Last year, R. Art Green published a book, and R. Daniel Landes wrote a critical review of it in the Jewish Review of books. Green then responded to the review, and Landes responded to the response (on the same link). This is now Green’s next response. Underlying all of this are some interesting questions about the possibilities and limits of Jewish theology. (One could say “questions about Orthodoxy and Neo-Hasidism,” but perhaps it’s more complicated than that.) We welcome more discussion and debate on these issues, and not only from the two men involved. Green’s next letter is below.
Let’ s continue this public conversation, which is not over, in a face-to-face second person form, without the barrier of an intervening magazine. Internet interest will provide more than sufficient readership.
I find your tone, in your latest response as well as the initial review of my Radical Judaism, to be significantly annoying, ranging between dismissive and condescending. This is particularly bothersome because you continue to distort my views, either because you have not read me carefully or because a straw-man Art Green better suits your purpose.
You distinguish my views from earlier Jewish notions of an abstract deity by saying that I “flatly deny” divine transcendence. Nothing could be farther from the truth. More »
I gave the service three and a half ballpoint pens (|||-), and said that I’d be going to Romemu the following week for Shabbat morning. To me, one of the true tests of a shul with a reputation for spirited davening is the morning after. A reputation for spirited davening usually comes from a spirited Kabbalat Shabbat, so it’s always interesting to see if a community can maintain a good morning service as well.
This can be harder to do because people have to drag themselves out of bed–and when it comes to liturgy, it’s harder to make me happy because there’s more to do on Shabbat morning than on erev Shabbat.
So I went. As I said, it was about a month ago, so my memory is a tad rusty. But I took a lot of notes while I was there and I started drafting this the day after, so I think I’ve got most of my thoughts in order. This is the first review I’ve written since I refined the Five-Ballpoint Pen Rating System. What I’m going to try to do is go through the copious notes I took first, as bullet points. Then I’ll do a more concise write-up at the end using the new rating categories. In the service notes, the section on the Torah service may be the most interesting and insightful about Romemu as a community.
Shir Yaakov, Romemu’s [musical director/insert correct title here] provided me with a copy of the song list he was using that week, so I’ll be able to provide correct [read: coherent] descriptions of the music this time.
Began with “Hareini Mekabel Alai” by Gabriel Meyer Halevi, which I think I’ve identified as being by Kirtan Rabbi once before. That was wrong, although Kirtan Rabbi does a cover of it.
There is a guy playing a cajon, Shir Yaakov is playing a djembe–though he also played guitar throughout–and a guy playing some very lovely classical guitar-type stuff.
Rabbi David Ingber, of course, is leading. He’s using a mic, which it doesn’t seem to me that he needs. He’s a loud-voiced fellow. I asked him about it later and he said he does need to keep his voice from getting destroyed every week. However, does he really need a flesh-tone pop star mic? And does he need to be so loud? And do we need a full-on sound guy in the back sitting at a control panel and everything? The whole things engenders and odd atmosphere, in my opinion.
There are, as we begin, about 20 people. They don’t fill the space at all. It feels quite empty. Ingber later told me that the previous night’s service had been one of the most packed they’d ever had. (This, mind you, was not the one I was at, which had been the previous week.)
The set-up is quite similar to B’nai Jeshurun, in that there is a rabbi leading from a podium, plenty of open space between the rows pews and the rabbi, and a semicircle of musicians behind and to the left of the rabbi.
