Religion allied to Progress

 “Religion allied to progress”: [the leaders of Reform have] with undaunted courage embroidered [this slogan] in scintillating colours on to the banner of our present-day religious struggles, that the educated “progressive” sons and daughters of the new age might rally to this new flag of the prophet and advance with it unhindered. How leaderless was this new congregation of prophets before this new messenger with this new message of salvation appeared among them! Since the beginning of the century the ancient religion had been to them–ancient; it no longer fitted into the society of the sons and daughters of the new age with their frock coats and evening dresses. In club and fraternity, at the ball and supper party, at concerts and in salons–everywhere the old Judaism was in the way and seemed so completely out of place. And even in the counting-house and in the office, in the courtroom and at the easel, on board ship and in the train–throughout the stream-driven lightning activity of the new age the old Judaism acted as a brake on the hurrying march of progress. Above all it seemed to be the only obstacle in the race for emancipation. No wonder then that without hesitation they shook off the old obstructive religion and hurried into the arms of “progress.” And in the political market-place where emancipation was to be purchased, the modern sons of Judah could be seen in every corner offering to exchange the old Judaism for something else, since in any case it had lost all its value for their own use. For many a decade modern Jewry thus soared aloft like dust on the wings of a butterfly and tasted freedom in the unwonted airy heights; and yet they felt a pain in their hearts where the absence of religion had left a void, and at the end they were ashamed while enjoying the brilliance of modern life to be walking the earth without religion; they felt restless and miserable.

But behold! The prophet of the new message came into their midst with the cry of “religion allied to progress”; he filled the blank, pacified their conscience and wiped out their shame. With this magic word he turned irreligion into Godliness, apostasy into priesthood, sin into merit, frivolity into virtue, weakness into strength, thoughtlessness into profundity. By this one magic phrase he distilled the ancient world-ranging spirit of the Torah into a single aromatic drop of perfume so fragrant that in the most elegant party dress they could carry it round with them in their waistcoat pockets without being ashamed. By means of it, he carved out of the ponderous old rock-hewn Tablets of the Law ornamental figures so tiny that people gladly found room for them on smart dressing tables, in drawing-rooms and ballrooms. By means of this one magic phrase he so skilfully loosened the rigid bonds of the old law with its 613 locks and chains that the Divine Word which until then had inflexibly prohibited many a desire and demanded many a sacrifice, henceforth became the heavenly manna which merely reflected everybody’s own desires, echoed their own thoughts, sanctified their own aspirations and said to each one: “Be what you are, enjoy what you fancy, aspire to what you will, whatever you may be you are always religious, whatever you may do–all is religion; continue to progress, for the more you progress the further you move from the ancient way, and the more you cast off old Jewish customs the more religious and acceptable to God will you be….

All this would of itself worry us who are of different mind very little. We allow everyone his own peace and bliss and also his fame, if only he would be fair enough to leave us not indeed our “fame” (to which we lay no claim), nor indeed our “bliss” (which cannot be impaired by human opinion) –but at least our peace and quiet.

But the eulogist of “religion allied to progress” and its prophet has found it necessary to enhance the brightness of his cause by painting its opposite in the blackest colours. He therefore describes us, [we the so-called proponents of Orthodoxy] who do not believe in the mission of the new prophet, as the “black opponents of progress and civilisation.” . . .

May one of these “fools and obscurantists” be permitted in the face of such provocation, a few carefully considered and objective remarks, for the purpose of stating fully and placing in their true light the facts which certain people are so glad to call “religious confusions” (because they fear lest they might be cleared up) and so taking the first step towards resolving them? … [First] a point of fact, it was not “Orthodox” Jews who introduced the word “orthodoxy” into Jewish discussion. It was the modern “progressive” Jews who first applied this name to “old,” “backward” Jews as a derogatory term. This name was at first resented by “old” Jews. And rightly so. “Orthodox” Judaism does not know any varieties of Judaism. It conceives Judaism as one and indivisible. It does not know a Mosaic, prophetic and rabbinic Judaism, nor Orthodox and Liberal Judaism. It only knows Judaism and non-Judaism. It does not know Orthodox and Liberal Jews. It does indeed know conscientious and indifferent Jews, good Jews, bad Jews or baptised Jews; all, nevertheless, Jews with a mission which they cannot cast off. They are only distinguished accordingly as they fulfill or reject their mission….

Now what about the principle, the much-vaunted, world-redeeming principle of “religion allied to progress7 If it is to be a principle–something more than an empty phrase meant for show–it must have a definable content and we must be permitted to try to clarify it. In the expression “religion allied to progress,” progress is evidently intended to qualify religion. Indeed, this is the very essence of the “idea,” not religion by itself, but religion only to the extent and in so far as it can co-exist with progress, in so far as one does not have to sacrifice progress to religion. The claim of religion is therefore not absolute but is valid only by permission of “progress.” What, then, is this higher authority to which religion is therefore not absolute but is valid only by permission of “progress”? What, then, is this higher authority to which religion has to appeal in order to gain admission? What is this “progress”? Evidently not progress in the sphere of religion, for then the expression would amount to “religion allied to itself” which is nonsense. It means, then, progress in every sphere other than religion. Speaking frankly, therefore, it means: religion as long as it does not hinder progress, religion as long as it is not onerous or inconvenient.. ..

