NYT: Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts

Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts – NYTimes.com.

This is a brilliant, thoughtful, and deeply disturbing article that bodes ill for our future. Moral relativism, whatever its advantages in enhancing tolerance, may well prove to be a bauble we cannot afford.

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.

Tanach and Politics

God’s Politics | Foreign Affairs.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is, atop his many other virtues, one of the great social philosophers of our time. In a world seemingly intent on either building walls between the religious or the secular – or on delegitimizing one or the other – Sachs builds bridges without attempting to invade. 

His review of political philosopher Michael Walzer’s “In God’s Shadow” is a supreme example of his calm balance. In it, Sacks offers illuminating glimpses at Walzer’s thinking without injecting judgment. Regardless of their philosophical differences (and having read both men I am aware that those differences are not insubstantial,) Sacks draws out the commonalities in their thinking. Walzer notes that in the full analysis the Tanach spells out no coherent political ethos. Sacks, unsurprised if not delighted by the conclusion, agrees. It is not politics, after all, with which the Hebrew Bible concerns itself, and Jewish ethics (most notably the Pirkei Avot) almost compels Jews to eschew politics.

The takeaway is compelling: even though the Hebrew bible espouses no single political ethos, it is a a useful, indeed indispensable, guide for civil society and non-political virtues. Walzer and Sacks together spin a conclusion unlikely to please the “Christian Nation” crowd in the US or the Haredim in Israel: the implicit political message of the Tanach is that faith and politics rule over separate realms.