Architecturally, the space is more similar in style to Anshei Chesed. I figure that they were probably built around the same time. Major difference: Romemu is in a church. It’s a wonderful space. If Romemu bought it from the church, they could turn it into a fantastic sanctuary for their purposes, but for now, I’m quite unsettled by the imagery around me. I’m actually a big believer in the notion that Jews ought now pray in churches. After services, I chatted with Ingber about this. He said that many in their community actually like that it’s a church. It’s a sign to many of the radical atmosphere of welcoming they want to engender at Romemu. I think you’ll all get my drift if I respond to that with an unenthusiastic “Whatever.” More »
Shaul Magid has an interesting discussion of Art Green’s new book Radical Judaismtogether with the reviews of the book, asking the question: “What does it all mean?” Here’s the punch-line:
These three reviews illustrate three levels of anxiety Jews feel about their theological future. The anxiety is not really about Green’s proposal as much as the realization that something must be done to create a theologically-relevant Judaism and no one really knows what to do. Mirsky’s questions about “survival” and the ever-present threat of the dissolution of the particular are well-placed and Green and others need to address them seriously. Wolpe’s anxiety about syncretism and the un-Jewishness of contemporary Radical Judaism is an instantiation of what I have called the paranoia of assimilation. If Judaism cannot learn to live with this syncretism, that is, with the normalization of un-Jewishness in its Judaism, it may be doomed. In America, Jews have learned to live comfortably with non-Jews in productive and mutually respectful ways. The next step may be learning to make the borders of Judaism more permeable. Landes seems to be threatened by everything that stands outside his own imaginative “Judaism.”
But you should read the whole thing here then come back and comment.
dlevy pointed out to me that our local Chabad had sent out some important words in their latest newsletter:
By divine providence this year thanksgiving coincides with the 19th of Kislev Rosh Hashana Lachasidus. Which we celebrate on Thursday night. It is time to appreciate the contributions that Chassidic teaching and living has brought to this world. So tonight say L’chaim for the inner Dimension of Torah.
Of course! How had we not realised the divine providence of Thursday night?!
So, Thursday night, don’t forget to throw a Rosh Hashanah l’chasidus party. We believe it is celebrated by giving vodka to underage undergrads. L’chaim, indeed!
Next Wednesday, July 8, I’m doing a free reading at the 92Y Tribeca with
one of my heroes. Michael Muhammad Knight wrote the Muslim punk-rock novel “The Taqwacores,” which might just be my favorite spiritual book ever. Sure, we get alterna-Jewish stuff tossed at us from every direction, but MMK started from ground zero, taking the seemingly disparate elements of punk culture and Muslim spirituality and fusing them together in a book about what matters most. (In the book, he wrote about an imaginary socio-political-art movement called Taqwacore — which, amazingly, solidified into a real movement after people read the book and were inspired to form bands. If you haven’t heard me rave about him, you don’t have to lookveryfar.
My own first novel, Never Mind the Goldbergs, was my kind of punk-rock Jewish fantasy. In it, a 17-year-old punk Orthodox Jewish girl is trying to prove to the world that it isn’t a contradiction in terms to like loud, passionate music at the same time that you like loud, passionate praying. (And then she stars on a TV sitcom, where she’s basically not allowed to be loud or passionate about anything.)
I might read some of Goldbergs and/or my memoir about becoming observant, Yom Kippur a Go-Go, as well as something new and exciting and unprepared. And then we might talk about the cultural value of revolution…
If MyJewishLearning‘s first mini-documentary, How Jews Look, caused a bit of a stir, well, this one is sure to hit home for even more people. It investigates what might be among the things both loved most fully and debated most passionately among all things Jewish in the world: food.
Featuring the frontperson of everyone’s favorite JTS-based band, JamDaven, as well as the mind behind everyone’s favorite non-kosher deli, Lansky’s…and some other good folks as well. We loved how much people had to say about the last video, and believe me, we’ve taken it to heart — and we really do want to hear what you have to say about it. So feel free to hit us up.
Yesterday afternoon, as Passover came to a close for many of us, I had the opportunity to be part of a “Ba’al Shem Tov Meal”, a Jewish ritual very different from what I’m used to. My friend ML is a 10th- or 12th-generation direct descendant ofÂ Reb Yisrael Ba’al Shem Tov, itinerant mystic and 17th-century founder of Hasidism, and as such,Â has inherited a unique practice which has been observed in her family meticulously and without fail each year: They cook exactly 31 matza balls, with one larger than the others, and sit around to hear the recitation (in Yiddish or in partial English translation) of the story of Reb YBST’s attempt to bring the Mashiach by travelling to Israel to meet The Ohr HaChaim, Rav Chaim IbnAttar, with whom he believed he shared King David’s reincarnated soul.