The subordination of religion to any other factor means the denial of religion: for if the Torah is to you the Law of God how dare you place another law above it and go along with God and His Law only as long as you thereby “progress” in other respects at the same time? You must admit it: it is only because “religion” does not mean to you the word of God, because in your heart you deny Divine Revelation, because you believe not in Revelation given to man but in Revelation from man, that you can give man the right to lay down conditions to religion.

“Religion allied to progress”–do you know, dear reader, what that means? Virtue allied to sensual enjoyment, rectitude allied to advancement, uprightness allied to success. It means a religion and a morality which can be preached also in the haunts of vice and iniquity. It means sacrificing religion and morality to every man’s momentary whim. It allows every man to fix his own goal and progress in any direction he pleases and to accept from religion only that part which does not hinder his “progress” or even assist it. It is the cardinal sin which Moses of old described as “a casual walking with God.” Civilisation and culture–we all treasure those glorious and inalienable possessions of mankind. We all desire that the good and the true, all that is attainable by human thought and human will-power, should be the common heritage of all men. But to make religion–which is the mother and father of all civilisation and culture–dependent upon the progress of this same civilisation and culture would mean throwing it into the melting-pot of civilisation; it would mean turning the root into the blossom; it would mean crowning the human edifice with that which should be its foundation and cornerstone. . . .

Now what is it that we want? Are the only alternatives either to abandon religion or to renounce all progress with all the glorious and noble gifts which civilisation and education offer mankind? Is the Jewish religion really of such a nature that its faithful adherents must be the enemies of civilisation and progress? . . . We declare before heaven and earth that if our religion demanded that we should renounce what is called civilisation and progress we would obey unquestioningly, because our religion is for us truly religion, the word of God before which every other consideration has to give way. We declare, equally, that we would prefer to be branded as fools and do without all the honour and glory that civilisation and progress might confer on us rather than be guilty of the conceited mock-wisdom which the spokesman of a religion allied to progress here displays.

For behold whither a religion allied to progress leads! Behold how void it is of all piety and humanity and into what blunders the conceited, Torah-criticising spirit leads. Here you have a protagonist of this religion of progress. See how he dances on the graves of your forefathers, how he drags out their corpses from their graves, laughs in their faces and exclaims to you: “Your fathers were crude and uncivilised; they deserved the contempt in which they were held. Follow me, so that you may become civilised and deserve respect!” Such is the craziness which grows on the tree of knowledge of this “religion allied to progress”!

If our choice were only between such craziness and simple ignorance, again we say we would remain ignorant all our life-long rather than be thus godlessly educated even for one moment.

There is, however, no such dilemma. Judaism never remained aloof from true civilisation and progress; in almost every era its adherents were fully abreast of contemporary learning and very often excelled their contemporaries. If in recent centuries German Jews remained more or less aloof from European civilisation the fault lay not in their religion but in the tyranny which confined them by force within the walls of their ghettoes and denied them intercourse with the outside world. And, thank goodness, even now our sons and daughters can compare favourably in cultural and moral worth with the children of those families who have forsaken the religion of their forefathers for the sake of imagined progress. They need not shun the light of publicity or the critical eye of their contemporaries. They have lost nothing in culture or refinement, even though they do not smoke their cigars on the Sabbath, even though they do not seek the pleasures of the table in foods forbidden by God, even though they do not desecrate the Sabbath for the sake of profit and enjoyment.

Indeed, we are short-sighted enough to believe that the Jew who remains steadfast amidst the scoffing and the enticements of the easy-going world around him, who remains strong enough to sacrifice to God’s will profit, inclination and the respect and applause of his fellows, displays far greater moral strength and thus a higher degree of real culture than the frivolous “modern Jew” whose principles melt away before the first contemptuous glance or at the slightest prospect of profit, and who is unfaithful to the word of God and the teachings of his fathers in order to satisfy the whim of the moment. . . .

Our aims also include the conscientious promotion of education and culture, and we have clearly expressed this in the motto of our Congregation: An excellent thing is the study of the Torah combined with the ways of the world [Yafeh talmud torah im derekh erez]–thereby building on the same foundations as those which were laid by our sages of old–[then] what is it that separates us from the adherents of “religion allied to progress”?

A mere trifle! They aim at religion allied to progress–and we have seen that this principle negates the truth of what they call religion–while we aim at progress allied to religion. To them, progress is the absolute and religion is governed by it; to us, religion is the absolute. For them, religion is valid only to the extent that it does not interfere with progress; for us, progress is valid only to the extent that it does not interfere with religion. That is all the difference. But this difference is abysmal.

Judaism as it has come down to us from our forefathers is for us the gift and the word of God, an untouchable sanctuary which must not be subjected to human judgment nor subordinated to human considerations. It is the ideal given by God to all the generations of the House of Jacob, never yet attained and to be striven for unto the distant future. It is the great edifice for which all Jews and Jewesses are born to live and die, at all times and in every situation. It is the great Divine revelation which should infuse all our sentiments, justify all our resolutions and give all our actions their strength and stability, foundation and direction. Comparisons are futile. Judaism is not a religion, the synagogue is not a church, and the rabbi is not a priest. Judaism is not a mere adjunct to life: it comprises all of life. To be a Jew is not a mere part, it is the sum total of our task in life. To be a Jew in the synagogue and the kitchen, in the field and the warehouse, in the office and the pulpit, as father and mother, as servant and master, as man and as citizen, with one’s thoughts, in word and in deed, in enjoyment and privation, with the needle and the graving-tool, with the pen and the chisel–that is what it means to be a Jew. An entire life supported by the Divine Idea and lived and brought to fulfilment according to the Divine Will. It is foolish, therefore, to believe–or to pretend to believe–that it is the wording of a prayer, the notes of a synagogue tune, or the order of a special service, which form the abyss between us. It is not the so-called Divine Service which separates us. It is the theory–“the principle” as you call it–which throws Judaism into a corner for use only on Sabbaths and Festivals, and by removing from Jewish souls that have strayed from their Divine Destiny the consciousness of their guilt robs them also of their last hope of penitence.

