Renewal for Liberals?

Discussion in 'Judaism' started by dauer, Aug 7, 2009.

  1. dauer

    dauer Active Member

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    I suggested the book Moral Clarity by Susan Neiman to Avi in his comments. He responded that it looks like Renewal for liberals. I thought it would be good to continue that conversation here.

    For those of you who aren't familiar with Susan Neiman, she's a moral philosopher who embraces Enlightenment values. The only similarity between her and Renewal that I can see is that her moral and political values lean to the left.


    Generally, when it's viewed as a movement, Renewal has been considered further to the left than any of the other movements. When other movements were addressing questions about gays or transgendered individuals, Renewal was dealing with questions of how to address polyamory because the full acceptance of and equality for GLBTI folks in its communities wasn't ever a question. Polyamory is something that was practiced by members of the community but isn't as common anymore. It was one of many things picked up during the 60's.

    Some Renewal thinkers have gone back to try and show that Jewish texts are not against homosexual acts or to show that halachah can be made to allow for homosexual acts because that is important to them, but other people in Renewal could care less about such activities. In either case the assumption is that homosexual acts are not only okay, but can be just as holy and sacred as heterosexual acts in the eyes of God. To paraphrase from a recent speech by Jay Michaelson addressing the killing at the GLBT community center in Israel, "Love is what matters. It doesn't matter whether it's heterosexual or homosexual." YouTube - Jay Michaelson of Nehirim speaks at Vigil for Victims of Attack on Tel Aviv LGBT Youth Center It doesn't take much reading to realize that Jay is very into Renewal ideas. He also happens to be one of my favorite contemporary theologians alongside R' Art Green and Reb Zalman, although at times he can be too syncretic for my tastes.

    There are many political and social activists within the movement. I think Avi, that you confuse rationalism for liberalism. Neither are all rationalists liberal, nor are all liberals rationalists. Maybe from reading Integral Halacha you get the idea that Renewal's not liberal because as a Reform Jew you associate anything to do with halacha with conservatism, but that isn't at all the case. It may also be that you didn't understand the book. What the book suggests is the radical change of halachic methodology to be more individualized and less rigid, to let an individual person's inner experience of the Divine inform the shaping of their religious practice.

    The difference between say, Renewal and Reform is that while Reform has tended to reject myth, mysticism and ritual and attempted to treat Judaism as a rationalist philosophy, Renewal unapologetically embraces all of those things. It looks at how all of that can be translated so it's compatible with progressive and mystically-informed values. Not everyone's mystically-inclined and I don't think Renewal is for everyone for that reason.

    I like the Integral Halachah text because it attempts to ground some of Renewal's innovations back in tradition a little more. At its extremes Renewal gets too New Agey and syncretic for me.

    Maybe better examples for you of renewal are things like: Tikkun Magazine - A Jewish Magazine, an Interfaith Movement and The Shalom Center | A prophetic voice in Jewish, multireligious, & American life which emphasize the social activist elements.

    There's also the book, The Left Hand of God by Michael Lerner Amazon.com: The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right (9780060842475): Michael Lerner: Books which in part addresses the increasing trend of confusing liberalism for secularism and the need to allow Spirit into liberal politics.

    But perhaps we should define terms. How do you define liberal and how do you define conservative? Do you distinguish between liberal religion and liberal politics? How would you define each of those ideas?

    Hopefully BB will also have a little time to weigh in on this discussion. He and I have maintained an on-and-off discussion about Renewal for a few years. His perspective of Renewal is probably more at odds with your view than mine is.

    I'll be on vacation through Wed and not sure whether I'll have 'net access. But if I do I'll be responding less frequently.
     
  2. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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    Dauer, if I hear you correctly I think I agree, I don't want to disrupt your thread. But I am considered a liberal christian when in reality, I think my beliefs are more conservative than many others. The difference is some pay homage to doctrine and ritual, and we believe actions and thoughts are important. Some play a literal game of rules...and we work with intent and love.

    Because I don't avidly convert folks and do avidly say that I believe there are many paths to G!d that is considered unChristian. Because I think that thall shall not commit adultery means not just sex outside of marriage...but don't adulterate anything, don't dilute your principles. Thou shall not murder, includes murdering the creativity of a young artist or the exploration of opposing viewpoints. My ten commandments are much more strict than others...and I'm the liberal?
     
  3. dauer

    dauer Active Member

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    I think that's definitely part of it. Renewal doesn't only permit a lot more, but it also suggests more stringency as it comes to issues like sustainability, although one thing that in my mind clearly marks it as liberal is that it doesn't say this should look the same for every person. Reb Zalman, in describing eco-kashrut, has said that unlike traditional kashrut which is B&W, eco-kashrut deals with a lot of gray area. It's affirming a particular value through action. What that action looks like is going to depend on the person and the context of the situation more than anything else.

    But I also think a lot of this issue in the Jewish community has more to do with a very rigid rationalism that rejects the value of inner experience and of a spirituality in the language of religion in favor of philosophy, that sees all nonrational activity as irrational, and that won't accept much other than reason within a fairly limited universe of discourse. I also think there comes the confusion of rational for that UoD. Say for example that someone accepts certain inner experiences as a valid source of information. Beginning with that information for their premises, they reach conclusions via propositional logic. To me that's a very rational approach. But to a so-called rationalist that might be seen as terribly irrational because the individual accepts sources of data that the rationalist doesn't.
     
