdowne St in Boston.
I witnessed a deeply puzzling phenomenon: the Pseudo-Jew.
Walking into the Avalon ballroom, first thing I noticed was this was not your Moshav Band crowd. This was not Jewish hippies. There were few kippot and lots of pointy-toed shoes and frat t-shirts. That “us-ness,” that camaraderie I feel at Jewish gatherings, was distinctly absent. Because what creates a collective is a shared understanding of what you are participating in. I expected people to not quite get it, many to not be Jewish, but I was disappointed by the depth of it. It’s one thing not to know how to sing along to “yibaneh beis hamikdash, bimheira b’yameinu.” It’s another to be freak dancing with your girlfriend to the lyrics of a song describing the Jewish people’s survival of the Holocaust.
After two experiences at the concert tonight, my question is this: what makes people pretend to be Jewish at a Matisyahu concert?
I’d like everyone to take a deep breath and listen for a minute.
The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.
And we’re doing exactly what the terrorists want.
Our politicians help the terrorists every time they use fear as a campaign tactic. The press helps every time it writes scare stories about the plot and the threat. And if we’re terrified, and we share that fear, we help. All of these actions intensify and repeat the terrorists’ actions, and increase the effects of their terror.
The implausible plots and false alarms actually hurt us in two ways. Not only do they increase the level of fear, but they also waste time and resources that could be better spent fighting the real threats and increasing actual security. I’ll bet the terrorists are laughing at us.
This piece, written by the principal of the Toronto Hebrew Academy, has been floating around the internet/blogosphere lately, and given its (sadly) timeliness and the fact that it’s one of the more productive things I’ve seen on the whole subject of gurus and power, I couldn’t not repost.
The Charismatic Teacher
by Paul Shaviv
The charismatic teacher (the â€˜Pied-Piperâ€) is one of the most difficult
situations for a Principal to deal with. A charismatic teacher will
deeply affect and influence some students â€“ but will almost always
leave a trail of emotional wreckage in is/her wake .
Charismatic teachers are often themselves deeply immature, but their
immaturity is emotional, not intellectual, and it is not always
obvious. They can be brilliant in inspiring students to go beyond their
wildest expectations, and are often regarded (by their following of
students, by parents, and by the Board or the community) as the â€˜most
importantâ€™ or â€˜bestâ€™ members of staff. There is always, however, a
price to be paid.
“Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. ‘Patriotism’ is its cult. It should hardly be necessary to say, that by ‘patriotism’ I mean that attitude which puts the own nation above humanity, above the principles of truth and justice; not the loving interest in one’s own nation, which is the concern with the nation’s spiritual as much as with its material welfare –never with its power over other nations. Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one’s country which is not part of one’s love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship.”
â€” Erich Fromm, “Psychoanalysis of Contemporary Society”