Mystical vs. Rational Judaism

The history of modern religious Judaism, according to some in the academic and Rabbinic community, might be more explicated by the rejection of irrational mystical thinking, rather than the rejection of the dispassionate orthodoxy of old. This is not an argument for or against Reform Jewish philosophy, however, pluralism might aid the goals of the Jewish community as a whole and the systematic rejection of Reform Judaism, by orthodox Jews, might be reduced by analyzing the historical realities of its origin.

Many opine that recent innovations in the landscape of Jewish thinking, for instance, the reform movement, were a rejection of stern legal thinkers who were unrelenting in there devotion to halachic norms. However, it seems equally possible that it was not reformists who refused to adopt social norms, but halachists who overcompensated by rejecting age old Talmudic legal and philosophical plasticity, and themselves adopted a previously unknown stringency.

It may benefit us to widen our perspectives on the historical complex into which Reform Judaism was born. Eastern European Jewish thinking had gone through centuries of transformation of practice and philosophy, generally tending towards more mystical and less rational. This transformation was a deviation from the norm of many rationalist Jewish thinkers of the Rishonim, such as Moses ben Maimon and Rav Sadia Gaon. This more mystical trend was rejected by reformists, who had become influenced by western scientific thinkers. Therefore, by drawing closer to a rational, and less mystical version of Judaism, Reform Judaism might be seen, on some distant level, as an homage to rational Jewish thinkers of antiquity, not just a rejection of contemporary orthodox thinkers.

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Choice words

Modern Jewish Voice is posting this article with the  permission of Abbi Schorr.  Please  feel free to explore more of her articles at http://www.floridajewishjournal.com/ and http://www.floridajewishjournal.com/.

Abbi Schorr South Florida Sun-Sentinel

It’s been more than 65 years since the end of the Holocaust yet people are still making anti-Semitic and Holocaust-related comments.

And what’s worse, those who are making these comments think it’s acceptable. Earlier this month, designer John Galliano, who led the fashion house of Christian Dior, is finding out how his cruel words have come back to haunt him.

An online video (visit http://www.youtube.com and search “John Galliano”) shows an allegedly drunk Galliano sitting in a Paris café professing his love for Adolf Hitler to some patrons at a nearby table. He said, “I love Hitler” and “your mother, your forefathers would be [expletive] gassed and [expletive] dead.” Drunk or not, these kinds of comments are unacceptable. This type of thinking is what sets society back when we have come so far.

Thankfully, the powers at Dior realized that even though Galliano is enormously talented, his comments would not be tolerated. The fashion house fired Galliano and released a statement saying that it has “zero-tolerance regarding any anti-Semitic or racist statement or attitude.” Also taking a stand was actress Natalie Portman who has appeared in ads for Miss Dior Cherie perfume. Portman, who is Jewish said, “as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in anyway.” It’s not looking good to be Galliano right now.

Galliano isn’t the first person to be accused of being anti-Semitic. Actor Mel Gibson has been famously accused multiple times of anti-Semitic rants and I’m sure you know of or have heard about someone saying something cruel, inappropriate or hurtful.

This isn’t about “freedom of speech” or how “everyone is entitled to their own opinion.” This is about respect. Having respect for other people’s feelings and beliefs goes a long way. Be observant of where you are and who you are surrounded by. You are entitled to your own opinion but there needs to be boundaries set before you share it. You also need to keep in mind that in today’s age of new media, anyone’s comments could go viral and the very next minute everyone knows what you said.

But why are people still holding on to anti-Semitic beliefs? Don’t they know that the Holocaust was a horrendous event? What we need to do is educate future generations from every background on this dark period of history. It is so important to not only preserve the memories of those lost, but also in making sure the lessons learned from the Holocaust are treated with respect and understanding. This shouldn’t just be a chapter in our history books; tolerance and appreciation should be a lifelong lesson. If we let intolerance get the best of us, then a another Holocaust could happen. So, kudos to Dior and Portman for taking a stand and not letting intolerance win.

