Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Happy Freilechen Chanukah! -

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pro-Islam -

Religiously speaking, with regards to religious concepts, practices, and theology, Judaism and Islam are quite similar. One can benefit from many of the same, or at least similar, things in Islam as he can in Judaism. Having said that, the religion of Islam brings nothing new to the table as far as these are concerned. That they are found in Judaism is something that Islam recognizes. In this light, Judaism can be seen as the father religion of Islam.

Historically speaking, Islam’s historical narrative, a selective edition of Judaism’s narrative organized in a new direction, and some of its own inputs, serves the function of setting Islam as a religion. The religion of Islam assigned itself the task of reinforcing the religious ideals set down by Judaism and not the presentation of new ones. Its casting itself as “the true religion” served largely the function of self-perpetuation and not necessarily the attempt at introducing the world to those values, although to re-introduce them was the stated task of Islam. Suffice it to say that Islam itself recognizes the eternality of the commandments of Judaism, if at least in theory. Even if tikkun (repair; in Torah, the Jews are charged with ‘tikkun ‘olam,’ repair of the world) is near to the heart of Islam, its primary concern was with finding the best way to ensure its own survival against the backdrop of Judaism and Christianity, and one could make the case that it still is.

As a system, Islam, which means “submission” (to G-d’s Will) could have achieved better success with its neighboring Jews by working itself into the world-view of the Torah. The way it could have begun to achieve this was by filling the position of righteous monotheistic Gentile Arabs with the goal of spreading monotheism. The Jewish religion, regardless of Islam's critical view of Judaism, saw itself as a light to the nations; theoretically, considering the stubbornness of the nations in accepting monotheism, another monotheistic partner would have been welcome. The finite imperfection of human beings, including Muhammad, colors history in a different way. This same finite imperfection is shown through his attempt at making a strained alliance with the Jews of Medina and Mecca. Neither he nor they were able to fully devote themselves to this ideal alliance because the pact Muhammad suggested placed his concerns over theirs. In other words, the stipulations of the pact did not perfectly reflect the spirit of the ideal alliance between Jews and Muslims and expected the Jews to compromise beyond their ability. In the end, the Jews of Mecca and Medina basically walked out on the pact in a time when Muhammad relied on them most. The result was that the Muslim tradition viewed the Jews as dishonest and weakly devoted to fighting anti-monotheistic forces (since Muhammad wanted the Jews to help him fight Meccan pagans). This negative record of Islam’s experience with the Jews of Mecca and Medina serves largely as Islam’s point of reference to the whole of the Jewish People, having "broken the camel's back" and, in the mind of the Muslim tradition, making another alliance with them forever impossible. (This might shed some light on the nature of modern skirmishes between Jews and Muslims today)

As a side note, there was an interesting corollary to this pact in today's modern political mythology. When Ehud Barak, Prime Minister of Israel in 1999, made moves to settle the conflict with the Palestinians, he offered Yaser Arafat some 87-95% of the land in the West Bank in which to create a Palestinian state. Arafat rejected this proposal and later, people seeking to justify his rejection, explained that Barak's terms were not fully in alignment with Arafat's wishes for the Palestinian people. In a true case of irony, in public speeches to the Palestinians, Arafat referred back to this particular pact made by Muhammad. Only here, he presented himself as Muhammad and the Jews as the Jews of Mecca and Medina, unwilling to keep their word. However, if the "Palestinian reason" was right, then it was Barak who was Muhammad and Arafat and the Palestinians who were the Jews, for according to the record, at least as recorded by those critical of Israel, Barak was too forceful with the Palestinians and pushed upon them stipulations that they could never dream of accepting. Arafat likely picked up on the historicity of this moment and tried to "Islamicize" it by assigning roles - however, in reality, a better reflection of the scenario would place the Palestinians in the role of the Jews, thus left with a new (and alternately different) viewpoint of the cherished record of the pact with the Jews in the 7th Century. Considering Arafat's historical usage of the Jewish (and Zionist) narrative to reinforce the aspirations of Palestinian nationalism, it is not too difficult to imagine him utilizing the story in this way; on the cover it seemed to confer Muslim tradition, but on the inside it bore resemblance to Israeli and Jewish nationalism.

Back to history, one can definitely find plentiful reason to see Islam as a tikkun to the Arab peoples, whom probably shortly after descending from Ishmael descended into polytheism, yet to see Islam as a universal tikkun for the entire world is only a view that Islam holds in order to justify its existence. This particular characteristic of Islam, its deliberate linking of self-justification to an absolute universal norm, is less of a theological and social revolution than it is the only practical way for Islam to become established in light of the existence of Judaism (and Christianity). Considering the universalist claims of Judaism and Christianity, it becomes necessary for Islam to try to find a way to “tighten the screws” on universality, as it were, or to find a way to present itself as “more universal” than them. This is a tough thing to achieve if the previous religions are monotheistic and already stand for eternal truths. In order for such a thing to work, the next religion, whatever it is, must find internal weaknesses, even if they are perceived or even created, in order to provide itself as the remedy.

From a monotheistic perspective, Christianity’s polytheistic Trinity is easy enough to reject, but Judaism’s system of living, which is basically mirrored in Islam, is much harder to replace with something that is virtually the same. Therefore, the only functioning way for Islam to replace Judaism is by taking a different stance on the historical narratives that G-d set down as truth and tradition. The rejection of Judaism’s Oral Tradition allows Islam to make almost whatever it wants (within a set of limitations) of the Torah’s text. However, Islam is forced to stay with the confines of a very basic schema, for if it were to under mind the whole thing, there would not even be a basis for Islam. Despite these "minor" differences in the narrative, Islam then is forced to recognize the most basic pattern of the Torah record; G-d created the world and humanity, spoke to the prophets, and even that He created a covenant with the Jewish People.

The major point of convergence is with their treatment of Ishmael as the prime inheritor of Abraham's legacy versus Isaac. Simply put, how the Jews view Isaac the Muslims view Ishmael. In its oral law, Islam maintains that Isaac still inherited a portion of his father's legacy, even though it doesn't specify the nature of this legacy or what it entails. The indication of the Muslim oral tradition is that Isaac's descendants inherited a loosely formed monotheistic system - Isaac's descendants, the Jews. All of this meets a certain criterion of logic until we reach the revelation at Sinai, which Islam also accepts occurred and is spoken about in the Qur'an. At Mount Sinai, after the Egyptians enslaved Isaac’s descendants for four hundred years, Moses, also a descendant of Isaac, took them out of Egypt by a command of G-d. During a trek through the desert, G-d revealed Himself to them in a way that is unparalleled anywhere else in the Torah or in the Qur'an. There, each and everyone of Isaac's descendants was heightened to a level of prophecy - the Torah says that they "saw thunder and heard lightning," and that they begged Moses not to make them near the base of the mountain lest they die. Islam recognizes that this event occurred and confers that G-d in deed gave the Torah to the descendants of Isaac.

That G-d gave to the descendants of Isaac, not long after he died, the Torah, presents a serious challenge to Islam’s view that Isaac received a smaller portion of Abraham’s legacy, i.e. in that the first-born receives the larger portion. In fact, the culmination of Isaac’s portion of Abraham’s legacy was indeed the Torah, and according to the Muslim tradition, Ishmael’s descendants, did actually receive a similar revelation later through Muhammad. Yet, if Ishmael was the first-born, it would have made more sense if he received his revelation chronologically earlier than did the descendants of his younger brother. What we see here is that the descendants of the younger brother received a revelation thousands of years before the descendants of the older brother, who, according to Muslim tradition, received the proper birthright. We would assume that Ishmael’s descendants should have received their revelation, the Q’uran, at some time before Isaac’s descendants received the Torah; this would have fully harmonized, in the Muslim tradition, the relationship between Ishmael and Isaac. Yet history attests to something else. Not only that, the revelation of the descendants of the younger brother was public and the revelation of the descendants of the older brother was private and involved one man, as respected as he was and is to the Muslim tradition.