The more, indeed, Judaism comprises the whole of man and extends its declared mission to the salvation of the whole of mankind, the less it is possible to confine its outlook to the four cubits of a synagogue and the four walls of a study. The more the Jew is a Jew, the more universalist will his views and aspirations be, the less aloof will he be from anything that is noble and good, true and upright, in art or science, in culture or education; the more joyfully will he applaud whenever he sees truth and justice and peace and the ennoblement of man prevail and become dominant in human society: the more joyfully will he seize every opportunity to give proof of his mission as a Jew, the task of his Judaism, on new and untrodden ground; the more joyfully will he devote himself to all true progress in civilisation and culture–provided, that is, that he will not only not have to sacrifice his Judaism but will also be able to bring it to more perfect fulfilment. He will ever desire progress, but only in alliance with religion. He will not want to accomplish anything that he cannot accomplish as a Jew. Any step which takes him away from Judaism is not for him a step forward, is not progress. He exercises this self-control without a pang, for he does not wish to accomplish his own will on earth but labours in the service of God. He knows that wherever the Ark of his God does not march ahead of him he is not accompanied by the pillar of the fire of His light or the pillar of the cloud of His grace.

In truth, if only most Jews were truly Jews, most of the factors would disappear which to-day bar many an avenue of activity to them.

If only all Jews who travel or who are engaged in business observed their Jewish duties, the need would–as always–produce its own remedy. The Jew would everywhere find the food demanded by his religion; it would be but little sacrifice for him to refrain from business on the Sabbath; and even in the regulations laid down by state and public bodies enlightened governments would gladly pay respect to a display of conscientiousness which would in itself be a not inconsiderable contribution made by Jewish citizens to the society in which they live. It is only through unfaithfulness of the majority that the loyalty of the minority becomes a duty demanding so much sacrifice, though the crown which it wins is all the more glorious for the thorns which our brethren strew in our path.

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 “Religion allied to progress”: [the leaders of Reform have] with undaunted courage embroidered [this slogan] in scintillating colours on to the banner of our present-day religious struggles, that the educated “progressive” sons and daughters of the new age might rally to this new flag of the prophet and advance with it unhindered. How leaderless was this new congregation of prophets before this new messenger with this new message of salvation appeared among them! Since the beginning of the century the ancient religion had been to them–ancient; it no longer fitted into the society of the sons and daughters of the new age with their frock coats and evening dresses. In club and fraternity, at the ball and supper party, at concerts and in salons–everywhere the old Judaism was in the way and seemed so completely out of place. And even in the counting-house and in the office, in the courtroom and at the easel, on board ship and in the train–throughout the stream-driven lightning activity of the new age the old Judaism acted as a brake on the hurrying march of progress. Above all it seemed to be the only obstacle in the race for emancipation. No wonder then that without hesitation they shook off the old obstructive religion and hurried into the arms of “progress.” And in the political market-place where emancipation was to be purchased, the modern sons of Judah could be seen in every corner offering to exchange the old Judaism for something else, since in any case it had lost all its value for their own use. For many a decade modern Jewry thus soared aloft like dust on the wings of a butterfly and tasted freedom in the unwonted airy heights; and yet they felt a pain in their hearts where the absence of religion had left a void, and at the end they were ashamed while enjoying the brilliance of modern life to be walking the earth without religion; they felt restless and miserable.

But behold! The prophet of the new message came into their midst with the cry of “religion allied to progress”; he filled the blank, pacified their conscience and wiped out their shame. With this magic word he turned irreligion into Godliness, apostasy into priesthood, sin into merit, frivolity into virtue, weakness into strength, thoughtlessness into profundity. By this one magic phrase he distilled the ancient world-ranging spirit of the Torah into a single aromatic drop of perfume so fragrant that in the most elegant party dress they could carry it round with them in their waistcoat pockets without being ashamed. By means of it, he carved out of the ponderous old rock-hewn Tablets of the Law ornamental figures so tiny that people gladly found room for them on smart dressing tables, in drawing-rooms and ballrooms. By means of this one magic phrase he so skilfully loosened the rigid bonds of the old law with its 613 locks and chains that the Divine Word which until then had inflexibly prohibited many a desire and demanded many a sacrifice, henceforth became the heavenly manna which merely reflected everybody’s own desires, echoed their own thoughts, sanctified their own aspirations and said to each one: “Be what you are, enjoy what you fancy, aspire to what you will, whatever you may be you are always religious, whatever you may do–all is religion; continue to progress, for the more you progress the further you move from the ancient way, and the more you cast off old Jewish customs the more religious and acceptable to God will you be….

All this would of itself worry us who are of different mind very little. We allow everyone his own peace and bliss and also his fame, if only he would be fair enough to leave us not indeed our “fame” (to which we lay no claim), nor indeed our “bliss” (which cannot be impaired by human opinion) –but at least our peace and quiet.

