Monthly Archives: January 2007

Holocaust Memorial…Turned Urinal

This entry was posted in History on by .

Last week on MJL, Brigitte Sion offered her analysis of four national Holocaust memorials, and in so doing, noted that Germany’s memorial is often treated more like a park than a reminder of genocide.

Because of its extreme simplicity and the absence of markers specific to the Holocaust, the memorial can easily be mistaken for an outdoors artwork for public enjoyment. Children regularly play and shout as they run between the high concrete slabs…

Surprisingly, visitors to the German memorial are usually more moved and disturbed by the visual exhibit below–with its traditional display panels–rather than the cutting-edge design of the monument above. They remain quiet and respectful downstairs, but often eat and laugh upstairs.

Well, it seems eating and laughing is the least of the problems. Today, Ynet reported on a German finding that the memorial is often used as a public urinal.

Posted on January 31, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Introducing MJL’s Monthly Recipes E-letter

This entry was posted in General on by .

As Daniel mentioned in this post a couple of weeks ago, renowned chef Adeena Sussman has launched a kosher food column on MJL:

The latest installment of Adeena Sussman’s MJL food column “The Inspired Kitchen� is now available. The newest recipe: Schnitzel (Israeli chicken cutlets) — with a spicy kick.

Want a vegetarian alternative? Well, there’s always Morningstar Farms Chik Patties. Chikin frikin good!

 (looking back at that post, I think that Daniel should never, ever use the phrase “chikin frikin good” again in writing)

We’re now making Adeena’s column available by e-mail in our Monthly Recipes E-letter. If you’d like to subscribe to this e-letter, or any of our other subject-based e-letters, click on “Register” (if you’re not signed into the site) or Edit Profile (if you’re already signed in), and check the “Recipes” e-letter box, and click “Update Profile.”

Posted on January 30, 2007

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New Blog

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Menachem Wecker has launched a new blog — Iconia — which will focus on the intersection of art and religion. It’s looking good so far.

Check out Wecker’s coverage of Adi Nes’ biblical photography.

Posted on January 30, 2007

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Burn the Lycra!

This entry was posted in History on by .

On Thursday night, Ultra-Orthodox activists in Jerusalem burned barrels of “immodest” clothing, claiming that female immodesty is the only thing that still needs to be fixed in this otherwise perfect world.

We will get rid of the tight clothes and the Holy One, Blessed be He, will place his mercy on us,” it was written on one of the signs held by the protestors. “Modesty is the only thing that needs to be corrected in our generation,” the rabbis clarified, saying this would solve the troubles of today. “We must overcome this hurdle,” they pleaded. (MORE)

This on the heels of the petition prepared by five women protesting the “kosher” busses that require women to sit in a special section in the back.

It’s tricky to comment on another group’s religious behavior — people should, in theory, be able to live by the values they choose. But freedom of religion is not the same as relativism. Stating ones convictions isn’t necessarily inappropriately judgmental. It’s what we do when we have a sense of right and wrong.

So I’ll just say it: Can claiming that female immodesty is the only thing plaguing our generation be anything but misogyny?

Posted on January 29, 2007

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Debating Social Justice, Pt. II

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Practices on by .

Steven over at Canonist has written a thoughtful reply to yesterday’s posting about his debate with Dan Sieradski. I had raised Maimonides’ Jewish Aristotelianism as an analogue for Sieradski’s Jewish Social Justice — i.e. theological frameworks that may not be the actual essence of Judaism, but can be argued for using Jewish tradition.

To this, Steven replies:

Firstly, and most easily, Maimonides didn’t create an idea of a “soul” of Judaism, no matter how much he did emphasize intellectual perfection as an ultimate value.

Perhaps we do, indeed, need to think about what we mean (or what Jewcy meant) by “Is Social Justice the soul of Judaism?

I understood it as “Is Social Justice the point of Judaism?” i.e. is that what the game’s all about. Now if that is, indeed, what we mean, then I would continue (contra Steven) to assert that Maimonides considered “intellectual perfection” the soul of Judaism. For Maimonides, Judaism exists to facilitate intellectual perfection. It is the end game. Which I think is, basically, what Sieradski would say about Social Justice.

Steven continues:

Second, his emphasis on intellectual perfection, no matter how much it relied on Aristotelian notions, was still an example of working off of a Jewish tradition that very much valued such a thing, even if no one had developed a vocabulary for it — like Maimonides eventually did by borrowing from the philosophers of other traditions

I would entertain this possibility with further convincing, but I’d think one would have a much more difficult time showing that Maimonides’ Aristotelian world view has more precedent than Sieradski’s Social Justice. Steven’s right that the rabbis of the Talmud, for example, would have a hard time recognizing contemporary Social Justice values like gay rights, but they would likely feel an affinity with many (though not all) of the economic platforms.