We should note that the Qur'an underplays this event (the giving of the Torah) and places less emphasis on it than does the Jewish tradition. This is because the Muslim tradition runs into problems when it tries to reconcile Ishmael's larger part of the portion of Abraham's legacy with Isaac's reception of the Torah - G-d gave it to Isaac's descendants and not Ishmael's. Consequently, the Qur'an has not produced a record of the descendants of Ishmael receiving any such massive and public revelation. Can Islam logically validate the giving of the Torah to the descendants of Isaac if it wishes to confer the primary blessings on Ishmael? The Muslim tradition tries to straighten out these wrinkles by explaining that Isaac's descendants eventually (or right away by worshipping the golden calf) corrupted the Word of G-d as they received it. This sin, among others, necessitated the religion of Islam, which as the tradition explains was the fulfillment of Ishmael's portion of his father's legacy. However, why did this fulfillment take so long to come to fruition? Islam began some 4,ooo years later. We know that during the time of the revelation at Sinai, the descendants of Ishmael were, as is shown by history, steeped in polytheism. The evidence for this is that poetry in Arabic dated to thousands of years ago speaks no mention of the One G-d. When Muhammad, thousands of years after Sinai spoke of his experience to the Arabs, Ishmael's descendants, he had to convince them of the One G-d. The Q'aba itself is testimony to this in that Muhammad wiped away the god-worship occurring there and dedicated it to the One G-d; and he was not met without resistance. That Muhammad brought his message to Arab pagans is recorded as fact in the Muslim tradition.

*Interestingly, Muslim tradition explains that the Q’aba was the true site of the Akeidah (“binding” in Hebrew, and in Arabic the word describing the doctrinal belief of the Muslim religion – Aqeedah), where the Torah says that Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed. Based on the stance that the Akeidah actually took place in Mecca with Ishmael, Muhammad dedicated the Q’aba to the belief in the One G-d. However, Torah tradition explains that the site of the Akeidah was actually Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem. Based on this tradition, King David began the erection of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Holy of Holies, the most central section of the Temple, was built directly over the site where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac. Further, it was the exact site on which sacrifices were brought. The Torah tradition explains that Isaac was nearly sacrificed on Mt. Moriah as a foreshadowing that atonement sacrifices were later to take place on that same exact site. The Akeidah-Ishmael connection is logical, but no such sacrifices later took place in the Q’aba, as Islam is not a religion that sacrifices animals in order to atone for sin. Not only that, but empire upon empire and power upon power have historically tried to rule over Jerusalem and the Temple, and no such power struggle has historically occurred in Mecca. This is a strong indication that Mecca did not gain historical significance as early as the Muslim tradition says it did. Rather, it did not gain historical significance until the advent of Islam, relatively late, in the 7th century, and therefore does not date back to Abraham.

So the question remains; what became of Ishmael's descendants? When the Qur'an speaks about the prophets living before Muhammad, it refers to them as "Muslims," (submitters to G-d), but every single prophet was a descendant of Isaac, and not one was a descendant of Ishmael. How can we say that Ishmael's descendants received the primary portion of Abraham's legacy when all of the prophets of the Tanakh, whom Muslims recognize, were Hebrews, "Isaacites," (a term I once heard a Muslim use), Israelites (descendants of Jacob), and Jews (all of the major and minor prophets)? There was only one non-Jewish prophet, Balaak, who was a Midianite. The way Islam dealt with these matters was by creating its own oral tradition, which Islam believes is the true oral tradition as handed down by G-d, yet which has no pre-Islam tradition of its own. G-d forbid, none of what I say is meant to defame Islam, but rather to shed some light on these matters.

I have a friend, also an observant Jew, whom suggested that Islam is exactly the way the nations should be living. His point was to say that the theology, beliefs, behaviors, and concepts of Islam are basically completely in tune with the Noachide Laws, the religious system that the Torah requires for the nations of the world. From that vantage point I would argue that he is right. However, from the vantage point that this religious system has built itself upon the notion that it is to fulfill the obligations of the nations through replacing Judaism, calls Islam into question as a unit. The nations are already not obligated to the religion of Judaism, but for the new religion to hold that the Jews themselves, along with the rest of the world, are to practice the new religion is anathema to order and truth. G-d delivered the pillars of the world through the Torah and told the Jews to keep it for the sake of the world, so for another religion’s attempt to subsume those pillars into its own version of reality is to create a war of metaphysical spiritual proportions. If we were to take out the last three words of the sentence, “through replacing Judaism,” Islam would be a shining example to the Gentiles. However, the reality of the last words as a fundamental precept in Islam is empirical evidence that Islam, by its own choices, has set itself in religious opposition to Judaism as its replacement and therefore creates a war on truth and even G-d. If this is true about Islam, then it is a religion close to the way the nations should be living, but not exactly as they should be living, for the Gentiles’ version of monotheism does not replace the Jews’ version but lives along side it.

If we were to view the Muslim religion as the perfect Noachide religion for the nations of the world, our stumbling block would be its desire to replace Judaism; the Noachide Laws never replace the Mosaic Laws. Suffice it to say that the opposite is also true; even though the Mosaic Laws came after the Noachide Laws, they did not replace the Noachide Laws, i.e., for the Gentile nations but only for the Hebrew nation. Such is not the case when it comes to Islam's belief, which is that the Qur'anic Laws replace the Mosaic Laws, not just for the Arab nation but for the entire world. It is not in accordance with Noachide Law that their religious system replace the Mosaic system. If we strip Islam away from the historical narrative it claims for itself, it is a just monotheistic system. But if we link it with Ishmael, regardless of its internal beliefs, as true as they may be, it is at odds with Judaism. It seems that the Torah's prophecies about Ishmael (his descendants) becoming wild, aggressive, and contemptuous, is best understood as being manifested in their vigor and religious agitation with the Jews and the Jewish tradition, and not to mention other nations, since the Torah says "he will have his hand on everybody and everybody will have their hand on him." In that, the Torah's prophecies about Ishmael, through Islam, have come true. The only way for their to be a reconciliation between Judaism and Islam is for there to be a reconciliation between Isaac and Ishmael, and the Jewish sources and midrashim say that Ishmael did teshuva ("repentance"), and the Torah records his death in the same manner as it records all other tzadikim (brilliantly righteous people), explaining that he was restored to his nation. Not only that, the Torah text itself says that Isaac and Ishmael came together to bury their father, after all their turmoil and tribulations. Since Abraham, in a sense, is the father of all nations, Isaac's and Ishmael's reconciliation in the name of their father will bring peace to the entire world. It seems that time has now come for Muslims to realize their place in the tradition, for Ishmael to do teshuva, and for them to be restored to their nation.

Monday, December 18, 2006

And Then You'll Know a Woman's Worth -

I davined Ma'ariv at the Kotel tonight with my friends Aaron and Josh from the yeshiva. I was supposed to go to my friend's Dan's and Arielle's for dinner and realized that I wasn't go to making it there on time. An act of Hashgacha Pratit (Divine Providence) was about to occur; I saw a Jewish friend of mine from Tucson there, and he was there with a group from Hillel. I ended up going with them to eat some shawarma and then we went to a small bar where one of the guys, Evan, a zissele Yid (sweet Jew) bought me a glass of beer.

I realized something. The trip they're on is definitely co-ed, and I noticed that the guys, my friends, had a certain level of agitation around the girls on the trip. It was as if they felt a bit inadequate if they were not able to woo them or to get them to laugh. In other words, if they were not able to create an attraction from the girls to themselves, their self-esteem was hurt.

I can sympathize because years ago, before I became observant (and shomer negiah) I too placed high value on being able to attract a girl; it was almost a social prerogative, regardless if I even felt attracted to the girl or not. It was a sort of prison. After becoming observant and learning the ins and outs of the principles of tzniut (modesty) and shomer negiah (avoiding phsycial contact with women) and having decided to apply those principles, my views on "women chasing" changed dramatically. Needless to say, the lure of attraction is still very strong, but since I had cut out touching women from my life, slowly but surely I realized that flirting, which is supposed to lead one to dating and/or physical contact with a woman, was fruitless if I had decided that I wasn't going to touch women anymore (until marriage, where I will be able to touch my wife).

