8/30/10 reads

In Israel, Settling for Less

Why do we blame just religious zionists instead of questioning how a government can turn it’s back on blood spilled to conquer and secure the lands being offered back in peace? I think the challenge of peace is not just because some don’t want to give back land. The challenge from the Israeli side is believing giving more land away will actually end the conflict, especially considering that conflict continues after Oslo, Wye, and the Gaza disengagement. At some point, the violent parties all need to be held accountable and not be rewarded for violence.

Five myths about mosques in America

Very simply, this op-Ed is interesting but misguided. The mosque on ground zero for many is not about the mosque but about an anger towards the ideaof a mosque on that location. Nobody is denying the Imam from opening a mosque, just not there, on the location of a tragedy brought about by fanatical Islamic terrorists.

Doctors’ beliefs do affect care

According to the Journal of Medical Ethics as portrayed in the CNN blog post Docs’ beliefs affect end-of-life care, Doctors subjectivity does play a role in care, specifically regarding the challenges of end-of-life care.  I am not suprised a finding like this would be had, as I believe all people involved in hospice and end-of-life care have trouble, understandably, of separating personal belief from what the patient desires.  Doctors especially struggle with this as there is an authority given to doctors by patients that often causes the patient to give in when a doctor’s thinking is different.  I personally always caution those who work in hospice to remember that it is not us who can make decisions.  If someone is uncomfortable, then either they should recuse him/herself from care or perhaps need to rethink career paths.  The worst thing that can happen is to cause additional suffering and grief because one is unable to separate personal choice from patient autonomy.

Book Review – The Value of Human Life

There are many topics which tend to remain in the world of the elite or the learned.  One of these is Jewish Medical Ethics.  A recent book came out which I believe will allow those not as versed in the subject to get a good sense of how halacha confronts modern medicine.  Feldheim published The Value of Human Life, which contains articles from a Jewish medical ethics conference held in Italy in 2008.  All the usual suspects are represented, such R. JD Bleich and Professor Avraham Steinberg.  The essays cover topics regarding infertility, organ donation, end-of-life care and also two essays on general issues of taking care of oneself during life.  The book is sparsely footnoted, which makes it easily readable (for those who want more in depth discussion, this book is not the primary source).  One of the more fascinating stylistic points of the book is that they kept the essays in a similar format to the actual presentations, including stories, references to other talks, etc.  I would recommend people read this book to get a feel of the questions that would need to be asked and investigated if, G-d forbid, people should confront the harshness of life.  While I don’t agree with all the opinions presented, it is important to know debate exists, and the authors tend not to give definitive answers so much as the questions needed to be investigated. 

As a healthcare chaplain, one of the more neglected elements is that families don’t know how to be advocates for themselves, speaking up when something doesn’t seem appropriate or right.  Some of this is due to lack of informedness.  If I don’t know, I can’t know what questions to ask.  I always find myself in the role of patient advocate, teaching patients and families that they have options and choices they can request from the healthcare provider.  Obviously, there is a limit, but the limit is not as narrow as sometimes presented.

Lung Cancer Patients Receiving Palliative Care Have Improved Quality of Life, Extended Survival, Study Finds

Thought this article was a fascinating little piece on the value of palliative care on quality and quantity of life.  It always has fascinated me that a little care and non-aggressive treatment can really create a better quality of life at the end, as well as potentially provide people longer time before death comes.

Heavenly Torah – Issues of Belief # 3

In Conversations Winter 2010, the journal of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, an article was written by Daniel Jackson called Torah min haShamayim: Conflicts Between Religious Belief and Scientific Thinking.  In this piece, he surveys and reviews the recent challenges to the divine authorship of the Bible.  To start, Jackson makes the case that Torah min HaShamayim (TMS) is the current hot button challenge for a believing Jew.  Evolution and science, while challenging, are predominantly accepted in one way or another in the MO and Centrist Orthodox communities (the Haredi community [in most of its forms] is still struggling with this, usually by denying science over Torah.  As an example, see the Slifkin affair of this past decade.  DH doesn’t even show up on their radar for the most part).  TMS has many challenges, including feminist theory, biblical archeology, modern science, textual/literary criticism, modern morality. 

I have struggled for many years with this topic.  The typical Orthodox responses, such as the ideas of mass revelation, or bible codes, as offered most coherently by Lawrence Kelemen in Permission to Receive, are full of holes.  For example, even if you accept TMS, it is extremely difficult to argue that there aren’t minor variants in different traditions Masoretic texts, as presented in various halachic arguments about kosher vs. pasul sifrei Torah.   While most authorities are not concerned with the minor variants in the text when it comes to the general principle of TMS, the other issues are greater and potentially more concrete challenges. 

