Ch-ch-ch-choices

(U.S. Air Force photo/Lance Cheung)

There are countless points during a man’s life when he is compelled to choose between doing what is right for himself and what is right for others – family, friends, the people you love, your community, your country, and sometimes complete strangers. The correct choice, almost without exception, is to choose what is right for others.

Almost without exception.

R. Hillel famously wrote “if I am not for myself who will be for me. And if I am only for myself, what am I?”

The essence of wisdom is being able to recognize the exception and knowing without a doubt that the choice for oneself is not glandular or rationalized, but true to a code that transcends both our petty desires and our ability to manipulate them.

Criticize Well

If you are one of those people who is preternaturally compelled to criticize faiths and the faithful, that is your right (in America, anyway).

If you want your critique to be taken seriously, however, try focusing on one faith at a time. Indiscriminately lumping all religions together and then opening fire is lazy, imprecise, often wrong, and readily dismissed by anyone who does not already agree with you.

We all may look the same to you, and there are always similarities. But if the differences are important enough to keep us in our separate houses, they are important enough for you to understand before you join the conversation.

Battle in Rabbi Schechter’s Shul

A small, vocal group of Conservative rabbis is pushing the movement to accept marriages between Jews and non-Jews. The fight is really about the future of the religion.

Source: Conservative Rabbis Fight Over Intermarriage – The Atlantic

An important article that makes the crucial point at the top.

This is not a fight about intermarriage, or about being gratuitously harsh on couples, or about forcing conversions.

This is really about the future of Judaism, and of Jews as a nation.

As a proud pan-denominational Jew, I applaud the Rabbinical Assembly in their defense of Tradition, and, most important, of shalom ba’is, harmony in the home.

The Price of Belief

The meaning of [the] Indiana [Religious Freedom Restoration Act decision] was that this was the first time corporate America took sides in the culture war — and it sided dramatically, powerfully, and consequentially with pro-LGBT activists, against the cause of religious liberty.

Source: How Bad Is The Benedict Option? | The American Conservative

I have issues with fundamentalist proclamations that we should adhere to the letter of the Bible on homosexuality. Abrahamic faiths generally walk a delicate line on LGBT issues, but the consensus that appears to be growing out of modern Jewish discussions on the topic (leaving the rulings of Haredi poskim out for a moment) is that the problem is the act rather than the individual. There shall be no stoning.

But I have equally fervent issues with the libertine proclamations that to believe that any consensual act between two mentally competent adults is wrong and deserving of legal censure. The reason I supported the RFRA was purely defensive: I should never be told what not to believe, and if the law as it stands is not sufficiently protecting my Constitutional right to freedom of belief and practice, then the law needs to be bolstered.

The Indiana RFRA was imperfect legislation at best. But its faults should not be conflated with the rightness of the core position around which it was based. We need a better RFRA, or, better yet, more vigorous protection of our Constitutional guarantees, even in the face of a vocal plurality who disagree.

I am willing to accept being socially ostracized for my beliefs. But I will not accept persecution, and in an era of social media, there is a fine line between being ostracized and being persecuted.

Not Your Father’s Catholic Church

“There has never been a Pope with as deep an understanding of Jews as Pope Francis” states Rabbi Rosen candidly. “Of course Pope John Paul II had a unique childhood experience of the Jewish community in Wadowice. But by the time he was a priest, there was little living community left to talk of, so his engagement was not as a developed adult.

Francis, on the other hand, has not only nurtured lifelong friendships with the Jewish community in Buenos Aires, with whom he has had “a vibrant interaction”, says Rabbi Rosen, but has co-authored a book with an Argentinian rabbi, Abraham Skorka, “thus addressing issues face to face with Jewish self-understanding and experience. This profoundly shapes his sensitivity and his commitment to the Jewish-Christian relationship.”

Source: Pope Francis and the Jews: the first six months – AJC: Global Jewish Advocacy

The Jewish-Catholic relationship is still on the mend after well over a millennium of anti-Semitic dysfunction that ranged from the dismissive to the the implicit countenance of genocide. It’s a large wound.

That said, since the “Nostra Aetate” declaration at Vatican II, the progress has been measured, but consistent and meaningful, and that looks to continue apace under Pope Francis, who has now taken the unprecedented step of calling upon all Catholics to cease the effort to evangelize Jews. We would do well to recognize that this is a controversial move for the Pope among his own flock, and that it was made in the effort to provide a comfortable “space” for interfaith discussion.

