Happy Chanukah! (4)
Lindsey and I went to see Uhspizin with the rabbi and rebbetzin today, after eating out at the kosher Indian restaurant here in town (no Chinese food available). I was impressed with the movie's quality and its approach to a sensitive topic. Hasidim are an enigima to many people, even to other Jews. I thought that Uspizin did a wonderful job of explaining what hasidic life is like, with the passion of Beslov hasidism bringing a unique flavor to the film. It is important, in my mind, that the main actor and writer, Shuli Rand, was once an Israeli movie actor and became a baal teshuvah, so he is able to really engage his part. I give this movie a hearty thumbs up!
May the light of this festival increase your faith and give you joy.
Left Wing Modern Orthodox: 44%
Right Wing Modern Orthodox: 79%
Left Wing Yeshivish/Chareidi: 60%
Right Wing Yeshivish/Chareidi: 16%
What does it mean?
You're shteiging away in the YU beis medrash and really enjoying that Kant class in the afternoon. You've achieved shiurvanna - the perfect synthesis of frumkeit and the outside world. Everyone to the left is way too modern and everyone to the right is too rigid and machmir. Sometimes you feel guilty about not wearing a hat.
I guess this is fairly accurate. I am more right-wing than left, for sure. The thing about the hat is not me, though, since I wear one all the time, thus not fitting the mold. Of course, that is one of the things I do quite well—not fitting the mold... I do find it interesting that I'm not too far from the Left Wing Yeshivish/Chareidi side. I guess my rabbi has been having an impact on me after all.
I have been collecting some great quotes over the last few months with the intent of sharing them when I had some time. As you can probably tell, I have found some time hidden in my amazingly full schedule. This current post relates directly to yesterday's post about the "Golden Age" ideal and Messianic Judaism's approach to rabbinic authority.
There are many people within Messianic Judaism who take issue with the concept of rabbinic authority. I would venture to guess that 99%+ of these people have never cracked the Shulchan Arukh, nor have they ever studied other elements of the Torah shebal peh for themselves. I have yet to meet a Messianic Jew who has done so and still thinks badly of the concept of rabbinic authority.
Those in the 99%+ adhere to the goal of "getting back to the way things were in the 1st century". However, as lamedzayin said, "attempts to recreate the past must do so at the expense of dealing with the present." We cannot afford to ignore the present, and there is no validity in trying to become Saducees. Instead, many people are being influenced by Karaites like Nehemia Gordon, who has taken it upon himself to teach Messianics what to believe (based on bad scholarship, in my mind). While Karaism may look Biblical on the outside it is not true Judaism and needs to be handled with extreme caution.
What it comes down to is something that one of the writers on Maven Yavin stated a few weeks ago:
But ultimately TSHBP is faith based... The proselyte [from a midrash quoted earlier] could have gone to a Sadduccee and been converted and also taught the Aleph-Bet correctly.... However, the point is that he went to Hillel. This is what he wanted in on. If you go to Hillel, if you want to join our club then you must ultimately trust our interpretations and traditions.
That, my friends, is the gist of the matter. This has become one of my biggest soapboxes in recent months. We need to remember that G-d gave His religion to the Jews. He gave them the ordinances and then told them to observe them and to interpret them—to adapt them as necessary for the benefit of the world. He has revealed himself as the G-d of Israel, so we must learn to approach him in that capacity. That means that we must engage the halachah, not attack it. How can we ever hope to be seen as a valid form of Judaism if we are not doing what Judaism, event its liberal anti-Torah elements, does?
Labels: Messianic Judaism
Lots of bloggers are chiming in on Steven Spielberg's new movie Munich. I think Anne Lieberman condenses the issue quite well in her post from a few weeks back. I see little difference between the lies and misinformation Spielberg is promoting and the idiotic statements made in the last few weeks by the president of Iran. Both ignore the history of the Middle East and Israel over the last 100 years. Both make killing Jews into a political issue, not a moral one—in a vain attempt at making such killings okay.
The plain fact of the matter is that the Palestinian murderers who took the lives of innocent civilian athletes in Munich do not deserve to have their thoughts voiced. They gave up that right when they made the decision to kill innocent people to further their cause. Spielberg, good Jewish boy that he is, has simply been duped into thinking that the Arabs want to talk, not that their aim is the destruction of the Jewish state and the death of every Jew on the planet. If you doubt that fact, just ask them. They do a bad job of hiding their true aims.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has also given up any rights he has to speak about the Arab-Israeli conflict since he has shown that he has absolutely no understanding of history and little connection to reality. I would venture to guess that he has never been to a Holocaust memorial, much less that he has ever read the detailed accounts of the Jews killed by Hitler and his minions. Ahmadinejad would much rather ignore that information because doing so lets him have some sick inward justification for hating G-d's chosen people and plotting to wipe them off the face of the earth.
May Hashem open his eyes or have mercy on his soul, whichever He deems more beneficial...
