Friday, January 27, 2006

Rav Kook

Does Rav Kook in his philosophy ever make any recommendations regarding how to make communal decisions or influence individual behavior? Does he ever provide any practical advice about responding to certain situations, or present guiding attitudes with which to direct one's life?

Or does he only provide a passive, intellectual/mystical framework within which the world's phenomena can be understood, but without practical applications?

If the second understanding is true, it would go a long way towards understanding why he has not had a capable, inspired successor.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Tale of Two Cities

You can discern something of the direction of the national religious community by looking at the Gush announcement boards. Last week there were posters advertising two events occurring on Asara beTevet in Jerusalem. One was sponsored by the Temple Institute, and involved lectures on the Temple vessels and presumably, the practicality of resuming Temple service, followed (after the fast) by a march around the Old City walls. The other was sponsored by Maaglei Tzedek ("Paths of Justice") and consisted of discussion on how to address the "Jewish and moral identity" of Israel, and to work on the societal/moral issues which make the fast day necessary.

The events represent two understandings of the message of Asara beTevet. The first approach concerns itself solely with physical objects and realities. It so happens that the Temple has unfortunately been destroyed. In commemoration, lectures are held to explain the exact details of the Temple service and the possibility of its reinstatement. On the flip side, we still have political control of the Old City; to demonstrate this it is necessary to march around it. In either case, the physical/political situation is disengaged from any moral introspection which we may or may not be doing. The focus of Asara beTevet is on the historical events of the day, and we fast out of a sense of national/political/military loss.

The second approach emerges from moral concern. Asara beTevet is seen as a day on which to repent - not just on the individual but on the community level, addressing issues such as exploitation of foreign workers, public Shabbat desecration, and sexual slavery. This, of course was how prophets such as Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah envisioned fast days. Commemoration of the exact events of the day is secondary, and lamenting our current political situation is seen is irrelevant, since in any case it will only be remedied by changing our actions. The focus of Asara beTevet is on our faults and misdeeds, and we fast to induce a sense of crisis and thus to bring ourselves to repentance.

Fundamentally, the two events represent two different conceptions of the purpose of a fast day, and more broadly, two different conceptions of the purpose and nature of Judaism. In way of comment, I'll only mention the peculiar idea which is current these days, that Israel's secular elite is the country's moral conscience, while Judaism and the religious population are essentially lacking in morality. Were a certain one of the two approaches less prevalent, then such a monstrous idea of Judaism's worth would not be conceivable.

The funny thing is, if I remember correctly, one Gush rabbi spoke at the first event and none at the second.

Rambam would agree

The story is told of Rav Soloveitchik that once someone asked him about the halachic acceptability of karate. Here is a paraphrase of the conversation that ensued.

Rav Soloveitchik: What is karate?
Questioner: It's a martial art where you learn how to fight people in a non-violent way.
RS: What could possibly be the problem with that?
Q: Well, before beginning a karate match you have to bow down to your opponent as a gesture of respect.
RS: That's stupid.
Q: I'm not asking whether it's stupid, I'm asking whether it's assur.
RS: It's assur to be stupid.