Monthly Archives: April 2007

Interesting Tid Bits

Rather interesting on the recreation of Noah’s ark, see the article here.
The song of the sun, science confirms the sun’s praise to G-d, see here.

If you have any links that you feel others would enjoy reading about, leave a comment and I’ll post it in here.

R’Schiller On Corrupt Culture

In a highly thoughtful article entitled “Torah Umadda and the Jewish Observer Critique: Towards a clarification of the Issues”, Rabbi Mayer Schiller has a fascinating observation regarding the perverse aspects of contemporary media and culture. His sentiments are often articulated most vocally on R’Harry Maryles blog, with the point being that basically not every activity that is pursued by the “Modern Orthodox” can be considered within the rubric of the Torah Umadda philosophy. Blatant attempts to include the hedonistic aspects of culture into a Torah way of life are inexcusable and furthermore, tarnish the true objectives of the Torah U Madda endeavor. I’ll let Rabbi Shiller’s comments speak from themselves;

“On a personal note, it has been my experience, having taught Talmud in Modern Orthodox high schools for twenty years, that those few who do abandon the faith do so not because of their exposure to secular disciplines, but because they found a hedonist lifestyle more pleasant. As noted earlier, this is the great crisis which confronts Modern Orthodoxy and all segments of Orthodoxy today – hedonism, not ideology. It is the cheap attachment to popular culture which threatens, not that of knowledge and beauty in the larger sense. My students did not abandon Judaism because they studied history or literature with too much passion, rather, they left because they were tempted by images presented to them on television, movies and popular music. If a cautionary note should be sounded, it is that Modern Orthodox leaders are far too silent about this real threat to the souls of their constituents. It would require honesty and courage on their part to demand of their followers abstention from the vile (but today totally accepted) manifestations of popular culture. No, it is not necessary to throw out our volumes of classical poetry or great music, it is merely necessary to smash the television and shatter juniors CD collection.”

R’ Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg On Faith

I am currently reading Marc Shapiro’s fascinating biography of Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, the Seridei Eish (Buy it here). An fascinating piece is Shapiro’s elucidation of R’Weinbergs view of belief. It is also interesting to note the similarities between R’ Weinbergs view and that of G. K. Chesterton, the famed English writer. Below is an extract from pages 74 – 75.

Believing that modern Hebrew literature was too important and influential for Orthodox thinkers to ignore, Weinberg began to write a series of essay on in, though only two installments actually appeared. Weinbergs essay on Micha Joef Berdyczewski (1865 – 1921) includes a number of fascinating points which, unfortunately, were never fully developed. All that is left are a few glimpses of what could have been some very refreshing thoughts on the nature of faith in the modern world.

The figure of Berdyczewski was bound to be fascinating to the Orthodox, for this wrings include, at one and the same time, the most strident opposition to tradition as well as an apparent pride in it. Not surprisingly, this characteristic has often been discussed in scholarly studies of the author. As Weinberg put it, the key to Berdyczewski is his ‘Jewish Heresy’. Weinberg believed that this heresy arose from the same source as the holy, and was actually the result of deep spiritual longing. Furthermore, just as distinction must be made between the base heresy of the masses and the profound heresy of thinkers such as Berdyczewski, Weinberg argued that the same is true with regard to the opposite pole to heresy, namely belief. In his mind, belief which is characterized by calm and fulfillment is actually a sign of inner emptiness and lack of thought. A man with such feelings is a believer only because he does not have the strength to deny, and such ‘belief’ or rather lack of denial, can never be the source of creativity. True belief, which is both religious and creative, is also stormy and turbulent and has nothing in common with passive fulfillment.

The way Weinberg expressed himself on these latter points bears such similarity to the ideas of G.K Chesterton that one must wonder whether Weinberg had read the latter’s Orthodoxy, which had appeared in German translation in 1909. For example, in the following famous passage we find Chesterton making the same point as Weinberg, in his own inimitable style:

People have fallen into a foolish habit speaking of Orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and swat that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statutory and the accuracy of arithmetic… It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands.

The View Of The Chazon Ish On Rav Kook: Another Perspective

It is taken as a fact that the Chazon Ish was highly critical of Rav Kook, going so far as to declare him a heretic with no share in the World to Come. Marc Shapiro, in his essay "Of Books and Bans" has a footnote (14) regarding this topic that presents textual and eye witness accounts that dispel this notion. This is not to say that the Chazon Ish did not disagree with Rav Kook on many issues, I am certain that he did. However, it appears that these disagreements took place within the realm of civility and respect that is due a Torah scholar.

