Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Friday, 14 March 2014

Is The Real Modern Orthodoxy Standing Up?

One of the shows I've recently gotten into is The Newsroom.  No, not the Canadian version from 1996 but the current American version starring Jeff Daniels as an idealistic news anchor interested in educating and civilizing the American public through his televised programs.
Jeff Daniels' character, Will MacEvoy, is a classic example of the lack of imagination of liberal Hollywood writers.  Possibly in order to change things up from his previous hit series, The West Wing, creator Aaron Sorkin has cast MacEvoy as an admitted Republican.  However, he's a Republican that seems to be indistinguishable from any Democrats you might meet, sharing all their important values and worshipping the same political heroes as them.  Sorkin seems to believe that a Republican who actually believes in Republican values couldn't successfully be portrayed as a nice guy and heroic figure on television.
In a few ways this is the way some in the non-religious Jewish community want Orthodoxy to be portrayed.  They're okay with the idea of Orthodoxy, you understand.  The idea that people worship on a regular basis, keep a specific diet and don't watch television one day a week is something they can live with.  However, when it comes to the really important things like egalitarianism in religious practice, accepting homosexual marriage as normative or encouraging abortion as a form of birth control they become quite irritated when told that Orthodox Judaism does not accept any of these things, actually holds values opposed to them and no, there's no room for compromise or acceptance, thanks for asking.
In other words, they're okay with the Orthodox who aren't really Orthodox.  The ones who are can't be portrayed as nice guys or heroes.
We've seen lots of statements to this effect throughout the Jewish blogosphere since two Modern Orthodox schools decided to allow their female students to start wearing tefillin during prayer services.  The statements all basically follow the same format: if these girls want to wear tefillin not only should they be allowed but Orthodoxy should change to make this regular practice.  In other words, be Orthodox but don't let your Orthodoxy conflict with secular liberal values.
For those who are worried about what this will do to the Modern Orthodox community I would respond positively.  For decades Modern Orthodoxy has been drifting between two opposed forces.  Modern Orthodoxy is not Reformative, on one hand, and not Chareidi on the other.  Despite the various attempts mades by luminaries of the movement there has been little to define it any more than that.  I believe that the challenge of Morethodoxy and its ongoing attempts to introduce secular liberal values into its worship and belief system will change that.  It will force Modern Orthodoxy to define itself.
Now some of this definition will be based on a poor reasons: MO's don't want their Chareidi brethren openly laughing at them (quietly laughing at them behind their backs, on the other hand, seems to be fine).  Modern Orthodoxy's leaders will be pressed to better define what they stand for and what their expectations are from their laity if only to save face during interactions with their Chareidi counterparts. 
On the other hand, the actions of Morethodoxy will be defining because they will raise specific questions people will have to answer.  Questions like "Who is qualified to make a major change in Jewish tradition?"  The Morethodox answer seems to be "Anyone with a Bar Ilan USB stick" and the sincerest of intentions.  The more traditional answer, "highly qualified and experience poskim" will come to define Modern Orthodoxy. 
This will have another overall effect as well.  As noted above, Modern Orthodoxy has been defined as "Not here nor there".  With Morethodoxy working more and more towards breaking away from its Orthodox veneer this will leave the community left behind more homogenous.  Not homogenous as in the Chareidi definition of the word (I'm not going out to buy a black hat any time soon) but with a greater understanding of Rabbinic authority and its role in Jewish practice.  As Rav Avrohom Gordimer notes in his latest piece on Cross Currents, it's a Modern Orthodoxy that once again recognizes that the halachic decision making process is not one of anarchy but a well-structured approach that results in consistent leadership.