  4. pohaikawahine

    pohaikawahine Elder Member

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    dauer - I like where you appear to be going with this .... my definition of "liberal" is all inclusive, and "conservative" is limited inclusive .... it is my belief that those that eventually cross-over into the promised land or climb that ladder rung by rung (to join the regathering) will be "liberal" by definition because it is difficult to have a world of harmony in any other way. Just my few thoughts to share - in the meantime I will bookmark this dialogue to follow it. Thanks for posting the "Kiss of God" dialogue - it was fun to watch and hear. he hawai'i au, poh
     
  5. dauer

    dauer Active Member

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    poh,

    would you say then that:

    conservative = ethnocentric

    and

    liberal = worldcentric ?

    I tend to see a liberal as someone who values change and development/growth over maintaining the status quo and a conservative as someone who's more cautious about change and more concerned with keeping things as they are. I guess it also might be helpful to add a radical as someone who wants to do away with the present system and replace it with something else rather than help it to change and develop.

    So, for example in Judaism:

    conservative: wants to keep Judaism the way that it is.

    liberal: wants to help Judaism to grow and develop and change with the times.

    radical: thinks we need to do away with Judaism as it is.


    There is, however, a lot of nuance to this. For example, as pertains to halachah:

    There are those who are conservative toward halachic methodology but liberal in the way they think that methodology should be applied. I would label BB, for example, as conservative toward halachic methodology but liberal in his ideals for its application. I am probably best described as liberal toward both methodology and application, although to someone who is conservative toward methodology I might seen as radical toward methodology. This is because their view might be that any change to halachic methodology is radical. In the same vein, someone who is radical toward halachah in all respects might see me as conservative because they view any attempts to change and develop halachah as conservative. I think Avi is most likely radical toward methodology and application by extension.

    But we could take this even further, in terms of nuance, to address particular halachic issues. When it comes to conversion, for example, I'm pretty conservative toward application, but not methodology because I think it's better that we maintain universal ritual standards (that is, brit milah for men, mikveh for all and beit din for all). I don't maintain that a conversion must be Orthodox in order to be valid, but I don't view such a perspective as primarily conservative either, more partisan. However I don't think we need to standardize what's expected of a convert in quite the same way. While I do think it's important that a convert be actively engaged with Judaism as a part of their lives, what that looks like should imo vary with the individual and the rabbi and the affiliation. In the same sense I don't think the time should be standardized, although for me personally I think less than a year is inadequate.

    We could similarly deal with conservative, liberal and radical theology. But then there are other issues too. Within Reform, for example, Avi's theology is probably generally conservative in that it's rooted in haskalah ideology whereas compared to the larger Jewish community it's liberal. So maybe there's a degree to which we can speak to localized vs universal conservatism, liberalism, and radicalism. If a person is born into a family with radical politics and maintains them, then within their family they're a conservative even though to the world at large they're a radical. Within my family I'm theologically radical and that generally holds true outside of it as well, but for different reasons.

    So maybe we could graph it out like this:

    xxxxxxxxxxx localized | universal

    conservative

    liberal

    radical

    and we could take it a step further if we included the perspective from which this is observed, in which case there would be three versions of this graph, one for each of the positions, or possibly two versions of each of the three versions in which case each possible perspective is represented. But we could also say that there are many intermediate steps between localized and universal. Maybe it's better to say

    conservative = maintains the belief that x

    liberal = develops/modifies the belief that x

    radical = rejects the belief that x

    where x represents a particular statement of belief or set of stated beliefs.

    edit: changed a word for clarity. Also want to emphasize that for each of the positions above, in addition to localized, universal, conservative, liberal and radical, it would vary according to particular beliefs. It may be generally more difficult for that reason to speak about sets of beliefs than about particular beliefs.
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2009
  6. citizenzen

    citizenzen Custom User Title

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    Regarding polyamory...

    I'm not personally for it. I'm selfish enough that I don't want to share. But I am for allowing adults to choose for themselves how they wish to live, especially when it comes to matters of the home and heart.
     
  7. dauer

    dauer Active Member

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    Same for me.
     
  8. citizenzen

    citizenzen Custom User Title

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    While my conclusion may be a bit too broad, it seems a difference between liberal and conservatives is that liberals are more open to accepting behaviors and beliefs that they don't themselves share. Liberals cherish personal freedom and are less likely to view non-conformity as a threat. Liberals in short, are just way cooler than conservatives. :cool:
     
  9. dauer

    dauer Active Member

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    If only 'twere true. One thing I found when I was vegan is that there are a lot of folks on the left that take issue with thinking differently. Your definition doesn't seem quite intuitive for that reason. It seems to me like the further to the extreme, left or right, the more you get those who are less accepting of people who think differently.
     
  10. pohaikawahine

    pohaikawahine Elder Member

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    I would agree with your definition of conservative and liberal. The interesting thing about conservative, liberal, or radical views of Judaism as you mention above - each depends on one's thought on what is Judaism anyway. I would venture to think that a conservative, a liberal and/or a radical have different definitions of what Judaism is and that might dictate whether one wants it to stay the way "it" is, help it grow and develop and change, or do away with "it".

    And I suspect that it would all hinge on PaRDeS and one's level of insight into Judaism. Personally what I think should never change is the "Sod" - the deepest meaning. In my view that is what we seek to make the necessary changes in ourselves in order to change our world. Of course, certain values about how to live one's life (and one's definition of words like righteousness for example) make changes in ourselves and in turn should begin to make changes in our world/universe. To be actively engaged in Judaism as part of our lives will certainly vary by individual but should in its essence be the same if it means living a life with key human values of respect, balance, harmony, righteousness, etc. The rituals and the language need to remain because the essence is buried in them even if we don't see them immediately or perhaps ever in this lifetime.

