This article discusses some cases, reflective of the educational approach of many religious schools and individuals, that are symptomatic of serious problems in the way our community transmits Torah teachings. The fundamentalist, literalist position—so vehemently criticized by Rambam—still holds sway among many Orthodox Jews.
Prayer and Windows: Thoughts for Parashat Noah
God’s instructions to Noah for building the ark include: “A light you shall make to the ark,” (Bereishith 6:16). Rashi, drawing on rabbinic tradition, offers two explanations of what this “light” was. 1) it was a window; 2) it was a precious stone.
A window provides direct light from the sun; a person inside the ark could see the skies above. A precious stone refracts light; a person inside the ark has light, but has no direct contact with the outside world.
The Psalm associated with Shemini Hag Atsereth/Simhath Torah seems to be a strange choice. It is Psalm 12, a Psalm that Martin Buber has described as a prophecy “against the generation of the lie.” The Psalmist cries out: “Help, O Lord, for the pious cease to be…They speak falsehood each with his neighbor, with flattering lip, with a double heart they speak.” The generation is led by oppressors who say “our tongue will make us mighty,” who arrogantly crush the downtrodden.
Most of our religious observances are indoors--in our homes, in our synagogues.We generally do not like to create a public spectacle of our religious experiences, but we behave modestly and try not to call attention to ourselves as we perform mitzvoth.
Paul Gaugin, the famous 19th century French artist, commented: “When I want to see clearly, I shut my eyes.”
He was referring to two different ways of perceiving reality. With our eyes open, we see surface reality—size, shape, color etc. But with our eyes shut, we contemplate the context of things, our relationship to them, the hidden meanings.
The Generation of the Lie (reprinted from Marc D. Angel, The Wisdom of Solomon and Us, Jewish Lights Publishers, 2016.)
He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, even they both are an abomination to the Lord. (Proverbs 17:15)
Death and life are in the power of the tongue; and they who indulge it shall eat the fruit thereof. (Proverbs, 18:21)
(This article by Rabbi Marc D. Angel appeared in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, July 26, 2012)
Our ancient Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed in 586 BCE and 70 CE…and we are still fasting and crying! If this made sense during our many centuries of exile, does it still make sense today? After all, we now have a vibrant and strong Jewish State of Israel. With all our problems, shouldn’t we be enjoying our sovereignty and the first flowerings of redemption? Isn’t it time to stop fasting and crying for an exile that has functionally come to an end?
In 2006, Oxford University Press published a book by Chris Lowney, “A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain.” The author asked me to write a blurb, and it was included on the back cover of the book. Here is what I wrote:
(On March 4, 2016, a Conference was held at the United Nations: “Religious Pluralism and Tolerance: The Bahrain Model.” It was held under the sponsorship of the Kingdom of Bahrain, which prides itself on tolerance to citizens of its religious minorities. The Conference was opened by H.E. Dr. Shaikh Abdulla bin Ahmed bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, the Undersecretary of International Affairs of the Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Participants in the Conference included representatives of various religions and countries, as well as members of the American government.
Orthodox Judaism has a powerful, appealing, and sophisticated message for world Jewry—and for humanity at large. Basing ourselves on the divinely revealed Bible, the authoritative halakhic system, and a worldview rooted in compassion and justice, we have succeeded as a world religion for over 3,000 years. We have weathered physical and spiritual attacks from external enemies; and we have been victorious in sectarian battles within Judaism itself.