That physical barrier that I erected forced me to reconsider my views on women; slowly and surely I was able to stop seeing them as objects for sex and place them in the category of person. Sex was no longer a necessary attribute of women, a thing that was reserved for my (future) wife only. Therefore, not only was I able to see the total and complete humanity in a woman, which I must admit even I, who always tried to be sensitive to human beings, saw them as related to sex, I was able to see it in myself as well. I realized that not only was it harmful for a woman to see her as a sex object, it was also harmful for me. If she was a sex object and my goal was to reach that objective, then I too was the instrument of sex and also then a sex object. A true connection with one woman at one point in life that would, G-d willing, last forever, became less and less realistic as long as I saw women as purely physical beings.

Men, if you look at yourself for a moment you too will realize just how strongly you view women as sex objects; you are so convinced of this that you have told yourself that they actually enjoy being seen that way. In doing this you strip both yourself and her of your humanity, your claim to be able to say that you are a human being. Ultimately, not only do you strip yourself and women of humanity, you also strip other men of it because you reason, "If I think like this then surely other men must think like this," it becomes a value that you propagate through society by means of your inner circles. In doing this we in fact build a society of sex objects.

*By the way, if you think that sex objectivity is reserved for consenting adults, realize that it can spread to non-consenting adults. If you think that it is reserved for consenting adults of different sexes, realize that it can also occur in consenting adults of the same sex. If you think it's reserved for adults period, realize that it can spread to children. If you think that it's reserved for human beings, now hold back the barf factor, it can also spread to animals. If you think it's reserved for living humans, now really hold back the barf factor, it can spread to dead human beings. If you think that it's reserved for animate beings, realize that it can spread to inanimate objects. If you think that it's reserved for sexual behaviors, realize that it can spread to non-sexual behaviors; these things are usually known as "fetishes," i.e., non-sexual behaviors that stimulate a sexual response. All of these things have been done (or are) at least during one point in time in human history. These things exist.

The guys which with I was hanging out, good guys for sure, with good heads on their shoulders and good hearts, were too trapped in this "I must attract girls or my worth is lessened" habit. People can tell when you treat them like human beings, and women, whom are said to be more observant of subtle suggestive behaviors, clearly sense when a man is acting in a suggestive manner. Try one time treating a woman like a human being, i.e., without the need to drench her in conversation, and you'll be amazed at what you'll see; there's actually a little human being somewhere inside that woman. And wow, get this, there's also a little human being inside of you too, even if you deny his existence! Trust me, if you do this you'll begin to see people as highly more dignified beings. Not only will you enrich the quality of your relationships with people, you will enrich the quality of the world.

This is a distinct Jewish ideal and, guess what, the basis of every single commandment in the Torah - Tikkun Olam, and it is a deeply religious concept. It also is thoroughly attached to the commandment (mitzvah) of "love your neighbor as yourself," which implores one to be able to love himself as a prerequisite to loving others, and as an obligation to love yourself so that you can love others. Ultlimately, this type of love reveals G-d to the world Who then reveals His love.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Religion/spirituality as Evolutionary Traits -

Let's assume that religion or spirituality ARE actually one of those biological functions that don't help a species, or rather that they harm it. Evolutionarily speaking, any species with a characteristic that does not aid it eventually dies out. We've been around with religion and spirituality for probably around 10,000 years and we're still here. That's a long time to be alive with a "bad evolutionary trait" and you'll never see that occur in nature. In other words, every species you see in the world has developed a way to adapt, we don't see the ones that haven't because they're all dead.

As of yet, no animal has been able to overpower the human species and wipe us out (as we have occasionally done to them), but for sure different groups of humans have tried to wipe out other groups of humans. What I'm saying is that "survival of the fittest" can also apply to human beings. However, more often than not, in times such as those, religion and spirituality have awoken our consciences and have curbed those tendencies. Because of that, you could also make the argument that it's what's keeping us alive, i.e., it's a useful biological function.

Last point, if evolution has the ability to produce attributes that do not benefit the survival of a species then it can't be considered a system. This is interesting because the word "ecosystem" is used to describe it; an entirely random force cannot be responsible for the creation any form of system, which implies some type of order. If it is a system though and has created species that have died out, then it's a flawed system that, and like my computer has led to "permanently lethal errors." The most amazing thing is that the most damaging of the species on earth is still around, and in a manner of speaking, runs the planet. The fact that we're all still here - the planet, animals, humans - testifies to something. What?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Today is my mom's birthday.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Discussion with a Christian Friend from Tucson -

I'm having an e-mail discussion with a Christian friend from Tucson. Depending on his pending response, if he says it's alright I'll post the whole conversation on here, which has only gotten to three e-mails so far. This is my latest response to his latest e-mail. I know that it makes less sense without his original e-mail, but you'll probably do fine until then. Peace, Yaniv...

I'll respond to the things in order.

People are smart enough to make up anything; Communism, Socialism, Darwinism, Atheism, that religion that Tom Cruise practices, because the human mind is incredibly dynamic. That the human mind can conceptualize (to limited degrees) the wonder of G-d is dangerously close to being able to "inventing" the existence of G-d Himself. You should hear the arguments for that, which ultimately cannot stand but at least they sound sophisticated. I once heard a saying, "I wouldn't have seen it if I hadn't believed it with my own mind." The point is that you can see anything you want in the "Old Testament" whether it's actually there or not.

It would be basically pointless for us to talk about what the prophets actually meant if we hold that subjectivity is the prime factor in our decision making, which is what I'm reading from you. Most of what you're saying to me in the first paragraph doesn't seem very thought out, such as "Daniel even goes so far as to predict the exact day G-d will show up on earth, which happened with Christ." If you and I are having an intellectual discussion, you won't change the way I think about things by simply telling me something that you believe or that your Bible says. I don't believe that "G-d showed up on earth" with Christ, and I certainly don't believe that Jesus was the Messiah. You have never tried to live your life by the Law, or by a type of religious law, so your understanding of the Law of the Torah is insufficient to comment on the way it affects man. One of the most fundamental Torah lessons is to internalize the Law and to become a "pnimi," a person who is trying to condition himself with it.

As a Christian you need to believe that the Law of the Torah cannot penetrate into the heart of man and fill him with joy and devotion and compassion, because if it did, what would be the point of Christianity? If that is what you really believe then you are sadly mistaken. In other words, you need to believe that your religion provides something that Judaism doesn't, but that's not true. "My G-d" certainly does hold everybody accountable for their every sin, thought, or deed, both good and bad and everywhere in between, because He is the perfect Judge. If you have not gotten this message from reading "my Bible" then you haven't been paying attention or you've been hearing the wrong thing.

Deception needs to be deceiving if it's going to work. The people who make Coca-Cola make sure that it tastes really, really good, but it's pretty bad for you. If they made it taste as bad as it was for you, then you wouldn't even dream of drinking it. The Satan is a deceiver and it has been endowed its powers by G-d Himself and so the illusions with which it tempts humanity are incredibly effective, even on people that are equipped to deal with them. It doesn't have the powers of G-d but there is a source in the Torah (Talmud) saying that demons have the ability to create small illusory worlds. I don't know exactly what that means, but if you have ever seen a person completely lost in a certain way of life, it is as if they are indeed lost in a small world. So yes, that is the power of a demon, and it will lace a bad thing with good things so that you do not see the bad in it.

All of the religious books present their message as a positive one; why would they do otherwise? Would it make sense to have a religion that allowed the follower to know that it was to deliberately harm people? That would not be very deceiving.