    I love Rabbi Steinsaltz (he was the first, in his writings, to draw me into the Song of Songs and following Judaism). In a small book "On the Road with Rabbi Steinsaltz" he goes to a school to meet some students (a middle school and high school) and said to his driver "Last night, I was talking, arguing, fighting with the Almighty. This is my life." When he met with the children he said "Boys and Girls, Hello. There are so many subjects that I know so little or nothing about. But I do know a little bit about Torah study. So I would like to offer you some words of advice regarding your Torah studies. My advice to you is this: make the lives of your teachers as miserable as you possibly can." There was silence. He then said in a whisper "Make their lives miserable, as miserable as you possibly can. Ask them some questions that you don't think they can answer. Try to find contradictions. Try to find books that ask particularly difficult questions about the subjects you are studying and ask your teachers these questions. Make the lives of your teachers as miserable as you possibly can." He started to leave and the head of the yeshiva rushed to the podium to thank the Rabbi for coming and told the boys and girls "I want to thank Rabbi Steinsaltz for coming and taking the time from his busy schedule, but I want to say, please don't take Rabbi Steinsaltz too literally." Rabbi Steinsaltz turned back to the microphone and spoke once again, but not in a whisper "Boys and girls, I have so often been misquoted by journalists over the years, but I don't want to be misquoted here. My advice to you is this: make the lives of your teachers as miserable as you possibly can."

    How does this relate to renewal for liberals? I guess I would answer - be conservative - maintain the belief that the masiach will return and the regathering will take place and the temple will be rebuilt. Be liberal - make the lives of your teachers as miserable as you possibly can with questions, dig deeply, never stop searching and changing as you learn and see new interpretations of the Torah. Be radical - basically one must reject all that one believes and just "see" what is when you reach that place at the top of the mountain.

    He hawai'i au means "I am Hawaii" - i give breath to my culture by the way I live my life. Perhaps "I am Jewish" is similar whether one is conservative, reform, or renewal, etc.

    he hawai'i au, poh
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 10, 2009
  11. Avi

    Avi Interfaith Forums

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    This was my preliminary gut reaction, lets go with it and see how it develops.

    I feel that ritually both Renewal and Reconstructionism are right of Reform.

    Renewal has done a great job with GLBTI. I think it was not as major an issue during the life of R. Kaplan, but I think he would have been a leader in this area if he were alive today as well.

    :):):)


    :D:D:D, true, but I am inclined to believe that all "conservatives" are not rational, and that could lead us to a long discussion !!!

    Right, I was hoping it would be more liberal than I felt it was after reading Integral Halacha. Do you think it is liberal ??

    Yes and No. I really like R. Zalman's description of "deconstruction and reconstruction", that idea resonates strongly with me. I believe it can be applied to Halacha. He gives many great examples of how traditional Halacha can be deconstructed to show us what the significance of the original Halacha was. Now comes the difficult part. We must reconstruct in a relavent way for todays Judaism. And after all, Halacha has been a central notion in Judaism. I understand R. Zalman's point that it cannot be just simply thrown out.

    On the other hand, as a Reform Jew and one whose perspective is strongly influenced by science, I cannot just simple accept ritual for ritual sake. R. Zalman comes from the Chassidic perspective which also has strong ties with the spiritual and mystical side of Judaism. I have some reservations about these approaches as well.


    :):):):), thanks Dauer, if you weren't usually a few steps ahead of me, I would have to argue that point :D:D:D.


    I agree and like that part of Renewal.


    I agree here too, and it is the myth and mysticism parts that I am concerned about. Have you read Kabbalah ? I hope not, because I believe men under 40 are traditionally not allowed to do that (just kidding) :):):).

    So we agree here !!

    Sounds great, travelling tonight will have to come back to these.

    I look forward to reading this part.


    Much needed !! But should not be idol worship, this is an interesting issue as well.

    How about we keep it simple for the sake of this argument ? What if we say a liberal Jew rejects revelation and a liberal Democrat supports Obama ??? How is that for an operational definition (I am being a little sarcastic here, but sort of serious too !!).

    Ok, lets see.
     
  12. dauer

    dauer Active Member

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    Well I have to say, the B&B at which I'm staying is pretty awesome. My gf's taking a nap so I'm ducking onto the computer.

    I'm not sure how useful the terms left and right are when speaking of ritual, or rather I think that the terms I've suggested, radical, liberal, and conservative are more useful. Let me illustrate by way of analogy:

    Compare a person who rejects the need for any government to a person who wishes to reform government. The Reform movement in Judaism is closer to the former. Renewal and recon are closer to the latter. Very little innovation has been made by Reform in terms of ritual because at its origin is the rejection of the value of ritual. When the Reform movement has changed ritual it has, afaik, only been by rejecting practice or liturgy (eg by rejecting the separation of men and women during prayer or rejecting passages that refer to the qorbanot at the beit hamikdash). This is a radical rather than a liberal stance. Renewal and Recon on the other hand have both introduced innovations to Jewish ritual. Just a couple of weeks ago I attended a day-long meditation retreat. It was supposed to be hosted a shul, but because a wedding would be taking place on the same day at that shul, it was moved to Mayyim Chayyim, a liberal mikveh that, in addition to more traditional reasons for making use of its facilities, suggests and offers counseling for people who want to use it for moving past having been abused and for coming out among other things. To me, that is far more liberal and I think liberalism is more appropriate there than radicalism.