There are certainly good reasons to draw the line in that discussion at interfaith dialogue on doctrine: our beliefs should never be the subject of negotiation. At the same time, we must recognize – as did Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson ZT”L, the Lubavitcher Rebbe – that there are commercial, philanthropic, civil, and economic issues of mutual interest about which there must be open channels of communication. And that proscription against dialogue on doctrine should never constrain leaders from either faith from dispelling real and often slanderous misconceptions held by one group of the other.

There is still much to be discussed in an effort to find a way to live together in a world where all faiths find themselves navigating a world with deeper and deeper sees of relativism. It is good to do so during a time when the attitude about Jews and Judaism projected by  most Catholics, lay and clergy, to be far more enlightened than has historically been the case.

 

 

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.

The Avoidance of Gluttony

Kashrut, pursued with determination, prepares the soul to avoid gluttony. The strictures of Halal do the same. Both are frameworks that demand consideration before consumption.

For its part, Christianity identifies gluttony as a sin, but interestingly does not provide a practical path to dodge the temptation in a prosperous society to become a foodie. Observation only, not at all a criticism.

To my knowledge, there are evangelistic ministries that consider the question, but such discussions tend to hit a theological dead end with Paul’s original rejection of the corpus of Torah law.

This suggests another reason why it is incumbent upon us as Jews to interact with non-Jews to promote their knowledge of our laws and practice. We are not now, nor should we ever be, a proselytizing faith. But as others faiths evolve and they seek answers in our practice, we have no reason to hold back that knowledge. On the contrary, an argument can be made that we should encourage such study, provided it is not with the intention of undermining or destroying us.

The Promise of Judaisms

R. Shai Cherry talks about “Judaisms,” about seeing our faith as not a single unified faith but as a cluster of different manifestations of the same core framework of belief.

I like that: as I’ve mentioned in the past, I think that the diversity of our faith is its greatest strength. Our ability to accept that diversity while reinforcing the crossmembers that hold us together will determine whether we thrive or perish.

The Yiddishe Interface

Judaism needs people within the faith who are capable of and disposed to interacting with ha goyim. We as a people cannot, either practically or (in the context of our assigned role on Earth) morally withdraw from the world around us.

We can certainly have groups or kehillim who can and should do so. Our strength, I believe, lies in our diversity, and such communities are part of our mantle; there will always be among us souls of profound tenderness who can only thrive in places of refuge from the conflicts within the world.

But to survive as a people, as an am, we will need men and women of great faith who can still serve as our interface to the other nations of the world on at least partially common ground. Others need not believe what we believe, but they must know the truth about our beliefs and why we hold to them, not the lies that others might manufacture in our absence.

More Tips on the Crisis

Three short thoughts about dealing with crises of faith.

  • Not all study is equally helpful. Kabbalah and Talmud are uplifting and clarifying, but they are of little help in addressing crises of faith. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Jewish custom postpones study of these texts until long after the bokher has addressed the core questions in his study. The esoterica of Zohar and the niggling of gemara sometimes form silent arguments on behalf of the Accuser. Crises demand the aid of sages and works more accustomed to fundamental challenges of faith.
  • Guilt sucks. The yetzer hara thrives on guilt, and will use it every time as an opening into the soul. The way to address transgression, I’m finding, is determined teshuvah, driven by repentance and stripped of guilt.
  • Don’t ignore the writings of Reform and Conservative scholars and apologists. If nothing else, the Haskalah at its best created a respectable corpus of thinking and texts designed to address crises of faith. This does not come as a surprise: arguably, it is the Jews in these communitiesThis makes sense, given that the Jews in these communities were least insulated from them.

 

Where Gandhi Went Wrong

Since his assassination in 1948, Mohandas K. Gandhi has become something of a secular saint, recognized almost universally as a “great soul” who not only did much to liberate his own people, but who also changed the dialogue around violence and repression.

Gandhi lived by high principles that served him and the peoples of Greater India in the effort to cast off British rule. But Gandhi’s belief that his principles could withstand application to peoples and/or situations far different than those in which he lived was in many cases and unsupported conceit, and in other cases produced some convoluted thinking.