I have a few choice words for Mr. Galliano, since he had no problem sharing his unsolicited thoughts. But I choose to follow this golden rule: If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.

Abbi Schorr, a resident of Coral Springs, represents the future generation of Judaism. She can be reached at anschorr@tribune.com.

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Farrakhan’s Folly

At the annual Nation of Islam Conference in Chicago this week, Louis Farrakhan has continued his lifelong commitment to Anti-Semitism and distorting the truth.  Furthermore, he has expressed his belief that his irrational religious-political association with Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi is far more important than justice, morality or America.  Farrakhan pushed his campaign of anti-Semitic rhetoric, insisting on the truth behind various Jewish conspiracies.  The following is a sample of Farrakhan’s statements:

Jews and Zionists are “trying to push the US into war.”

This belief is at the very least paradoxical and is nothing but racist propaganda.  Simply put, the US is already at war; for a variety of reasons, all of which were believed to be within the scope of American interests.  Furthermore, Farrakhan made this claim in reference to American involvement with Libyan unrest, but what advantage would the Jews get from American military involvement in Libya?  Farrakhan’s claims do nothing but parrot the twisted concept that instability in the Middle East stems from the Jews.

“If you allow the Zionists to push you, to mount a military offensive against Gaddafi and you go in and kill him and his sons as you did with Saddam Hussein and his sons, I’m warning you this is a Libyan problem, let the Libyans solve their problem among themselves.”

The thought that American military involvement in Libyan affairs is motivated by “Zionists” is an outrageous attempt to fan the flames of instability.  The United States is the most dominant geopolitical force in the world, with interests that stretch across the globe.  That being said, the United States makes decisions it believes are within its interests, and within global interests (i.e. peace and stability).  Singling out some unknowable portion of an exceeding small and marginalized ethnic group as the major defining force in American decision making is nothing but hate mongering and pays homage to the centuries old tactic of demonizing Jews.

Gaddafi is “My Brother” and “My Friend”

Farrakhan referring to Gaddafi as his “brother” and “friend” should sound the alarm for all segments of peace loving society.  Few people personify evil as well as Gaddafi.  Calling yourself his “friend” aligns you with a history of oppression and subjugation equaled by very few in the world.

“Some of you think that I’m just somebody who’s got something out for the Jewish people…. You’re stupid.  Do you think I would waste my time if I did not think it was important for you to know Satan?  My job is to pull the cover off of Satan so that he will never deceive you and the people of the world again.”

Louis Farrakhan believes that the Jews are Satan.  He holds the same belief system as terrorist groups and enemies of freedom, justice and peace.  Likening the Jews to Satan brings back the Crusades style propaganda that resulted in countless pograms and a history of Jewish oppression in Europe.  Similar to Islamo-fascist terrorists and old world religious fanaticism, Farrakhan replaces reason with hate.

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Corrupting the Youth

Hamas and Fatah have vowed to stymie an attempt to include the Holocaust in textbooks used by UNRWA run schools.  Hamas spokesman have said these textbooks, to be used in West Bank and Gaza schools, “challenge the feelings of the Palestinians.”  These claims represent two poignant aspects of the Arab-Israeli culture clash: (1) some parts of the Palestinian leadership have claimed sole ownership of suffering and (2) Palestinian leadership considers its “feelings” with higher regard than facts.

Ownership of Suffering

Hamas and Fatah leaders have done nothing but twist sociological jargon to support institutionalized racism.  They purport that teaching holocaust studies in the West Bank and Gaza will inculcate Palestinian youth with occupation as normative order; however, the reality is that by acting as the sole heirs to world injustice, Palestinian leaders are able to continue a campaign of Jewish dehumanization.   Palestinian leadership know that teaching its youth that Jews also experience suffering, shows Palestinian youth that Jews are equally as human as themselves.  This realization would unravel the foundation of extremist political theology.

