Tuesday, August 4, 2020
Friday, July 31, 2020
So I am a religious fanatic?
The great Chassidic master, Rebbe Nachman said:
`Don’t be a fanatic. Serving God is not fanaticism. Those who run after worldly goods are the true fanatics. The world will consider you a lunatic if you abandon all worldliness in your quest for the Godly. This is said to be fanaticism. Yet even this is not necessary. You can serve God with restraint’
(Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom p.159).
Rebbe Nachman makes two points here. One is that there is no need to be extreme in the service of God. That is very powerful and I will return to it. The second point is very powerful too and tends to be overlooked. Being a “fanatic” is not restricted to religion. “Fanaticism” is extreme imbalance in any area of your life. So, while the world is pretty clear that someone who studies scripture and meditates for 18 hours a day is a “fanatic”, so is the person who works 18 hours a day, late into the night. It would seem extreme to meditate 6 hours a day but when the average American watches TV for 6 hours a day, we rarely call them a “fanatic.” When people expend huge amounts of money on lavish rituals, they are fanatics. If they expend that same money on golf fees or gourmet restaurants, we rarely call it fanaticism. Rebbe Nachman’s point is that our tendency to extremism and imbalance is not restricted to religion. Oftentimes, the label “religious fanatic” is not so much about the extent of the imbalance as in the area of imbalance. Fanatic pursuit of wealth, and other forms of entertainment or self-satisfaction are rarely deemed fanatic, though clearly those pursuits have profound impact on a person’s life and well-being as well as the well-being of those around them.
Rebbe Nachman’s second point is that on really does need to avoid imbalance and extremism in the religious life. He is not cautioning against having an observant life but about pursuing extra stringencies. He recommended keeping Jewish law faithfully but without extra stringencies (except for one commandment, done with all the “extras”)
`It would be enough,’ he said, `if we were worthy of keeping all the Torah’s commandments according to the law, without going beyond it…. True devotion consists mainly of simplicity and sincerity. Pray much, study much Torah, do many good deeds. Do not worry yourself with unnecessary restrictions. Just follow the way of our forefathers. `The Torah was not given to ministering angels’ ‘(Talmud, Brakhot 25b)
-Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom pp. 370f)
In practical terms, Rebbe Nachman recommends a moderate approach to religious observance defined by the parameters of Jewish law. To be clear, this is not moderation defined by Protestant-influenced Western secularism. To the Western eye, a moderate practice of Jewish law might still look pretty “fanatic.” Still, this message is powerful. It is a much needed corrective in the “frum (observant Jewish) world of today where there is an ever increasing tendency to embrace the most stringent religious opinions and extreme practices. Religious practice seems to have embraced the materialist motto “more is better.” Rebbe Nachman’s call to a sincere and simple practice of traditional Judaism defined by halacha (Jewish law) is certainly as salient today as when he made that call. The great danger is that one say will come to blame God for the torturous life-style we have created for ourselves in His name.
It also carries with it an air of judgment by which we tend to judge those less extreme as inferior or heretical. Remember though, that you can also be fanatically anti-fanatical as well. So while the fanatic is branding you a heretic, you are branding the fanatic an imbecile or maniac. It all gets very messy.
Rebbe Nachman invites us to see extremism and imbalance as not just a religious problem but a human problem. It is an approach to life that we can carry not only into our pursuit of spiritual goals but in our pursuit of just about everything. And in every area of life, it kills our happiness and squashes our souls.
Am I a fanatic? Sometimes more. Sometimes less. Like everyone, I struggle to find balance and moderation, not just in religion but in my other passions and pursuits. I am content to be in the struggle and rarely with my victories. The main thing is never to give up. Spoken like a true fanatic.
Sunday, December 10, 2017
We believe that God is a absolute simple unity without parts or likeness of any kind
We believe that God has communicated to man through prophets
We believe that we relate to God, even to know God’s will for us through the medium of law, through divine commandments revealed in scripture and understood through certain oral traditions and to varying degree logical reasoning.
We believe that God cares as much about how we interact with other people as He cares about how we interact with him.
We believe in regular prayer at set times with set liturgy, a spiritual script said multiple times every day.
We believe that God wants us to dedicate ourselves to Him in all areas of our life including things like eating, drinking,sleeping and marital relations
We believe that man is the “viceroy” of God in this world, the pinnacle of creation who bears a special responsibility for this world.
We believe that our actions matter, and have implications that go beyond this life in the form of reward and punishment after death.
We believe that life is a purposeful journey tailor made just for us, including its most difficult trials.
We believe that in matters of moral choice we are given free will by our Creator.
We believe that part of the mission of mankind is to create ever more perfect societies.
We believe that the property of other people is precious and that business should be done with the utmost of integrity.
We believe that our actions shape us and make us who we are.
We believe that giving to others in the form of both charity and acts of kindness are pillars of what it means to be truly human.
We believe that out of self-respect should come modesty and true humility.
We believe that the physical distinction between male and female is spiritually significant, giving rise to somewhat different practices for men and women and varying degrees of gender segregation when deemed appropriate.
We believe that religious action should be infused with intention.
We believe that the religion that God commands is moderate and balanced. Extremism, especially violent extremism, is an aberration and distortion of our faith.
We believe that peace is our highest value and that without it we are unable to enjoy the many gifts which God gives us.
We believe in supporting and defending the most vulnerable in society, the widows and orphans
We believe in engaging in a profound spiritual struggle with our lower selves and unworthy motivations and desires.
We believe that awe of God and love of God are both modes of service.
We believe that the highest calling of mankind is to be a servant or slave to God, that the greatest fruit of free will is to be obedient to God.
We believe that all greetings begin with peace and all prayers end with peace.