He believed that non-violence would have served India in the face of a Japanese occupation. He believed that the proper response of the Jews of Europe to Hitler’s Final Solution was to throw themselves upon the butcher knives of the SS death squads. And he believed that a State of Israel must wait until the Jews were invited back to their homeland.

Against the latter, Jewish philosopher Martin Buber penned an eloquent criticism. There is a complete text here, along with a broader overview of Gandhi’s relationship with Jews. At best, Gandhi was playing to the home crowd. At worst, he spoke from a willful lack of understanding of the true facts on the ground. Whatever the reason, little does more to tarnish the verity of Gandhi’s ethos than his offhanded treatment of questions around the Jews.

Probing Gandhi’s words on the subject, and contemplating the context in which he wrote them, it is little wonder that India has failed to sustain a Jewish community of any size. It also underscores that the time has come for a critical re-examination of his core beliefs, their roots, and their logical extensions.

Woody’s Midnight

More so than any other film by Woody Allen in a very long time, I really enjoyed Midnight in Paris. I am a sucker for any movie that delves into the joys and frustrations of writing, and the way Allen explores inspiration, nostalgia, and the way many of us feel like anachronisms all touched a deep chord.

Yet something saddened me about Allen’s selection of Owen Wilson to play the “Woody” role. Wilson himself was not the issue. On the contrary, Owen is likable, sympathetic, and totally believable in the role. It was a bravura performance.

What disturbed me was that Wilson’s role represents the apotheosis of a gradual, film-by-film whitewashing that Allen has conducted on himself since the 1970s. Having his character played by an blonde-maned WASP hints at something disturbing: the possibility that Woody no longer sees himself as Jewish.

If that is the case, it would be sad for two reasons. First, it is always upsetting to see a Jew leave the enfolding wings of the Tribe of his or her own volition. But in Woody’s case specifically, he was in many way a model for an entire generation of Jews who identified themselves as “culturally Jewish.” If he is still that icon, is he aught but a beacon for others into the rocky shore of assimilation?

The sages teach us that it is never too late to begin the path of return. I pray for the day to come when Woody turns about to see what the Rebbe called the “pintela Yid” inside himself, and follows that light.

Jews in the High Castle

“I don’t plan on dying Frank, but I can’t live in fear.”

“I’m not going to pretend that it’s easy. I struggled with it for a while. But this is who I am, this is who my ancestors were. I’m not going to let them take that away from me.”

“One thing I realized about my people is that we have a different sense of time. These may be dark years, but we’ll survive. We always do. You’ve just got to find something to hold onto.”

Mark Sampson
“The Man in the High Castle.”

Malamud, Unforgotten

My ongoing subscription to The Library of America, started last summer, has thus far yielded primarily tomes relating to the American Revolution: Washington’s writings, Hamilton’s writings, the debate around the Constitution, and the like. But a few weeks ago, the first literary volume landed, a collection of Bernard Malamud’s novels of the 1960s. As I thumbed through the slipcased volume, bound in Library of America’s trademark format (which is as resilient as a hardcover yet as comfortable in the hand as a paperback), I was reminded of a highly entertaining 2008 essay for Commentary that drove me back into Bernard Malamud’s oeuvre. In that essay, “Why Malamud Faded,” Cheryl Miller of Doublethink Magazine wondered how Malamud disappeared so quickly from the American literary scene after a long, triumphant career.

Without seriously considering other possibilities, Miller posits that Malamud’s downfall can be traced to a 1974 essay written by Philip Roth in The New York Review of Books in which Roth accused Malamud of valorizing Jewish weakness and fetishizing Jewish pain. Roth didn’t like Jewish pain, preferred to write about Jewish pleasure (liver, anyone?), and laced into Malamud for his proclivities. Miller believes that the world agreed with this essay, and sentiment permanently turned against the scribe.

Sic Transit Gloria Monumenti

Doubtless it quietly thrills Miller, herself an essayist, to think that a single essay in a New York literary journal can change American tastes overnight. What she leaves out of her treatise, though, is an explanation of mechanism: how is it possible for a single essay (by a writer renowned for his insecurities) to sour the nation on a beloved literary icon? There are plentiful examples of astute essays in respected journals about iconic writers that did nothing to so damage their careers. Indeed, in the cases of John Steinbeck, Norman Mailer, and Roth himself, the best of those essays would fill volumes. With respect to Ms. Miller, I believe she overestimates the degree to which the book-buying public (as opposed to the clubby New York literary establishment) cares about the intramural bitch-fests of American letters.