Unfortunately it will leave Modern Orthodoxy as a diminished community in size for certainly many bright and talented people will leave with Rabbi Avi Weiss and his band of merry men and maharats.  They will do so for the most genuine and sincerest of reasons, convinced they are truly doing God's will and are still Orthodox but they will leave behind a Modern Orthodoxy that at least has a better sense of what it is and what is stands for.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Global Bovine Faeces Part 2

In my last post I noted reasons why I simply can't roll over and accept the position of the ecofascist lobby when it comes to climate change.  Truth be told, I do believe that some climate change is happening which is a difference from what I might have said a few years ago but I remain convinced that it is a natural piece of environmental evolution, that humanity isn't contributing significantly to it and that the best response to climate change is to adapt to it.
Despite all the evidence supporting this position the ecofascists are having none of it.  Over and over again they shout that mankind is the worst thing to ever happen to the planet and that radical changes to reduce carbon utilization are necessary to prevent a global catastrophe.  Self delusion might be one explanation but I think there's another that needs to be considered.
The history of the world is full of great powers that sought out domination over others.  Since the rise of Islam in 600 it has engaged in an ongoing international conflict with Chrisianity for religious and territorial domination, a conflict that subsided into the background during the 20th century after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of international communism.  For those following events around the globe this conflict is slowly regaining predominance even if the Chrisian side doesn't realize or want to accept it yet.
During the 20th century the grand global conflict was between capitalism, as championed by the West, and communism as championed by the Soviet Union and China.  Communism was not a benign economic philosophy, not in the least.  It was and is a malignant poltical ideology that seeks, as its ideal, to place as much of the globe as possible under totalitarian rule with tools like thought control and other Orwellian devices to ensure the unwashed masses remain in line.  The West, and America especially with its believe in the free market, free press and free speech were the enemies of this ideology and had to be crushed.
Unfortunately for communism its representatives in the late 20th century weren't very good at propagating this aim.  Unlike the glory days until Stalin, y"sh, leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev were better at being petty totalitarians.  China's leaders today might call themselves communist but are robber baron capitalists in fact and deed.  Communism, for its devout adherents, is on life support.  Even the kibbutzim have mostly abandoned their Marxists origins and function today and profit-making collectives. 
In fact the only real drive left of communism is a vitriolic hatred of the West and capitalism.  The same folks who once believed the Soviet Union to be the ideal society for everyone still hate what America once stood much better for.  They may not wave the hammer and sickle anymore but their efforts to undermine freedom in the West continued unabated.
One of the places these miscreants have gathered to continue their war is in the ecofascist lobby.  One doesn't have to follow the news carefully to note that the ecofascists focus on only one part of the world when they talk about the coming ecological armageddon and who is responsible for it: the West.
Consider the Kyoto accord, for example.  Its protocols were designed to force industrialized countries to reduce their carbon output to certain levels in order to slow the pace of global warming.  The United States failed to fully ratify the protocols and was roundly criticized for that.  What ecofascists fail to note, however, is that almost no signatory to the accord accomplished what they pledged to do.  Everyone's carbon emissions went up significantly.  In fact the United States was the country that made the most progress in slowing the rise in emissions despite not being a signatory.  Despite that they continued to be criticized for not being part of the Kyoto accord.
Kyoto was also ridiculous for introducing the concept of carbon credits.  The idea was that an underdeveloped country in the middle of Africa would not reach the minimum carbon targets because its industrial lack of output kept it well below them.  It could sell this leeway to industrialized countries which then could apply the credits to their "progress report".  Hence Russia, with its oil wealth, bought multiple credits that obviated their need to do anything to reduce their carbon outputs!  If Kyoto was a serious process wouldn't they be interested in everyone reducing their carbon, not set up a trading process to allow continued carbon production?
Finally, China and India, two of the world's biggest polluters never bothered to join the Kyoto protocols.  Anyone familiar with those two countries can tell you that they are industrializing at a rapid pace with minimum control over the amount of smog they produce.  Yet it was Canada, which produces less than 3% of global carbon emissions, that got pilloried when it pulled out of the Kyoto accord after realizing it would never meet its obligations.
