Archive for ‘Favorite’

December 2, 2009

In Defense of Mediocrity

A few weeks ago I received an upsetting call from a concerned admirer. They wanted to inform me that someone within my sphere of influence was engaging in behavior which is Halachicaly prohibited. They expressed a disappointment in Nachlaot, pegging it as a permissive and wishy-washy place Halachikaly.

I have to say that I thank God every day for Nachlaot, perhaps for the very same reasons they do not. The Torah world has created this idea that everyone has to have the same standards, frankly I find that a bit silly. Part of living in a normal society is that different people have different priorities, and will make different lifestyle choices. What ever happened to the idea of a mediocre “working” class who simply do their thing without seeking religious rigor or refinement? Since when is perfection the standard by which everyone must be judged?

That is not to say that I do not hold Halacha up as the way to be close to God, and build a Godly society and world. Indeed that is how I choose to live my life. But I do admire the Sefardi shul’s acceptance of those whose kippot live in their pocket, those who will be at the soccer field after teffilot. There is simply something normal and natural in that acceptance. In our shuls judgment and insularity prevail, and the outsider smells it immediately and most often squirms.

I wonder if it coincidence that the segment of society which seeks to impose absolute standards on everyone is the same segment of society which is least involved in the grist of running this country. Rav Kuk’s appreciation of the non religious parts of society was deeply connected to his understanding that it takes all types to create the multi faceted society required to build Israel. He viewed the return to the land as part of a process, culminating in an absolute return to God only when the time comes.

This was my response to my caller. The individual referred to is in process. I believe that they are moving towards God, and one day this particular behavior will shift as well. For now they need me to respect their autonomy to choose their place in society and validate their right to define their relationship to God on their terms, not mine.

September 8, 2009

Authentic Judaism?

Rosh Hashana is coming, and with it the usual slew of warnings here in Israel against various creative concoctions masquerading as Pure Honey. I really have no idea how easy it is to tell the difference, is it the kind of thing anyone’s taste buds would reveal or is it more subtle, something for the expert or the lab? I do know that I want the real thing.
When it comes to Judaism I would consider myself an expert, and yet I would be very careful judging anyone’s authenticity. It is in the nature of Judasim that there are many ways, seventy facets of the Torah. At the same time, there is a point where you no longer need to be an expert, the flavor is so foul that you know it cant be real. (see Hirhurim and Parshablogs posts on the “Authentic Judaism” blog).
Rav Shlomo taught us a simple lesson. Why does the whole world drink Coke? Because it is yummy and sweet. His way to connect people to God was to teach Torah that was yummy and sweet. Well, if we know that a day is coming when the whole world will be a reflection of God, then I suppose it is likely that any authentic reflection of God will be yummy and sweet? This is a deep lesson of Honey on Judgement day, that deep down it is yummy and sweet, and that is a taste worth developing.

September 4, 2009

BT’s – They are People not “Products”!

Quote R’ Mendel Weinbach of Ohr Sameach “We have established kiruv centers on university campuses, in communities, in many locations throughout the world and have trained hundreds of avreichim [who pursue a life of Torah study] in two-year kiruv courses to run them. This has produced many blessed products.”
This from an expose from the Forward on the alleged ties between JEC (Jewish Enrichment Center), the formal Birthright follow up rep in NY, and Ohr Sameach.
I see  a deep perversion in the “Kiruv” circuit when it comes to respecting the individuality and autonomy of the “target” audience. As someone who has been on the inside of the system I can say that even the seemingly enlightened operations carry the nudge and wink dimension, “we know what we really want”.
This runs through the entire process, and relates to lack of value placed on individuality which can be seen in the black and white dress code. I have seen many Baalei Teshuva lose there shining light, and it makes me wonder if this is really what God wants.
I know that I will get the usual slew of disappointed responses to this, “why must you fan the hatred”, “why the stereotypes” etc. I want to clarify that I am not trying to demonize anyone, and there is a lot of good work being done out there, and a lot of people who have found life through it. I am compelled to write on this subject because it goes to the heart of the way I choose to work with and relate to Kiruv.
“Kiruv” Means to draw close, and that is a two way street. True drawing close is the deepest Torah value, “Love your Friend as Yourself”. The only way Torah can be represented is in a true relationship, which a manipulative agenda will always taint. The bad taste expressed in the forward article is authentic and appropriate, and has potential to create a significant chilul Hashem. Dont pretend to be interested in me if you are not willing to respect my right to define who and what I am.
This is the significance of Bechira, “choice”, in the world. If God wanted to He/She could be the best outreach professional in the world, of course. We see that God has designed a world that provides us the dignity of defining ourselves. I think God engages us head on as the person we have chosen to be, for better or for worse, no hidden agenda or manipulation. This is the essence of relationship, and the only way there can be potential for Love, between a person and friend, between a person and God.

July 28, 2009

“Women in Shul” from the Tzohar Conference

For those of you who don’t know what Tzohar is – it is closest the “Dati Leumi” Rabbis in Israel come to a professional organization of there own. Every year I come to the annual conference, which is torture to my ADD side, but provides me with an important window in to the world of my peers. (I also wonder why they always call it for the nine days, who wants to be packed into a room with rabbis who have not showered in days?).

The first session which I joined was a discussion on the role of women in the synagogue. Immediately a few of us pointed out was that while the conference is open to women who comprise at least half the participants, this particular session was a closed session for Rabbi’s, in other words no Women were present. The other thing which was very apparent to me was the fact that the Rabbi’s who were present were speaking under the illusion that they have control over the social reality out there, and they were not in touch with the shift which our younger chevre have taken away from rabbinic authority.

Both of these issues are obviously connected to one another and they both come from being stuck in a patriarchal mind set which revolves around a hierarchical authority based model, a masculine model. What I see evolving in the field is very different. There is an autonomous voice emerging in the world, the voice of individuals who do not depend on the agency of a rabbi to access the sources, and who are engaged in a direct dialogue with the traditional definitions of Halacha. The challenge to rabbi’s is to recast themselves in the role of process facilitators, not dictators of law. We will be sought out for our ability to guide this process, and bring a measure of depth and maturity to the independent seeker and thinker. This is a shift to a more feminine model of leadership, and will meet much resistance in the Men’s club.

So while I was surprised to hear a relatively broad range of opinions that were given voice and legitimacy, I could not help but feel that this meeting of minds was a bit out of sync with reality.

February 13, 2008

GOD and the WWW.

If you had told someone as little as a hundred years ago that a day will come when the entire world will share a common vision of reality, he would have laughed. The Utopian vision of a time when the entire earth reflects the unity of God could be understood only in terms of the miraculous. How astounding to watch as the infrastructure for that day is built before our very eyes. As the world wide web is woven, the links connecting everything become more myriad and complex, with brain like nodes and synapses connecting us all. All this in preparation for a day when God will be one and his name one.

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February 5, 2008


You say it everyday –  see here

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