Additionally, Hamas leaders know that teaching the holocaust would bring to light historical facts which would force them to abandon a policy of refusing to accept responsibility for actions.  Most upsetting for Palestinian leadership would be the realization that former Islamic leadership in the region, in the form of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Amin al-Husayni, was extremely supportive of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.  This fact strikes at the base of the Palestinian argument that they are being punished for the sins of Germans, when they were in reality not only complicit, but supportive of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

Feelings and Facts

Secondly, Palestinian leadership insists that teaching the Holocaust in Palestinian schools “challenges the feelings of the Palestinians.”  As a people accepting the role of victims, they have doubly accepted the role of being morally perfect.  How can a people at the receiving end of international aggressors be morally imperfect?  Instead, the feelings of the Palestinians should be challenged, which would in turn reject the presumption of moral perfection.  Their feelings should be strained by the realization that Jews too suffer.  The fact of the Holocaust should be considered by the Palestinians as more important than the positive feelings gained from denying Jewish humanity.

Palestinian refusal to teach the Holocaust in its schools is a form of institutionalized racism and achieves nothing but the continued dehumanization of the Jewish people.  Palestinian leadership fears that by their youth seeing the Jews as fellow members of humanity, they might grow up gaining a friend rather than an enemy.

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Let Them Eat Cake

These are not the first riots we have seen in Egypt in recent years and the revolution was somewhat predestined.  There is an indisputable link between the cost of bread, wide gaps between the rich and the poor and populist movements as evidenced by the French Revolution.  Had the Egyptian Government looked at protests against rising cost of food in early 2008, through the lens of the French Revolution, then they would have been able to prevent calamity.

In early 2008, Egypt was already experiencing the beginning of the revolution.  Rising cost of bread, an economic crisis, and a booming population left schools ablaze and riots on the streets of Mahalla.  Similarly, 1788 hail storms created one of the worst harvests in modern French history, French financial collapse, and population growth precipitated the French Revolution.  Additionally, popular perception of the government in revolutionary France and Egypt are quite similar; echoing the injustice of the huge gap between the rich and the poor.  Furthermore, as France looked to the American Revolution for inspiration, Egyptian youth looked to Barack Obama in his famous 2009 “Cairo Speech.”

These riots did not come out of the blue; the Egyptian government was slow to respond to social unrest that had been developing for years.  The Egyptian Government’s priority was maintaining the status quo, not feeding its people; it should be no surprise that unrest transitioned to revolution.  Relative to the French Revolution, Mubarak has gotten off easy and with his head, unlike Marie Antoinette.  But the future is still to be seen.

Will Egyptian revolution result in democracy and peace?  If the course of Egyptian history continues to mirror that of France, then probably not.  The ultimate result of French revolution was ineffective provisional governments and a return to Monarchy.

The Egyptian government failed to effectively respond to social unrest, which mirrors that of 18th century France.  It should be no surprise that when the largest populace in the Middle East (which also happens to be the world’s largest importer of wheat) cannot afford to eat, revolution results.

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Patrilineal Descent in the Reform Movement

In 1983, leaders of the Reform Movement in America determined the status of individuals born of mixed parentage.  In somewhat revolutionary fashion, they decided that children born of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother would be considered Jewish within Reform communities.  Although they had in mind the greater good of the Jewish world, their decision making process focused more on being “sensitive to the human dimension of the issue” than thoughtful examination of Jewish tradition.  The committee paradoxically justified their decision making by using scriptural references, while rejecting Torah as binding.  Simultaneously, they did not examine the complexities of multi-lineal descent in Jewish tradition.  In addition, by rejecting the Oral Law, Reform leaders withhold knowledge from the laity, who is then not able to make individual decisions regarding Jewish identity, as promoted by Reform Ideology.

