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.

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.

The Blemishes of Orthodoxy

“Either/Orthodoxy
Lawrence Grossman
Jewish Ideas Daily
May 15, 2012

Lawrence Grossman of the American Jewish Committee sparks an thoughtful debate about the relevance of Orthodox Judaism when even some of its adherants are perplexed.

For his part, Grossman mounts a pithy assault on one book that argues against the divine inspiration of Torah, and another that defends Orthodoxy yet tries to frame Orthodoxy in the cast of modern spirituality.

In the end, Grossman poses a question: if, in fact, Torah is not from a divine source, and thus the justification for the mitzvot weak, why does Orthodox Judaism remain so “vibrant and successful?”

Read the article, but read it as you would attend a shiur: in other words, read the comments as well. They are in many respects the best part.

Bill Bishop Wonders about China’s Latent Anti-Semitism

Today’s China Readings May 24, 2012 | Sinocism.

On his excellent Sinocism blog, the thoughtful and prolific Bill Bishop examines whether China Central Television‘s (CCTV) talk show host is an anti-Semite, a subject broached by the Shanghaiist editorial staff.

While he reaches no conclusion either way, Bishop, whom I do not believe is a member of the Tribe, approaches the topic with tact and care.

When asked how Jews are perceived in China, I always fall back on the words of Rebbetzin Dini Freundlich of Chabad of Beijing, who once said, “Chinese say the same [stereotypical] things about Jews that everybody else in the world says. The difference is that they say it with respect.”

My experience over 17 years living in China and ten years traveling here before that is that most Chinese have a healthy admiration for Jewish people, albeit one based too much on hearsay for my comfort. (After all, a positive reputation based on hearsay can turn into a negative one when the hearsay changes, all without reference to the facts.)

It behooves every Jew with the ability to visit China to do so, and to make no effort to hide your Judaism, any more than an American should hide his origins. If the Chinese are to know us, they must know who we are, and I believe that the more they know us, the better we’ll be liked. (Especially if we act according to Torah in the process.)

Partners in Torah

Judaism, Torah, Jews | Partners in Torah.

This site promises you the opportunity to learn any Jewish subject with your own private teacher for 30-45 minutes a week over the phone.

Very cool…

Torah Thought of the Day

This one really got to me:

“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom
Let not the mighty man glory in his might
Let not the rich man glory in his riches
But one should only glory in this:
That he understands and knows Me,
that I am the Lord,
Who exercises mercy, justice, and righteousness on the earth.
For in these I delight, says the Lord.”

Yeremiachu 9:22-3

Amen, selah

Assent and Corporate Ethics: The Sinai Question

I wrote a blog post over at Silicon Hutong earlier this week (“The Company Code: Morality, China, and Facebook“) that examined the moral issue around Facebook entering China. While I wrote the post for a secular audience, issues of Torah and Halakah were swimming in my head. It was one of the most difficult posts I have written in seven years of blogging.

One of the issues I wanted to cover, but in the end removed, was the question of assent. When Hashem gave the Torah to Bais Yisrael at Har Sinai, He did not give the Torah until the entire people had confirmed that they would accept the Law (Parshat Yitro). I claim neither Torah nor legal scholarship, but what that implies to me is that a law, a commandment, or a moral code cannot be made binding on anyone – even by the Almighty Himself – unless that person agrees to take that law upon himself.

As troubled as we may be about the potential for Facebook to conduct itself in China in a way that does not meet our approval, we have to ask ourselves whether we can hold the company to a moral code to which it has not formally subscribed. Indeed, I would question whether we can hold the company accountable to a moral code that has not been explicitly spelled out for the people in the company with ultimate decision power: the company leadership and its board of directors.

There are those who would suggest that a common sense of right and wrong should be enough to tell a company what it should and should not do. The history of the corporation, from the South Seas Bubble to the Global Financial Crisis, belies such assumptions. Leaving aside for a moment whether a company can, in fact, be held accountable for moral transgressions, we must recognize that a corporation itself may posses legal personhood, but it does not innately posses a moral compass, or a sense of right or wrong.

There are others who might suggest that merely by operating in the context of a nation or culture, a company gives its implicit assent to conform to the moral codes of that society. In today’s global and multicultural business operating environment, however, it is often impossible for a well-meaning company to identify a prevailing moral code in a single country like the United States, and infinitely more difficult when doing so across national boundaries.

Many companies, particularly small- and medium-sized businesses, that operate in accordance with set moral standards. Salesforce.com, In-and-Out Burger, and Google are among the most prominent examples. What each of these hold in common is that they take the time to spell out the moral strictures under which they will do business, and they extend those principles into the very core of the company through everything from operating manuals to the behavior that is rewarded at bonus time.

The solution is clear: it is not enough for us to simply expect (read “hope”) that a company will naturally operate ethically, nor to impose upon it a code of behavior ex post facto, but to articulate to each company at the outset a requirement that they adopt, publish, and make a part of their operations a clear moral code, one that reaches into the very fabric of the organization. In this, you have not only assent to a code, but collective ownership of and accountability for each aspect of those behavioral guidelines.

As outsiders, then, before we can criticize a company for its immoral behavior, we must first make clear that we expect it to frame what constitutes right and wrong (beyond simply “obey the law,”), or make clear that if they do not, we will do so for them, and then, if they do not set their own standards, we must make clear the code by which we expect them to operate.