In the Tanakh we see all kinds of idol worshippers and star worshippers telling the future, and they did not do it through prophecy. The reality of the world is that they were able to tap into elements of truth through these things, but not absolute truth. There's a source in the Torah that says that when Potiphar's wife went to seduce Joseph that something else was actually going on. She had told Joseph that the stars inferred that they were to be together, and Joseph checked the stars (astrology) and found that she was right, and just as they were about to commit the deed his father Jacob appeared to him in a window (also in the stars) and told him that it was not the right way, so he stopped. Jacob himself used a form of divination when he made Lavan's sheep give birth to only speckled sheep, which he kept for himself. The way he did that was by having them look at striped pieces of wood when they were mating and then they gave birth to speckled sheep (does that make any sense to you? It was divination). The Egyptians also used loads of black magic and were actually able to simulate the things that Moses was doing through the Hand of G-d, such as turning the staff into a snake and making the water turn into blood, which is written in the text of the Torah. Bilaam, the prophet of Midian, was able to achieve a level of prophecy as well through very questionable means, which the Torah explains was through having relations with his donkey, which the text specifically mentions was a "she-donkey." The Torah has a commandment not to communicate with the dead and not to partake in the rituals of the pagan nations. But why not? If their gods aren't real then why does it matter? The answer is that their gods aren't real but that their rituals worked because G-d made the world with those things accessible. However, He also intended for those things to be off limits to humanity and so He commanded us not to do them. Only the wisest and most discerning people who are thoroughly steeped in Torah study and living should touch on those things because only they will use them for the right purposes and the right way.

The core religious experience provided by every single religion in the whole world is that it provides the follower with the ability to reach something outside of himself. However, being taken outside of our core is not how we measure the truth of a religion because every single religion in the world is designed to take a person out of himself. So does music, sex, drugs, and even violence, which explains why people speak about those things in spiritual terms (and why, to a degree, religion utilizes these things for spirituality). Again, I can't make judgments on your personal spiritual experiences, but all I can say is that everybody is capable of spirituality and that in and of itself is not self-validating.

I also tried to make it short. Peace, Yaniv...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

This World and the World to Come According to Judaism -

I have been taught that if you say “yes” to the next world while living in this one, you will get the next world when you leave this one. What is the connection between this world and the world to come? What is the connection between Mitzvahs and Olam Haba? Is the relationship as simple as simply that doing Mitzvahs gets you to the Olam Haba? Surely that is one thing that our Sages teach. But the relationship has another facet to it; if you make this world better by doing Mitzvahs you are assisting G-d in bringing about Redemption and the Mashiach, and G-d appreciates that, very much. At the same time, the very act of the Mitzvahs keeps you clean and away from spiritual impurities and so you are investing your soul a place in the Olam Haba by keeping it clean while you have a body. The difference is between the Mitzvahs that people see you doing and the Mitzvahs that only G-d sees you do – the former is a Kiddush Hashem and the second is personal and intimate and brings you closer to G-d. All in all, all of the Mitzvahs bring a Jew closer to G-d; those pertaining to his fellow man and those pertaining to things G-d has told him to do (or not to do). Planting Redemption in this world earns a Jew Olam Haba.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Semitic Semantics -

I'm a bit of a linguist, I think languages are cool (and useful). Semitic languages are particularly useful and/or interesting to me since 1) I am a Jew, 2) I was born in and live in Israel, 3) have grandparents from Libya (who spoke Arabic), and 4) learn in a yeshiva, where both Hebrew, Aramaic, and a hybrid "dialect" known as "Mishnaic Hebrew," (Hebrew of the Mishnaic period, which is mixed with a lot of Aramaic and a good amount of Greek) are almost must-haves. Whenever I find some linguistic fact of interest I'll post it here.

Rashi, the Jewish Sage of 11th Century France, is famous for his commentaries on the Tanakh Scripture and sometimes he analyzes linguistic associations. For example, in Bereshit (Genesis) in the Torah, Abraham buys a field from a Hittite named "Ephron," in order in which to bury Sarah. The name of the town where the field is located is called "Padan-Aram" in Samaria (the "West Bank") and the name of the cave in which both Sarah and Abraham are buried is called "Machpela." Now here's the interesting thing. The first letter of "Padan" in Hebrew is a "pey," which can only be pronounced "fey," depending of the vowelization. Rashi notes that the Arabic word for "field" is "fadan," and so if one were to say "Fadan Aram" in Arabic, it would mean "the field of Aram." It seems to me, although I cannot confirm this without further study, and certain words in the Arabic language have been pulled over from pre-existing Hebrew and Aramaic words or names and have been slightly adjusted in their meaning and tone. "Fadan" is a perfect example of that and to a degree confirms, through its usage of that word into its lexicon, that Abraham and Sarah were indeed buried in a field in Padan-Aram.

The Hebrew "Akeidah," which means "the binding (of)" in the Torah refers to Abraham's binding of Isaac on the altar on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem to sacrifice him. As I have said before, Muslim tradition rejects that this occurred and state that Abraham actually went to sacrifice Ishmael in Mecca. The word "Akeidah" in Arabic (aqeedah) is the word for the central religious doctrine of Islam (although I will do some more research on this word). This is interesting in that it does not mean "to bind," or "the binding (of)" but rather is a word delineating a statement of faith. Indeed, in Jewish though the "Akeidah" was an expression of faith, but it was not a word expressing the central religious doctrine of Judaism.

"Al Quds" is another interesting one, meaning "the holy (place or thing or one)," but in this case it's the Muslim name for Jerusalem. The word in Jewish lexicon for Jerusalem is not "Ha Kadosh," the holy place, but the Temple in Jerusalem is known as the "Beit Hamikdash," "the Sanctified House," and in Arabic it has been called "Bait al Maqdis." During the very beginning of Islam, as is historically reported, Jerusalem was not yet an important site for the budding religion of Islam. There would not be a reason for it yet since Muhammad was focusing his resources and manpower on establishing a name for Islam in Mecca and Medina, facing harsh opposition by Jews and Arab pagans there. After Mecca and Medina effectively became the holiest sites of Islam, in which it was centered, Islam incorporated the holy sites of Judaism, which means the incorporation of the Beit Hamikdash as an important site for Muslims. Much of this incorporation of Jerusalem into Islam was not initiated by Muhammad or the heirs from his family, but rather by the Caliph of the Muslim Umayad dynasty. This dynasty was based in Syria, which then ran Palestine as a province. A rift arose between the Umayad Dynasty of Syria and Muhammad's heirs (dynasty) located in Saudi Arabia, and Umar, the Umayad Caliph, took the on the corporation of Jerusalem into Islam as a political project. His intent was to draw power into his own dynasty and to elect himself as the new representative of Islam. Muhammad's family saw this as a deviation from the grass roots-based religion of Islam, a religion of pure faith, as well as from the legacy of Muhammad that should stay within the family. Those who supported the notion that the legacy should stay within Muhammad's family later gained the title "Shi'a" Muslims, and those who rejected dynastic rule later gained the title "Sunni."

The lie of history inherent in the Arabic names for these places lies in the fact that Umar retroactively worked them into the Quranic narrative (by reinterpreting a text) for political reasons after the death of Muhammad. Although I've been told that Sunni's and Shi'ites still pray together, a residual of mutual tension still exists between them. Nevertheless, even the Sunni, who make up the majority of Muslims, have come to fully accept the holiness of Jerusalem, regardless that it was never a part of Muhammad's efforts and certainly against the will of his family. If we can imagine for a moment the status of Jerusalem and Islam today had Umar not done what he did. The Jews would likely be running Jerusalem (as they should) and Islam would be uninterested in controlling it. Had Umar not done this, and had the Jews still established the State of Israel in 1948, it is accurate to say that perhaps the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian conflict, which is based in Jerusalem, would not exist today. The deviation from Islam through Umar is the cause of strife between Jews and Muslims today, and the entirety of the Muslim world accepts this status quo. Therefore, "Al Quds" is not holy.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Messianism Gone Muslim -

I have a friend who wrote a paper on Shabbtai Tzvi, who lived, I believe, some centuries ago in Turkey. Shabbtai Tzvi was a righteous Jew who claimed to be the Messiah, and the whole scandal with him was that he later converted to Islam, and many of his followers also converted. According to my friend, there is much confusion about Tzvi's intent in his conversion to Islam, which is primarily recorded as his converting to save his life, which most Sages opine is allowed with reference to Islam.

