Some Sukkot reads

One Imam, Multiple Messages

This piece does not come as a complete shock.  It seems Imam Rauf has laid out his agenda in his writings but most people are unfamiliar with his true colors.  He supports the Ayatollah’s regime in Iran and he denies the Islamic connection to 9/11.  And this will be the same man at the forefront of interfaith dialogue?

Is Israel More Isolated than Ever?

This policy piece tries to show how Israel has more allies and more foreign relationships than what is portrayed by the media.  We are led to believe Israel is often if not always standing alone in the fight for its survival.

War Games

Video games are the new medium for introducing the next generation to the horrors of war.  This piece describes how video games have overtaken movies in the war genre.  A secondary issue in the piece was how many of these games are designed with former soldiers as consultants.  The question has been whether video games are respectful to the deceased soldiers.  By other soldiers being involved in game making, perhaps the question is not a simple yes or no. 

 

Orthodoxy and Innovation – book review and thoughts

One of the most challenging aspects of Judaism is its male centricity.  If one looks at our liturgy, there is a clear male bias.  The challenge we face today is the question of changing the liturgy or keeping the status quo.  R. Dr. Daniel Sperber (hebrew wikipedia) offers his argument in a new book,  On Changes in Jewish Liturgy: Options and Limitations (disclaimer, I bought this book and did not receive it to review). 

I will begin by highlighting some of the positives of the book.  As usual with Dr. Sperber, he is well researched and and includes proof texts for his arguments.  He makes a strong case for the notion that liturgy has changed over time, some due to scribal errors and others due to particulars customs and traditions.  His primary argument is that since change has occured throughout history, we should be allowed to make other changes in the text of the liturgy as long as the traditional premises remain.  For some general discussions about how Sperber confronts modernity see: Orthodoxy and Innovation, A Torah expert faults the rabbis and Our Dialogue with G-d: Tradition and Innovation.

With that said, the book was highly troubling to me.  For starters, his arguments, while filled with proof, are very weak.  Some of that has to do with the fact that the writing is poor.  You could clearly tell that this work was written by someone who is not a native English speaker.  The other troubling part if his argument is that he is advocating for liturgical changes for societal reasons.  The problem here is that his proof texts generally relate to changes due to grammatical error or some mystical reason, like the numerology of Hasidei Ashkenaz.  To me, arguing for change because of the sensitivities of women, while admirable, doesn’t seem to fit with how liturgical change occurred. 

 Dr. Sperber, if he wants to make certain changes, doesn’t outright tell you what is offensive.  He makes reference to three potential changes to be made.  The first would be the removal of שלא עשני אשה in the morning blessings.  The second seems to be the inclusion of אלקי שרה… as part of the first blessing of the Amidah.  His third is the removal of a line in Tachanun that relates sin to menstruating women.  However, never does he outright say, this is the change we should make.  To me, if a person is going to go so far as to conclude his/her book with a call for a liturgy sensitive to women, then tell us what that would like.  The problem he faces is that if he were to make the outright claims, his book would probably not have been by Urim publications and he would also have been accused of being a Conservative Rabbi, thus ending the discussion right there. 

Every year, the less traditional movements continue to produce new, innovative siddurim while the Orthodox world, when they do make changes, tend towards adding more material that can become sacred even if the liturgy was not meant to be an absolute requirement.  For example, the new Artscroll Siddur, by including prayers like פרק שירה, will now lead to more people reciting this text without them understanding what it is they are reciting.  It will become part of the standard liturgy.  From that perspective, Dr. Sperber is onto something.  However, as I have already mentioned, to make liturgical changes for sociological reasons can be a very dangerous area to walk down. As far as the book goes, to me it is a good reference work but I am not sure it really accomplishes presenting a strong case for changing prayer to meet Modern orthodox sociological needs.

9/15 – Yom Kippur reads

The Meaning of the Koran

Another attempt at showing how the holy books of the world can be biased to whatever side you believe to be correct.  I am not sure what this adds to the discussion other than the opening couple of paragraphs.  Basically, don’t burn the Quran because it does contain verses that speak well of Jews and Christians. 

Kosher by Design

He brings to the community a general review of the one of the more unappreciated Jewish thinkers of the late 20th century, Michael Wyschogrod.  One of the more fascinating elements of Wyschogrod’s thinking which was highlighted was his belief that we should engage in interfaith theological dialogue.  This is as opposed to his teacher Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, who explained in his work Confrontation that the only interfaith dialogue that could work relates to societal commonalities. 

Lost in Translation

This piece is very fascinating.  It is about an Arab who is interested in Judaic studies as a means of better enlightening his people to understand what Judaism is all about.  Obviously, he is having trouble getting Arabic translations of Jewish works published.  Yet, I empathize with his goals and wishes.  I think if peace is to ever be found in the Middle East, education will be the most important element.  And what better way to educate the next generations than to provide material so they can see what Judaism is really all about. 

How Do You Say Shofar in Ukrainian?

This is nice little piece describing Rosh Hashanah in Uman.  Uman of course is the burial town of Rebbe Nachman, the Breslover Rebbe (the one and only).  Makes me think about going some year down the road, though while I would love to see it, I’m not sure I would enjoy being with 35,000 people for Rosh Hashanah.  Might be a bit overwhelming for me.

R. Yosef realizes his mistake

 Ovadia Yosef atones to Mubarak after declaring Palestinians should die (hat tip: Failed Messiah)

I see.  So R. Ovadiah shoots from the hip, makes a challenging statement and then writes a letter to apologize.  Basically, his PR people need to do a better job of watching what he says and who hears it.  Well, I guess I should be happy that he has the sense to realize the danger of his words.  I just wonder if the American media will pick up on the apology like they picked up on his hateful rhetoric.