But the eulogist of “religion allied to progress” and its prophet has found it necessary to enhance the brightness of his cause by painting its opposite in the blackest colours. He therefore describes us, [we the so-called proponents of Orthodoxy] who do not believe in the mission of the new prophet, as the “black opponents of progress and civilisation.” . . .

May one of these “fools and obscurantists” be permitted in the face of such provocation, a few carefully considered and objective remarks, for the purpose of stating fully and placing in their true light the facts which certain people are so glad to call “religious confusions” (because they fear lest they might be cleared up) and so taking the first step towards resolving them? … [First] a point of fact, it was not “Orthodox” Jews who introduced the word “orthodoxy” into Jewish discussion. It was the modern “progressive” Jews who first applied this name to “old,” “backward” Jews as a derogatory term. This name was at first resented by “old” Jews. And rightly so. “Orthodox” Judaism does not know any varieties of Judaism. It conceives Judaism as one and indivisible. It does not know a Mosaic, prophetic and rabbinic Judaism, nor Orthodox and Liberal Judaism. It only knows Judaism and non-Judaism. It does not know Orthodox and Liberal Jews. It does indeed know conscientious and indifferent Jews, good Jews, bad Jews or baptised Jews; all, nevertheless, Jews with a mission which they cannot cast off. They are only distinguished accordingly as they fulfill or reject their mission….

Now what about the principle, the much-vaunted, world-redeeming principle of “religion allied to progress7 If it is to be a principle–something more than an empty phrase meant for show–it must have a definable content and we must be permitted to try to clarify it. In the expression “religion allied to progress,” progress is evidently intended to qualify religion. Indeed, this is the very essence of the “idea,” not religion by itself, but religion only to the extent and in so far as it can co-exist with progress, in so far as one does not have to sacrifice progress to religion. The claim of religion is therefore not absolute but is valid only by permission of “progress.” What, then, is this higher authority to which religion is therefore not absolute but is valid only by permission of “progress”? What, then, is this higher authority to which religion has to appeal in order to gain admission? What is this “progress”? Evidently not progress in the sphere of religion, for then the expression would amount to “religion allied to itself” which is nonsense. It means, then, progress in every sphere other than religion. Speaking frankly, therefore, it means: religion as long as it does not hinder progress, religion as long as it is not onerous or inconvenient.. ..

The subordination of religion to any other factor means the denial of religion: for if the Torah is to you the Law of God how dare you place another law above it and go along with God and His Law only as long as you thereby “progress” in other respects at the same time? You must admit it: it is only because “religion” does not mean to you the word of God, because in your heart you deny Divine Revelation, because you believe not in Revelation given to man but in Revelation from man, that you can give man the right to lay down conditions to religion.

“Religion allied to progress”–do you know, dear reader, what that means? Virtue allied to sensual enjoyment, rectitude allied to advancement, uprightness allied to success. It means a religion and a morality which can be preached also in the haunts of vice and iniquity. It means sacrificing religion and morality to every man’s momentary whim. It allows every man to fix his own goal and progress in any direction he pleases and to accept from religion only that part which does not hinder his “progress” or even assist it. It is the cardinal sin which Moses of old described as “a casual walking with God.” Civilisation and culture–we all treasure those glorious and inalienable possessions of mankind. We all desire that the good and the true, all that is attainable by human thought and human will-power, should be the common heritage of all men. But to make religion–which is the mother and father of all civilisation and culture–dependent upon the progress of this same civilisation and culture would mean throwing it into the melting-pot of civilisation; it would mean turning the root into the blossom; it would mean crowning the human edifice with that which should be its foundation and cornerstone. . . .

Now what is it that we want? Are the only alternatives either to abandon religion or to renounce all progress with all the glorious and noble gifts which civilisation and education offer mankind? Is the Jewish religion really of such a nature that its faithful adherents must be the enemies of civilisation and progress? . . . We declare before heaven and earth that if our religion demanded that we should renounce what is called civilisation and progress we would obey unquestioningly, because our religion is for us truly religion, the word of God before which every other consideration has to give way. We declare, equally, that we would prefer to be branded as fools and do without all the honour and glory that civilisation and progress might confer on us rather than be guilty of the conceited mock-wisdom which the spokesman of a religion allied to progress here displays.

For behold whither a religion allied to progress leads! Behold how void it is of all piety and humanity and into what blunders the conceited, Torah-criticising spirit leads. Here you have a protagonist of this religion of progress. See how he dances on the graves of your forefathers, how he drags out their corpses from their graves, laughs in their faces and exclaims to you: “Your fathers were crude and uncivilised; they deserved the contempt in which they were held. Follow me, so that you may become civilised and deserve respect!” Such is the craziness which grows on the tree of knowledge of this “religion allied to progress”!

If our choice were only between such craziness and simple ignorance, again we say we would remain ignorant all our life-long rather than be thus godlessly educated even for one moment.

There is, however, no such dilemma. Judaism never remained aloof from true civilisation and progress; in almost every era its adherents were fully abreast of contemporary learning and very often excelled their contemporaries. If in recent centuries German Jews remained more or less aloof from European civilisation the fault lay not in their religion but in the tyranny which confined them by force within the walls of their ghettoes and denied them intercourse with the outside world. And, thank goodness, even now our sons and daughters can compare favourably in cultural and moral worth with the children of those families who have forsaken the religion of their forefathers for the sake of imagined progress. They need not shun the light of publicity or the critical eye of their contemporaries. They have lost nothing in culture or refinement, even though they do not smoke their cigars on the Sabbath, even though they do not seek the pleasures of the table in foods forbidden by God, even though they do not desecrate the Sabbath for the sake of profit and enjoyment.

