Monday, August 17, 2009

Wherein I fisk the Bray of Fundy fisking some Reform rabbi

Now while I'm not a big fan of most non-Orthodox rabbis, believing them to be overly pompous and self-important, I'm, fo course, also not a fan of Orthodox rabbis, believing them to see nonsense as being self-evident. Then there's the Bray of Fundy, who has started his own blog, and witha great feeling of ahavat Yosrael, decided to kick a Reform rabbi in the teeth just when the reform rabbi was starting to get too traditionalist. After all, we can't let those evil Reform rabbis use any of their own traidtion, can we?

Anyway, the Bray, as usual, fell a bit short of his mark, and I may well, too in pointing out his misses, but if you donit try, you'll never succeed.

So without further ado, he-e-e-e-re's the Bray! (R' Washovky's original is in blue italics)

The July 31 edition of the Forward published an op-ed piece by Rabbi Mark Washovsky in which he claims that liberal Jews have been more observant of Tisha B'Av of late and in which he explains why Liberal Jews ought to observe Tisha B'Av. He is a professor of Jewish law and practice at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. He chairs the Responsa Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. My fisking of selected passages follows:
There are some good reasons why many religiously liberal, non-Orthodox Jews choose not to observe Tisha B’Av:
Forgive my ignorance. I'd always thought that Reform Judaism chose not to observe unless there are compelling reasons TO observe.

Lashon hara, lamed heh! We will listen anyway!

Your ignorance is forgiven. Where did you ever hear that the default in Reform Judaism was to do nothing? That seems a little illogical, as no religious insitution would be foolish enough to go that far.

We do not yearn for the restoration of animal sacrifice to our worship of God.
Say better. Say that you are deeply ashamed that this was ever part of your religion and so, of course, you'd be revolted to see it's re-institution.

Ooooh, projection, projection! Any other great insights you ant to reveal to us, Dr. Freud? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and maybe in this case the reform don't yearn for a reinstitution of animal sacrifice any more than chazal did when they somehow neglected to restart the Temple service in temporary quarters after the Destruction. After all, there's nothing in the Torah that says the sacrifices had to be done in Jerusalem. In fact, they did them for 40 years in the Sinai and Transjordan, and then for many years in Shiloh after the Jews entered the Promised land. Chazal could have set up a mishkan in Shiloh or Yavneh, or wherever, but they didn't. Maybe the Reform are closer to Chazal than you care to admit.

The amazing mixed marriage of over-the-top hubris and abysmal ignorance, while par for the Reform course, never loses it's capacity to take ones breath away. This attitude is informed by an understanding of qorbonos=sacrifices as being cruel to animals, bribery to a bloodthirsty G-d, a form of buying indulgences and that reduces Judaisms holiest shrine to a foul abattoir.

I would guess it has to do with a perfectly rational distaste for the exaltation of the ritual over the ethical. The presence of the Temple cult and Davidic monarchy didn't do much to prevent the sins of the Jewish people and the destruction of the Temple by God Him or Herself.

It is an attitude completely ignorant of what the Ramban and a host of Rishonim and Akhronim had to say on the topic. The Ramban's critiqued of the Rambam's explanation for the purpose of the Mitzvos of Qorbonos in Moreh as עשה שלחן ה' מגואל="he has made the L-rd's table repulsive". I wonder what he'd have to say about the smug attitude of these ignoramii.

So you mean the Reform share the attitudes of the Rambam, then? Was the Rambam a smug ignoramus just because the Ramban didn't agree with him?

so it seems strange to take part in that day’s mourning for the First and Second Temples, both of which are said to have been destroyed on the ninth day of the month of Av.
Let's not allow for the historicity of Jewish observance. I mean given Judaism track record on history and science is there any reason to presume that the Temples were ACTUALLY destroyed on the ninth day of the month of Av? Haven't I heard this attitude somewhere before? Hmmmmmmmmmm????

There's a difference between the "historicity of Jewish observance" and the historicity of the events the the Jews commemorate.