    I think that the emphasis on more or less ritual as more or less conservative comes from the dichotomy established by the haskalah and the Orthodox community in which both identify themselves as not like the other. This has led to a view of Judaism in which there is Orthodoxy on one end of a spectrum and Reform on the other. It can be just as troubling if not more so for a Reform community if one of its members decides to wear tzitzit or keep kosher as it is in an Orthodox community if a person decides not to do so. That makes little sense to me. I think Judaism is better seen as many-flavored or many-colored than seen in such a one-dimensional way.

    Do you mean that they are not rational because they come to different conclusions than you do? Surely there are conservatives who follow rationalist methodologies and whose positions are equally defensible by those methods. Disagreeing with their premises doesn't make them any less rational, though perhaps claiming that they're not rationalists because you disagree with them makes you less rational. I think you probably intended this as a joke, but as a joke it only serves to avoid addressing the issue.

    I do, and I think you're the first person I've ever communicated with who considers it to not be so.

    I think one of the important aspects of this is that it shouldn't be reconstructed back into a rigid structure that applies in generally the same way to each person. If it becomes that rigid then it's just replacing traditional halachah with more of the same.

    I don't see the connection between science and ritual for ritual's sake. The natural sciences don't address ritual. When the social sciences do, it's in order to understand it in which case, to be sure, it is never just for ritual's sake.

    I don't think integral halachah makes sense in the absence of spirituality. Purely exoteric ritual that doesn't engage the individual is one of the things it tries to get beyond. There are some Orthodox Jews that I would consider culturally Jewish. Compared to liberal Jews who could take the same label, they've got a helluva lot more culture, but it amounts to pretty much the same thing. I can see why, if spirituality is an issue for you, integral halachah wouldn't make sense. But maybe it would be helpful in the context of this dialogue for you to talk a bit about any connections you see between the rejection of spirituality/mysticism and liberalism, and where you think those biases come from. (my current course of study requires a lot of self-reflection on biases and the like, and I think it's a productive approach.)

    I know that you tend to joke a bit, but sometimes it seems to avoid more productive dialogue. The whole 40 thing appeared as a standard among ashkenazim following various heresies eg Sabbateanism. Could you say more about your concerns regarding myth and mysticism?

    Yes, that's always been an issue for me. It's why I tend to gravitate to the likes of Reb Zalman and Rabbi Art Green. I'm more of a neo-hasid than a Jew-Bu or Jew-fi or Jewitch. I do think there's much to learn from other traditions, but, to give an example: that day-long meditation retreat I attended was more-or-less Western Buddhism reskinned with Jewish language. There's so much great meditative stuff in Judaism and the only Jewish method even hinted at was the one in which a person should experience his in-breath as God's outbreath, his out-breath as God's in-breath. I was disappointed. I think there's room for a dialogue about the concept of Nothing in Judaism and Buddhism, and from that I think it's fine if a person's theology is influenced by that dialogue. But I want my Judaism to feel Jewish, not Buddhist.

    Could you say more on that? Idol worship is a little ambiguous. One could argue that maintaining any position very strongly is idol worship, following the influences of postmodernism and the like, something that Neiman addresses in her book. I haven't read it but I don't think it's much of an issue if a person distances himself from infallibilism. And I'd like to add that, however you respond, it's likely that your position on avodah zara reflects a chumra.

    It is difficult for me to understand you when you're both sarcastic and serious at the same. I have the choice to either take your suggestions seriously or disregard them as absurd. I generally choose the former because I think it's more fruitful.

    From the perspective of the larger community, a person who rejects revelation is radical toward revelation following my definition. Locally that person may well be conservative for maintaining the views of his own community.

    A liberal democrat may or may not support Obama. I don't generally think that a person can be defined by only one issue. I think it would be much more constructive to deal with specific issues eg ritual, particular beliefs, ideology and the like as conservative, liberal or radical. I generally don't find B&W perspectives or generalizations constructive.


    I'd also like to share two definitions of faith that I've come across recently because they challenge the idea that this type of conversation can occur without acknowledging nuance.

    The first is from a coworker of someone I know, as reported to me by my friend. The coworker suggested that those who are okay with taking chances are more comfortable with God and the like. I think this was specifically addressing liberal spirituality. If a person needs very badly to be sure, doesn't like taking risks, then s/he will have a harder time making a "leap of faith", as it were. For them a belief is only worthwhile if it comes from a place of strong certainty, if it is to some degree objectively true. For myself, objective truth isn't much of an issue when it comes to spirituality. But as I've said elsewhere I don't think the goal of religion should be aquiring objective truth.

    The other definition comes from Nachman of Breslov as he's understood in Zvi Mark's new book, Mysticism and Madnes: The Religious Thought of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. I preordered it a while ago and am really enjoying it. According to Mark, Reb Nachman's view is that faith is rooted in the imaginative faculty. What's more, it's not about holding a particular belief. This is quote from the book, on p. 8:

    "[For Reb Nachman p]roper faith is neither philisophical knowledge nor belief based upon knowledge of the tradition. Rather, it is a state in which a person 'sees' what he believes in... Faith is clearly... more than the result of choice and decision; it incorporates a strong, direct awareness of of the divine, as though one is seeing with one's eyes..."