There is a Chassidic (Kabbalistic) concept known as "tzim tzum," which loosely means "withdrawal," and it is explained that when G-d created the world, He had to withdraw His Presence from it just enough so that the creations would be able to exist, i.e., He had to make room for everything because His Presence is all-encompassing. It goes on to explain that G-d left sparks of holy light, called "nitzutzim," trapped within the material confines of this world, and through the observance of the Torah, a Jew can release those sparks of light and expose G-d's Presence here. As my friend's paper goes, Shabbtai Tzvi reasoned that many of these sparks of light had become trapped in Islam, which he reasoned was a low spiritual place, and therefore he lowered himself into this place with the intent to somehow gain access to them and to release them into the midst of the world. His "movement" was definitely a Messianic one, and when he entered the sphere of Islam, "converted," his dedicated followers followed with him. As some sources on ancient communities of Jews indicate, the "Donmeh" Muslims of Turkey, whom are recognized as being separate from the rest of the Muslim population, are said to be the converts to Islam and therefore the Jewish descendants of the followers of Shabbtai Tzvi. Although this is not the point of the essay, it could be said that Shabbtai Tzvi was a false Messiah.

However, Tzvi's stance that Islam holds a special power is not at all unfounded. First of all, many of the internal mechanics of Islam function in starkly similar fashion to that of Judaism, enough to spark the interest of a Jew, or at least to persuade a level of respect for it. The very foundation of the religion of Islam was built on its replacement of Judaism, or what Muslims would explain as actually being the pre-Torah revelation by G-d of true submission through all of the figures in the Tanakh (and Jesus). The Qur'an, delivered in the 7th Century, was the physical presentation of this chain of pure faith. Hence, this process of superseding Judaism began in the 7th Century and was still around some hundreds of years later in the Muslim world, and today. The power of truth contained in the religion of Judaism became diminished after the Roman destruction of the Second Temple and the rise of Christianity, which thrived on that truth as does a vampire on blood. Some six hundred years later the religion of Islam was founded and it too thrived on that life force of truth of Judaism. However, by then, a lot of it had been sucked into Christianity and so Islam had two sources from which (it had) to draw. Christianity and Islam both were able to pull Jews into them due to this presence of monotheistic moralistic truth. The more neatly those two religions could present their fulfillment arguments to Jews, glossing over the scars created by grafting narrative to narrative, the better they were at actually persuading Jews that either Christianity or Islam were the fulfillments of Judaism. Whatever truth led a Jew to either of these religions was truth that existed in Judaism, but due to the invasion-like forces of supersessionist propaganda, Christianity and Islam had done a superb job of associating Torah ideas with Christian or Muslim thought.

For example, Christianity and Islam operated by conforming a theological concept found in Judaism to fit either a Christian or Muslim world view, and a Jew who was ill-equipped to recognize the falsehood of such a construction was at danger of joining the ranks of either of those religions. However, lack of knowledge of the Torah is not the entire culprit in those situations, primarily because we are speaking about the time before the mass secularization of Jews in the 19th Century, when Jews became separated from their Torah. There might have been some type of Middle Ages "version of secularization," but for the most part the knowledge of Torah permeated Jewish society in the same way that the knowledge of the Gospels and the Qur'an permeated those respective societies as well. It is most likely that the diminished position of Jews in society under the more cruel of the Muslim rulers (in this case, although Christian in others) created a powerful incentive for persecuted Jews to escape oppression through joining the ranks of the oppressor religion. If we combine all of these elements; inescapable oppression, separation from the Torah, and Islam's similarity to Judaism, we have a powerful formula causing a Jew to teeter into the ranks of Islam. In these cases, the Jew who converted usually adopted a hatefully resentful attitude towards his previously belonging to the Jewish People, and if he rose to any sort of power, he would use it against the Jews. Further, Christianity and Islam both had a way of being suspicious of Jews who could potentially "Judaize" their religions by introducing Jewish elements into them, and so a Jew who converted usually annihilated his previous identification as a Jew as to avoid this. Perhaps this is to what Shabbtai Tzvi alluded when he said that many of the holy sparks of G-dly light had become trapped in Islam. His "conversion" to Islam after claiming to be the Messiah of the Torah, perhaps with his "reconversion" back to Judaism after some time, was intended to lead "at risk" Jews (virtually all of them) to choose Judaism. His Muslim friends and contacts created while he was a "Muslim" would open Muslims up to the goodness of the Jewish People and maybe to the truth of the Torah, (in essence, Judaization) causing them to rescind hateful policies. This maybe would have even led some Muslims to become Jews, because if the similarities were so apparent, then a Muslim could have converted to Judaism just as a Jew converted to Islam. The overall effect would be to cause Jews to be freed from the self-oppressive shackles of spiritual, emotional, and physical destruction caused by Islam's insurgencies into the Jewish soul and entire way of life and would bring about a Messianic age of religious peace and harmony between Judaism and Islam. The sad truth is that Tzvi's attempts, which seemed to understand the situation with beaming clarity, did not function in the way he desired. This is not to say that it would not have worked, but all of the parts that had to fall into place simply did not or at the right time, and so his "movement" essentially failed.

Today a similar situation has, and is developing with regards to Islam and the world. Physically speaking, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world (partially because one who converts to Islam faces ostracism and death upon rescinding the decision). Spiritually, violence, fear, and thuggery have always been excellent ways to gain a following, take Hitler for example and how he "inspired" almost the whole of Germany to partake in decades of genocide and war. 9/11 was a "turning point" in the 21st century history of Islam to those who were previously oblivious to it, largely America and partially Europe. The suicide bombing murders of Israel had been taking place for decades, but the disintegration of the Twin Towers was a macroscopic version of down-town Jerusalem's almost routine coffee shop explosion. After the shock clouds cleared, two major camps were formed, those who were wrought with anger, hate, and the desire to retaliate. The feeble ones were so scared off of their foundations that they sought to detract anger and hatred away from the demonic forces responsible for 9/11 by likening the symbols of death itself to good and themselves to evil!

Hence began a dark phase, which perhaps has not yet ended, where the pressure that these currents in Islam created pushed so hard on the psyches of the targeted that the defense of and association with Islam became one way to deflect further attack and to neutralize fear. By "letting Islam in" to one's heart and to one's country, i.e., the defense of Muslim civil rights at any cost, soul terrorism initiated the breakdown process initiated, analagous to a digestive process whereby enzymes (terrorism) break down pieces of food (target societies). The indispicable tragedy in this line of emotion (not thought) is that it only stimulates confidence in the virus-like assassins. This is the way otherwise weak groups dominate and sometimes invade entities hundreds of times their size - an invasion does not need to be physical, it can exist in metaphysical "geography." The appearance of power, not to mention, the degree and eagerness for the targeted to give in, and not to kill back, enliven the invaders.

However, to the meek, feeble, scared, instable, weak, and confused, unflinching resolve in an enemy to the point of the justification and inclusion of all types of murder, is skewed in the mind of the weak as confident nobility. If somehow a person who seems rational is able to justify murder, then perhaps the consciousness' immediate rejection to this logic is actually wrong. The confused target then represses his feelings of the disorientation that would otherwise lead to intellegible moral objection, and he leans on the attacking force for power, sustenance, and confidence, and in this he becomes one of them. In other words, he is dominated and taken over, like a puppet.

This is the general effect of this type of terrorism on the "normal" Gentile. However, the effect on the Jew, precisely the effect which Shabbtai Tzvi sought to counterbalance and neuter, is different, especially a Jew with a spiritual inclination.

Take Yosef Cohen, for example. Cohen was a secular Jew who became Orthodox, such as myself, in his early twenties. As he recalls, he was speaking Online with a Muslim in a chatroom one day, and the discussions led to more discussions. After presenting the Muslim with all types of questions, all of which he says were answered, and eventually reading the Qur'an, Cohen decided that Islam was the truth, became a Muslim, and changed his name to "Yussuf Khattab." He has since changed his entire identity into a Jew- and Israel-hating Muslim, unflinchingly explaining that suicide bombings against Jews on busses is just. He alludes to it only shortly in a video on Youtube, but family and personal instability were factors in Cohen's life growing up, sad realities that can destroy a person's inner-sense of self.