Nor do we particularly identify with the day’s dominant theological message, namely that we are responsible for the catastrophe, that God permitted our enemies to lay waste to the land and our people as an act of judgment of our sins.
I beg your pardon. While it is true that this is a message of the day and the Kinnos, It is hardly the dominant message. When sitting shiva one does not ponder the fact that , undoubtedly, it was the sins of the deceased that caused his/her death. OTC we lick our wounds and bewail the deceased and all that we miss about him /her. THAT is the dominant theme of Tisha B'Av. It is NOT about assigning blame but about feeling loss, alienation and pain.

So you believe that people die becuase of their sins? Um, we all have a one-way ticket to the grave no matter how righteous we are. And, yes, we're all sinners. But to say that we die becuase we sin contains such a basic fallacy in logical argumentation that I'm surprised I have to point it out. And bringing up the example of the shiva is not a good idea for your point, anyway. Becuase in a shiva, not only do we lick our wounds and bewail the dead, we feed our faces. Which you're not supposed to do on Tisha B'av. last time I checked. Which is evidence that supports the idea that Tisha B'av has a different purpose than sitting shiva. Like maybe put us on a guilt trip about how, just like the ancients, our sins today will lead to national tragedy tomorrow.

We liberal Jews, of course, are not the only ones who find it difficult to swallow these themes. But for us, that difficulty lies at the very heart of our liberal religious identity. We are liberal Jews in large part because our modern sensibility recoils at this simplistic notion of guilt and punishment.
No. You recoil from the notion because YOU have rendered it simplistic. As if prior to the advent of "Liberal" Judaism no Jewish thinker ever grappled with the questions of theodicy or of apparent disproportionate punishment. Talk about a credible history deficiency. But you are right about one thing. A flight from responsibility and a shifting of the onus of Golus from man to G-d does indeed lie at the black heart of your liberal religious identity.

Boy, if there were an Olympic event in conclusion jumping, the Bray would get the gold. Washovsky is not saying that the Reform were the first or only Jews to have problems with theodicy. In fact, I would think that the history of Jews "grappling with questions of theodicy and apparent disproportionate punishment" might be used a evidence of the kashrut of the Reform Jewish attiude on this issue.

We cannot say with the traditional Siddur that “on account of our sins we were exiled from our land,”.
No? Why then IYO why were we exiled from our land?

That's easy, it was on account of the sins of our ancestors at that time.

To be more specific, in the case of the First Temple, it was becuase the Jewish King decided to double cross his Babylonian ally. Which was stupid, considering that Babylon was a far more powerful country than Judea. In the case of the Second Temple it was, if you believe the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, becuase of Chazal's frumkeit. If they had just gone all Reform, and said who cares whether the animal is pasul, let's just sacrifice it and keep the Emperor happy, maybe we'd still have a Temple and not be in exile.

and we most definitely refuse to join those who apply such logic to rationalize the subsequent persecutions, pogroms and exterminations that darken the pages of our history.
When one zeros in on only one part of a multifaceted rationalization one inevitably distorts.

Huh? What does that mean? Do you work foir the government or something? That's some of the most impressive gobbledygook I;ve ever read!

Yet some of us liberal Jews insist upon observing Tisha B’Av. This is true even in my own Reform movement, where the holiday has made a rather impressive comeback in recent decades. Given all the above, what gives? How do we explain this apparent inconsistency?
The answer, perhaps, is that we have learned some valuable lessons during the two centuries of liberal Judaism’s existence.
We have learned, first of all, that there is no such thing as Judaism without the Jews and the historic experience of our people.

Close but no cigar. Say better, say as Saadiah Gaon said that there are no Jews/Jewish People without our Torah. Maybe you and your movement will catch on before the yikhus of every last one of you is diluted to the point of dissipation.

There's nothing in the Torah that commands observance of Tisha B'av. It's all made up by the rabbis.