Indeed, we are short-sighted enough to believe that the Jew who remains steadfast amidst the scoffing and the enticements of the easy-going world around him, who remains strong enough to sacrifice to God’s will profit, inclination and the respect and applause of his fellows, displays far greater moral strength and thus a higher degree of real culture than the frivolous “modern Jew” whose principles melt away before the first contemptuous glance or at the slightest prospect of profit, and who is unfaithful to the word of God and the teachings of his fathers in order to satisfy the whim of the moment. . . .

Our aims also include the conscientious promotion of education and culture, and we have clearly expressed this in the motto of our Congregation: An excellent thing is the study of the Torah combined with the ways of the world [Yafeh talmud torah im derekh erez]–thereby building on the same foundations as those which were laid by our sages of old–[then] what is it that separates us from the adherents of “religion allied to progress”?

A mere trifle! They aim at religion allied to progress–and we have seen that this principle negates the truth of what they call religion–while we aim at progress allied to religion. To them, progress is the absolute and religion is governed by it; to us, religion is the absolute. For them, religion is valid only to the extent that it does not interfere with progress; for us, progress is valid only to the extent that it does not interfere with religion. That is all the difference. But this difference is abysmal.

Judaism as it has come down to us from our forefathers is for us the gift and the word of God, an untouchable sanctuary which must not be subjected to human judgment nor subordinated to human considerations. It is the ideal given by God to all the generations of the House of Jacob, never yet attained and to be striven for unto the distant future. It is the great edifice for which all Jews and Jewesses are born to live and die, at all times and in every situation. It is the great Divine revelation which should infuse all our sentiments, justify all our resolutions and give all our actions their strength and stability, foundation and direction. Comparisons are futile. Judaism is not a religion, the synagogue is not a church, and the rabbi is not a priest. Judaism is not a mere adjunct to life: it comprises all of life. To be a Jew is not a mere part, it is the sum total of our task in life. To be a Jew in the synagogue and the kitchen, in the field and the warehouse, in the office and the pulpit, as father and mother, as servant and master, as man and as citizen, with one’s thoughts, in word and in deed, in enjoyment and privation, with the needle and the graving-tool, with the pen and the chisel–that is what it means to be a Jew. An entire life supported by the Divine Idea and lived and brought to fulfilment according to the Divine Will. It is foolish, therefore, to believe–or to pretend to believe–that it is the wording of a prayer, the notes of a synagogue tune, or the order of a special service, which form the abyss between us. It is not the so-called Divine Service which separates us. It is the theory–“the principle” as you call it–which throws Judaism into a corner for use only on Sabbaths and Festivals, and by removing from Jewish souls that have strayed from their Divine Destiny the consciousness of their guilt robs them also of their last hope of penitence.

The more, indeed, Judaism comprises the whole of man and extends its declared mission to the salvation of the whole of mankind, the less it is possible to confine its outlook to the four cubits of a synagogue and the four walls of a study. The more the Jew is a Jew, the more universalist will his views and aspirations be, the less aloof will he be from anything that is noble and good, true and upright, in art or science, in culture or education; the more joyfully will he applaud whenever he sees truth and justice and peace and the ennoblement of man prevail and become dominant in human society: the more joyfully will he seize every opportunity to give proof of his mission as a Jew, the task of his Judaism, on new and untrodden ground; the more joyfully will he devote himself to all true progress in civilisation and culture–provided, that is, that he will not only not have to sacrifice his Judaism but will also be able to bring it to more perfect fulfilment. He will ever desire progress, but only in alliance with religion. He will not want to accomplish anything that he cannot accomplish as a Jew. Any step which takes him away from Judaism is not for him a step forward, is not progress. He exercises this self-control without a pang, for he does not wish to accomplish his own will on earth but labours in the service of God. He knows that wherever the Ark of his God does not march ahead of him he is not accompanied by the pillar of the fire of His light or the pillar of the cloud of His grace.

In truth, if only most Jews were truly Jews, most of the factors would disappear which to-day bar many an avenue of activity to them.

If only all Jews who travel or who are engaged in business observed their Jewish duties, the need would–as always–produce its own remedy. The Jew would everywhere find the food demanded by his religion; it would be but little sacrifice for him to refrain from business on the Sabbath; and even in the regulations laid down by state and public bodies enlightened governments would gladly pay respect to a display of conscientiousness which would in itself be a not inconsiderable contribution made by Jewish citizens to the society in which they live. It is only through unfaithfulness of the majority that the loyalty of the minority becomes a duty demanding so much sacrifice, though the crown which it wins is all the more glorious for the thorns which our brethren strew in our path.

(Source: http://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/363_Transp/Orthodoxy/SRHirsch.hml)

The Admor of Malta – The United Order of Light

While browsing the internet the other day I stumbled across a rather unconventional individual, The Admor of Malta (http://admorofmalta.org/), What struck me aside from his style of clothing was the platform that he wishes to bring to the world, The United Order of Light (http://admorofmalta.org/about-uol/). The idea is bold, intriguing and worthy of contemplation, because I think it really fills a void that is lacking in the world of religious ideas and spirituality.

