Judaism and the Benedict Option

As described by conservative commentator Rod Dreher, who is both an expert in and advocate of the practice. the “Benedict Option” refers to the voluntary withdrawal by contemporary Christians from the wider society into segregated, or even cloistered communities, much in the way that Benedictine monks did during the more unsettled parts of the middle ages.

These modern Benedictines have, in Dreher’s words, “ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of American empire, and who therefore are keen to construct local forms of community as loci of Christian resistance against what the empire represents.”

Dreher continues:

“Put less grandly, the Benedict Option — or “Ben Op” — is an umbrella term for Christians who “accept [Alistair] MacIntyre’s critique of modernity, and who also recognize that forming Christians who live out Christianity according to Great Tradition requires embedding within communities and institutions dedicated to that formation.”

The public discussion among observant Christian communities around the Benedict Option reached a crescendo during the latter half of President Obama’s second term. At the time, it was possible to foresee America living for decade under a government that was unsympathetic to the concerns of Americans shaken by the speed and magnitude of change in public mores. It has since dropped off, but one gets the feeling that observant Christians are waiting to see how far Trump is – or is not – willing to go to reverse that trend, or even to slow the pace of change.

The logical question when reading about the Benedict Option is to ask whether there is a Jewish version. Are observant Jews in America as alienated by the changes in American society as are observant Christians? And are they ready to change the structures of their communities to address them?

Few who read this would disagree that they already are, and have been for centuries. Indeed, as Dreher and others have noted, the most relevant model for the Benedict Option in the context of a modern society is not the original Benedictine communities themselves, but observant Jewish communities. The place of worship becomes the center of the community. Communities establish religious schools offering different mixes of secular subjects and religious teachings as an alternative to public schooling. They build social institutions designed to support observant life. And they are serious about weekly communal activities.

Two questions emerge from this, then.

  1. How are we as Jews – as individuals and as a community – to respond to Christian communities taking the Benedict Option?
  2. Is it time for Jews of all denominations – Conservative, Reform, and Deconstructionist as well as Orthodox – to begin rethinking our physical assimilation into wider society?

I’ll address each in separate posts in the coming weeks.

German court justifies synagogue attack 

Source: German court justifies synagogue attack – Europe – News –

The echoes of approaching jackboots haunt the streets of Wuppertal, Germany at night. You can almost see the flicker of the torches.

Make no mistake, my friends. The surrender of Germany to the Allies on May 8, 1945 did not end anti-Semitism, racism, or Naziism in Germany. It just drove those things underground, where they lie dormant.

We are watching the black shoots of hatred sprout anew from the European soil.

This time, let us not go gently.

Fight the darkness with light.

My Jewish No-Read Zone

B”H

I am, as I write this, 52 years old and, thank G-d, in good health. I estimate that, between work, family, scouts, writing, and sleep, I probably have time left to read about 1,000 books in my life, at the very most. Confronted with that figure and the realization that my library already has thousands of unread volumes, I have by necessity become quite picky about my reading.

One filter I have added to my quest for erudition has been the resolution to avoid writers who were openly anti-Semitic, or who had the reputation of being so in their private lives. For these reasons, I will not be spending any more of my increasingly precious hours reading the works of T.S. Eliot, Roald Dahl, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Edith Wharton, Kingsley Amis, Ezra Pound, GK Chesterton, or others similarly biased.

People I respect tell me that in doing so, I am closing off a large and important swath of literature, and that is true, but only to a limited degree. When I was younger I read widely, and I spent time with the works of many of these authors. I’ve sampled the wares, as a good reader should, and I would never urge my son or any other student to shy away from any author because of their beliefs.

But the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the world today makes it necessary to filter out what I can. What is more, I am blessed in this age to have access to such a massive scope of works that I can readily go through life avoiding anti-Semitic writers (and any hatred that might seep into their words) and still have a full literary life.

And, oh, the choices make it simple. I shan’t miss GK Chesterton when I’ve yet to sample the oeuvre of Primo Levi. Why bother with Kingsley Amis when Bernard Malamud beckons? And do I need bother with Roald Dahl beyond Mr. Wonka when the late Elie Weisel’s Souls on Fire and Night both taunt me, unread, from my bookshelf?

And that’s before I even bring up Martin Buber, Adin Steinsalz, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and the raft of brilliant sages dating back to the Rambam, the Ramban, Rashi, and beyond.

You get the point. It is hard for a quinquagenerian Hebrew to justify spending time on anti-Semites when so many great Jewish authors and works lay waiting on the shelves.

A Pause

I have of late (and all too frequently) found myself drawn in this space into impassioned posts concerning Israeli politics, the international relations of the Middle East, and anti-Semitism.