I have an alternative explanation, one that William of Ockham would appreciate: Malamud faded because we all get old, we all get tired, and pretty soon our voices start sounding more like echoes than the lusty cries from a living throat.

Most of us who write, whether for love or money, at some point learn that we are most successful when we connect to an audience, and that we usually connect best with an audience we know well and understand. We know that the connection is dynamic, that it can be a spark or it can be the neuro-chemical equivalent of a fire. Writer and reader meld in shared discovery, shared understanding, and in the end know ourselves and each other better than when we started. Malamud, Saul Bellow, Neil Simon and Philip Roth all spoke to a generation of Jews who had won the right to their identity by fighting in World War Two, by being the brave remainder of a culled and bloodied nation, and by their willingness to shed in both life and work as much of what makes them different (i.e., Jewish) from mainstream America as possible.* The connection was intense, and it electrified a generation.

Malamud’s work addressed Jewish themes, even when not explicitly about Jews. In what has become in the 21st Century his best-known work, The Natural, Malamud tells the story of Roy Hobbs, a country boy baseball phenom rejected out of hand by a more sophisticated world, and just as he is about to succeed, has his opportunity for glory seemingly ripped from him by a chance encounter with death. But Hobbs has a gift, and returns in his thirties to claim his destiny, and in so doing purify the game he loves.

This was a subtly Jewish story, an allegory of the Jewish kid trying to make it in a world of Goyim and torn between the purity of his upbringing and the lure of doing what that world wants of him. More than just a multi-faceted morality tale, it was the story of the struggle endured by every Jew who has ever been tempted by assimilation. What made Malamud’s stories moving was how they spoke to and revealed something deeply Jewish, all while wrapping it in a quintessentially American story that made it broadly accessible. This was Malamud’s genre, and that of Bellow, Simon, and Wouk.

Their rejection of the strictures of their heritage made them darlings to a generation (of both Jews and non-Jews) bent on rebellion and an exploration of what our ancestors would have called the apikoros, the Epicurean lifestyle that raised the sensual over the spiritual. They thrilled non-Jews with their Jewishness, exotic yet accessible without the distasteful need to actually meet one. Malamud’s storytelling (and that of his peers) was earthier, more connected to something grounded, sensual, and elemental in each of us, much as Judaism represents for the Goy a kind of pure but forbidden paleo-Christianity. Malamud and his ilk excited Jews because we were proud to have Jews recognized as great men of words, to have our stories recognized as interesting and worthy, and we secretly hoped that if Jewish writers could be initiated into the literary salons of mainstream America while retaining even a shred of their Jewishness, there was still hope for the rest of us.

That thrilling moment passed, though, and the audience moved on. Malamud and his contemporaries had had a good run by the time their best work began finding its way onto movie screens, and a decade that took us from The Producers to Annie Hall to Brighton Beach made the exotic commonplace. A new generation of writers, spawned of the sixties and wielding their pens like hammers and protest signs, turned the literary adrenaline junkies to the New Journalism and to the first generation of post-modern novelists. Malamud would continue to write brilliantly, but our attention had been drawn by other voices.

Malamud and a New Generation

As had our values. First the Greatest Generation Jews and then the Jewish Boomers gave way to a new generation, with sensibilities that focused on forging their own rules rather than refighting their parents’ kulturkampf. Generation X Jews, finding little of pressing relevance to connect with in Malamud’s works, went looking elsewhere.

And why not? Is not Joan Didion more relevant to those of us seeking to understand life in California today than Gertrude Atherton or Helen Hunt Jackson? Young Jews today have different concerns than those of us born in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. Some have rejected the bacon-cheeseburger impiety of their parents generation and sought a return to traditional observance, a world Malamud had explicitly rejected. Even more young Jews reconnected with Zionism or with a secular desire to improve the world. Malamud would have applauded their rejection of tradition, but would have been baffled by their embrace of unselfconscious crusading. And still more had tuned out Jewish voices entirely, unless a mainstream author happened to be Jewish.