So about twenty of us friends of ML sat around her studio apartment, munching on Matza Lasagna, salads, and 31 matza balls sponsored by Moishe House Silver Spring, and listened to ML read her cousin’s recently completedÂ translation of the entire story. It was good times, and there was a lot of joking about the historicity of the improbable tale,Â but what struck me more than the fun, the lively company, or the food, was the devotion and persistence with which this Passover custom had been passed down through the generations. Its power was such that ML, one of my most cynical friends, could not imagine letting the last day of Pesach pass withoutÂ making a Ba’al Shem Tov Meal of her own, complete with all 31 matza balls, and an (irreverant but) attentive audience.
For the past 260 years her extended family members have gathered in their homes yearly to keep this story going, and despite its different variants (was the daughter named Udel or Adel? Was Reb Yisrael attacked by ghouls or pirates?)Â the tale is remarkably cohesive. It seems like Reb YBST was successful when he started this practice so long ago. If you could make sure your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren were telling a story about your life more than two centuries from now, what story would you want them to tell? And how would you see to it that they did?
An extremely-truncated version of the story told at the Ba’al Shem Tov Meal can be found here.
There were many times when we worried that one move too far into the mainstream, one step beyond the very traditional bounds of the Orthodox world, could bring a ban on a certain very tall Hasid. We took a lot of questions to the Bet Din at 770 and respected the answers they gave, but always, always, I had this concern. Seems in another part of “the Jewish music jungle” (Thanks frumhouse, i love that term), just such a ban has been decreed. Does anyone care? Will anyone follow it? I just find this too intriguing not to share…
Have you heard of The Big Event? If so, for the love of Hashem, write a comment and chime in. I love how the Ultra-Orthodox world can randomly swing into Madison Square Garden and it flies totally under the radar of the rest of the Jewish world. Apparently, it is/was a concert planned for March 9th featuring frum music favorites headlined by Lipa Shmeltzer. Lipa really is a King. A wedding singer and simcha entertainer, he gained prominence with his lighthearted rewrites of secular tunes as newly Kosherfied hits in both Yiddish and English. He performed at a friend’s wedding and while his “Yo Ya” was good, he really got me with version of Melanie C’s “I turn to you.” Apparently you can make it Jewish simply by adding “Hashem” before the phrase. ANYWAYS…
I’ll let the frum bloggers explain from here: Frumhouse:Basically, the current king of the Jewish music jungle, Lipa Schmeltzer, has been deemed too wild by certain factions of the orthodox community. Furthermore, these factions believe that current Jewish music has become goyified (my word, not theirs). Songs that stem from non-Jewish melodies, even if the words and taam have been changed to elevate their kiddusha, are deemed inappropriate for kosher Jewish entertainment.
This concert and future Jewish music concerts have been banned by a group of about 35 rabbanim. They also prohibit people from hiring any performer who participates in the Big Event Concert.
Lipa speaks out: I have recently started learning Bichavrusa with a leading Rosh Yeshiva, and I promised him that I will never sing any songs which were composed by non-Jews. Being true to my word, I have sang at more then a dozen Chasunaâ€™s since I made that decision – and I have not sang â€œYiddenâ€, â€œAbi-Mileibtâ€, or â€œNumaâ€ (Rabbi Nachman Mâ€™uman) or any other song that is questionable as to its origin.
The really ironic thing to me about this is many Hasidic niggunim, and most Jewish music in general, doesn’t come from exclusively Jewish sources. We are a people with a tradition of song as a vital form of expression in our lives. But with the exception of Torah cantillation as a system of musical notation and musical modes of prayer, as a Diaspora people our appropriation of the culture of our various host communities is inevitable. What makes Klezmer more Jewish than pop songs about Hanukkah? What makes pining for Hashem to the tune of a French Revolutionary War March more Kosher than pining to Hashem to the tune of an ex-Spice Girl?
