21 March 2011

Considering Larger Issues of Jewish Identity: Rabbi Korn book review

In the most recent issue of Meorot, Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn writes an interesting review, touching on important issues regarding Jews and the larger world. What jumped out to me, amongst other parts of the review was the following significant passage about the Jewish people in the present day (p. 6):
After Auschwitz and Israel's wars, we are indeed a nervous people feeling that Jewish destiny is determined by fate, not faith. To use R. Soloveitchik's dichotomy, berit goral (the covenant of fate) has overwhelmed berit yi’ud, our covenantal destiny of sacred purpose. Fate has seduced us into seeing ourselves as objects, robbing us of moral agency and our covenantal calling. This is spiritually deflating as well as existentially self-defeating, for in the open and autonomy oriented cultures in which most Jews live today, a Jewish identity built on fear and the specter of persecution will convince few Jews to cast their lot with Jewish destiny. Committed Orthodox Jews may do so, but if it is only Orthodox Jews who remain Jewish, we will cease to be a people and become a sect—much to the dismay of God, who demands in His Torah that we be “a kingdom of priests and a holy people.” Sacks is convinced that King Solomon was correct: “Without a vision, a people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18)
One thing that reading the above reminded me of was Rabbi Avi Weiss' descriptions of "Positive" and "Negative" Judaism.
Before getting to this paragraph, he wrote (p. 6):
The Jewish people has turned inward, sustained by neither hope nor purpose, but by the common cause of defending ourselves against perceived anti-Semitism. The Other is hostile and ubiquitous, be he the Christian, the secular liberal or the Middle East Muslim. Jewish politics has become the politics of fear. Contrary to our rabbinic tradition, the pagan Balaam's observation that Jews are “a people that dwells alone” (Num. 23:9) has become an ideal: We are a people that ought to dwell alone.
Rabbi Dr. Korn has a few more gems in his review piece, one of which is his discussion on the proliferation of books on Jewish practice, where he was "struck that the sefarim—both Hebrew and English—consisted overwhelmingly of volumes dedicated exclusively to" Jewish law, which is interesting as "the shelves mirror where Orthodoxy is today."
(p. 2) But this isn't bad, indeed, "Halakhah has always been the essential mode of Jewish religious expression and a necessary stabilizing force for our lives as a people" (p. 2). But, he says, it's not enough:
Even the consummate halahkic man, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, recognized early in life that an exclusive diet of halakhah leads to “a soulless being, dry and insensitive.” In the end, no amount of elaboration on the rules can nurture a spiritual personality or satisfy deep spiritual hunger; and no amount of technical logical analysis can soothe one troubled after a dark night of the soul.
He goes on (pp. 2-3):
There are also sociological and ideological implications. Like the eruv, halakhah is meant to fashion a closed communal space that is carefully circumscribed by formidable barriers. In addition to acculturating Jews to the culture of the beit midrash, it creates a private, often esoteric, language that undermines shared communication with those outside the halakhic community.
The larger problem that then arises is that (p. 3):
Orthodoxy's current pan-halakhism seems to have lost interest in the human condition per se, and is rapidly losing the language to discuss universal human concerns like ethics, justice, spirituality and human purpose.
However, he continues, "a joy to note, therefore, two recently published books that reveal the theological reflections of Rav Soloveitchik and Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom."

The essay: Eugene Korn, "Windows on the World - Judaism Beyond Ethnicity: A Review of Abraham’s Journey by Joseph B. Solveitchik, edited by David Shatz, Joel B. Wolowelsky and Reuven Ziegler (Jersey City: KTAV, 2008), and Future Tense by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (New York: Schocken, 2009)," Meorot 8 (September 2010).

1 comment:

Moshe Sharon said...

Rod Serling, the writer, director and producer of the popular weekly show called “The Twilight Zone” would appear on camera as the narrator and would say that we all live in a world of imagination and can easily take a wrong turn and step off into the “Twilight Zone.” Little did we know then that Mr. Serling was describing the future post 9/11 world of political correctness. Thus, if he were alive today his narrative would read something like this:
Your are in the Twilight Zone. This is the world of fantasy where terrorists are called “militants” and the war against terror is not a war against the fundamentals of Islam, but a war against a small minority of one hundred million fanatics who “hijacked a peaceful religion”. This is the world of bizarre twists and convoluted turns where murderers and thieves are rewarded with the property of their intended victims and the “road map to peace” requires total surrender to homicidal lunatics.
This is the world beyond reality where atheists pray to themselves in the “Church of Non Belief”. This is the world of imagination in which the officiators of marriages declare, “I now pronounce you husband and husband.” This is the world of denial where threats of genocide are met with open borders and entitlements for all who chose to enter that “unseen” place in the realm of human reflection where right is wrong and left is right. More at http://moshesharon.wordpress.com