But personal life isn't the only factor here. Becoming an Orthodox Jew is a process that is as powerful as a loaded gun and it must be handled carefully and with wisdom. Being a Jew means rejecting the illusions of this world and the attempt to replace it with a sometimes radically different notion. It is a type of thing that can cause a slightly insecure person to take it to the wrong proportions. However, Judaism's existing in an un-redeemed state, i.e., the lack of Temple, right to Jerusalem, inability to complete all the Mitzvot, having to convince the nations that Israel is ours, etc..., are all things that seem to be fulfilled in Islam. Therefore, a very interesting phenomenon with Islam for a particularly lost yet spiritual Jew (and the Cohanim, the descendants of the priests who served in the Temple, of which Yosef Cohen is one, are known for spiritual prowess), is that they identify the spiritual and religious absolutes that are currently lacking in Judaism in Islam. This is exactly what Shabbtai Tzvi, had he succeeded might have been the Messiah, was trying to prevent with Islam, and Yosef Cohen is exactly one of the types of my fellow Jews whom he was trying to save.

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism -

Claimer: I just know the anti-Zionists will love this one, so here's some fire for the fodder or some food for thought.

This is an excerpt from the book holding the aforementioned title, written by Yakov M. Rabkin.

"The pious Jews who publicly criticize Zionism believe that they are obliged to do so for two imperious reasons spelled out in Jewish tradition. The first of these is to prevent desecration of the name of G-d. And since the State of Israel often claims to be acting on behalf of all the world's Jews, and even in the name of Judaism, these Jews feel they must explain to the public, primarly to non-Jews, the falsehood of this pretension. The second commandment is to preserve human life. By exposing the Judaic rejection of Zionism, they hope to protect Jews from the outrage they believe the State of Israel has generated among the nations of the world. They work to prevent turning the world's Jews into hostages of Israeli policies and their consequences. They insist that the State of Israel be known as the 'Zionist State' and not the 'Jewish State.'"

A bit about the nature of my commentary, it is primarily about the content of this excerpt (Judaic anti-Zionism) and not about the author. Preventing the desecration of G-d's Name and preserving human life are absolutely two Torah commandments for which a Jew needs to strive, but that is not my kasha (dispute) with the Orthodox Jews who oppose Zionism in the aforementioned manners. Rather, I would say that if they feel the need to reject Zionism in order to prevent a desecration of G-d's Name, then rather than by expressing an absolute rejection to the ideal of Zionism, they can attempt to change the course of politics within the country of Israel. They would not be Orthodox lone rangers in doing this, there are plenty of Torah-following Orthodox Jews whom believe in Zionism. Their quip with it is similar to that of anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews but they don't come to the unnatural conclusion that Israel should cease to exist due to its imperfections. I would argue that their method of Torah Zionists is equally sound, or more, than the Torah anti-Zionist way of going about things. Further, perhaps anti-Zionist Torah Jews should realize that their viewpoints and actions are also a desecration of G-d's Name to the very Gentile world they seek to influence. The reason for this is that those Gentiles whom have taken it upon themselves to be the enemies of Israel love nothing more than a Jew who confirms their every sick and twisted belief about the Jews' non-right to live and be in Israel.

Looking at it on a Biblical level, since the anti-Zionist Torah Jews see themselves as upholding the Jewish tradition, can we imagine the Prophets and Forefathers and mothers of the Torah rejecting the need and obligation of Jews to return to the Land of Israel? I can understand the resistance of these Orthodox Jews, but I would also understand if they did everything in their power to question Israeli policies rather than questioning its existence. If they want to be harbingers of Torah for the Jews, they need to suggest the right things for the State of Israel, not its destruction, which is what the Palestinians do. Can we imagine the Prophets giving a rat's foot about what Assyria, Babylon, Rome, or Egypt had to say about the Jews' return to Israel? Why should a Jew care at all about what the nations of the world have to say about our return to our Land?

Another excerpt (the following paragraph):

"This attempt to dissociate the destiny of the Jewish people from the fate of the State of Israel belongs to a much broader set of issues that extends well beyond the limit of Jewish history. Defining identity as distinct from state institutions is a constant concern of millions of human beings. The Jews have demonstrated that a people can preserve its identity over the course of more than two millennia without a state of its own and in conditions often threatening its very physical survival. Has the emergence of Zionism and the State of Israel so transformed the Jewish people as to bring its unique history to an end? Could it be that Israel, in the light of Jewish tradition, is not at all Jewish?"

The glorification and romantification of two thousand years of galus (exile) is hardly an optimistic and beneficial argument. The culture created in the Jewish mind resulting from that two thousand year period of exile as a minority in other countries has forced Jews to bend over backwards just to survive. In effect, the Jewish culture created through this forging process was to learn to be flexible and outrageously disciplined and incredibly durable, but to claim that this is the essence of the Jews' "unique history" is not proper. It would be like saying that a person whom has learned to fight with one hand tied behind his back, in the event he was able to untie his second hand, should continue to fight with one hand because he developed a "unique" fighting style. I am an optimist, but a fighting style with one hand is not a style, it's an adaptation to a disability and it's nothing about which to boast.

How can I go about painting a picture of what it was like before this exile, how it should be now, and how it will be after Redemption? I am of the school of thought that one can only understand something in light of something which he already understands (or is able to see), and so what modern-day example can I give to best illustrate the Jewish Torah ideal? Islam. If we want to get some semblance of what the pre- and post-Redemption days will be like, when we have the Temple, we can look at Islam. Muslims have complete and unrestricted control of their holiest site, the Qaba in Mecca (which is aided by its relative geographical isolation in the southwestern tip of the Saudi Arabian Peninsula). The Qaba more or less acts as would our Temple in the sense that it would be the focal point of our religious devotion and our connection to G-d. I am not sure that a caliphate rests in Mecca from where all Muslim jurisprudence is decided, which is what would occur in the Temple in Jerusalem with the re-establishment of the Sanhedrin. The analogy is clearly imperfect but the fact remains that Islam has acheived (through power and political coercion) what Judaism (and the entire world) will be rewarded through the achievement of Mitzvah's and G-d's Mercy. *I will soon write a blog about Muslim messianism and its relationship to Jewish Redemption.

The survival with which G-d has blessed us in the past two thousand years is permeated with our success in surviving with less than half of our spiritual resources available to us. We didn't have the Temple, we didn't have Israel, and we didn't have the full Presence of the Shekhina. Surviving in such circumstances is definitely a source of pride but to seek to recreate those circumstances just because we have become cozily accustomed to them is ridiculous, from the heart of the Torah perspective! Why should suffering be the hallmark of our existence?! Why should flourishing as the alternative to misery be the pillar of Judaism?! Do the Gentiles behave and think in this manner? Do the Christians who support Israel think like us? Do our Muslim "neighbors" and "cousins" behave like us? Why are we the only ones that act this way?! What is our problem?! That is something that we need to utterly reject.

It’s a bit humorous that Rabkin sides with Jewish Orthodoxy when it comes to criticism of the State of Israel but would probably reject Orthodoxy’s views on how he should live his life in a secular Jewish state. Does he realize that the Orthodox Jews whom criticize the Jewish state (maybe even its existence) also criticize the secular Jew’s decision not to follow Torah Law? Where does he come off agreeing with them when they disapprove of the way he lives his life? Their reason for criticizing Zionism is a world apart from his reason for criticizing it; religious and secular criticism of Zionism are different creatures.

Religious opposition to Zionism has its degrees of truth, for Zionism in and of itself, speaks in the name of Judaism when it is not synonymous with Judaism. However, complete religious rejection of Zionism based on our pre-Messianic state does not necessarily have to exist because our knowledge of how redemption will unfold is unknown to every single Jew. There is nobody that can give a precise answer, despite the hints and clues that our Torah gives us, as to how Redemption will play out. It is a Torah fact that everything that occurs is a part of G-d’s plan; if anti-Zionist religious Jews can believe that the Holocaust was an act of G-d, then why can’t they believe that the Zionism that led to the creation of the State of Israel also is an act of G-d? Surely the fruits of the State of Israel are both better and have higher potential for goodness and truth than did the Holocaust, i.e., which nearly brought about our utter destruction.