So a treaty that no signatory was compliant with, which gave mechanisms to avoid real change and which did not include two of the worst polluters on the planet, neither of which happen to be Western countries.  And who's the worst offender?  Well America and Canada (with our oil sands) of course!
One would think that with all the evidence that the industrialized world isn't going to cut its carbon emissions and that the the non-industrialized world is struggling to catch up the ecofascist lobby would consider a different approach, one in which humanity works to accomodate inevitable climate change.   But that's not the case.  We have Neil Young, for example, singing about the oil sands and comparing them to Hiroshima.  I wanted so hard to be his biggest fan after he announced he was going to play a concert in Israel and then this happened.  Hey Neil, how are you getting to Israel?  By canoe?
The eceofascist lobby's goal isn't to stop global warming.  It simply can't do it and besides, with the tactics that its using it's clearly not interested in achieving that.  The lobby instead is interested in eating into the freedoms that made the West prosperous and victorious over communism.  David Suzuki, for instance, believes that politicians (and presumable scientists and other influential folks) who don't accept his version of climate change ideology should be jailed.  How's that for the free exchange of ideas?  Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who refuses to buy into the ecofascist lobby's ideology is constantly villified for his insistently on independent thought.
The ecofascists want a big government that will micromanage our affairs and control our thoughts and speech, all in the name of an overarching ideology that in practice will not lead anywhere.  Where have we seen this before?
As the Beatles sang, "Back in the USSR!"

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Global Bovine Faeces

Some people seem bewildered by the idea that Orthodox Jews might be skeptical of climate change or global warming.  As their limited reasoning goes, they figure that since we're dupes for believing in matan Torah and show no skepticism when dealing with the unity and antiquity of the Torah's text we'll fall for anything.  The idea that some of us might have used cirtical thinking, looked at the sources and concluded that the Torah is genuine and true is incomprehensible to them.  But skeptical I am of the claims of the climate change ecofascists that dominate the debate today.
I realize I'm treading into controversial waters by saying that.  When it comes to climate change one is either a true believer or an evil pawn of the oil companies, a friend to Mother Earth or an enemy plotting her demise.
As far as I can see there are three possible options as to what's happening in the world right now:
1) The climate is not changing and all this is made up for reasons I'll write about later.
2) The climate is changing but this is a natural process and humanity is not contributing to it.
3) The climate is changing as a result of humanity's activities.
Now, the ecofascist lobby is solidly behind (3), no question of that and no questioning of that.  According to them the climate across the planet is changing and humanity is directly responsible for it and only through massive changes in our behaviour can we avert global catastrophe.  Certainly they have scientific evidence to back up their claim and if it's true then we have reason to be worried.  Shouldn't that be enough?
As a person with some scientific training I have some reservations.  Here are the reasons:
1) "The science is settled".  This is one of the mantras of the ecofascist lobby.  It's four word sentence used to shut down debate.  For anyone who is both scientifically trained and intellectually honest it's a loaded statement that indicates the exact opposite and if multitudes of international scientists are muttering it today that tells you where intellectual honest is in today's science community.  The science is never settled, certainly not in complex areas like the environment.  The science may strongly indicate a trend, it may strongly suggest a conclusion but it cannot be settled.  There is always room for questioning and further testing of the data.  A scientist who tells you that "the science is settled" is saying that he is only interested in that data which supports his conclusion.  That's not real science.
2) "All credible scientists agree".  This is another slogan and one which is circular.  All credible scientists agree that climate change is real and caused by humanity's misbehaviour because to be labelled a credible scientist you must believe that climate change is real and caused by humanity's misbehaviour.  You could be an amazing scientist with dozens of publications to your name but the minute you say you doubt the ecofascist lobby's beliefs you are no longer credible. 