    THis is a view that I'm much in agreement with. Off topic, one of the really interesting things in this book is Mark's attempt to reconstruct a dialogue between Reb Nachman and Rambam where he sees Reb Nachman's views clearly informed, to a point, by Rambam, but key issues where he disagrees and comes to other conclusions. I've only just started the text but I think it's going to be a good read. If there's any problem with it, it's that Mark isn't a very good writer. Excellent scholar though.
     
  13. pohaikawahine

    pohaikawahine Elder Member

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    This dialogue is pretty much above my head, but I wanted to add a thought on your comments dauer about meditation and how you want your meditation to be jewish and not necessarily reflect another way. You know that meditation is found is many cultures, many religions, and is practices in many ways. To me, it is the heart of the ancient path and helps us find our way to the mountaintop. At some point I would like to know more about Jewish meditation - I have heard of the breath-in and breath-out, I know that davening is a form of meditation, I have read about meditation on the jewish letters and forms, I sense that the placement of the tefillin right over the third eye is related to meditation, deep prayer is actually meditation - all the rituals and the letters and sounds move us toward the center of our being. Seems to me it is very Jewish. he hawai'i au, poh
     
  14. dauer

    dauer Active Member

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    Hey Poh.

    I'm familiar with some forms of Jewish meditation as well as some forms of Buddhist meditation and have practiced each with different teachers. Other forms of Jewish meditation I've read about through the writings of hasidic masters and R' Aryeh Kaplan. Some of those meditations I've tried myself independently. The day-long retreat was more-or-less Vipassana for Jews, not Jewish meditation. There were books for sale at the end of the day, all by well-known JuBus such as Sylvia Boorstein. The teaching given that day was on the five hindrances of Buddhism with no mention that they were the five hindrances. The mention of the meditation on being breathed by God seemed almost like an afterthought and the assumption, stated pretty clearly by the person leading the retreat, was that most/all of the people attending were JuBus. Most of the cited sources in the talk were not Jewish.
     
  15. Avi

    Avi Interfaith Forums

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    I think comparing Reform to anarchy might be a bit extreme.


    I agree that Reform includes rejection of much ritual, but I think what it is replaced by is freedom of choice in ritual. I think that is quite innovative.



    I have never seen this problem in a reform setting, because the concept of reform includes tolerance in diverse practice.


    What I was referring to is the acceptance of Revelation and miracles in Conservative and Orthodox Judaism. I believe acceptance of these ideas is irrational. In addition, I feel that blind acceptance of ritual is irrational.

    Perhaps a misunderstanding here. Let me try to clarify. First are we talking about socially or religiously ? About 2 years ago I asked a Recon. Rabbi to explain to me where Recon. falls along the liberal / conservative spectrum. He told me that on social issues it is more liberal than Reform and ritually it is more conservative than Reform. I think I mentioned this to you and you did not agree, but it makes sense to me. I think Renewal is similar. That is what I meant by Renewal not being liberal, I think ritually it is more conservative than Reform. Do you disagree ?


    This is a very interesting issue. The connection that I see is perhaps along the rationalistic / spiritual axis. I see scientific thinking as much more rationalistic. I see ritual as more spiritual.

    I think you have a good point here. I think I have only experienced this sort of "exoteric ritual", perhaps that is why it is difficult for me to understand.

    I think I consider all Orthodox Jews culturally Jewish.

    Now that is a different story, I do not agree that generally they have more culture. I think it is individualistic.


    I am not saying I totally reject integral halacha. I just said I was disappointed in the book. It does not mean that there were not a lot of good new ideas there. I also have mixed feelings about spirituality. I place high value on rationalism, but I know that as human beings we are not 100% rational, we need spiritual understanding as well.


    I like the idea of examining our biases. I think you are very much on the right path to consider that, especially in an interfaith environment.

    An interesting related idea is that I wonder if the ultimate in rationalization, I think we have discussed the idea of the asymptote, and I believe it is agnosticism or atheism in Judaism. I think liberalism is better suited to move in this direction because it is positioned to reject revelation and miracles. I have not reviewed this but I believe that I read that R. Kaplan analyzed the miracles in Torah within the context of scientifically possible phenomenon. I have to go back to try to find this reference.



    Do you believe in the divine giving of Torah at Sinai ?

    I asked our new Rabbi if she would explain the Reform view on revelation. She said it was "divinely inspired" but perhaps not literally physically given at Sinai.

    I think this is a nice description. But my own belief of revelation is very rationalistic. What does 'divinely inspired" even mean, unless we hold some sort of pantheistic or panentheistic view of divine ?


    But how much do we know that is objectively true about G-d ? We know that Torah was passed down throughout history. We know from recent anthropological and archeological evidence who some of the authors of Torah were. We are still studying this. We know alot of great ethical and moral stories from Torah.


    Can you give us some examples ?
     
  16. dauer

    dauer Active Member

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    Your opinion doesn't make the analogy any less accurate mutatis mutandis. I'm not attempting to say that the Reform movement is anarchy. Rather, the Reform movement is to ritual what the rejection of gov't is to politics. If you take what I said to mean more than that then you're extending the analogy beyond its intent. Besides, I never mentioned anarchy. In anarchy ritual is always rejected. I mentioned a case in which gov't isn't seen as important for the society.

    When the idea first originated, it was, but it hasn't for a long time been something exclusive to the Reform movement. Now Reform's rejection of the value of ritual has become a limitation that other movements have transcended. That's why it too is now moving away from classical reform ideology.