In contrast, I don’t think they’d know what to do with Maimonides. In the Guide for the Perplexed III:27, Maimonides writes:

His [man's] ultimate perfection is to become rational in actu, I mean to have an intellect in actu; this would consist in his knowing everything concerning all the beings that it is within the capacity of man to know in accordance with his ultimate perfection.

What are these beings? They’re what Maimonides would call the “intelligibles,” beings whose DNA, in a sense, are comprised of levels of rationality higher than that of humans, i.e. angels and God.

As he writes in the Guide III:8:

He should take as his end that which is the end of man qua man: namely, solely the mental representation of the intelligibles, the most certain and noblest of which being the apprehension, in as far as this is possible, of the deity, of the angels, and of His other works.

Steven suggests that Maimonides’ “emphasis on intellectual perfection, no matter how much it relied on Aristotelian notions, was still an example of working off of a Jewish tradition that very much valued such a thing, even if no one had developed a vocabulary for it,” but given how radically new Maimonides’ vocabulary was (as the examples above show), I think this would be a very difficult argument to make.

Maimonides didn’t merely value intellectual activity. He valued a very specific form of rational perfection (apprehension of the intelligibles) that, I think, would have baffled the rabbis of the Talmud as much as it baffles us.

Posted on January 25, 2007

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Debating Social Justice

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Practices on by .

Generally, it’s not fun to see your friends fight, but when the fight is over the soul of Judaism, it’s easier to oblige.

From Monday of last week to Monday of this week, Jewcy hosted an email debate between Canonist’s Steven I. Weiss and Jewschool’s Dan Sieradski. The topic: Is Social Justice the Soul of Judaism?

I recommend that all of you read through the back-and-forth, but here’s a little preview. In Email #1, Steven answered, “No, it’s not the soul of Judaism.” In Email #2, Dan said, “Yes it is.” In Email #3, Steven said, “No way.” In Email #4, Dan said, ” Yuh Huh.” In Email #5, Steven said, “No!” In Email #6, Dan said, “Social Justice is the soul of Judaism. Final answer.”

Luckily, our friends add quite a bit of nuance along the way.

What do I think? I think Steven is right that making a definitive statement like “Social Justice is the soul of Judaism,” is probably misleading. BUT I think that creating a more moral and more just society is a signficant thread in Judaism and that it is a thread that we should pursue. I appreciate Steven’s journalistic rigor and his interest in not being dishonest about what our sources say, but ultimately, theology — meta-narratives — are played out using our imagination, not just our rational minds.

Had Maimonides used only Steven’s methods, would he have developed his complex, Aristotelian view of Judaism’s meaning and purpose? Was he being dishonest by reading Judaism through Aristotle, by saying that the “soul of Judaism” is intellectual perfection? I don’t think so. I think he was doing his best to imagine a Judaism — and a theological/philosophical framework — that took Judaism’s past and current context into consideration.

Which doesn’t mean that all theologies are created equal. Jewish tradition and sources lend themselves to some theological narratives more than others. “The goal of Judaism is the perfection of the world with all the social healing that this implies” is a story that can find plenty of support in the sources.

Obviously, the Jewcy debate was framed in a way that accepts Dan’s position as a good possibility. So maybe what we need to do next, is debate Steven’s Judaism. Which is?

From Email #3: “What this all boils down to is that the Jewish tradition is a set of rules.”

So let’s debate. Is the soul of Judaism “a set of rules”?

Posted on January 24, 2007

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Castle in the Forest

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Norman Mailer’s first novel in a decade, The Castle in the Forest, was released today. The book, which is narrated by the devil, tells the story of the young Adolph Hitler.

So far the book has been very well reviewed, and you can read the first few pages of the novel here.

Posted on January 23, 2007

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Liberalism and Intermarriage

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

As I mentioned on Friday, much of David Klinghoffer’s diagnosis of liberal pluralism (as he experienced it at Limmud NY) is correct. “Liberal pluralists” (a category in which I would likely be included) do indeed have a difficult time with claims of absolute truth.