3) What's is called anyway?  When Al Gore began his lobbying efforts back in the 1990's the issue was called global warming.  Perhaps he did this to distinguish himself from those 1970's climate scientists who assured us that we were on the edge of a new ice age.  We were treated to Michael Mann's now-disproven hockey stock graph and told temperatures were about to shoot up across the planet.  The IPCC has recently had to admit that temperatures on average have not significantly risen across the planet in the last 15 years.  I'm right now living in what is the tail end of one of the worst winters in memory where I live.  It's almost the middle of March but we're still expecting subzero temperatures for another 1-2 weeks.  Normally we'd be well into the spring thaw by now.  To get around this annoying inconvenience the lobby changed terms, now calling it climate change.  This made their job far easier.  Was it a colder than normal winter?  Climate change!  A warmer than normal winter?  Climate change! 
4) Cilmate change is also a misnomer for the movement because climate change is a normal feature of life on Earth.  Ask any mastadon who survived the last ice age (okay, bad example).  The climate changes on Earth from time to time and has been doing so since time immemorial.  What's more we have recent Medieval Warming Period, an era in which the northern hemisphere became warm enough to support active colonization of Greenland, a desolate frozen wasteland today.  Given the small human population and low technological situation at the time one cannot blame humanity for the MWP.  This is an inconvenient bit for the ecofascists who either downplay the significance of the MWP or forget to mention it when sermonizing about climate change.
5) The hypocrisy of the leaders. Al Gore lives in a mansion that consumes more electricity than some small towns.  David Suzuki trots around Canada in a diesel powered bus.  Barack Obama flies everywhere in a jet.  The high priests of Green are some of the biggest individual consumers of carbon although this doesn't stop them from lecturing the rest of us on reducing our carbon footprint.
6) Shut up!  That's usually the response one gets from ecofascists when their orthodoxies are confronted with contradicting facts.  You don't get reasoned discussion.  You don't get an alternative explanation of those facts.  You get yelled at and insulted.  I recall David Suzuki appearing on a right wing readio show and storming off after the radio host began listing scientists who did not believe in global warming and had data to support their point.  A strong ideology does not respond to challenges that way, a weak one that knows it's a load of hooey does and that exactly describes the representatives of the eco-fascist movement.
If climate change is real why does the ecofascist movement act like it does?

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Exclusive Title Holders

Sometimes I like to think that under all the infighting there is a quiet undercurrent of unity in the Orthodox Jewish community.  We differ over a plethora of issues, many of them superficial and we fight vigorously at times but I like to think that beneath that conflict there is an understanding that we are all yirei Shamayim together.
Other times I think I'm deluded for believing that.
On my more cynical days I see Orthodox on Orthodox hatred everywhere.  The angry faces are the easiest to spot but even in the friendly faces I imagine seeing disgust hidden below the surface.  "Yeah we're friendly," the face says silently, "but you're not frum like us so you're scum".
Maybe I just read blogs too much.  However, this thought definitely  came to me after reading Rav Shafran's last piece on Cross Currents.  If he is truly stating what many in his community are thinking then I am deluded about the underlying unity I hope is there.
It's nothing new to note that Chareidim don't like being called Ultra-Orthodox.  I can think of two reasons for this.  First, many don't like to be thought of as extremist.  They see Chareidim as a normative form of Torah observance and nothing on the fringe.  Secondly, many (like Rav Shafran) like to think that UltraOrthodox is not only normative Orthodoxy but the only genuine Orthodoxy.  Consider these gems from his article:
He also accuses charedim of departing from the Orthodoxy of the past. The example he offers is that, in the charedi world, “water must be certified kosher.” And he decries the charedi “notion that Orthodox Jews always shunned popular culture.” Hasidic rebbes,” he explains, were, “among the crowds who streamed to Marienbad, Karlsbad and the other spas and baths of Europe for the cure, so much a part of popular culture in pre-Holocaust Europe.”

Charedim, the professor pronounces, fear “the encounter with the world outside their own Jewish one,” unlike the true inheritors of the Jewish past, like himself, who “believe Judaism can meet and successfully encounter a culture outside itself and be strengthened rather than undermined by the contact.” They, he adds, “also have the right to be called Orthodox.”
