Leon Wieseltier has struck gold once again. In another great essay in the New Republic he body slams Alain de Botton for his self absorbed retreat from the world. It is well worth reading. His language is exquisite as always, and the analysis is spot on. Alain de Botton argued for a twitter sabbath so that one can retreat into the stillness and appreciate the simpler and more beautiful things in life. Wieseltier’s sharp pen pokes fun at and holes in the argument. Wieseltier’s argument is similar to the argument that values religion over spirituality and responsibilities over rights. I once read an article a number of years ago by Rabbi Sacks published in some newspaper about the difference between religion and spirituality. I’ve spent some time googling for it but can’t find it. If you know where it is, feel free to comment. And once we’re talking about responsibilities over rights, let’s recall Robert Cover’s beautiful essay on Obligation.
I often hear that kids nowadays want to know what’s in it for them and they are too focused on finding their own personal meaning in mitzvot. There’s some truth to that. Everyone wants to find personal meaning. It seems to me though that it’s our job as educators to teach about the joy in serving others and living a life committed to something bigger than ourselves. This doesn’t seem to be a hard sell to me. Kids want to fight for something. They want to believe in a cause. Believe in me . Help me believe in anything. Cause I, I wanna be someone who believes
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman’s letter to the editor in the most recent Jewish Review of Books (which was published before the Social Orthodoxy brouhaha) is terrific. He responded to Daniel Gordis’ infamous Requiem for the Conservative Movement. The letter is what I consider the right approach toward dealing with those whose intellectual misgivings lead them to shy away from Orthodoxy. It’s a strong statement of valuing social orthodoxy as a way-station.
On the other hand, Continue reading
Below is the speech I delivered at the WYHS graduation last week. I worked on a theme that I had posted about earlier- God. The speech is in the black font. I added some of my thoughts about the speech in the red font in the parentheses.
The late David Foster Wallace began one of the more famous commencement addresses with a story I’d like to share with you. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says,”Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What in the world is water?” (I edited the language out of concern that the word “hell” might offend. The original language though does a better job.)
The great Foster Wallace developed an idea based on this little parable. I’d like to share my own with you. As he said, the point of the fish story is that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. (I used the DFW story and referenced him not really because I needed it to illustrate my point in the speech, although it did a pretty good job of that. My main reason was to sniff out any DFW fans in the audience. I was hoping that a few people might approach me after the graduation and tell me of their fondness for DFW. Alas, no one commented.)
I find it remarkable that we actually spend so little time talking about a specific type of water that we swim in.
You may be wondering- what is he talking about? What part of our lives that we take for granted is he referring to? Some of you are guessing that I’m talking about developing an appreciation for our Jewish community which we take for granted. Yes, he’s probably going to talk about the importance of serving the community and appreciating all it offers. Continue reading
R. Avi Shafran posted a beautiful dvar Torah in the Forward right before Pesach. I continue to be a big fan of his writing and continue to be amazed at his role as the public face of the Agudah in America. Could you imagine a rav writing as the spokesman for the Agudah in Israel approvingly quoting a secular Jew who flirted with apostasy in the context of his dvar Torah: ” As a great poet sang, sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.”
Rabbi Gidon Rothstein posted a thoughtful if at times strident rejoinder on Torah Musings. He picks up the gauntlet and defends God‘s honor in the face of His presumed irrelevance posited by Jay Lefkowitz. R. Rothstein’s response included many excellent points. One point that particularly resonated with me: Lefkowitz’s situation is a certain type of reflection of the success of Modern Orthodoxy in America. The shul and community are so welcoming that so many different people who in the past may have felt shunned or at least unwelcome now feel comfortable. Perhaps a little too comfortable! It reminds me of a line I once heard Rav Lichtenstein quote which now thanks to Google I am able to attribute to Lord Acton quoting the Duc de Broglie : Beware of too much explaining, lest we end by too much excusing. Continue reading
Jay Lefkowitz’s piece in Commentary has garnered a good deal of attention. It has significant implications for the educational decisions made at Modern Orthodox yeshivot.
Thoughtful responses include:
Marriane Novak’s in the Times of Israel
Joshua Fattal’s in Tablet
Although Lefkowitz appeals to Mordechai Kaplan he may have been better off appealing to a different heterodox Jewish leader- Continue reading
This piece by Brook Wilensky-Lanford in the most recent edition of the New Republic gets it right. She notes that it’s pretty close to impossible to offer a literal interpretation of the Bible. It reminds me of the Ibn Ezra’s introduction to his peirush on Chumash. But what I really found interesting in her article was the link to this statement by a group called National Religious Broadcasters (NRB)- Christian Communicators Impacting the World. They persuaded Paramount Pictures to issue the following clarification on marketing materials for the movie: Continue reading