Author Archives: Rabbi Arthur Green

Rabbi Arthur Green

About Rabbi Arthur Green

Rabbi Arthur Green, Ph.D., is Lown Professor of Jewish Thought at Brandeis University and Dean of the Rabbinical School at Hebrew College. Among his many books are Tormented Master: A Life of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, Seek My Face, Speak My Name: A Contemporary Jewish Theology, and Ehyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow.

Hasidic Prayer

In the early period of Hasidism– the movement of religious revival that brought new spirit to the lives of Jews in Poland and the Ukraine toward in the 18th century–prayer played a primary role. These observations on Hasidic prayer are excerpted with permission from the editors’ introduction to Your Word is Fire: The Hasidic Masters on Contemplative Prayer (Jewish Lights; originally published by the Paulist Press, 1977).

In early Hasidism, worship, particularly in the form of contemplative prayer, came to be clearly identified as the central focus of the Jew’s religious life. Both the ecstatic outpourings of ordinary people and the highly sophisticated treatments of devotional psychology in the works of the Hasidic masters bear witness to this new and unique emphasis upon the inner life of prayer.


Inner Devotion

Hasidism views all of Jewish life as "the way of service." Man’s only task in life is the service of God; prayer, study, and all of the commandments are seen instrumentally: They are the means by which the Jew may fulfill his sacred task. Hasidic authors tirelessly warn their readers against the dangers of robot-like performance of the commandments. Each ritual act must have its way lighted by the glow of inner devotion, else it "has no wings" and cannot ascend to God. Even acts of human kindness, the "Deeds of Love" of which the rabbis had spoken, are here seen in devotional terms: There is no higher sacred act than that of helping another to discover the presence of God within his soul.

The core of "service" as seen in Hasidism is the fulfillment of that desire, deeply implanted within each human soul, to return to its original state of oneness with God. Prayer, by its very nature pointing to the intimate relationship between God and soul, becomes the focal point of Hasidic religiosity. The Ba’al Shem Tov (1700-1760), the first great master of the movement, was told by heaven that all his spiritual attainments derives not from any claim to scholarship (as was commonly to be expected in non-Hasidic circles of the time), but rather from the great devotion with which he prayed.

Vegetarianism: An Alternative Kashrut

Reprinted with permission from Seek My Face, Speak My Name: A Contemporary Jewish Theology, © 1992 by Jason Aronson, Inc. (The italicized portion is italicized in the original.)

I believe the time has come for us to reconsider the question of whether we should continue to consume animal flesh as food. Our tradition has always contained within it a certain pro-vegetarian bias, even though it has provided for the eating of meat. In the ideal state of Eden, according to the Bible, humans ate only plants; we and the animals together were given the plants as food. Only after the expulsion from Eden, when the urge overwhelmed humans and led them toward evil, did the consumption of flesh begin. 

The very first set of laws given to humanity sought to limit this evil by forbidding the flesh of a still-living creature, placing a limit on acts of cruelty or terror relating to the eating of animal flesh. The Torah’s original insistence that domestic animals could be slaughtered only for purpose of sacrifice, an offering to God needed to atone for the killing, was compromised only when the Book of Deuteronomy wanted to insist that sacrifice be offered in Jerusalem alone.

vegetarianismRealizing that people living at great distance could not bring all their animals to the Temple for slaughter, the “secular” slaughter and eating of domestic animals was permitted. Even then, the taboo against consuming blood, and later, the requirement to salt meat until even traces of blood were removed, “for the blood is the self” of the creature, represent a clear discomfort with the eating of animal flesh.

Most significantly, the forbidding of any mixing of milk and meat represents a proto-vegetarian sensibility. Milk is the fluid by which life is passed on from generation to generation. It may not be consumed with flesh, representing the taking of that life in an act of violence. The fluid of life may not be mixed with that of death. As the Torah says of the hewn-stone altar, “For you have waved your sword over it and have profaned it.”