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“The United Order of Light is a spiritual order which devotes itself to the fundamental values of eternal life, light, love and compassion. It is an international order independent from any religion, kingdom, state, nation, government and other temporal authorities.

The principal aim of the Order is to bring humankind closer to God independently from any religion or creed. Religions have been many times, over the centuries, the culmination of inhuman wars.

The intention of the Order is elevate the human dimension directly to the Present Light of God, beyond the level of religions. The Order is not interested in the differences between the diverse faiths, but considers the similarities between the existing principal religions and their common foundation, that is, the witness of a Unique God.

The United Order of Light is a spiritual order which devotes itself to the fundamental values of eternal life, light, love and compassion. It is an international order independent from any religion, kingdom, state, nation, government and other temporal authorities.

The principal aim of the Order is to bring humankind closer to God independently from any religion or creed. Religions have been many times, over the centuries, the culmination of inhuman wars.

The intention of the Order is elevate the human dimension directly to the Present Light of God, beyond the level of religions. The Order is not interested in the differences between the diverse faiths, but considers the similarities between the existing principal religions and their common foundation, that is, the witness of a Unique God.”

I often contemplate how religion and God are treated with so much disdain in today’s world and seen as the cause of  so much hatred, anger, darkness, depression, suppression and disillusionment and worst off all bloodshed. A religious believer cannot be blinded to the reality that his text, tribe, ideas and God are seen as being responsible for much evil and wickedness in the world, spreading darkness instead of light. The perception of God in today’s world is best described by the following quote by Richard Dawkins;

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” – Richard Dawkins, The G-d delusion

If this is how God is perceived in the world then you cannot be surprised by the turn to atheism in this generation. You cannot be surprised that people do not wish to have a relationship with the God of this description.

We honestly are in a age that needs religious and spiritual renewal, a new paradigm, a new calling, a new way to transcend, unify and bring “tikkun olam”. The world as we know it has much darkness, with many false ideas and delusions. In that sense I see The New Atheists as a form of chemotherapy (see the idea developed by Rav Kook here and here) killing the cancer that is outdated, irrelevant ways of thinking and being, but like any chemotherapy kills much good along with it as well. The sooner we acknowledge the weakness and evil of what passes for religion/spirituality in our day and destroy the false edifices of our time, we can rebuild, reconnect and renew, spreading forth light, being, connecting, becoming one – a true glimpse of what it means to live in the messianic times.

Of course the danger with any new idea that claims to “redeem mankind” is the danger of falling into a lower state then from where you began. The world has seen plenty of “false messiahs” individuals with grandiose messianic aspirations who have either failed, become corrupted (the irony that those who preach to mankind of the dangers of money, sex and power often become the biggest perpetrators of the evil deeds they wish to cleanse the world of, perhaps that is the idea behind the red heifer/para adumah, those who prepare the water to purify the impure become impure themselves, a necessary risk/consequence of going to the depths to “save” others, requires you to fall to their level).

So like anything in life, we will have to wait and see but the idea has merit – the notion of a movement dedicated to the universalism, spirituality and G0d that seeks to unify mankind around “light”, “goodness”, “compassion” to end “bloodshed” and “hatred” is a step in the right direction and the right path for us to follow. Let us hope that we will not be disappointed and further disillusioned, and instead let this be a “new true light”.

Rare Footage Of The Chofetz Chaim, Yisrael Meir Kagan, At First Knessia Gedolah

Everything Collapsed Inside of Me

The Inner Truth that needs to be spread

Incredible speech given by the President of Egypt:

Speaking before Al-Azhar and the Awqaf Ministry on New Year’s Day, 2015, in connection to Prophet Muhammad’s upcoming birthday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a vocal supporter for a renewed vision of Islam, made what must be his most forceful and impassioned plea to date on the subject.

The relevant excerpt from Sisi’s speech follows (translation by Michele Antaki):

I am referring here to the religious clerics. We have to think hard about what we are facing—and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before. It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!

That thinking—I am not saying “religion” but “thinking”—that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!

Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible!

I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema—Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I’m talking about now.

All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it it from a more enlightened perspective.

I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move… because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.

(Source: Rabbi Michael Skobac Facebook Page)

Seek the Shepherd When He Is Near: A Book Review for Elul

Rabbi Michael L. Samuel’s new book, A Shepherd’s Song: Psalm 23 and the Shepherd Metaphor in Jewish Thought, has a unique application to the weeks approaching Rosh Hashanah. The Rabbis of the Talmud are fond of quoting, “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call on Him while He is near” (Isa. 55:6). This verse, despite its inspirational theme, raises one of the most profound theological issues. By saying God is “near,” the verse implies that God exists in space. More broadly, this raises the questions of corporality and anthropomorphism, since the most dominant themes of the penitential season are plagued by theological paradox. Rabbi Samuel’s book examines anthropomorphism in general, with a keen eye on the image of God as the Shepherd, which appears in the opening verse of Psalm 23.

In several weeks, Jews throughout the world will assemble in synagogues and entreat God in the most persuasive terms to forgive their sins. The entire prayer-book, like the Bible itself, is filled with passages that suggest God is possessed of a body and emotions. In fact, Samuel notes, “Semantically speaking, even the idea of ‘praying to God’ implies spatial concepts…” (p. 158). Similarly, the book of Psalms entreats God, “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, who leads Joseph like a flock” (Ps. 80:1). The shepherd metaphor in this verse is a basis of the piyyutim, “Our God and God of our fathers, forgive us…we are Your flock and You are our Shepherd….” Yet many worshippers may find language ineffectual due to centuries of anti-anthropomorphic argumentation.