Zionism does not threaten traditional Jewish views, such as the Coming of the Messiah, with destruction, because we cannot claim a monopoly over the knowledge of how Redemption will occur. If we could, then the Torah would have told us straight out what needs to occur and how precisely, but it does not. Therefore, the belief that the State of Israel is an obstruction to Redemption and a destroyer of Judaism borders on dogmatic belief. Negating religious anti-Zionism is not sufficient in making an argument. Rather, it very well could be that in some way unpredictable to the mind of man, that Zionism, i.e., the State of Israel, will bring about Messianic Redemption. For one, Zionism and love of Israel brought me closer to observance of the Torah to the point where I became an observant Jew and continues to do so. It is almost masochistic to insist on the self-denying monasticism from our holy sites and Land. Somewhere near the extreme of total and utter faith in G-d, causing one to reject all worldly steps towards Israel, is a G-dless extreme seemingly lacking in all emuna (trust in G-d). There is a tendency for Zionism to have an effect on unobservant Jews potentially bringing them back to Judaism. Until the anti-Zionist Orthodox find a better way to bring far-off Jews back to the Torah, they either need to shut their mouths or get with the program. And G-d forbid, the last thing they should do, the aveira (sin) of aveirot, to kiss the grotesque and bloody cheek of Mahmoud Ahmedinajad, as did the Chief Rabbi of Neturei Karta just this week. One of my rabbi's at my yeshiva called him a "rasha," which means "a completely evil man." This cordial treatment of the man who wants to kill the Jews was a chilul Hashem (desanctification of G-d's Name) and I question that man's sanity.

Back to the topic, since we do not know how Redemption will occur, we cannot have many grievances against what religious and spiritual opportunities Zionism and being able to live in the State of Israel opens up for religious Jews; there are clear potentials for spirituality and religiosity in Israel that are not available in other countries. For example, kashrut is difficult to find in many places, to the point where observant Jews learn how to function as if with one hand tied behind their back. Further, their knowledge of being the minority among Gentiles creates a degree of isolation, a sort of “hiding.” For a Jew living among Gentiles, life is basically lived out under a glass ceiling. In Israel, the potential for spirituality is higher and more fluent than it is in the lands of galut, and even though the culture of the State of Israel needs serious improvements, a religious Jew is able to reach newer heights and levels in Israel that he was unable to in other places, also by the mere fact of his being in Israel and around other Jews, and in such proximity to his holiest sites, even if the Arabs prevent him from having freedom of movement. It is as if some Orthodox Jews, those whom oppose Zionism, prefer a life of surviving among destruction than actually turning a new leaf and embracing what could potentially be a very positive religious and spiritual benefit for the Jewish People, in some unpredictable way bringing out the Coming of the Messiah and ultimate Redemption. Their attitudes are proof that even religious people, as noble, respectable, loving of Torah, and pious they are, and who are making the world a better place by attempting to clear it of secularism, can still be victim to an almost 2000 year-old mentality that a patient, enduring, and ghetto-fashioned disciplinary style unmoved by G-d-given initiative will in and of itself, and only it, bring about Messianic Redemption.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Oops; I'm an Orthodox Jew (How I Became Observant) -

I eventually realized that the views that I held could no longer be considered secular. The change was not so dramatic that I could say it occurred overnight, but rather was a growing set of changes that were occurring in the way I thought about things. At a certain point in time, and it’s possible that it could have occurred earlier or later, they culminated into a coherent set of ideas that were not accurately representative of what you would normally call a secular person. At the point in time of that culmination I looked at myself, and although I saw the same person that I had always been, I had realized a new facet to my being, that I was not a secular Jew and could not associate with that identity. That was more or less the realization that I was an Orthodox Jew and that the Orthodox world was the world in which I belonged. It was as if the sum of my parts came together and I understood a more complete picture of whom I actually was. This was in no way a replacement of who I was but rather a certain coming to fruition of my personality and my thoughts; you could definitely consider it a type of maturation. It was a rounding off of the edges, a placing together of disparate pieces of my being into a more coherent picture.

Previous to this, the external manifestation I was going through was expressed as a level of discomfort with certain things around me and often times came with a feeling of not belonging. The discomfort generally applied to social situations, and in this I open up my experience to the criticism of a person who wants to pin my change on social awkwardness. However, it would be more accurate to say that I was frustrated with the nature of the interaction of many of my friends and peers, behaviours that I considered superficial, negative, and to a degree, resembling a power struggle between those very friends. This was not something I felt I wanted to or could be a part of, and so I was always a bit on the outskirts of my relationship with those people.

There are reasons other than philosophical retaliation, if you want to call it that, for my feeling separated from my friends to the degree that I did; the way they thought and behaved was not the only factor. It was clear that my Jewish identity was a part of me, and although it was an obscured identity that often confused me more than it shed light, it was as if it was infused onto my bones and into my blood, and I could not shed it. My ability to realize that I was different in this sense from my friends, all of whom came from Christian families, played a serious role in putting certain obstacles between them and me. The culture in which my parents raised me, although generally not observant, had fostered a deep awareness of our Jewishness. It was only when I was only able to figure out how that piece of myself fit into the whole that I was able to feel comfortable with it and to love it. Until then my Jewishness was a bittersweet concoction of identity that both blessed me and cursed me. In retrospect I can understand how Jews have chosen to assimilate, Jews who were in much more miserable situations than was I (such as those of the Inquisition). I should thank G-d every day that I chose to assimilate in rather than out. My friends were not to blame for my feeling of alienation from them, it was a symptom of my inability to recover from my Jewishness and for the most part they tried to be as accommodating as possible.

During this time, usually on my own, I would read whatever Jewish material I could get my hands on, completely unaware at that point of the existence of differing paradigms of observance of the Torah. I build up a reserve of stories and partially developed understandings of what Judaism was, but for the most part I kept those away from my friends, and even my family. My interest was sparked from these things and I began to be a bit pushy with my family as to some of the Jewish traditions, such as lighting candles on Chanukah in a specific way, etc… For a few years we lit candles on Friday night, and since my knowledge of Jewish ritual didn’t far exceed that, I sought for my family to do whatever we did in the perfect way. During Passover, for example, I insisted that we read the entire Hagadah from front to back and was annoyed when we read through it quickly, as if just to get to the meal. I even recall expressing my anger to my aunt about how many Jews (in America) were almost totally unmotivated to really feel Judaism.

Another relevant factor was my being born in Israel and my family’s deep attachment to our family “back home,” my mom’s side. Our several trips to Israel over the summers provided me with several positive experiences, many of them occurring on the cusps between adolescence and maturity. Among that, the trips also did something deeper, they put me in touch with a sense of who or what I might have been had we not moved to America when I was six years old. My formative years in America were relatively tough; I developed a dual or hybrid identity forcing me to grapple with the question of who I was and Israel was often the potential key to that answer.

As I began college and slowly but surely saw less and less of my high school friends, I began to meet Jews. My Jewish education ended in sixth grade and during the last eight or so years, my only friends were Gentiles. Now that I was suddenly meeting other Jews, whom also loved Israel like I did, I felt that I could really connect with them. Those people are still my friends to this day. Eventually I joined a pro-active Israel action group on campus that two of them began; finally an outlet for my love of Israel and Judaism. As I became aware of the liberal hatred of the State of Israel on campus, I began to question my previously unquestioned politically liberal views, which to me were inseparable from idealism. Painfully, and after some period of time, I realized that I had to give up some, or many, of my liberal preconceptions on the nature of the universe, scrapping the notion that goodness was to be automatically equated with liberalness. Goodness, it seemed, was not fully formed simply in the liberal view of the world, and slowly, slowly I began to form more conservative views, at least with regards to Israel. My growingly conservative views on Israel, which were identified by not being afraid to state politically incorrect truths regarding the hatred towards Israel. I soon realized, after trying to see it in many ways, that this hatred was held together by one thing above all, that Israel was full of Jews.