(___) Judaism is essentially an attempt to reconstruct a "Golden Age" of Judaism. The problem is that this Golden Age never really existed in the romanticized form that (___) Jews like to think it did. The world was always a lot more complex. What's worse is that many of the practices and ideas of the past that (___) Judaism wishes to recreate, even the ones that are historically accurate, were only functions of a particular time and place and not essential components of Judaism.
Lamedzayin suggests over at Maven Yavin that the blanks in this simple statement can be filled in with both "charedi" and Conservative". I would say that they can also be easily filled in with "Messianic". While the vast majority of the Messianic community hopes to "get back to the Scriptures", or "get back to the way it was in the first century", Lamedzayin points out correctly that "attempts to recreate the past must do so at the expense of dealing with the present."
I am convinced that the best approach to our journey is to embrace where we are now, not to attempt a return to the Golden Age. What is the main issue I am talking about here? Rabbinic authority. Fighting with the idea of rabbinic authority and trying to push the issue aside is only detrimental to us and to the larger Jewish commmunity. If we claim to be a valid form of Judaism then we must engage the rabbinic writings and the halachah that stems from them. It is not enough to say that basar b'chalav "isn't found in the Torah". We have to find out why that is the normative practice in Judaism (even in Reform Judaism) and engage the sources in the development of our own halachah on the issue. That is how every other Jewish movement has developed, and we should be no different.
The biggest obstacle (besides our pride and our fear) is the fact that we have few scholars who are qualified to actually engage the texts. We need to encourage the new leaders coming up (my generation) to develop the necessary skills and learn the necessary information to be useful in this journey. That will require some other changes, as well—like developing frum environments where our children can grow up observing and engaging the Torah. That will take hard work for the current generation, but the rewards will be seen in the many generations to follow.
That is what I am doing in my home. My goal is to create an environment where my children will engage the Torah and observance not only as part of Messianic Judaism but as part of greater Israel. I fall short of this goal in many ways, partly from just not having enough observant examples to follow. But I am willing to work hard at it for the good of my family.
When thinking about the issue of Rabbinic authority never forget that G-d gave this thing to the Jews, and with it he gave the right and the responsibility to interpret and develop it wisely. I personally think that they have done a great job.
Labels: Messianic Judaism
Gil over at Hihurim has a great post on the issue of gaining Torah insights from a gentile. I have thought about this issue from time to time, since my work involves developing eBooks for a christian company and I invariably end up reading parts of the books I work on. I dislike some of the books we publish, and I disagree with all of them in major and minor points, but occasionally I see a teaching that is both right and beautiful.
How can I justify doing the work that I do despite the fact that my company's books teach theology that runs counter to my own and at times is even anti-Torah? My best response to that question is to say that I have the ability to influence my company's decisions on whether or not to publish books that contain anti-Semitic or blantanly anti-Torah teachings. When we get a preview copy of a book that has anything to do with Judaism or a related topic, my boss brings it straight to me. He trusts my opinion on those works and has declined publication offers on every occasion when I have expressed concerns. If I can contine to be a positive influence on the quality of materials being made available to pastors and teachers in the christian world, straining out the schmutz and encouraging better content, then I feel that my job is worthwhile.
I am also taking an active role in encouraging the publication of original lanuguage works in our program, with the goal of seeing more christians engage the original texts with understanding. I would love to get us access to some good Jewish commentaries and even to develop a library of Jewish works that will encourage even more learning in that direction.
Now, while it may seem like I am encouraging cencorship, I should say that I am not. If I were promoting censorship I would raise issues with every book I edit. My goal is to raise awareness and remove impediments. If a proposed book screams that the Jewish people are not G-d's chosen people, then I see no reason to condone its publication. If a proposed book advocates the speaking of G-d's name or ridicules Judaism for its practices, then I feel that I am obligated to contest its publication. That is, after all, why my boss brings me these books in the first place: to get the opinion of someone outside the camp on how the books will be seen by others in the same position. It is both an honor and a huge responsibility to represent Jewish thought in that discussion.
The only way to point people to truth is to get out there and stick out a finger. And you know me... I have no qualms about pointing my finger where I think the truth can be found.
Labels: Messianic Judaism
Since I am catching up on my blogging, I should tell you about a great post on one of my now-favorite blogs, Hihurim. Gil talks about the issue of tucking in tzitzit, something that I have gone back and forth on a few times since I became observant. Suffice it to say that I appreciate Gil's take on this issue and I am glad to have some rabbinic resources to point to when discussing this with others instead of just having to rely on my own limited knowledge of the subject. This is a must-read for anyone who does wear or has considered wearing tzitzit, as is the great series of posts about tekhelet I have already linked to on Maven Yavin.
You know that there is too much power in the federal government's police units when they keep an active watch on people ordering books over the inter-library loan system. I am not surprised, really, but dismayed that our bureaucrats have nothing better to do than to spy on innocent Americans, even ones who choose to read books that most of us are not too inclined to read. This is just too Orwellian for my comfort.
Update: I almost forgot to mention that my brother first pointed this out, and he has some great comments on the subject.