    No, that's not why you haven't seen it. If that were the reason then it wouldn't ever happen. Your response suggests that you believe, if you haven't witnessed something, then it doesn't exist, and that the ideals of the Reform movement are always in practice. That is far from true. I have seen that type of response from Reform Jews myself and I have read of others experiencing the same thing. In my experience it is frequently true of Reform Jews to interpret the adoption of rituals not common to their particular community as a move toward Orthodoxy. If anything this attitude seems like something that would reinforce the efficacy of the baalei teshuva movement by reinforcing for the young Reform Jew who decides to pick up new rituals that he's on his way to Orthodoxy. I don't understand where your idealism about the Reform movement comes from.

    And in both of those settings the belief in revelation is far more nuanced than you might believe, as it is outside of those settings.

    Take for example the view of Abraham Joshua Heschel in which revelation is an experience of God and the mitzvot and Torah are Judaism's response to God, to the Beloved. Or take the common notion in which the content of the revelation is the silent aleph of anokhi. I think your feelings about revelation have more to do with your difficulties with myth in general. I think your difficulties with myth come from your tendency toward literalism. It doesn't make sense to me to treat myth as the key issue when your difficulties come from the way that you understand myth in.


    What do you mean by the blind acceptance of ritual? Ritual is an action, not a belief.


    I do disagree. Ritually Renewal is more liberal. In practice, Reform ritual is fairly conservative. In practice, Renewal ritual can be very liberal in that it innovates and experiments with types of practice. On the other hand, Reform's attitude toward ritual is more radical while Renewal's attitude varies between liberalism and radicalism depending on the individual and the community.

    A couple of questions come up for me:

    Does this mean that for you, if something's spiritual, then it's not rational, and if something's rational, that it's not spiritual?

    You're contrasting scientific thinking with ritual. I'm not sure you can directly do so. Ritual is an external action. Scientific thinking is an activity of the mind. Maybe it is a good idea to clarify the nature of ritual? All humans engage in it, even the most avowed atheist. But I think you mean religious ritual. What do you think are the differences between religious ritual and ritual in general? When you use the word ritual, what do are you referring to?

    It's possible, and I think it's one of those things that's difficult to understand without having some experience of it. It's probably the greatest barrier in our conversation, like talking to a blind man who's skeptical that there is a visually perceptible world about color. In that video I posted of Fr. Keating and Reb Zalman they at one point mention the way in which reading about less exoteric practice doesn't do so much, that it's necessary to be exposed to it in order to understand it. Does the notion make sense to you that, for those who engage in ritual on a deeper level, it becomes something much more to them than an irrational behavior that's culturally dictated and serves no real purpose, and that it isn't seen as merely the fulfillment of an obligation, may not be seen as the fulfillment of an obligation at all?

    Why is that?

    Maybe you misunderstand my intention. If the mitzvot and minhagim, the Talmud and Torah. the whole megilah, as it were, are for a person only exoteric cultural baggage, then he has much more cultural baggage that he carries with him. When I use the phrase cultural Jew, I'm referring to someone for whom religion is only culture. It's not spiritual. There is little difference for him between a national and religious holiday except for the label that affiliates him with each.

    If you do reject integral halachah there's nothing wrong with that. I'm just saying that in the absence of an engaged spirituality it wouldn't make as much sense.

    I'm confused by your response, however. You say that we need spiritual understanding in addition to rationalism. But most of the time I see you arguing against most spiritual understanding via appeals to rationalism. What spiritual understanding do you think humans needs? Do you think it is true for all of us? Do you think all of us who need some sort of spiritual understanding need the same kind or need it to the same degree? Do you see the need for spiritual understanding as something negative?

    We haven't, and it's beyond my ken, so perhaps you should explain what you mean.

    I think trying to explain myth in that matter somewhat misses the point. Rambam had a similar project going, and similarly, I think he often misses the point. Religion is not science. What's more, trying to understand the miracles of the Torah as history reinforces a certain kind of literalism. There are Orthodox Jews who see the Torah as an ahistorical text. It seems to me that, aside from cultural Jews, even when the Torah is taken to indicate historical events, there is a strong understanding that the main point of Torah isn't history. Hence pshat, remez, drash and sod are all indicated. I think trying to understand miracles in the context of scientifically possible phenomenon is a step backwards.

    btw I don't notice anywhere in your above response that you looked at the biases which inform your beliefs, nor the connection you see between liberalism and the rejection of spirituality.

    It's not a matter of belief. It's the most archetypal representation in our tradition of revelation. Every Shavuot we are again at Sinai receiving the Torah. But your question to me is a good example of your literalism. The nature of revelation and how it's understood is nuanced even within the Orthodox and Conservative communities. If you pick up a copy of Emet Ve-Emunah which is the COnservative movement's statement of beliefs, you'll find there are at least four understandings of revelation (I don't have it in front of me to confirm the number) which include something akin to Heschel's statement, something in line with what your rabbi stated, a Reconstructionist perspective -- remember that Recon is an offshoot of Conservative Judaism -- and a minority view that is more akin to what you've suggested is revelation above. Since you've suggested that the Conservative view is belief in revelation and that belief in revelation means accepting the giving of the Torah at sinai, I want to suggest that you don't have a strong grasp of the nuance in either Conservative or Orthodox views of revelation. Even your reform rabbi believes in revelation.

    Why are either pantheism or panentheism necessary in order for something to be Divinely inspired? What is your belief regarding revelation?

    You're confirming her statement with your response. You want objective truth about God and so much of what might be subjectively meaningful can't be because it is at odds with what you need to feel secure in your worldview.