While these are issues of profound import to me, I have discovered that they draw me away from the core purposes of this blog. Worse, the frustration they incite frequently drags me into the gutter of rage.

There have also been times where I have believed that my learning and wisdom are so insignificant that I have no business addressing matters of Torah, and that I am better off fighting the political battles to which I am better qualified to speak.

I will, therefore, try to avoid such discussions going forward. Teshuvah is the light I wish to follow here, not anger.

I pray to Hashem that this is the correct path.

What about Justice for Jewish Refugees?

Some 900,000 Jews from Arab countries have fled their homelands since 1948; they left behind an estimated $30 billion in property, including buildings in dozens of Jewish communities.

Source: No solution for Palestinian refugees without justice for Jewish ones – Israel Opinion, Ynetnews

Lest we forget – this gigantic injustice has been ignored and buried for six decades.

Equally important – this is the treatment the Jews and Christians of Israel could expect if the “Palestinians” achieve their ultimate aim.

On Shaming an Anti-Semite

Lisa Marie Mendez, a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) student and employee at the UCLA Medical Center, has made her extreme distaste for “fucking Zionist pigs” crystal clear this past month in her rant against Jews on Facebook.

Source: A UCLA Student Working At David Geffen Medical Center Told Jews To “Get The F*** Out of Here.” When Will UCLA Kick Her The Hell Out? | Daily Wire

Given how disgusting and abhorrent as this angry rant is, I am as tempted as many others who have read it to visit personal retribution on the individual who spewed forth these anti-Semitic sentiments. (And let us be clear – while the words may be couched in anti-Israel rhetoric, they quickly become anti-Semitic.) But I believe to do would be a bad idea for three reasons.
First, the more I read her words, I am stunned that they come from the hand of an apparently intelligent young woman who has earned the right to study at one of the world’s foremost institutions of higher learning, and work at one of the nation’s best medical facilities. The only conclusion I can reach is that Ms. Mendez is a deeply angry, deeply wounded young woman. A retributive campaign against her would only make her more aggrieved. It would neither heal her nor make her reconsider the error of her beliefs. What is worse, trying to get this young lady fired or expelled flies in the face of the core values of Torah that compel us to the mercy, justice, and compassion of Hashem. In pursuing personal retribution against her, we would fail as Jews.
Second, the young lady has the right guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to express her beliefs, irrespective of how hateful and stupid they are. What is more, she is a student at a major public university, and we should always work to ensure that those venues remain an especially open and free marketplace of ideas. As neanderthal and rodent-level as anti-Semitism and Jew-baiting are, they are laid most bare as foolish in an open community of scholars. As Jews, we must look to history and recognize that we have thrived in the Diaspora primarily in those places where intellectual expression was least constrained. We cannot defend the right of the talented and learned Mayim Bialik if we do not defend the rights of her detractor, Ms. Mendez. In pursuing personal retribution against her, we would fail as Americans.
Third, the righteous fight against defamation must never sink to the level of a witch-hunt. The most effective approach to anti-Semitism is outreach and discussion first and foremost. In fact, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL,) in its response to this specific situation, sought assurances from both the university Ms. Mendez attended and the hospital for which she worked that they did not share her sentiments, and in fact sought to distance themselves from them. They ascertained that the student did not allow her beliefs to infect her work and devolve into discrimination or hateful acts. We should take it no further.
This is not to say that we should moderate or cease or active opposition to anti-Semitisim in all of its forms. It is, rather, to say that we must do so with compassion, with a respect for free speech, and an unyielding determination to draw a line between seething hatred and acts of discrimination or violence.
Ms. Mendes should be ashamed of the words she has written, and I suspect that the day will come when she regrets her words as importune or even unjust. But that is a very different thing than saying that she should be shamed. Public shaming only stokes the fires of hatred and resentment.

What Happened to a Moderate Muslim at Vassar

The BDS liberals at Vassar, like the Party in George Orwell’s 1984, want you to imagine a vision of the future where they stamp their boots on an idealistic, human face.

It is ominous that Vassar College does not allow a healthy intellectual debate to flourish on campus, which requires even more persistent care-taking than the weeds on the campus lawn. Students should be given space to grow on campus, but they must not be allowed to grow so out of control that they conceal those who bring vandalism and handsaws into Main Building, and with them, the seeds of academic destruction.

Source: Pro-Israel Muslim Vassar student’s lonely fight to defend Israel – Anti BDS, BDS News, Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) – SPME Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

Extremely sad. We have now added to the college checklist for my son “a verifiable commitment to academic freedom and freedom of speech.” Those things are more important than food selection in the cafeteria and rock-climbing walls.