If by “kosher water” Professor Heilman means filtering water in places where the supply contains visible organisms, that is something required by the Shulchan Aruch. Most cities’ tap water is free from such organisms, but New York’s, at least in some areas, is not. And applying codified halacha to contemporary realities is precisely what observant Jews, whatever their prefixes, do.
As to pre-war Chassidic rebbes’ visits to European hot springs spas, they were “taking the waters,” not attending the opera. (Contemporary charedi Jews, a sociologist should know, take vacations too.)
n this piece Rav Shafran works to reinforce the revisionist view of history that he and his comrades have worked so hard to create in the last few decades, a view that says that until the rise of Reform in Germany in the 1800's Orthodox Jews were universally identical to the Chareidim of today.
He pushes this point even more strongly right after:
What I wrote, rather, was that charedi attitudes and practices are those closest to the attitudes and practices of observant Jewish communities of centuries past. A familiarity with Jewish history and responsa literature readily evidences that fact.

In an “Editor’s Notebook” column, The Forward’s editor, Jane Eisner, whom I have personally met and come to respect, defended the paper’s use of “ultra-Orthodox,” taking issue with my contention that it is pejorative. “[J]ust as often,” she contends, “it connotes something desirable, a positive extreme.” She cites “ultra thin” used to laud things like military ribbons and computer mouses. But people, of course, aren’t ribbons, and Ms. Eisner declines to address my citation of “ultra” as used in political discourse, the rather more pertinent comparison here.
I was surprised to read that someone as thoughtful as she would echo the professor’s peeve. To my contention that charedim today are most similar to observant Jews of the past she asserts: “[N]ot my grandparents, who were strictly observant Orthodox Jews, but did not dress, act, or think like the Jews of Boro Park and Crown Heights today.” The latter, she contends, refuse “to engage in the modern, secular world, to partake of its culture, acknowledge its obligations and respect its differences.” Charedim, she writes, do not practice “normative Judaism. Or even normative Orthodoxy.”
I didn’t know Ms. Eisner’s grandparents, but I am prepared to trust her memory. I’m pretty sure, though, that she didn’t know their grandparents, who I’m also pretty sure looked and lived much more like charedi Jews today than she might suspect.
The arrogance is breathtaking.  Apparently he knows someone else's family history better than that person herself.  Why?  Because they were Orthodox and since all Orthodox were always exactly like how the Agudah portrays Orthodoxy now he must be more correct than their own grandchildren.
Rav Shafran's citing of "history and facts" is duplicitous.  We have photo evidence of Jewish life in Europe stretching back to the late 19th century.  We know very well that observant Jews of that era did not dress like their Agudah counterparts today.  They did not wear black Borsellino hats as a matter of religious conviction, only if they were the predominant fashion.  Even the Chasidim did not wear the grand shtreimls that adorn their heads today but simpler fur hats.  The founding pictures of the Agudah show men in grey suits and hats, some of them clean shaven!  And yes, there are great rabbonim who were fans of the opera and weren't ashamed to attend a performance.
Rav Shafran would like the "Ultra" dropped from UltraOrthodoxy because he would like you to believe that his version (and presumably those versions to the right of him) are real Orthodoxy with everything else being a deviation from the genuine and therefore deserving of an adjective.  What he doesn't want you to realize, and perhaps he himself doesn't either, is that Chareidism is not genuine Orthodoxy any more than Religious Zionism or Modern Orthodoxy.  Torah observant Judaism has changed through the ages, slowly adjusting to predominant surrounding environments and cultures.  The Tannaim of 2000 years ago would stare in disbelief at the Yiddish-accented prayers and frenetic swaying that is a modern Chasidic prayer service.  The Rambam would like like an Arab standing next to modern poskim.  Not only that but when they came to compare their approaches to change and interactions with the surrounding society they would find today's Agudah crowd completely at odds with them in many ways.  That is the true fact that must be repeated lest the true history be swept under the rug in the name of false homogeneity.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Golus vs Geulah

Pity the poor Chareidi leadership.  Today was supposed to be their big day, their Million Man March (no women, of course!) in Yerushalayim to protest the demands of the nassssty Israeli government that their participate in their civil duty.  The warnings of mass chaos have been heeded, public transportation has been cancelled, hundreds of thousands of people have been inconvenienced.