I take issue with what Rapoport writes on p. 92, that when R. Kook passed away, R. Abraham Isaiah Karelitz, the Hazon Ish, declared that he would have no portion in the World to Come. The source for this is Aharon Rosenberg, Mishkenot ha-Ro’im (New York, 1997), vol. 3, pp. 1120-1121, who cites a well-known London anti-Zionist. This is hardly an unimpeachable reference. (This same source also claims that the Hazon Ish insisted that R. Ben Zion Uziel’s Mishpetei Uziel be left on the floor, since it is muktseh mei-hamat mi’us. See ibid., p. 1198; Elyakim Schlesinger’s haskamah to Aharon Rosenberg, Torat Emet [Monsey, 1992]). The truth is that while the Hazon Ish asserted that R. Kook’s philosophical works should not be read, he saw nothing objectionable about his halakhic writings and certainly did not regard as R. Kook as a heretic. See Shelomo Kohen, Pe’er ha-Dor (Jerusalem, 1969), vol. 2, p. 34.  Indeed, one of the first things the Hazon Ish did when he arrived in the Land of Israel was to write R. Kook a letter, asking him to decide a halakhic problem he was confronted with. See R. Ben Zion Shapiro, ed., Iggerot ha-Reiyah (Jerusalem, 1990), pp. 448-449. Furthermore, it is known that when R. Kook came to deliver a talk in Benei Berak, the Hazon Ish remained standing throughout the former’s address. See Kohen, Pe’er ha-Dor, vol. 2, p. 32; R. Mosheh Zvi Neriyah, Bi-Sedeh ha-Reiyah (Kefar ha-Ro’eh, 1987), p. 247. Even with regard to R. Kook’s philosophical writings, the Hazon Ish sometimes expressed a more positive view, depending on whom he was speaking to. See Binyamin Efrati, "Shenei Bikurim Etsel ha-Hazon Ish ZT"L," Morashah 6 (1974): 62-63.

R’ Eliezer Berkotvits’ Critique Of Mysticism

In a world enamored with mysticism, it is always of interest to read an alternative view point. R’ Eliezer Berkovitz in “God, Man and History” elucidates his world view of Judaism, clarifying and extrapolating upon his understanding of the “Encounter” between man and God. The following is an extract from Pg 40 of that book where R’Berkovitz offers his critique of the mystical approach to religion, for in his opinion, it is this approach that is in reality antithetical to the world view of religious man.

The encounter should not be confused with mystical communion. The mystics goal is the surrender of personal existence. His desire is to merge himself in the One, to pour himself into God, to be drawn into the All. The mystic finds his fulfillment in the extinction of his dignity through being consumed by the Absolute. For him individuality is a burden and a shame. Only the One or the All is real, and every form of separateness from it is an unworthy shadow existence. In the encounter, on the other hand, the original separateness is affirmed; in fact, it is granted the highest dignity by being sustained by God. The encounter may occur because the individual personality is safeguarded. Where there is encounter, there is fellowship; and fellowship is the very opposite of the mystical surrender of man’s identity in an act of communion. Judaism is essentially non-mystical because it is religion. The mystical communion is the end of all relationship and, therefore, also the end of all religion.

Judaism is essentially non-mystical because, according to it, God addresses himself to man, and he awaits man’s response to the address. God speaks and man listens; and God commands and man obeys. Man searches, and God allows himself to be found; man entreats, and God answers. In the mystical union, however, there are no words and no law, no search and no recognition, because there is no separateness. Judaism does not admit the idea that man may rise “beyond good and evil,” as it were, by drowning himself in the Godhead.

There is a natural affinity between mysticism and pantheism. All mysticism tends toward pantheism. Once the mystical union is completed, there is nothing left but the Absolute, in which all is contained. The appropriate worldview of the mystic is pantheism. It is his justification for devaluing individual existence, as well as for attempting to redeem it through return into the All. On the other hand, mysticism is only available “religion” for the pantheist. His worship of the Absolute demands the denial of his own separateness from it. Thus, we are led to the Spinozistic amor dei; since nothing exists apart from the infinite, man’s love for God “is the very love of God with which God loves himself.” One is inclined to agree with those who see in this the monstrous example of absolute self-love. The truth, of course, is that where there is no separateness, there is no love either. Where there is no encounter, there can be no care or concern. The mystic endeavors to overcome all separateness; the pantheist denies it from the very beginning. Judaism, on the other hand, through its concept of the encounter, affirms the reality as well as the worth of the individual existence. Judaism is not only non-mystical, it also essentially anti-pantheistic.