So Malamud’s work passed from the literary scene not long after he passed, a writer who spoke to a a people who have evolved during a moment that had passed.

The Literary Cicada

But before we consign Malamud’s works to the Recycle bin, it is worth considering that literature is history’s plaything. Writers and stories once adored and thence discarded of often rise above their time to become granite pinnacles of the literary landscape. Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Raymond Chandler, and Evelyn Waugh are read today outside of classrooms, not because their characters or stories are about us, or because the lives they depict seem familiar, but because they offer both a window onto a certain place and time and a reflection of the timelessness of what it means to be human. When I watch my millennial son look up from The Natural with a thoughtful grin, I wonder if it is not unreasonable for us to expect that Malamud’s oeuvre is not dead, just hibernating.

One last thought.

Jewish history is neither linear nor cyclical, but a combination of both. The faith evolves along with the tribe as we each try, in our own way, to forge a better world – or at least a vine and fig tree under which to sit. And yet we appear locked into these long cycles of separation, assimilation, rejection, and persecution that has been our lot since, well, Genesis.

It is becoming painfully evident that the twin events of the Shoah and the establishment of the modern state of Israel did not end history – it merely bought us 70 years to repair the damage wrought by the Nazi extermination machine. Just when we felt we had ameliorated the circumstances that took us to the gas chambers, we find ourselves on the brink of a new era that is seeing Judaism rejected by Europe, attacked by Islam, and assailed by the horned shoots of anti-Semitism rising from the furrows in the American soil.

As we are drawn again into the vortex of our historical cycle, we should make sure to preserve the works of Malamud and his contemporaries. Who knows? Perhaps one day, their stories of a battered people seeking wider acceptance will once again hearten a generation of Jews emerging from a dark night of persecution.

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.

Standards

Another person, a Christian, said to me, later, “I’m sick of churches these days. Everything is geared towards ‘meeting your needs.’ They have so many ministries and programs for every possible group, and don’t get me wrong, a lot of them do real good. But the overall effect is to train us to expect to be catered to. If somebody isn’t meeting our needs, then somebody is failing us. That’s the mindset. But that’s not Christianity. It’s supposed to be hard! It’s the Cross!”

Source: ‘You Can See It All Over. It’s Unwinding’ | The American Conservative

This from Orthodox Christian writer Rod Dreher.

A question for my fellow Jews:

Raise your hand if you see this same sort of tendency in your synagogue, yeshiva, or shul.

Yep.

A religious leader should not pander. A religious institution should not lower itself.

A religious leader should lead. And a religious institution must aspire to the highest standards while offering help to everyone to reach those standards.

Sportsmanship

How is it, I wonder, that we can praise a man for being a great athlete despite being a lousy sportsman? Why is it too much to expect both, especially when others on his team appear to manage that without an issue?

When we teach kids to play sports, we teach them that sportsmanship and skill are both critical components of excellence. Do we suddenly drop the sportsmanship requirement when the television and gambling stakes reach a certain level?

My sports heroes are the ones who are both fierce competitors and gentlemen or ladies at the same time. That is the gold standard. We should hold it up for all players of excellence. And, BTW, for ourselves.

Children and Reason

Perhaps if the late Mr. Hitchens had paid more attention in philosophy class, he would have understood that even the great philosophers acknowledged (and warned their students about) the limits of reason to answer “the really important questions.”

I give Hitchens full credit: he lived, wrote, and died holding high the sword of reason, never wavering in his belief that the ability of the human intellect to comprehend everything with the aid of logic was limitless.

That such a faith in and of itself defied logic and served as a kind of secular religion probably never occurred to him.

Remembering Mumbai

I wrote this letter not long after the Mumbai tragedy. I found it recently going through my files, and I wanted to share it as we remember the events of that awful day, and mourn the martyrs we lost, including Rebbetzin Rivkah Holtzberg and Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, OB”M, pictured. 

As we all try to come to grips with the aftermath off the tragedy in Mumbai, it is only natural that we are afflicted by feelings of anger, or sadness, or hopelessness, or despair. Each of us will feel a different combination of these, and sometimes we will feel them all at the same time.