Today was Shushan Purim Katan here in Jerusalem. That is, in a year with two months of Adar, the first month we don’t celebrate the full holiday, but we maybe drink a little bit, and a day later than non-walled cities.
I wanted to tell y’all about the new Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo Podcast – you can subscribe here, or click here to add the podcast to itunes.
So far, we have a special talk on R’ Shlomo Carlebach’s music with Ben Zion Solomon, probably the world’s most knowledgeable person on that topic, as well as Reb Chaim Kramer of the Breslov Research Institute giving over a teaching of Rebbe Nachman on Purim.
I had no idea the depths of Purim until recently – and these talks should help you reach the heights of the highest day of the year.
Last week, one of my teachers remarked to me before class that he’d almost had a heart attack when he looked at my facebook page, due to one of my friends wearing a bikini in her profile picture. He then picked up the theme and taught this Torah from the Mei Hashiloach (at the end of the PDF) all about Purim and nudity. Gevaldt.
Purim sameach to everyone!
(also, there’s a shiur here from Aish Kodesh in New York on Purim Katan that’s probably worthwhile)
The episode begins with an Hasidic bedeken, to the davvening sounds of yours truly. They have asked for 2 1/2 minutes of the recording from my 2nd CD “Life of the Worlds.” There is a very long chance that in the final editing last Thursday, something may have changed, but in all likelihood the song is “in.”
Daniel Burstyn, over at Sustainable Judaism, on the jumbotrons during davvening at the recent URJ Biennial:
Jumbotrons are all well and good for large gatherings of non-Halakhic Jews, like the Biennial and Craig Taubman’s Friday night live kind of things. They might be ok for other environments, like camp. Maybe when the Temple is rebuilt, there will be Jumbotrons.
But they really go against the grain of the “do it yourself” aspect of Judaism, as it has developed since the publication of the Jewish Catalog in the early 1970s.
If Joe or Jane Jew can’t walk onto the bima and run a worship service as well as s/he can run a committee meeting or an awards dinner, then something is broken. There should be no “little man behind the curtain,” nor flashy light show on the bima in Judaism.
Editorâ€™s Note: This is the third in a series meant to both present excerpts from the introduction to a new book — The Inner Journey: Views from the Jewish Tradition — as well as spark discussion among Jewschool readers about the nature of Jewish tradition. The first two excerpts are here and here. We encourage you to read on to see the excerpt and share your comments.
The Jewish people have a love affair with the Torah. The Torah is not
simply the Five Books of Moses, or even the entire Bible. More
correctly, it is the whole gamut of Jewish teaching and wisdom
contained in the written law (Torah sheh B’chtav) and oral law
(Torah sheh Ba’al Peh). While Torah has all too often been
translated by the word law, its literal and etymological meaning is
more appropriately translated as direction, instruction and teaching.
The Torah is the prism through which one strives to understand the
significance of one’s self, the Jewish people, the world and the
Divine. It is that body of teaching that transforms Jews into seekers
of the truth that permits them to connect as a self to their people,
to the cosmos, and to the Divine. It embodies an ethic that directs
behavior toward all human beings, other creatures and the environment.
One sage goes so far as to say that for the sake of the study of
Torah, human beings were created. But what is of interest here is
that Torah must be received and understood in our own unique way.
Rabbi Jose’s statement, (Pirke Avot 2:17) “…What knowledge of
Torah a man acquires is personal to himself. It cannot be inherited
This comes courtesy of my friend Alisha, who is awesome. And which goes to show you, those kiruv organizations — and those insistent concert promoters — have something; more people do look at fliers on the ground than fliers that are handed out:
Yesterday I was walking to the supermarket, when I saw a guy selling books on a blanket on the sidewalk. Normally, I would walk by, but I decided to stop for a moment. And I’m glad I did. One of the first things I saw was a tiny book with ‘Zohar’ written in Hebrew letter on the front cover. The guy wanted 30 RMB (about 4 USD) for it and was not willing to budge on the price. I asked him how he came to be in possession of such a book, because I know that they are not exactly allowed here. His only response was ‘I own a book shop, these books come from there.’ As if that answered my question. After I bought it, I read the introductions in English and saw that the book was originally part of something called the Zohar project, which intended to distribute copies of this small book for free. It seems that this book has had a very interesting life before it came to my home.