9/13 – 9/14 reads

First Blood

Sometimes conspiracy theories are not so far-fetched.  It seems that Meir Kahane might have been the first event in the current history of Al-Qaida terrorism on US soil.  This essay describes some of the history of the beginnings of Al-Qaida and its connections with the group that assassinated Kahane.  Very fascinating and very scary at the same time. 

The imam behind the New York mosque enjoys his megaphone

The author’s premise is that the Imam is causing his own bad publicity by trying to continuously make the argument about the value of his institution being built near Ground Zero.  I have said much on the subject in previous posts, so I will leave the editorial to speak for itself. 

Pastor Terry Jones, as right as John Brown

An interesting editorial, for the author, Richard Cohen, argues that Terry Jones, while wrong for wanting to burn the Quran, should also be defended as expressing his freedom of speech and expression.  This is an interesting debate in its own right, as to what constitutes the limits of the freedom of expression.  Yet, I think Cohen has one thing clearly correct.  An America in which one cannot express himself because of fear of repercussions is not a free America.  Nevertheless, as I have already written, the burning of religious books, regardless of the religion is overstepping the boundaries. 

How will al-Qaeda mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11?

We should not be so complacent as to believe nothing will happen again.  Many Americans think we are nearly as safe as we were before 9/11.  I think we have short memories.  Be that as it may, this editorial is a reminder of all the failed and successful terrorist plots.  By definition, a terrorist plot doesn’t have to succeed to be a terrorist attack.  The failures also strike fear, for they can be seen as the what ifs.  This is in contrast to another recent editorial, Post 9/11: we’re safer than we think.  Zakaria argues that we have all but neutralized Al-Qaida and should feel safer today.  As such, perhaps we should back off the war on terrorism.  Yet, if we slow down, we might allow for the rebuilding of the radical movements.  Besides, Al-Qaida isn’t the only one and to quote a figure of 400 might be underestimating the number of sleeper cells that had been in place. 

The Golem of Prague & The Golem of Rehovoth

This small essay was originally published in Commentary.  It can also be found in Scholem’s The Messianic Idea in Judaism.  First off, this is quite an interesting comparison of robotics/computers and the ancient idea of the humanoid fashioned by man.  I particularly like the point by point comparison at the end.  In 2010, man has created an artificial form of speech for this machine, almost one-upping the old Golem stories.  Yet, it is not human speech so much as processed speech from human writing.  Also, Scholem sees ahead to our days, when computers are sleek and attractive, taking up little space.  For more about the idea of Golem, see The Golem: Universal and Particular.  The notion of the Golem is found in different forms throughout literature and mystical thinking.  It is another form of humanity believing it can have “control” over the elements.   

Who’s Bluffing: Abbas or Netanyahu?

The evidence is clear that the peace process is again doomed to failure.  The reality is that until the Arab governments accept the legitimacy of Israel being a Jewish country, peace isn’t possible.  The Israeli government, for better or worse, is willing to discuss trading more land for peace, but they require the recognition of the state as a trade-off.

Will there be another great Jewish American Rabbi?

Will the Great American Rabbi Please Stand Up?: Jewish America seems to have lost its chance to foster home-grown rabbinical sages.

A very interesting observation presented by Shmuel Rosner.  I have heard this idea for over 12 years.  American institutions have not been able to create unique thinkers.  Part of this results from the diversity of the country.  Another reason has to do with the clutter life has to offer today.  Rosner makes the point that all the great ones of the past generation were all European born.  What he fails to mention is that all of the innovative thinkers of the past generation were educated in an entirely different methodology than today.  There was an element of individuality and creativity which has been lost. 

For me, the most specific area to comment on is the Modern Orthodox community.  There is not a single rabbinic figure who can be universally accepted throughout the American modern Orthodox community.  We have brilliant Rabbis and rabbis who are activists, but none who would be able to begin reaching the intellectual heights of their rabbi, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik.  Part of the problem is that anything in the theology or philosophic realm tries to begin with Rabbi Soloveitchik instead of rethinking and reconceptualizing Judaism for the 21st century. 

I think another element is that any Modern Orthodox thinker who does have a unique opinion cannot transcend the Orthodox spectrum to be universally accepted due to the diversification of American Orthodoxy.  The truth is, however, that American Judaism has always been fragmented, though certain social and historical events caused many to cross boundaries.  Today, the only way to potentially cross boundaries is in the realm of pastoral counseling, in which all denominations have come together, reluctantly I might add, under one rubric.  Of course, that doesn’t create great rabbis.  And this leads us back to the original problem. 

I happen to believe that we will have to wait for another generation or two before we see greats again, as long as those who are potentially giants don’t just migrate to Israel at the earliest convenience.

He wouldn’t have chosen the site if he had known!?!

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf: Politicians have poisoned process for Islamic center near Ground Zero

So, now it seems the Imam has admitted he is making a mistake.  I don’t know, but this seems almost as disingenuine as the politicians he is attacking.  As I keep thinking about the mosque issue, all I know is that most people I have spoken with are against it, not because of Islamophobia but because they think it is insensitive.  Shouldn’t he have realized that as well?  Of course, he also says, what’s done is done, so I won’t decide to move it.  I keep saying that I definitely am I glad I don’t have to make a decision to allow for the mosque to be built or moved.  Neither choice will end well.