Yom Kippur Schmatta of a Bar Noach

Under my Kittel during Yom Kippur I wore comfortable clothes: blue jeans, non-leather tennis shoes, thick socks, and an oversized polo shirt.

I learned my lesson the hard way: teshuvah, Chabad-style, is work. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting, it is a process for which a coat, tie, and slacks are unsuited (no pun intended.) A nice suit may show respect for the holiday, but more functional attire, IMHO, shows determination, focus, and commitment.

Or so I told myself.

Advertisements

My Yom Kippur Lessons

A few lessons I took from Yom Kippur this year.

  • Teshuvah begins with forgiving everyone else for being imperfect.
  • You can’t have true teshuvah without approaching life with a feeling of gratitude. That’s actually a core tenet of success, and opens the road to humility.
  • My problem is pride. The antidote is reflection, gratitude, humility, and study.
  • I have allowed my relationship with Hashem to whither a bit. That is the true source of my discontent.

Now if only I can keep those in mind over the next year.

Forgive the Rabbis. They Know Not What They Sell.

Forgive the Rabbis. They Know Not What They Sell.

Rabbi Hayim Herring suggests that regardless of denomination, too many U.S. Jewish congregations think that they are in the business of selling “memberships,” or, worse, seats at the High Holy Days. Herring, who in fairness is talking his book, says that what they should be selling is a complete Jewish ecosystem.

Having spent the past decade loosely affiliated with Chabad of Beijing, I can tell you that this is precisely what Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Mendy, Rabbi Nosson, and their families have done. Even better, they have done so in cooperation with (rather than in opposition to) the reformed/conservative community of Kehillat Beijing.

I once likened Chabad’s role as being similar to an artificial reef on a sandy sea bottom. Their job is to create just enough to incite the development of a Jewish ecosystem where before there had been little, or in some cases, none. I’ve seen this approach work brilliantly on the far frontiers of the diaspora, but R. Herring reminds us that the same lessons apply even in the heartland of international Judaism.

The Torah is Non-dialectic

The Hegelian Dialectic might apply to philosophy, but it makes a poor fit when it comes to morality. A moral code may evolve – indeed, an argument can be made that moral codes must either be fungible enough to deal with changing circumstances and evolving rival codes. It may be scored, altered or tempered in its clash with other codes. The alternative is irrelevance or implosion. Any moral code worth the title has at its core a steely mass of non-negotiable values or ideals that are simply not open to compromise.

For thousands of years, the enemies of Torah have tried to alter it, cut it down, add to it, or destroy it. The clash has not resulted in a “changed” Torah, or, to take an example, a bastard child of Torah and Greek philosophy. What has resulted is that Torah has become tempered, hardened by the fire and hammer with the help of great scholars and ordinary Jews who continue to polish the flood of gems that come from study, discussion, and exegesis. Torah is alive, electric, a tree planted by Hashem that is refreshed constantly by those who trim its branches and shoots. But it will not be changed at either its trunk or roots.

The Conversion of Aristotle

20 px

Aristotle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the historic challenges to the Abrahamic faiths has been the rise of the Epicurian schools of rational thought. Judaism came to an intellectional accommodation with rationalism over time, a process that was completed and formalized through the brilliance of the Rambam. My understanding – possibly faulty – is that Thomas Aquinas attempted to do the same thing with Christianity and the greeks.

In my studies I have come across several claims that Aristotle underwent a deathbed conversion to Judaism. As near as I can tell (admittedely based on desktop research), the story is apocryphal. I have yet to find any conclusive evidence either way.

The claim stretches credulity both because of an apparent lack of evidence and because it appears to address the secret hopes of every Jew (including this one) that even the most ardent advocates of rational thought have discovered in its precepts a hole, a fault, that leaves too many questions unanswered. Like the Man on the Grassy Knoll theory of JFK’s assassination, the story’s support of our worldview makes it too tempting to believe. At moments like this, the precepts of our faith demand we step back and put our brains rather than our hearts to work.

Is there any historical basis? Would it matter if there was? The veracity of Torah and the worth of a life lived according to its precepts do not rest on the whims of an aged Greek philosopher. It should be enough for a thinking Jew to follow his own inquiry and reach his or her own conclusions. The need for us to tell ourselves stories of eleventh-hour conversions of skeptics only hints at unaddressed self-doubts.

Been to Aish yet?

About Aish.com.

By the way, have I mentioned how much I love Aish.com? Along with Chabad.org and Torah.org, Aish.com is just a superb guide to those of us on our own walk-in-the-desert journeys to Teshuvah.

It all begins with learning, and Aish.org is all about education. If you haven’t seen the site yet, go and spend some time. If nothing else, check out the Window on the Wall, watching the Kotel 24/7.

One Step Closer to Being Pushed Into The Sea

“Palestinians Still Embrace Spirit of 1947”
Jonathan Tobin
Commentary Magazine

Jon Tobin and I don’t agree on everything, but even if you are the furthest thing from a neocon, you need to read this op/ed from yesterday.

The quote that everyone should have emblazoned on their consciousness is this one:

The main truth about this conflict has always been guided by one fact: neither the Palestinians nor their backers were willing then to acknowledge the rights of the Jews. It is only now after decades of intransigence that the Arabs say they want a state. But the common thread from 1947 to today’s debate is the willingness of much of the world to delegitimize Jewish rights and to bypass negotiations.

Even to a moderate like me who has never hesitated to lambaste Israel’s leadership (especially Bibi’s Likud) for the continuing idiocy around the settlements issue, it is becoming painfully clear that the Palestinian goals have never changed. A two-state solution increasingly appears to be a stepping-stone toward a single-state solution. For if it were not, the Palestinian Authority would have recognized Israel’s right to exist long ago.

The painful truth is that successive waves of Palestinian leaders – starting from the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in 1926 to Mahmoud Abbas and the leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah, et al – have talked themselves into a corner. Even if they wanted to recognize Israel, their legitimacy among their people now depends on their dedication to pushing the Jews into the sea.

That is sad. Because that makes this conflict less about a land agreement and more existential for both sides. And an existential conflict can never lead to peace.