>Our religious ideas, however high-minded, remain lifeless abstractions so long as they are divorced from the concrete experience of the Jewish people throughout the ages.
So let's join the idiots on the floor who actually pine for the return of the Holy abattoir because, after all, that's what Jews did for millenia. Maybe Liberal Jews ought to look into the reinstitution of outdoor plumbing and kerosene lighting as well. After all that would marry them to the "experience of the Jewish people throughout the ages".

I don't think they had kerosene lighting during most of the history of the Jewish people. Besides, as I recall Eicha, most of the mourning is over the death and desturction in gneral, not the fact that the kohanim are now unemployed. Washivksy might be a bit pompous here, but he is making the point that Reform Judaism is Judaism, not Ethical Culture.

< ...
But we have discovered that the struggle to find meaning in suffering, even in suffering that defies all attempts at rationalization, can be an uplifting thing.
When do you struggle for meaning? Before, during or after the kinnos? Why not share your findings with us? That would've been a lot more valuable than this inane op-ed piece.

We have learned to read the traditional liturgy of Tisha B’Av — the biblical book of Eicha (Lamentations), the day’s Torah readings, the kinot (dirges) — not as an effort to explain or to justify the destruction. Like saying that I read the cookbook not as an effort to produce fine cuisine but in order to....go on a diet? redouble our efforts to rid public schools of junk food snacks? Pass laws to outlaw trans-fats?

You see the Torah as a cookbook? Oy! And you think that someone should use a cookbook as a prooftext for advocaing food policy? Do you know anything about the content of cookbooks? Have you even cracked one open and read it a little? Maybe you should have run that passage by your wife before you posted it. And what's wrong with R' Washovky not anting to find justification of the destruction? Didn'y you yourself say earlier that Tosha B'av was like a shiva, where you don't intellectualize, but rather greive and remember? Of course, I pointed out the fallacy in that view, but if you insist on holding it, you might as well be consistent.

but as a call to respond to it by redoubling our commitment to search our souls, to purify our conduct and to renew our shaken-but-not-shattered faith in the ultimate triumph of good over evil.A) What manner of smugness has convinced you that non-Liberal Jews/branches of Judaism have not had THEIR faith in the ultimate triumph of good over evil shaken-but-not-shattered? B) Post Holocaust why has your , ahem, "faith" NOT been utterly shattered? Especially as, unsure of G-d's very existence, yours is a faith in man alone?

I don't see where R' Washovsky denies that the Orthodox haven't had their doubts, too. As for the Holocaust, we apikorsim actually don't have as much theologoical problems with it becuase we expect less from God.

This way of response permits us to acknowledge tragedy in all its darkness, but it forbids us to yield to a sense of helplessness and despair. Too bad. G-d helps those who are helpless themselves.

I'm not sure whether you're being dleiberately blockheaded or whether your community is so clueless that you refuse to do what is needed to help yourself.

And that’s why some of us liberal Jews will be in shul this Tisha B’Av. Shul? As you see no need for the rebuilding of a Temple in Jerusalem I'd always thought you referred to your theatres for performance art as temples

Reform aren't mourning the loss of the Holy Barbecue, thy're mourning the death and destruction. As for the "performance art," maybe you need to llo and see what goes on at your average O shul before you get too critical. Besides, you on;'t know what goes on inside the heads of the Reform worshipers, They could find the ritual spiritually uplifting, just the way the guys in the row behind me at the Orthodox shteeble find talking about baseball and the stock market during the amidah to be spiritually uplifting.

May God comfort us all among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. Amen. Unfortunately you don't mourn for Zion and Jerusalem. After all THAT would equate to surrendering to hopelessness and despair. Instead you mourn Utopia and Robert F. Kennedy.

Huh? Do you really think that mourning is all about hoplessness and depair? Talk abour "performance art!" I'd sure hate to ever come to your shiva house. When I have one, while we're sad, we are a wee bit more optomistic about the prospects for the future than you imply you are.

Qedusha-Havdala....have you had yours today?

Qedusha? We don't need no steenkin' Qedusha! (or even "kedushah")