We believe that without the peace to enjoy we are collecting G-d’s blessings with a damaged vessel, a leaky bucket.
Sunday, June 7, 2015
People have asked, “Is it really fair to compare the KKK, a tiny fringe group who define themselves by attitudes to race to ISIS which is enjoys wide popularity in the Muslim world and represents a legitimized, albeit repugnant to some, interpretation of Islam?” Beneath this question are some problematic assumptions. The KKK while now quite small was a major force in the reconstruction south. They were mainstream and politically powerful. The KKK, even today, links its racist attitudes to Christianity. In fact, nearly all racist groups in America including the KKK espouse what scholars of American religion call “The Christian Identity Movement” which roots their racism solidly in Christianity. To this day, the KKK uses the symbols of Christianity, the crusader cross on the uniform and the flaming crosses. The Christian Identity Christianity claims not just to be an authentic interpretation of Christianity but THE authentic interpretation of Christianity. The ADL estimates that there are 25,000-50,000 people who openly identify with this movement primarily in the US and Britain http://archive.adl.org/learn/ext_us/christian_identity.html According to the ADL, they are heavily involved in criminal activity ranging from hate crimes so terrorism. The CIA estimates that ISIS fighters number something less than 40,000. So even the numbers are not so incomparable.
We need to get that it is as painful for Muslims to see their religion represented by the ISIS as it would be for most Christians if the KKK or Skinhead churches were said to represent Christianity. That news agencies and other “officializing” media insist that ISIS is somehow a legitimate take on Islam feels unfair and hatefully discriminatory to Muslims. The meme reminds us that we can legitimately see ISIS both as a band of religious crazies who, like the KKK, cloak their politics and their hatred in a perversion of faith.
Lastly, should we take ISIS seriously? YES, VERY SERIOUSLY. To do that we also need to think about the ground on which ISIS grows. We need to examine our role in supporting a culture of despotism and hopelessness in the Middle East. We need to look at the ways in which we foster a culture of meaninglessness in the West.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught, “If you believe you can destroy, then believe you can fix.”
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
"The bad goyim have always wanted to kill the Yidden." “Bad Goyim” here could mean bad non-Jews who want to kill Yidden versus good non-Jews who do not or simply that Goyim are by definition bad and want to “kill out” (Yeshivish for genocidal murder) the Yidden (Yiddish for Jews). I believe the intent of the Hagadah is the first. There are indeed those in every generation who may hate Jews and despise our the ethical monotheism we stand for and try to destroy us and our message. God protects us and our mission from ultimate destruction. I deeply believe that. At the same time, I think most children would read the words as "Goyim are bad and always want to kill Jews."
A people that dwells alone!
The Talmud explains that Bilaam’s blessings were really curses. To be alone and isolated is no blessing. Indeed, as Rabbi Sacks, points out one of G-d’s first comments to man is “Its not good for man to be alone.”
"To be different is not necessarily to be alone. Indeed, . Singular, distinctive, countercultural – yes: these are part of the Jewish condition. But alone? No. That is not a blessing but a curse."
Given this vision of the world we are lead to two social strategies, isolation or assimilation. We can either segregate ourselves and protect our fragile world under siege or avoid the hate by giving up our identity. The latter strategy is pretty successful in the United States, it would seem. But so it seemed to some in Germany as well. When the Nazis came to power even the most assimilated German Jew was not safe. As we are often warned, “You just wait. It can happen here too!” Neither isolation or assimilation are reliable refuge.
What is the third option? We in the United States, at least, have the option of living robust, happy, enthusiastically observant Jewish lives while actively engaging our non-Jewish friends and neighbors in such a way as to help them appreciate who we are and what we stand for. Jewish life need not be a mystery. How many of your non-Jewish colleagues have any idea what Shabbat means to you? Do they know why you keep kosher? Do they know what kind of God you believe in? In my experience, most non-Jews know little about Judaism or what it means to be Jewish.
Won’t this lead to assimilation? Aren’t friendships and relationships just the precursors to assimilation and intermarriage. Maybe. Yet the walls of distrust have not prevented assimilation. It was this isolation that has driven the vast majority of Jewish people away from out faith. They left the isolation but they took some with them. Ironically many very assimilated Jews prefer to live in fear that one day they will be “outed” or to identify with Israel’s plight as the “pariah” among nation-states. They prove everyday that you can be assimilated and still be alone.
I don’t deny there is plenty of genuine Jew-hatred in the world. This year, in the wake of horrific attacks on Jews in Europe, no one would say there is not. I don’t know that you can cure anti-Semitism completely but I do know that you can refuse to let it make you sick. Being hated is not an identity for a healthy people.
"To be a Jew is to be loved by God; it is not to be hated by Gentiles. Our ancestors were called on to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The word , “holy,” means set apart. But there is a profound difference between being apart and being alone…"
This Zayde too raises his voice and beams with pride at his family and celebrates his Jewishness. I too will assure my children of the survival and thriving of the Jewish people. I too will affirm my faith in God and gratitude for the mission He has given us. I will tell them that embracing our holiness means re-embracing our mission to be a “light unto the nations” not in some patronizing way but in the way of teachers, friends and colleagues. It means to share the wisdom of Torah and to be willing to hear its echoes in the voices of other peoples, other nations and even other faiths.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Many have wondered, "How can I possibly earn the coveted Jihadi Jew 'Hater of the Day' Award?" Here are a few simple guidelines for being a a more effective, and even award-winning hater. These very same principles, adapted for domestic use, can turn your very own home into a war zone.
1) Never refer to “them” by name. Try “These people” or “You people.”
2) “These people” are two dimensional beings who only have one motive at a time “kill, kill, kill” or “Gimme, gimme, gimme.”
3) “These people” have no innocent children only enemies in training