All of these feelings find their sources in the neshama, that spark of G-dliness that on the one hand cries in pain for our loss, and on the other calls for – indeed demands – a healing of the wound that this event has torn into our nation and into the body of mankind. Whether we stand among the wreckage of what days ago was a refuge of Torah in the heart of a bustling city, or whether we sit thousands of miles away, we are gripped by the desire to do something, the desire to respond, and the frustration that comes with not knowing how.

Yet as we mourn for those we have lost, as we worry for those left behind, act we must. For there is much to do.

Despite having lived through some of the greatest horrors in the history of mankind, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (Of Righteous Memory), the Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, understood that not only is it fruitless to respond to darkness, hate, and anger with more of the same, it works against the very nature of the Jewish People to stand as a light among nations, a Kingdom of Priests, a Holy people.

Instead, our Rebbe taught that the way to respond to anger and hate is to reply with love, the way to respond to destruction with charity, the way to respond to despair with hope, and the way to battle the darkness is not with more darkness, but with light.

With your help, we can spread light even into the darkest corners of the world this Shabbos, and help speed the day when Moshiach comes and brings the Light of the Master of the Universe to us all.

Yoga and Faith

Apparently a retired Roman Catholic bishop has caused a stir by sending a letter to Women of Grace, a Catholic women’s group, condemning the practice of yoga as dangerous practice and “a pagan religion based on heathen beliefs and false doctrine of revelation involving such things as transmigration of souls, and so forth.”

I am not certain of the source of the bishop’s ruling, but I can say that I know an Orthodox rebbetzin of impeccable moral standing who does yoga with a group of equally devout Orthodox Jewish women (complying of course with with the Tznuit, the Jewish Laws of Modesty.)

Abrahamic faiths do not respond to the practice of yoga with much consistency, but it appears that the practice of yoga as an exercise can be divorced from the kinds of “pagan” beliefs and doctrines that caused the bishop such concern.

 

Fundamentalism and Abrahamic Faith

Despite the fervent hopes of some of the more radical atheists, if “bronze-age religions” were really in danger of dying, none of the Four Horsemen (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennet, and Sam Harris) would have expended so much passion in their crusades against those faiths. The fear among the more vocal of the New Atheists seems to be quite the opposite: that somehow fundamentalism in the Abrahamic creeds are threatening to throw the “Enlightenment” into reverse.

What this implicit fear obscures are the voices of moderation within each of the faiths that quietly fulminate against the social destructiveness of fundamentalism. I see Jewish thinkers like Jonathan Sacks and Joseph Telushkin (and the late Lubavitcher Rebbe) waging a gentle war of wisdom against religious extremism within my faith. There are Christians and Muslims engaged in the same effort.

A theologian explained to me once that “religion is man’s response to his ultimate concern.” That places a burden of relevance upon all faiths that demands their evolution or their extinction. Regressive forces like fundamentalism inveigh against evolution.

Shoah and Understanding

The more you study the Holocaust, the less you understand. I spent a lifetime studying it, and I still cannot understand. There were string quartets playing in Auschwitz-Birkenau while a million and a quarter human beings were gassed, burned, and turned to ash. What happened in Auschwitz in the Holocaust was a terrible demonstration of the limits of civilization to civilize if we do not fear God and see His image in every human person.

via Rabbi Jonathan Sacks | February 13, 2015 | Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly | PBS.

Ban the Snip, Ban the Tribe

In Europe’s Assault on Jewish Ritual Ben Cohen at Commentary leveled a double barreled j’accuse at the governments of Europe who are determined to outlaw circumcision and Kosher meat. His point, brilliantly argued, was a simple one: if you outlaw rituals that Jews are required to conduct as a core part of their observance, you are ipso facto outlawing Judaism itself, and making its practitioners criminals.
He does not stop there. He also takes on the apologists among our co-religionists who argue an equivalence between circumcision and female genital mutilation, or FGM.
To begin with, FGM has no religious basis, unlike male circumcision. Second, the removal of the clitoris entailed by FGM results in pain and medical complications that are infinitely worse than any of the outcomes of male circumcision; equally, it’s worth recalling that the benefits of male circumcision in fighting AIDS, as highlighted by the World Health Organization, are manifestly absent in the case of FGM. Third, the vast majority of men who undergo circumcision grow up unaware of the operation, whereas women subjected to FGM suffer hugely from the consequences for their entire lives.
Both his article and his response to a critical reader are worth a read.