And what happens?  Russia goes and invades the Crimea.  Really, who's going to pay attention to the screaming of the Jewish community's perpetual spoiled brats while real world events are happening?
One of the interesting things about the demonstration is that there are apparently certain Religious Zionist rabbonim, among them the important Rav Shlomo Aviner, who are intending to participate.  One might think this quite odd since Religious Zionism is very much for participating in Israel's national life including the army.  However, this is no contradiction and, in fact, highlights the area where Religious Zionism needs to act in order to bring unity and purpose back to the movement.
On one hand there is a problem with defining Religious Zionism.  It's more of a political definition and less of a religious one.  For example, both Shirah Chadashah with their partnership minyan and Rav Shlomo Aviner who is Chareidi in many ways except for his kippah can both be members since being a Religious Zionist is not about observance but about giving the State of Israel a religious significance.  Therefore there is no real contradiction to Rav Aviner showing up at the rally today.  On one hand he is very much a student of Rav Kook, zt"kl, in his belief that today's Shivas Tzion is heavenly ordained.  On the other hand he can appreciate the Chareidi community's angst and appreciate its claim that this government initiative is one that will wreak havoc amongst its members.
This is where I believe he might be missing an important point.  One of the overarching corrolaries of believing that we are now in the first stages of our final redemption is accepting that Judaism must undergo a metamorphosis, a reversal of the one that occured when the Second Temple was destroyed (may it be speedily rebuilt).  What we have called Judaism for the last 1900 years is a truncated form of true Torah observance which, in addition to personal and community rituals along with a limited set of civil rules, lacks any truly national character.  True Judaism is based on such a character, one in which Jews are not coreligionists but fellow citizens participating in a joint national project.
What does this mean?  If one sees Judaism from the golus perspective things are easy.  There is a standard set of observances with no real "big areas" to deal with.  The shailos and teshuvos are all variations on a handful of themes. There is no real learning and chidushim are derived from smaller and smaller areas of halacha.  It is a familiar and comfortable model, the only one we've known for centuries and therefore, for those with strong intellects but little imagination, the only one that has ever been and must ever be.
If one sees Judaism from a geulah perspective things are quite different.  Suddenly there are all sorts of questions that need to be asked that either haven't been asked in 1900 years or have never been asked at all.  What is the Torah approach to a modern national economy?  How does shemitah get properly observed in today's agricultural scene?  What should the proper structure of the army be and what should the roles of men and women be within it?  What  is the Torah approach to foreign relations and international trades?  The environment?  Natural resource extraction?  For people with strong intellects and great imaginations this is an amazing area to bring the halacha into and see what the Torah has to say about the issues.  Such people, unfortunately, seem to be in short supply.
And this is what I believe Rav Aviner is missing.  The Chareidi protest in Yerushalayim today will hopefully proceed peacefully, make its point and end without undesirables incidents but the whole reason for the protest is what should separate the Chareidim from the Religious Zionists.  For us Judaism is about geulah and those who insist on limiting Judaism to its golus applications have to be confronted, peacefully of course.  Just as the Chareidim are passionate about maintaining Judaism the way they think it has been for centuries as a matter of religious principle Religious Zionism needs to see Judaism from its geulah perspective.  For us this rally promotes the wrong kind of Judaism and it avoids the obvious hand of God in history bringing us back to our home to rebuild our national life.  Leading Religious Zionist rabbonim need to be challenging their Chareidi counterparts to join in the endeavour.