Update (12/25): This was a hoax. Despite that fact, I still stand by my comments. The Patriot Act still allows the government to spy on which books we check out of the library, and there are too many other intrusions on our privacy for my sentiments to change.
A bunch of researchers at UCLA have finally figured out what the rest of us have known all along: The mainstream media is biased toward the left. This is supposedly the first study on the issue of media bias to actually come to an objective conclusion based on verifiable, duplicable results. I look forward to the release of the full report in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, which I suspect will be sometime this week.
For all of you who think that this is unimportant and that the impact of this bias is negligible, I challenge you to prove it. The media covers important issues and is largely in control of the release of facts to the general population. If those facts are twisted or if important information is left out, or if assumptions are made, we see lasting results. Add to that the fact the the MSM is unwilling to admit openly when it makes a mistake (the Killian memos are a prime example, as is the Al Durah Affair) and you will be hard-pressed to prove that the media's bias is unimportant.
We need unbiased news reports in this world. I know that reporters all have their own ideas and opinions, but the whole idea of being a journalist is to study how to submit the facts for the public's digestion, not studying how to prove to the world that your opinion is the right one. If you want to express your opinion on something, get yourself a radio talk show and leave the journalism to those who strive to be unbiased reporters of the facts.
Just writing a quick post to tell everyone shavuah tov (have a good week)! Two weeks until Israel. Any suggestions for me as I plan my trip? What to take, where to eat, what to wear, etc?
It looks like I will be going, as long as the bigwigs hammer out the "who pays for what" details. I might end up going the week after I get back from Israel, which would be good. That would let me come back to Austin, rest, catch up on my regular life, and re-pack before I head back overseas. I am still very excited about the trip. I get to get my brand new passport stamped twice in the same month. Maybe I will try to get it stamped in Amsterdam on my stopover, too. Do they let you do that? I doubt it...
I found out today that I will be in Forsand, not Farsund. Forsand is close to (a suburb of?) Stavanger, whereas Farsund is closer to Kristiansand. I can't find any info on Jews in Forsand, which is not surprising, considering the size of the population country-wide. If you know anything about the area, please drop me a line. I would love to get some first-hand info.
My blog has been nominated for the "Best Designed Blog" in Israellycool's 2005 JIB (Jewish and Israeli Blogs) Awards! AbbaGav, who I linked to in yesterday's post, nominated me. (You can see his thoughts in the comments on that post.)
Nominations are over on Sunday, and I assume that the voting will begin soon afterwards. I'll let you know so that you can vote for the Four Questions.
So far the competition in that category is not too exciting. Most of the blogs are run-of-the-mill template designs, with little or no extra work. Some, like Jewlicious and OceanGuy, will offer some good competion. I have to ask though, were those blogs hand-coded in XHTML Strict (validates, too!) with all-original images and artwork, and a cool theme that permeates the entire website? I also have a whole range of cool features on my site, not the least of which is my Glossary page, which offers definitions to various Hebrew terms and shows off my cool glossary tooltip pop-ups. Shameless advertising, you say? Maybe, but this is war... :D
I have been keeping up with my blog reading over the last few weeks—it's one of the few relaxing items on my schedule—and I wanted to pass along to you some great Jewish blog links.
I have added those sites to my blogroll, and I have added my blogroll to the right collumn of this blog.
Well, it looks like I'm on a roll... one post each month for the last few months. I've been up to my eyeballs in work, trying to get my budget up to speed with the needs of my upcoming trip to Israel. I'm still working 70-80 hours each week, spread across 5 jobs. It has been very draining, but it will all be over in about 3 weeks. Lindsey and I are going to Houston on December 30th, and I am flying out of IAH on January 2nd.
I am really looking forward to this trip to Israel. The opportunity G-d has dropped in my lap astounds me. I just hope my mind absorbs and retains as much of the trip as possible. I will be taking pictures, and I will be sure to create a picture album when I get back. My main concern there is only having 512MB of space on my SD card...
I found out today that there is a very good chance that I will be going on a week-long trip to Norway right after I get back from Israel. My company is working out a deal with another software provider, and I am probably going to be sent over there to train some people on the finer points of creating books in our eBook format. That means that I will fly back from Israel on Monday and leave for Norway on Tuesday. Wow...
Speaking of Norway, does anyone know anything about the Jewish community there? According to the all-knowing Google, there are two synagogues: one in Oslo and one in Trondheim. I think I will be in Farsund, which is close to Kristiansand. Apparently that is a 5 hour train ride away from Oslo, so I guess I won't be able to visit the local synagogue. Does anyone know if there is a synagogue or minyan closer to Farsund?
Lindsey and Chaya are doing well. Chaya is still not walking on her own, but I am sure she will soon. She can easily pull herself up and is taking a step every once in a while. I just hope she doesn't start walking while I am gone in January. Three-plus weeks is a long time.
I'm going to try to post a bit every few days until I leave. Keep an eye out!
The various musings and kvetchings of a Torah-observing, eBook-editing, wife-adoring, baby-loving ger. Everything from Torah study to technology is fair game. The Four Questions come from Shabbat 31a.
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