    Nachman of Breslov was a mystic. We're getting back to trying to communicate color to a blind man. My point in sharing that is that there is much nuance to any conversation along these lines and I don't think it does much good to ignore the nuance.

    For Reb Nachman, faith isn't belief. It's direct experience as achieved through various spiritual practices. Mind you, that doesn't mean that faith is belief in those experiences. It is the experiences themselves.

    Maybe you don't understand what mysticism is. Its focus is experience, not belief. That is not to say that most mystics don't maintain some degree of belief in their experiences, but it's also possible to have an experience and be skeptical about certain aspects of it. In an article by Jay Michaelson -- I'm not sure exactly which one, but I think it was Polytheism and Nonduality -- he mentions a vision that he had while in meditation. His first association was the ear of Ganesh. He knew that's what it had to be. But later he reflected that it could have been the wing of a seraph. The point of this wasn't that it was one or the other, but that he understood the way in which one's culture is going to influence one's experiences. We make meaning of our experiences by contextualizing them within what we know.

    I think fallibilism is the better answer to most problems as compared to say, atheism. I don't think more than acknowledging the possibility for error is necessary. Going back to that Zalman/Keating video, there's a point at which Zalman suggests that iconoclasm is necessary, that we have to destroy the images of God that we had when we were literal. Keating affirms that yes, and sometimes those old images can be very destructive. I think that both the rationalist literalists and the fundamentalist religionists are both very much stuck with that childlike notion of God. One embraces it and the other rejects it.
     
  17. dauer

    dauer Active Member

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    Avi,

    Just wanted to add something in response to a question of yours. I was reading more of that book on the beach. I have a feeling that later on it'll become clear that R' Nachman saw various levels to faith, but the most basic level is being palpably aware that one is in the Divine presence. He's also said that faith is prayer, and elsewhere that prayer is God, and elsewhere that true prayer comes when the pray-er is his prayer.

    -- Dauer
     
  18. Avi

    Avi Interfaith Forums

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    :) I am a reformer. I think reform has much more to offer than traditional Judaism. Of course there are elements of other movements that I think are great. As I have said, I really like the idea of rejection of chosenness in Recon. I really like connection to Eastern religion, philosophy and interfaith which I see in Renewal.


    I believe you are partially right. I am benchmarking to more traditional Judaism. Orthodox and perhaps Conservative Judaism. However, you refer to my "tendency toward literalism". I assume what you mean here is how I view the traditional perspective. Certainly there are some traditional Jews who do not interpret literally. But I hope you will agree that many Orthodox Jews do interpret literally. I think the "Modern Orthodox" have a different approach. But most Orthodox Jews are literal interpreters.



    What I mean is non-critical action of ritual.



    Please give examples, I am back home and can refer to the book Integral Halacha.

    Please give examples. Would you say the "treif banquet" was "fairly conservative ?

    Good question. What if we graph on a 2D axis ? rational vs irrational and spirtual vs, non-spiritual. I could imagine this. So, I would say no, they are not correlated.


    I do not agree with this definition of "scientific thinking". It is much more than an "activity of the mind". Perhaps you are thinking of "thought experiments". Scientific thinking puts us in touch with reality. It is our best way of learning. It also allows us to create new things. Not only ideas but a new reality.

    Can you explain what you believe ritual is for atheists ?

    Ritual to me refers to activities which have no purpose other than symbolic or spiritual.



    Yes, I believe for some people ritual can be very positive. But I have not had this type of experience.


    Yes, I misunderstood your view of cultural Judaism. It sounds pretty limited. Although I struggle with the spiritual part, if constrained to cultural issues only, religion would be too narrow.


    True, that may be an inconsistancy with my position. Because I see so much irrationality in our world, I am always trying to fix that, and make it more rational. But that cannot be all that life is about.

    I think you are right. But I think it is a useful exercise and is quite relavent.

    On the other hand, metaphor, allusion and allegory are probably more important approaches to Torah study.


    Ok, I will give it a shot:
    1) Weak Jewish education,
    2) Scientific / engineering perspective (eventhough I am not a scientific fundamentalist :)),
    3) Suspicion of mysticism,
    I can probably think of more, just tell me when to stop.

    "Liberalism and rejection of spirituality": Perhaps I caused some confusion here. Certainly many liberal Jews accept spirituality. My point was related to liberalism and rationalism.

    But you did not give your opinion about revelation, what do you believe ?

    Please enlighten me ??


    Right, she is my new Rabbi, and I think she might be too conservative for me :).


    I cannot even imagine another view of G-d than pantheism and panentheism. Isn't that what Maimonides meant when he said:

    "I believe with perfect faith that G-d does not have a body. Physical concepts do not apply to Him. There is nothing whatsoever that resembles Him at all".

    My view of revelation is that it was an oral tradition which was passed down after the time of Moses. I do not believe it was a miraculous event.


    :)


    Sounds alot like dreaming. Is this what you mean by mysticism ?
     
  19. dauer

    dauer Active Member

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    I just think you fail to acknowledge how much gray area there is outside of and probably within the Reform movement as well (I don't say this because it's less clear to me that the gray is there, but because I'm not certain that you acknowledge it).

    Ultra-orthodoxy is relatively modern. Again, there is pshat, remez, drash and sod. If literalism were a defining characteristic of traditional Judaism then there would have been little chance for either Rambam or the kabbalists to become so influential, nor would we talk about differing levels of interpretation in the same way. I would also ask for clarification as to what you mean by "literal." Does this mean seven day creationism, for example?