I do not believe, however, that this is a flaw in the pluralism. Democracies, for example, should allow for people to preach fascism, but that doesn’t mean that they should value it. (And no, I am not saying Klinghoffer’s orthodoxy is like fascism, I’m just giving another example in which pluralism need not attribute equal weight to ideologies that themselves conflict with pluralism.)

But a related aspect of Klinghoffer’s article is also worth addressing. He writes:

The “pluralistic” embrace seems to extend over a very narrow bandwidth of views, comfortably hearing only opinions that make no claim of capital-t Truth. Unfortunately there are sociological ramifications of denying, as a religion, that you have the truth. For example, it becomes devilishly hard to convince the young that they should commit themselves to marrying exclusively within that religion’s confines.

In fact, to wed a non-Jew is exactly what kids raised in the liberal Jewish denominations, Reform and Conservative, are being prepared for by their upbringings.

Here too, I both agree and disagree with Klinghoffer. He is right in saying that pluralism makes in-marriage less likely. Absolutely. If someone is brought up to believe that people of other faiths can find meaning, purpose, love, and value in religions other than Judaism, they are indeed more likely to find reasons to commingle with those people and thus, yes, might end up marrying them.

But you may have already caught on to where I disagree with Klinghoffer. There are sociological ramifications to believing that you have access to absolute truth, as well. “Pluralistic” Jews may, indeed, have a higher rate of intermarriage than “Absolute Truth” Jews, but, in my experience, the latter have higher rates of xenophobia and racism (and sexism too).

It’s a stretch to say that kids raised in Reform and Conservative homes are “being prepared” to wed non-Jews, but Klinghoffer is right to hint at the hypocrisy of many liberal Jews who seem bewildered by the high rate of intermarriage, and he’s right that a pluralist (who can abide multiple ways of living and thinking) is more likely to marry someone who is different than him or herself.

But Klinghoffer doesn’t address the moral, theological, and yes, sociological costs of claiming to have a monopoly on absolute truth. Liberal pluralism isn’t merely airy-fairy relativism, it is rooted in a view that many people — not just certain kinds of Jews — have lives that are dignified and right.

Posted on January 22, 2007

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Klinghoffer on Liberalism

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

This week’s Forward features a harsh, but disciplined critique of “liberal pluralism” by David Klinghoffer. The article consists of Klinghoffer’s reflections on his experience at Limmud NY last weekend.

The slogan of the multi-denominational event, a four-day party for Jewish intellectuals, was “Jewish Learning Without Limits.” The buzzword was “pluralism,” but what stood out was the limitations of liberal tolerance.

Klinghoffer, a senior fellow at the conservative Discovery Institute, has nice things to say about Limmud’s organizers, but was less enamored with the conference participants who he found to be significantly intolerant of his orthodox approaches to religious truth.

Many Jews find it intolerable to be told that their religion is true. In a speech I gave called “Tribe or Truth?”, I made the case that Judaism is better understood not as a mere ethnic affiliation, but as a plausible statement defining the deepest truths about God and the universe.

During the question-and-answer period, a woman objected by a curious logic that this made me seem “like a Catholic.”

The article raises many interesting issues. First off, I’d argue, that Klinghoffer is absolutely correct in much of his diagnosis. A conference like Limmud NY, which celebrates pluralism in an explicit way, is indeed, fundamentally, a liberal institution. It is rooted in a rejection of classical approaches to absolute truth.

Klinghoffer complains that “The ‘pluralistic’ embrace seems to extend over a very narrow bandwidth of views, comfortably hearing only opinions that make no claim of capital-t Truth.” While I would disagree that it embraces “a narrow bandwidth of views,” he may be correct that pluralism does not have the capacity to deal with claims of absolute truth.

But is that unfair or nonsensical? Pluralism is a liberal value.

How should orthodox (small “o”) views — like those held by Klinghoffer — be integrated into this sort of environment?

This is a difficult question, but it’s a generic one. How do the views of strict ideologues get addressed in a democracy? The answer: With tolerance, but restricted practical application. More importantly, I think it’s acceptable to call out these views when they are antithetical to the general values of society.

For example, Jews or Christians or Muslims who have strict conceptions of the nature of religious truth and salvation have the right to think their thoughts and live in accordance with them in the United States, but ultimately their values conflict with those of a liberal democratic society that is rooted in the belief that there are multiple ways to live.

All of that being said, Klinghoffer is right to be annoyed by the maltreatment he received. A self-righteous liberal is, indeed, an ugly sight. And again, I’d commend Klinghoffer for his measured tone in the article.

There’s a lot more to discuss in this article, and I will. But later.

Posted on January 19, 2007

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