I’m not sure that this story has a purpose, but feel free to share it with others.
(Side note from matthue: does anyone have a photo of the mock-vodka ad posters all over Crown Heights? They say “Drink Responsibly” in Absolut-text, and, beneath it: “It’s the Chassidish thing to do.” Kol ha’kavod to whoever’s watching out for their brothers and sisters.
OK, well not so much, really. Apparently the Bobov sect has been commanded by a rabbinical court to hold elections to decide who their next rebbe will be. Interestingly, single yeshiva students are not permitted to vote (and I’m assuming, although the article doesn’t state explicitly, that women also do not vote).
Quoted in Ha’aretz, one person said, “Something like this has never happened in the history of the Hasidic movement, that a Hasidic rabbinic leader would be elected by a vote – our forefathers never dreamed of such a thing.”
A rather curious statement, actually, since although there were not , in the past, a voter’s registry with a list of those eligible to vote; the requirement for voters to present valid identification; and fierce campaigning, originally chassidic sects formed simply because some person formed a group of followers around themself and became acknowledged as leader. It was only after chassidism became more institutionalized and formal that dynasties formed, handed down father to son. So, perhaps in a certain sense this is a very American way of returning to an older tradition.
Well, maybe not for ruining it but certainly for injecting a sour note.
In a response to my post earlier today about Yidcore’s new “shteller” (position) you wrote; “Thatâ€™s all fine. What, however, do you think about Obadiah Shoherâ€™s criticism pf Rosh Hashanah as a holiday that has nothing to do with New Year?
Nikol, Nikol, Nikol. I’m not really sure what your comment has to do with my post other than the fact that the topic is Rosh haShanah. But think. Do we really need to spend our time paying attention to what far right doomsday prophets are saying about Rosh haShanah? I think not but I sensed that you were upset and followed your link despite myself and that’s where the sour note entered my day.
Obadiah Shoher’s post about Rosh haShanah is so offensively ignorant that if he didn’t seem to be a radical supporter of Israel I would think he was an Anti-Semite. His post even includes the prerequisite Anti-Semitic cartoon! But you’d be proud of me Nikol. I made up my mind not to let this get to me and I’ve decided instead to have some fun with his post!
I propose a little game. I put together a list of 9 quotes from his post that are blatant and completely ignorant errors. The rules are as follows: Read his post. As youâ€™re reading come up with a mental list of errors. Then compare your list to mine and if we agree then you win!
As for not hiring you…dude…think about it…a big professional firm needs to look professional. Big bushy frum beards don’t portray that image. Granted, we aren’t suits, etc….but it is business casual. Beards are out of fashion in the professional world. Not to say you wouldn’t get the job…but it’s the equivalent of showing up in jeans and a t-shirt.
You know — when Brando* was cast in Streetcar Named Desire, they told him he had to grow three days’ worth of stubble. He refused because he said it’d make him look trashy. He said, “I’ll act the stubble.” And, so the story goes, he did.
I guess that’s how I’ve been in the business world. Three-piece suit, tie in the straightest Windsor you ever did see, and my wedding shoes, and I’m set. I wasn’t getting jobs when I first moved here, and I thought that was why, and then it turned out the companies I applied to just weren’t getting jobs — 2 out of 3 of them went out of business. My new temp company is great. They’re like “you can type fast, and you look good” and that’s all they need.
Yeeah…I look good.
In Chicago, people are much more upfront about staring at you when you’re obviously Jewish — I haven’t been around that in a while. Everyone’s so whitebread and middle-American. I thought I was losing it, “it” meaning whatever I had, and then today this dude in a bar was like “Are you a Jew? I thought that was what y’all look like!” and everyone started becoming friends with me. I didn’t pay for a drink for 2 hours straight.