Rabbi Samuel’s work is a meticulous outpouring that we should reconsider our understanding of God. He makes an impassioned plea that if we want to have a meaningful and mature religious identity, it is essential to embrace how traditional sources characterize God. He argues, “Laypeople and rabbis alike have difficulty accepting the reality of God as a personal Presence in their lives” (28). In a personal conversation with the author, Rabbi Samuel explained to me, “If you don’t have a personal connection with God, your prayer might as well be a letter that starts with the words, ‘To Whom It May Concern.’”

Many Jews today are inculcated to say that anthropomorphic locutions are all metaphors, and should not be interpreted literally. After all, the ancient pagans believed that the gods all possessed bodies and emotions, while we sophisticates have evolved beyond such childish beliefs. Their gods are many, our God is one. Their gods are corporeal, our God is beyond time and space. Their gods are capricious and petty, our God is merciful and just. But do we feel any emotional connection when rattling off these catechisms?

Samuel warns that when dry understandings replace a personal connection with God, the result is spiritual isolation: “Ever since the time of Aristotle, Western philosophy frequently portrays God as an Outside Prime Mover, standing apart from the processes of the universe, with no personal interest in the world’s welfare” (p. 91). He argues that anti-anthropomorphism risks creating a spiritual malaise, and if taken in its most extreme form, will likely lead to religious indifference or atheism.

Samuel contrasts the biblical phrasing, “I am the Lord your God,” with the Greeks, who “never had a personal name for the One God” (p. 114). This is not to suggest that Samuel is a philosophical Luddite; he possesses a facile ability to quote a range of Jewish, Greek, Christian, and modern authorities, from Homer to Wittgenstein; yet Samuel extracts from the ancients and moderns the importance of finding renewed meaning in descriptions of God that have been downplayed as “metaphor.”

While it is an important development that today’s Jews have learned to move beyond the idea of a corporeal God, Samuel argues that sometimes we are unable to take the next step, and ascribe real meaning to metaphorical language. Anthropomorphic language pervades the Bible, Midrashim, Talmud, and all subsequent literature; when we dismiss this huge corpus of literature as inconsequential, we risk slipping into the bleak existential abyss. Samuel argues that preserving metaphor is necessary for a spiritually healthy society, since metaphor “does not seek to explain the empirical facts about the natural world. Instead, it aims to disclose how the sacred meaning is present within the natural observable universe” (p. 106).

The worshipper must proceed to find meaning within the anthropomorphic language. Signs, symbols, and metaphors have emotional and cognitive significance, and Samuel argues that the shepherd is a “root metaphor” (pp. 67), which demonstrates the connection of the collective past to the life of the individual in the present. The parameters of this metaphor are nuanced and rich, and Samuel is not afraid to draw on diverse sources who offer their interpretations of this fundamental image.

For example, he quotes from Philo of Alexandria that “When a flock lacks a shepherd to govern it, it is inevitable the flock will meet a disastrous end because it is too helpless to repel whatever might be injurious to it” (p. 196), an idea which is remarkably similar to the liturgical sarnu mi-mitzvotekha u-mi- mishpatekha ha-tovim ve-lo shaveh lanu, “we have strayed from Your commandments and your good ordinances, and it has not been worthwhile for us.”

Samuel also supplies other attributes of shepherding, which transform the shepherd archetype from empty rhetoric to a meaningful symbol. For example, he explains that a shepherd “is dedicated to the careful management of the flock,” which indicates that God has an overall plan for humanity. A shepherd must have “constant attention and mindfulness,” which means God has perpetual concern for mankind. And shepherding “is a solitary profession” (p. 259), which alludes to God’s unity. These themes are conspicuously similar to the penitential ideas of malkhiyyot, zikhronot, and shofarot.

Samuel is also a practicing synagogue rabbi, and he once led an adult education program centered around Psalm 23. At the end of his book, he records the conversations that his congregants had while examining this Psalm. It is clear from the transcripts that the participants were of different religious backgrounds, held different professions, and had wildly different pasts. Yet due to the universality of the Psalm, each congregant had unique insights, found individual meaning, and supplied new interpretations that the traditional commentaries did not offer.

The same is true of Elul, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur. Each person who enters the synagogue will find unique meaning and inspiration from the different parts of the service. Rabbi Michael L. Samuel’s A Shepherd’s Song is a highly intellectual and inspirational work that invites the reader to re-examine his long-held theological beliefs. He argues that it is impossible to engage in meaningful prayer with the Aristotelian conception of God; therefore he challenges the reader to find new meaning—and an individual connection—with God, to build a personal and unique relationship between man and his Shepherd.

You can buy the book here:

http://www.amazon.com/Shepherds-Song-Shepherd-Metaphor-Thought/dp/0615991327/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1403573373&sr=8-1&keywords=a+shepherd%27s+song

Why do we get bored?

Orthodox World of Wigs

The Consequence of Truth

It made me realize,
the challenge of this world is not finding the truth,
that is pretty obvious,
the challenge is having the courage to live with integrity after you know it.