Reform ideology holds Jewish texts as special and holy, but rejects centuries old interpretations.  It is therefore, contradictory for Reform leaders to utilize Mishna, Gemara and other texts as proofs.  How would American society react if the major opposition group rejected Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution, and simultaneously quoted particular rulings that supported their ends?  It would be an outrage.

Furthermore, Reform Judaism has not innovated by making Judaism multi-lineal, this was already the case.  They just changed the rules to support previously held religious conclusions.  Jews have always been multi-lineal, not matrilineal.  Religion is passed through the mother and other qualities are passed through the father (i.e. Cohanim and Levite lineage is passed through the father).  The Reform movement is defined by liberality and therefore must loosen theological regulations as much as possible.  At some point, however, legal traditions that bind the Jewish community become so loosened that Jewish identity is lost in the fray.

Lastly, the Reform Movement stresses individuality and making personal choices about what Judaism and religion mean to each person, but how is this possible when Reform Judaism rejects so much of Jewish tradition.  How can an individual make choices if he does not know what texts to consult, or how to read them?  By taking such a lenient stance on Jewish Law, Reform Judaism has disenabled countless Jews from investigating serious topics with a truly open mind.

Patrilineal descent in the Reform Movement is interesting and complicated, but there is no question their assertions require further analysis.  They reject Oral Law, but simultaneously utilize it for proofs.  They did not truly create a sea change in Jewish thought by integrated patrilineal descent, it was there all along.  Rather, Reform Jewish leaders just rearranged the rules to align with previously held beliefs.  Furthermore, Reform Judaism makes it impossible for the laity to make serious decisions about their Jewish identity by pulling the intellectual carpet out from underneath them.

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Knowing and Believing

Why do people refuse to believe in a higher being?  For the following reasons: (1) people need an increased sense of certainty for issues that are most important, (2) there is a religious double standard for knowledge, (3) believing in a higher being creates logical causation,  the final result of which is changed behavior.

The human mind is a statistical juggernaut that decides, based on subtle ratios, whether or not a particular behavior will have a desired outcome.  As I sit here, typing on a computer, my subconscious mind is undergoing a vast set of statistical reasoning problems, which tell me that chances are greater that my computer will not blink out of existence than that it will blink out of existence.  But do I really “know” what will happen? Can I say with 100% certainty that my computer will not suddenly turn into a banana? Of course not, but I “believe” that it will remain a computer, because there is better than a 99.9% chance that it will.  Therefore, knowledge is the thermostat through which statistical probability becomes belief.  That being the case, with regard to things that are insignificant, my willingness to transfer knowledge into belief is higher.  That is to say, I am far more willing to say that I “know” the bus will come at the right time, than I am willing to buy a used car for example.  The reason is because the bus showing up at a certain time is far less significant than the money I will invest in a car, therefore my level of certainty regarding a used cars history, safety, etc… must be higher.  Believing in a Higher Being may be the single most important thing in a person’s life.  If an individual commits to having a belief in a Higher Being, he has committed himself to changing his outlook on the world; therefore, people want an extremely high degree of certainty.  After all, believing in a higher being is far more important than believing the bus will show up.

Religion celebrates, in many skeptical minds, a long history of conflict and inequality.  For this reason, there is a major double standard for religious belief.  When a college student goes to a history class, he “believes” what his professor is teaching him, he does not assume his professor is being deceitful.  Understandably, religion is seen by many skeptics as a deceitful method of controlling populations, as Karl Marx said, “religion is the opiate of the masses.”   If we applied the same standards for knowledge to religion that we have towards everyday life (and what could be more applicable to everyday life than religion?), then religious ideas would be far more translatable to the average person.

Lastly, and probably the least likely reason belief in a Higher Being is difficult, if people commit themselves to believing in a Higher Being, then they start a domino effect of understanding how they should act in the world.  If a Jew believes in a Higher Being, that means now he is “burdened” with a set of responsibilities he was not liable for the moment before he started believing.  This is a situation, similar to denial, where a person can know something, but refuse to believe it because by believing he must act.

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