Morality and Civil Liberty

“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there is without.”

Edmund Burke


Bad Religion

“But the cure of bad religion is good religion, not no religion, just as the cure of bad science is good science, not the abandonment of science.”

— Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks


Better Atheists

“Atheism deserves better than the New Atheists, where methodology consists in criticizing religion without understanding it, quoting texts without contexts, taking exceptions as the rule, confusing folk belief with reflective theology, abusing, mocking, ridiculing, caricaturing, and demonizing religious faith and holding it responsible for the great crimes against humanity.”

— Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Faith vs. Economics

Torah Judaism and economics are similar in that they both make assumptions about the nature of Man.

Marxist economics assumes that man is selfish, and builds a system designed to remove the virtue of selfishness

Liberal economics assumes that man is selfish, and builds a system designed make a virtue of selfishness.

Torah Judaism does not assume that man is selfish, but it builds a path for him to become more selfless.

“Thus the Sabbath begins in [the eastern border of] China eighteen hours later than it does in the Land of Israel. For the Land of Israel is situated in the center of the inhabited world.”

The Kuzari

If that’s true, then I’ve been doing it 24 hours early for as long as I’ve been in China. I am assuming that there has been a p’sak issued to the contrary, having us work from commonly accepted time.

Either way, Shabbat Shalom!

Why The History of Religions Chart is Nonsense

The history of all religions explained in one fascinating graphic.
Jesus Diaz
8 October 2014

I have known some very tech-savvy rabbis, but with the exception of the one or two whose day jobs involve IT, I would not necessarily turn to them if I needed guidance on, say, upgrading my laptop from Ubuntu 12.04 to 14.04. Technology site Gizmodo, apparently, is similarly out of its depth when discussing religion. But that doesn’t keep them from trying.

Jesus Diaz points us to a poster of an infographic created by Simon E. Davies purporting to show the history of all of the world’s religions. It’s cute. It’s pretty. And it is, as you would expect, oversimplified to the point of obfuscation.

For example, suggesting as this graphic does that Judaism sprang whole-cloth from Middle Eastern Shamanism and Canaanite polytheism is downright deceptive, and you don’t have to be an historian or theologian to know it. Abrahamic monotheism was something utterly different from all that preceded it that it should be a branch of its own.

Of course, that would give credence to the concept of revelation, and the pseudo-scientists who look at this chart and nod their heads are likely unready to do that. It would make them sound like (gasp!) believers.

But what really set me off was Diaz’ final paragraph:

Ultimately, the lesson here is that high priests of every religion through the ages have been nothing more than unimaginative Hollywood movie producers with a taste for derivative material.

That flip remark may sound clever to Mr. Diaz and his editors, but it is unmitigated nonsense. I won’t speak for or about any other faith, but a simple perusal of the jacket copy of Thomas Cahill’s The Gifts of the Jews would put paid to any suggestion that all faiths are derivative material.

There are some things in life that fairly beg to be simplified. And there are others that defy simplification. Wisdom will tell the difference, and wisdom suggests that trying to turn a complex, nuanced subject like the history of religion and turning it into a wall chart is a bad idea.

Far worse, however, is admitting that you have taken theology classes and that you still find all religion unimaginative and derivative. It suggests either a poor school, a poor student, or both.

Is it Time to Reform Reform Judaism?

Whatever else the Haskalah has been, it was originally at its heart less a rejection of traditional Judaism than an effort to reconcile yiddishkeit with the Enlightenment and Romance era modernity. By the 1970s, though, Reform had wandered far from that original approach, and frequently set itself up in opposition to traditional Judaism.

I remember well the passion incited at our Reform summer camp in 1977 when the administrators invited Chabad leaders to visit. The debates were heated, but at their heart was a gnawing insecurity among many of us there that we had, indeed, wandered so far off the path that it was hard to tell that we were Jewish.

The older I got, and the more I learned about Judaism, the more I realized that the Reform movement had come perilously close to tossing out the baby with the bathwater. Thumb through the New Union Prayerbook one day, and compare it with, for example, Artscroll’s transliterated linear siddur. The denominational differences so great as to be almost a Catholic/Protestant divide.

It seems opportune to reconsider the role of Reform. If Judaism is a buffet, we should put everthing on the table and make it all as tempting as possible (which it really is – there is precious little about observant life that is truly unpalatable once you understand it.) If we can entice Jews back to their heritage and tradition rather than either a) deny it to them completely, or b) ram it down their throats, we have an opportunity to move beyond denominations and become a single community with many ways to approach Hashem.

The Reform community still seems to me to be in the best position to carry this off. If it cannot, though, it will surrender the role to Conservative Judaism and movements like Chabad and Aish Ha-Torah.


“Absorbed in the struggle for the emancipation of the individual we have concentrated our attention upon the idea of human rights and overlooked the importance of human obligations.”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
Insecurity of Freedom


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