    No, it's radical. And I'm referring to religious ritual. Please see my earlier post about how, afaik, in general when the reform movement has made changes to ritual, it has been by rejecting one thing or another. In every place where Reform hasn't rejected one tradition or another, there is the adherence to traditional practices as opposed to innovation in practice. Contrast this with Renewal which has innovated, for example:

    group aliyot in which people come up to the bimah based on whether or not a drash on the present aliyah, or on the parsha in general, relates to them,

    weaving together English and Hebrew chanting of the weekly parsha

    The above two examples are liberal approaches. Reform's approach is radical. It is defined by rejection rather than change and development.

    I don't agree that thought is ever anything more than an activity of the mind. It may produce more than that, but it is still an activity that is of the mind. My thought to eat something because I'm hungry also leads to external happenings. Perhaps you were reading polemic into my statement that wasn't present. Whatever the case, you didn't address
    my point. You went off on a tangent.

    Having a cup of coffee every morning is a ritual. So is meeting a particular coworker for lunch every Wednesday. It is inescapable because we are creatures of habit who tend to find comfort in some degree of structure and predictability. I think you'll find that even in the case of religious ritual, it may have symbolic/spiritual purposes as well as others. If we go by your definition then arguably there is almost no ritual at all in the world, for even if a ritual supported group cohesion or provided the simple psychological comforts that rituals tend to do then it would not qualify.


    There is a problem with my definition of cultural Jews and I think you are probably a person who can help to clarify it because I think you do see a difference between secular and religious holidays, and I think it's unlikely I'd identify you as only culturally Jewish. If the above is true, what distinguishes religious from secular rites and holidays for you?

    I think that's a worthwhile endeavor, but I also think that sometimes it may get in the way of communication and understanding. You may be quicker to label something that you don't understand as irrational.

    I don't entirely disagree.

    Could you clarify your point?

    I've stated before, it's not an issue of belief for me.

    I can't in entirety as these conversations have been going on for a verrry long time, but I have presented four Conservative perspectives of revelation as well as the silent aleph drash which is known both within and outside of Orthodoxy. I think you'll even find some of the COnservative perspectives I mentioned among some Orthodox Jews. You may also be interested in looking for what Ibn Ezra was going on about in hintings throughout his commentary.

    It is pretty unlikely imo. I also view pantheism and panentheism favorably but I don't see where you get that from Rambam. If you want panentheism from a traditional source, the best place to find it is the Jewish mystical tradition.


    Do I mean dreaming as spirituality or Michaelson's experience as spirituality? I don't think spirituality can be conveyed very well in words, much for the reasons I have outlined above. as to whether Michaelson's experience was like dreaming, I can't speak to it because it was his experience and he only mentioned it in passing. But I'd also like to offer this quote, found on pages 59-60 of Mysticism and Madness

    "'Hidden'... [refers] to something that a person cannot explain to someone else... The taste of food cannot be explained to someone who never tasted it... The same applies to love and fear of the Creator.... [and to kabbalah which can be understood conceptually without grasping the hidden quality that is found in cleaving to the Creator.]" -- R. Menachem Mendel of Premlishan

    It essentially goes back to communicating color to a blind man. There are some things that can't be stated with words. At the very least, both people need to know on some level what's being referred to. There are some things that are more easily communicated. Still, a concept and the experience that it refers to aren't the same. But as to what was going on for Michaelson, I don't know. He engages in a lot of Eastern meditation. Most recently he was on a jhana retreat for a few months. That's another thing that, as a concept, I get to some degree, but as an experience I have no idea at all. I've never experienced the states described by jhana practitioners. And I get the sense that descriptions don't communicate much of the experience.
     
  20. dauer

    dauer Active Member

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    Double-posting again, more specifically to distinguish mysticism from spirituality as I use both terms. I think the definitions may be helpful.

    The term spiritual I use very generally. It could apply to a buddhist who doesn't believe in God, to a person who is "spiritual but not religious" and experiences some connection to God but tends not to embrace that through any particular practices, to someone who experiences some vague connection to/awe at the universe. There are countless examples. I don't connect the word exclusively to "spirit" and I do relate it to categories of experience. Wonder and awe can be just as much spiritual experiences as ecstasy and deep longing can be.

    Mysticism is more difficult, especially as Jewish mysticism is concerned. Kabbalah can be divided into practical, theoretical and a third category that is more or less meditational. There is overlap, but the practical kabbalah is essentially practical magic. It's the performance of various rites and rituals with the express intention of changing the turn of events one way or another, maybe ensuring that a birth goes without complications. Theoretical kabbalah is in some more like a very esoteric and secretive theology. Meditational kabbalah is closer to what's more universally understood as mysticism in that it's concerned with various types of journeys through the upper world, or with attaining prophecy, or with achieving union with the Divine. I believe that this latter approach was the inspiration for the middle approach and, for that matter, most similar to the root of Judaism and most religions. When I use the term mysticism I'm referring to the latter approach, not to the other two approaches. As I use the terms, it could be said that mysticism is a type of spirituality or that spirituality is a generic mysticism, perhaps a less focused mysticism. A person in fervent prayer may or may not be having/pursuing a mystical experience, whether or not he is having some experience of the Divine. It's a fine line that's somewhat arbitrary and can be crossed over.

    Maybe it's helpful to add the term "shamanic" for those types of experiences that seem in some way more imaginal, more like engaging with a living myth, if you will.
     

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