In my first post on belief, I stated the following about belief in TMS:

2.  Pirqei Avot 1:1 – Moses received the Torah at Sinai – The Sinaitic experience was some sort of climactic moment in which the Judeo-legal and ethical system was revealed to the Earth.  The how and what of revelation become secondary to the concept of a revelatory experience.  This eliminates the questions about the historical event as well as removes the challenge of Documentary Hypothesis or Ancient Near Eastern influences.  It is not Hazal that dictate a pristine Torah from Sinai without a single mistake.  The exactness of the text might be assumed but then again, the way texts were read in the Talmudic and pre-Talmudic times, it is hard to fully engage such a notion.  Today, with the conclusiveness of the Torah containing linguistic layers, etc. it becomes challenging to concretely claim absolute single authorship at a single moment.  I remain non-committal on the exactitude of TMS (Torah M’Sinai).

In reflecting more on my words, I was struck by the following post I saw on another blog, QED (Avi Woolf).  He presents reader’s with an assignment to read a piece by Rav Yoel Bin Nun, one of the foremost Tanach teachers of today, on modern Orthodox approaches to Tanach study.  Rav Bin Nun argues that both he and R. Mordechai Breuer are doing Orthodox Bible study and not academic study, so when it appears they are talking about DH or historical lacunae, it is all in the guise of legitimate Torah study.  While I don’t agree with Rav Bin Nun’s assessment of the Breuer methodology, theirs are one of the few approaches out there for religious, believing Jews who are also educated in modern biblical criticism.  Jackson, meanwhile, presents Kugel and Brettler as his other two examples of Orthodox men who are also involved in areas of academic Bible.  Again, the challenge presented by those two thinkers is that their Bible study is set in academia and for most would cause tremendous difficulty. 

More to come on this topic when I can better formulate the specifics of those mentioned above.

Thoughts on Yeshiva University

I finished reading Jeffrey Gurock’s history of Yeshiva University, The Men and Women of Yeshiva, which was written in 1988.  A few points from his work stuck out to me which I thought I would share. 

1. Rav Soloveitchik doesn’t play a central role:  There is a dearth of material on Rabbi Joseph Baer Soloveitchik, also known in the YU world as the Rav.  In fact, it was not just Rabbi Soloveitchik who was missing, but rather there was little about the RIETS Roshei Yeshiva.  I highlight Rav Soloveitchik because the common YU lore places him as the central figure in post WWII YU.  Gurock limits his discussion to two parts.  The first is the hiring of the Rav.  He spends a short amount of space to the topic (which will also come into play in my second point).  The second is during the Vietnam era and how the students looked to Rav Soloveitchik for support and guidance.  Guidance he provided, and support he gave even though he did not agree with the opinions of the students.  I think Gurock leaves Rabbi Soloveitchik out either because his role was not as expansive as is commonly shared or because being that the book was written in 1988, Rav Soloveitchik was still alive and it would have been inappropriate at the time to go into more details. 
2.  The short section of Rabbi Norman Lamm’s appt. as President and Rosh HaYeshiva of YU:  Dr. Gurock also doesn’t go into details about the appointment of Rabbi Lamm.  This struck me as odd because he does provide a detailed description of the process and appointment of Rabbi Samuel Belkin, second head of YU.  I think the same that applies to Rabbi Soloveitchik must surely apply to Rabbi Lamm.  Dr. Gurock does not discuss the process and choice because he was writing during the formidable years of the Rabbi Lamm presidency.  Nevertheless, knowing some of the background story, I felt somewhat short changed, especially because Rabbi Bernard Lander, the other primary candidate, plays a role in the future of American Orthodoxy in his founding of Touro College.  Perhaps this wasn’t much of an issue during the mid 1980s.

2. YU-RIETS always concerned for the right wing:  The third observation to me is the most telling.  There is all this talk about shift to the right in Modern Orthodoxy and specifically Yeshiva University.  Yet, when reading Gurock’s account of the history,  YU leaders have always looked behind their right shoulder to see what the Aggudat HaRabbanim or other such organizations would think.  For example, part of the reason for hiring Rabbi JB Soloveitchik was to appease the Agudah crowd.  Yet, even his hiring was not so appeasing, and YU even went so far as to offer at first a trial one year contract before offering him the post permanently.  The school has always wanted to be accepted by the black hat world, and while one could not foresee the future after the death of the Rav, clearly the agudah got some of its wish, for the school is definitely more “right wing.”