Rather than shying away from standing up for our rights as Jews in Israel, as many Jews did, I reasoned that we should not feel guilty about stating what was ours. It was neither necessary nor acceptable to stand up for everybody else’s rights except our own; I did not see it as a violation of liberal thought, but rather as an accurate embodiment of it, to stand up for our own rights. Every year Jews got together on the campus mall to recollect the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust by reading their names from a list; why could we not speak out for the Jews dying today, the living Jews, with the same vigour with which we spoke for those who have already perished? I began to fear that had the Jews who did not speak out for their living brothers lived in the time of the Intifada, similarly they would have not spoken out for their brothers in the camps either. I had already begun to seriously question the resolve of many liberal-leaning Jews to actually bettering their situation. I feared that they were stuck in some continuously repeating time portal of guilt and paranoia that caused them to endlessly read the names of Jews murdered in the past. If their commitment to ending injustice towards Jews was so strong, then there were plenty of Jews dying today for whom they could speak, but more often they violated their “Never Again” ethos by remaining silent.

A while later, “by an accident of the universe,” I was sent on a Birthright trip by which I was initially rejected. Michelle Blumberg, executive director of the Hillel at the University of Arizona, put in a call to the Los Angeles-Israeli Consulate explaining to them that I had never been on an organized trip to Israel. After a moment of her being put on hold, they confirmed that I was accepted to the trip. A week and a half later I was on a plane to Israel, and later, in Jerusalem, standing at the Kotel (Western Wall), the culmination written about in the first paragraph occurred. I knew that I believed in G-d, which meant that G-d had designed a way to communicate with humanity, which had to be the Torah, and that Israel was of utmost importance to Judaism, and at that point in time I realized that I was an Orthodox Jew.
Response to Muslim Gentleman on Youtube -

I found a ten-or-so minute clip on Youtube of a Muslim gentleman speaking about the comparisons between Islam and Judaism. This gentleman seems very cool-headed, educated, intelligent, compassionate, insightful, and I venture to say well-meaning, but this was a slight contradiction on his part. Nevertheless, it was one of the most collected and relaxed messages I've seen yet comparing Islam and Judaism, and you can find it here.

I couldn't help responding because many of the facts were skewed or only touched on a part of the bigger picture relating to the topic he was talking about. For example, he mentions that the way Jews and Muslims slaughter animals is exactly the same, done in the Name of G-d. Kosher slaughter requires all of the blood of the animal to be drained and a number of other requirements have to be filled, which is why a trained Jewish supervisor (mashgiach) has to be present (or visit the place continuously). The aforementioned process is considered "in the Name of G-d" in Judaism, and I think, from what I've heard, that slaughtering the animal "in the Name of G-d" in Islam simply means reciting a blessing. This means that Halal and Kosher meat are not synonymous; Jews cannot eat Halal meat but Muslims may eat Kosher food (according to him and most Muslims I know). To add, the Torah’s dietary code restricts about thirty animals, such as camel, which Islam allows. It would not be enough for Judaism and Islam to be similar; if Islam is to replace Judaism it must be identical to it, yet if it was identical then Muslims should be keeping Judaism and not vice-versa!

Near the beginning of the film he said something that rung very true, that Muslims are fulfilling the mandate for Gentiles as set down by Judaism. I would be interested to know if, from a Halakhic perspective, Islam is a fulfillment of the Noachide Laws, and it's pretty cool that he even knew that Judaism has requirements for Gentiles. However, a bit later in the video he contradicted himself by saying that, since Judaism and Islam are so similar, Islam is the fulfillment of Judaism. This doesn't make too much sense, first, but second, if Islam is the fulfillment for Gentiles, then it would not make sense that Jews fulfill their duty by following the rules that the Torah prescribes for Gentiles because gives them their own requirements.

The gentleman makes mention of the similarity between the Name of G-d in Hebrew and Arabic, but the Name that he used is one that I have not heard being used for G-d. I don't know, it might be a variation of “Elokim.”

Also, it was very subtle but he wouldn't say the word "Jew." From what I've learned from speaking to Muslims, "Judaism" is not a real religion because it is derived from the word "Jew," which is derived from "Judah," which is the English for "Yehuda." Therefore, since the name of our religion is derived from a tribe of Israel, the Muslim tradition explains that "Judaism" is the left-over remnant of the practice of the tribe of Judah, the "Yehudim," which literally means "Judites," those from Judah. If this were true, then "Judaism" would not really be a religion. However, the Muslim tradition uses the fact of the name of Judaism to say that the real religion of Judaism has disappeared and that "Jews" don't keep it today. Nothing could be more false because "Judaism" is just a word (that the Jews did not choose) and we still keep the Torah. Back when I first started this blog I wrote a post about the development of the word "Judah" and you can read it there. Just to give a summary of that here, the Israelites took on the name of "Judah" because it was the only tribe to remain intact after the Babylonian and Assyrian exile, and while many of the Israelites became "swallowed" up in other lands, those who were not clung to the name "Judah." The reason for this was to retain their religious identity, and so "Torah" and "Judaism" are synonymous. I'm a Levi (from the tribe of Levi) but I am a Jew.

* A really fascinating video about this topic is called "Quest for the Lost Tribes" and A&E directed it. I recommend this film like crazy!

Here is where I learned something. In Arabic, the word "Aqeedah" is the word describing the central doctrinal belief of Islam, referring to the belief that Abraham went to sacrifice Ishmael in Mecca on the future site of the Q'aba, and not Isaac. In Hebrew, “Akeidah” means “binding” referring to the binding of Isaac on the altar to be sacrificed. Islam believes the Torah's account of this to be an alteration of the original text (some "proto-Torah?") in which Ishmael was sacrificed (I have yet to see any museum come forth with fragments of this original text, or the Arabs themselves, but I would love to see it). “Akeidah” in Hebrew is not a word for the central doctrine of Judaism but it's rational to see how such a word is used to define the central beliefs of Islam when we take into account what Islam believes.

He also said that Hebrew needed Arabic to reconstruct itself by looking into Arabic texts to find the meanings of Hebrew words. The main point he used to illustrate this is that Hebrew scholars didn't know the meaning of the word "echad," a word repeated in one of Judaism's central daily prayers. It is basic knowledge in the first monotheistic religion that "echad" means "one" both in quantity and quality, two descriptions of G-d's essential character. I don't know where he got that particular piece of information but it's false. On the other hand, the word “selah” is said to be a word about which the Jewish tradition is confused, but Arabic does not provide Judaism with a meaning for it.

Considering the previous example of Islam's usage of the word "Akeidah," which is Hebrew, it would make more sense to say that the opposite is true, that Arabic made sense of certain words through Hebrew. In cases when words from the Hebrew language were difficult to decipher, Jewish Sages have traditionally looked into the Oral Law, which in Islam’s terms could be understood as the "Jewish Hadith," although not per se coming from the mouth of Moses (Hadith are said to be quoted from Muhammad). If Hebrew needed Arabic, it would mean that by using the Arabic understanding of words, which is inseparable from Muslim theology, Judaism became infused with a Muslim theology. The clear point of his argument here is to further correlate Islam and Judaism by saying that Judaism itself is infused with Islam, i.e., more reason for anybody who believes in the "Old Testament" to convert to Islam. The Oral Law is as old as the Law given to Moses on Mt. Sinai – Islam came about in the 6th Century of the Common Era.

The gentleman uses the term “Isaacite Jews" versus all other Jews as if only the Jews whom descended from Isaac are valid. This is a very clever term that I haven't heard until now. However, it's passive propaganda, especially since all Muslims are considered valid (such as converts, etc...) even though only a handful of Muslims are actually descendants of Ishmael. The 23% (and growing) percentage of the world that is Muslim could not have only come from Ishmael's descendants, and Muslims are of all different "races," like Jews. If only the "Isaacite" Jews are valid then only the "Ishmaelite" Muslims are valid, otherwise all converts to either religion count or none of them do.

To sum up, as someone that suggested who commented on my comment, the video started off in a way that seemed like he was trying to bridge Judaism and Islam, but a while in it becomes clear that he's using the similarities (and creating others) to give a reason to become Muslim. The conclusion has to be that it would not be enough for Judaism and Islam to be similar; if Islam is to replace Judaism it must be identical to it. But if they were identical, then Muslims might as well become Jews! No?

Would love to hear some comments, especially if the gentleman who made the film reads this.