– Rabbl Keleman
(Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VarUODJ9uPo)

How Not To Deal With Allegations of Impropriety

by Shaya Karlinsky

We have been witness to an increasing number of depressing revelations about Rabbis acting inappropriately towards women they have been counseling or educating. I have no intention of discussing any specific case. I would like to discuss a pattern that is all too common in these cases.

In response to accusations of improper behavior by Rabbis with female students or congregants, lots of well-meaning people come to the defense of the accused. These people will vouch for his tremendous integrity, meticulous observance of all appropriate boundaries in every interaction they ever experienced or witnessed, and the life-changing advice and counseling they or their friends received from the accused. Since, if and when breaches of ethical and Halachic behavior happen, they happen “behind closed doors,” the only way to verify the accusations is for victims to provide detailed testimony of what they claim happened. Frequently, the victims themselves are troubled individuals, or were having some specific emotional crisis which can make them vulnerable to advances from the predator, while compromising their credibility as plaintiffs or witnesses. People can become easily swayed and confused when weighing claims of somewhat unreliable plaintiffs/witnesses against the claims and testimony of obviously well adjusted success stories of said Rabbi’s activities.

I believe the approach is completely mistaken, and a section in the Kli Yakar will give us the correct approach to take in such situations.

At the end of Parshas Ki Teitzei (Devarim 25:13-16) the Torah prohibits holding in one’s possession dishonest weights and measures. The Kli Yakar is bothered by the seeming redundancies and inconsistencies exhibited by the text. The Torah begins by prohibiting holding “large” and “small” weights and measures. It then commands that one have “full and righteous” weights and measures. And the section concludes with the verdict that “It is an abomination before G-d, all who do these, all who act corruptly.”

The simple understanding of “small and large” weights is that the “small” weight is dishonest, used to shortchange customers, as opposed to a “large” one, which would be the honest weight. The problem this raises is that there should only be a prohibition against the “small” dishonest weight! Additionally, the command to have “full” and “righteous” seems redundant. “Full” implies that it is an honest weight, so what is added by the demand that it be “righteous?” Finally, “all who do these” refers to the dishonest use of weights and measures, an obviously criminal activity. So what has the Torah added with “all who act corruptly.”

The Kli Yakar begins his explanation by agreeing that the “large” one refers to an honest weight, and the command of “full and righteous” is the demand that one not only be honest – with a “full” honest weight, not shortchanging his customers – but to be righteous, going “beyond the letter of the law,” providing “a little extra.”

He then references a similar verse in Mishlei (20:10) which has similar textual difficulties that we encounter in our text. “A weight and a weight, a measure and a measure (implying having different sized weights) – an abomination before G-d are also both of them.” If they are both dishonest, why use the language “also?” They are simply both dishonest! Rather, the verse refers to two different weights or measures, one which is honest and one which is dishonest, We are being taught that the honest one is ALSO an abomination, for it is the facilitator that enables the person to get away with cheating customers with the dishonest one. If a storekeeper had a weight with which he was shortchanging a customer, this customer would come home, discover he had received less than what he had paid for, and he would bring the storekeeper to court. The storekeeper might defend himself with the claim that some of the produce must have fallen out of the bag after the customer left the store, or was lost after he got home. But if the court would receive a number of similar complaints it would become apparent that this storekeeper was shortchanging his customers.

What is the “solution?” The storekeeper also maintains an honest set of weights, and many customers are served honestly with them. When a customer who was cheated comes to court to complain, the storekeeper can now defend himself with the claim that the shortage happened after she left the store. And to verify that claim, he offers to bring all the satisfied customers who always received the full amount due them. If the court will send an investigator to check the weight, the storekeeper will show the honest weight, proving that the he does not cheat anyone.

In conclusion, says the Kli Yakar, the honest weight is just as much an abomination as the dishonest weight, for it is the honest weight that enables the criminal to get away with his dishonest dealings.

When a Rabbi or educator is accused of improper behavior of a sexual or abusive nature, character witnesses are irrelevant to verifying whether the accusations are true. All the many people who have been helped in the past in no way undermine the credibility of the accusers. What is important is the specific accusations, whether there is a pattern to those accusations, and whether the accused can properly refute those accusations. If the defendant is being falsely accused by vindictive or unstable women, either the cross examination of the accusers will verify that, or direct testimony to contradict the claims can be provided. If the accusations are credible, if a pattern of improper behavior is verified, if the accused is guilty, then all the people who were helped should have no impact of the conclusions one needs to draw. In fact, his help is revealed to be part of his abominations, empowering him to continue preying on vulnerable and innocent victims. Those he helped are his “honest” measure, enabling him destroy the lives of those he was cheating.

For decades, accusations such as these were not taken as seriously as they needed to be. Many people were damaged by ongoing abusive behavior that was not recognized. It is to the credit of those in the forefront of the fight against this abuse that the trend is being reversed. While no innocent person should be brought down by false accusations of vindictive or troubled women, no guilty person should escape because he kept “honest weights and measures” in his house.

Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky is the Dean and Rosh Yeshiva of Shapell’s/Darche Noam Institutions: Yeshivat Darche Noam/ Shapell’s and the Midreshet Rachel v’Chaya College of Jewish Studies for Women. A native of Los Angeles, California, Rabbi Karlinsky has been in Israel since 1968, where he studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh and the Mirrer Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2014/07/23/how-not-to-deal-with-allegations-of-impropriety/#ixzz38RoAhdVg