Inspired by Sean Maloney

Sean Maloney, Executive Vice President of Inte...

Sean Maloney in 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Though not what one might term a “Jewish Scholar,” Sean Maloney is a remarkable man. Leaving aside his meteoric career with Intel, he has also survived – and recovered from – a catastrophic stroke that pulled the plug on a large part of his left frontal lobe.

He offers three lessons that ring so Talmudic that they should be offered here:

  1. Pick the one thing that has the biggest impact. Don’t squander a minute.
  2. Fight for what you believe in. Never stop listening.
  3. Laugh, because you don’t know how long it is going to last.

I cannot imagine Akiva or Hillel (or even Shammai) arguing with any of those.

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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.

From the Facebook Files

A Sefer Torah, the traditional form of the Heb...

A Sefer Torah, the traditional form of the Hebrew Bible, is a scroll of parchment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the words of one self-declared atheist in a superb debate on Facebook:

“How useful is the Bible in guiding our moral decisions?”

That’s a fair question. Indeed, it is worth widening it to “How useful is any textual guide to morality, ethics, or personal behavior?” Whether you follow Torah, the New Testament, the Koran, Buddhavacana, Shruti, the Avesta, or Peter Singer‘s Practical Ethicsthe question is the same. How useful is any of these?

The answer is that the core text of any ethos is only as useful as you make it. My family and I find Torah useful every single day, often many times a day. But I know plenty of my fellow tribesmen who do not. And I know the more I study, the more I apply it.

But the question cannot be answered by anyone who does not know because they have not made a good  faith effort to try.

On Atheist Marriages

Atheist marriages: Should one nonbeliever marry another?
Jesse Bering
Slate
November 14, 2011

Okay, this one is a year old, but it is so brilliantly written and such a hoot that it is a must-read for believers and non-believers alike. Slate’s Jesse Bering (who now rates as our favorite gay atheist) probes with wit and sensitivity the question of whether degrees and nature of belief are criteria for long-term marital compatibility.

The conclusion he reaches is no surprise: your best shot at long-term happiness with a marital partner is a shared set of values. In all likelihood, the more closely beliefs and values are shared, the more compatible you and your partner will be.

Judaism has a lot to say about mixed marriages, mostly negative, and I understand why. No way would my wife and I have made it anywhere near this far without sharing our fundamental belief in Torah. In fact, that faith has held us together (and quite happily) despite the stresses and strains of a mixed-race marriage. Faith runs thicker than culture, to be sure.

The door should never be closed to interfaith unions – I’ve seen a quite few work out pretty well. But I’ve also seen disparate beliefs become the shoal on which many relationships foundered. Hunt first with your heart, then, but don’t forget your soul.

And as far as Mr. Bering is concerned, this article is proof that Theists and Atheists can have constructive conversations without falling into the gutter of kulturkampf.

Study Online: Rav Kook

 

A. I. Kook (d. 1935), Chief Rabbi of Palestine

A. I. Kook (d. 1935), Chief Rabbi of Palestine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rabbi Kook on Weekly Torah Portion (Parsha), Jewish Holidays and Psalms (Tehillim).

Rabbi Chanan Morrison’s superior site that offers commentary on the Torah, the Tehillim, and the events on the Jewish calendar based on the teachings of Rabbi Abraham Israel Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel.

The site is a treasure trove and worth spending time – at least an hour a week – looking through what is on offer.

Beyond Denominations

The Economist, in its recent special report about the Jews, “Alive and Well,” offers us an interesting – and I think defensible – chart of the key points of belief and practice, delineating where the similarities as well as the differences lie among the four major denominations – HarediModern Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. The guide offers some interesting insights into the faith, and it raises some others into each of us. After looking over the list and seeing how that made some sense, I then gave myself a test. Where do my own articles of faith lie?

  • On the Source of the Torah, I agree with both Orthodox denominations in that I believe that the Torah was dictated by G-d to Moses;
  • On the Authority of Halacha, I find myself between the Modern Orthodox and the Conservatives: life is regulated by halacha but that halacha can evolve to a degree;
  • Similarly, on Ritual and Practice, I’m with the Modern Orthodox in that they are regulated by halacha, but that there is room for evolution;
  • On Zionism and Israel, however, I am torn. I generally support Israel, but I am troubled by the State’s handling of the settlements issue.
  • On the Definition of Jewishness, I am between the Modern Orthodox and the Conservative position, but mostly out of selfishness – I want to be considered Jewish, but my mother did not convert according to halacha and I am not yet ready to take on the full scope of the Mitzvot.

But enough of this navel-gazing.

The article raises much more meaningful questions: are the differences between the denominations as great as we believe? Are they always a matter of choice, or are they a matter of upbringing? Do not each of the movements and denominations serve a purpose? Should we take a more holistic approach to our faith? Is it time for us to knock down the walls that divide the denominations?

Inter-denominational dissing is too prevalent, and we forget too easily that bBaseless hatred cast us out of Israel. Is it such a leap to think that it is,  the continuing presence of Jew-on-Jew strife that keeps Moshiach away?

One of the things that inspired me about Chabad was how the rabbis, while clearly Orthodox almost to the point of haredi, refused to classify themselves as such, and profess a point of view that says “all Jews are the same.” If they can do that, why can’t the rest of us?

The call of the shofar

The call of the shofar
HBH”C Ploni ben Nistar

A beautiful post that captures the essence of why we blow the Shofar at this season.

I have heard a number of shiurim and D’varim about this topic, but this one stands near the top.

Happy Elul. May your days be filled with contemplation, wonder, and a love of Hashem.