Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Screw Coherence

someone wrote in the comments on a blog that I recently read that they "know there's a lot that they don't know but at least they know what it is they don't know." paraphrased. I'd like to expound on that. I know so little that I don't know the extent of what it is that I don't know. I never will. I have always been told that this is what it means to be human, bc humans can't know everything. we don't have the time, most of us don't have the mental capacity to retain all that information, plus a lot of it is really useless stuff like what couch lint smells like, or what the random rice-patty worker in China ate for breakfast yesterday, or who decided to create different types of paper-clips in new and interesting shapes. there is a lot of actually useful and interesting stuff that I also don't know, and which might be helpful in my search for the original breakthrough idea that finally takes existential discussions onto a new plane. but all this stuff I keep reading keeps bringing me to the same old "so.....what?" conclusions.
I'm sorry for being repetitive, bc I know I've said all this already, and I apologize for the fact that none of this is even vaguely understandable bc I'm not going to explain where any of it is coming from. but G-d damn it people! must the ideas always go around and around and around in the same old tired circles again and again and again? can't anyone pick up where someone else left off and break forth into a new concept? I mean, I know I shouldn't be the one to talk bc I haven't exactly been that productive myself, but I am trying.
meanwhile the integral cohesive unity of the universe is buzzing just beyond my reach. I've done a decent amount of searching for new dots to connect, and I've come up with a whole bunch of good ones, now I'm just waiting to draw the squiggly lines in place but meanwhile I'm getting a little fed up.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


it's funny. in America, the debate rages wildly - should we really celebrate Thanksgiving along with the rest of the country? Of course we're grateful to America for allowing us to live in peace, for alowing us to excel and live happy, comfortable, Torah-observant lives. Of course we're thankful to G-d for this. but do we really have to take the one day the rest of the country has declared as its holiday, and eat the turkey, cranberry sauce, etc - just like the goyim? Can't we just be thankful every day, and go about our business on this day as if nothing unusual is going on, like we do on Christmas? after all, we are supposed to keep ourselves seperate. adopting the minhagim of the other nations isn't warmly recommended.
I've heard lots of reasonable arguments against this position. my favorite came in a Thanksgiving dinner dvar Torah; why do we get up and say the modim dirabanan with the shliach tsibur during chazarat hashas? bc when we hear anybody praising G-d's name, we have an obligation to jump up and join in that praise. so too on Thanksgiving, when we hear the whole country praising G-d, we have an obligation to join in and praise Him as well.
when you move to another country however, the holiday takes on a whole new meaning. it's ridiculous how many Americans in Israel go out of their way to celebrate Thanksgiving. the best resturaunts are booked for months, tourism is on a high ( bc of all the American families who take advantage of the long weekend to come visit their kids who are in yeshiva or seminary), grocery stores run out of pie shells and cranberry sauce, and it isn't too difficult to find a random get together of expatriates gathered around a turkey. and all the way over seas, the debate changes. the question of it's being frowned upon for doing as the goyim do is no longer relevant since no one is doing it but people like us. many are indifferent to it, or even happy that they forgot - it's a symbol of no longer living in a society not your own.
but I think actually there's a certain amount of importance for American olim to remember the day. yes we are finally home, thank G-d, and we should never know another strange culture. but it's good to remember the roots. what it felt like to be a stranger. keep a certain amount of humility for the fact that after all, it was at least partly America that allowed you to be here in the first place. of course it's all G-d's doing. but the process, the journey, is a tremendously important part of who we are and why we're here. it would be a good thing not to forget that.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Brother's Keeper

So, at the moment I'm suffering from an intense and angry attack on my throat, otherwise known as strep. this particular strain of mine is so fiercely painful that I cannot sleep unless drugged on some 1600 mg of Ibeprofen or something similar. so as I wait for the drugs to kick in so I can finally fall asleep, I thought, what better way to kill time than to blog?
There was a rally in jerusalem for Darfur this wasn't as big as they'd hoped for, and got little to no press at all, which was kind of the point. anyway, people have been talking about it a lot these last few days, so it's been on my mind.
I was in Chevron this past shabbat, (Chaya Sorah) which was amazing, and while we were there (we were with a Betar group) we heard various talks about Chevron and the importance of conquering the land. and this one guy who was speaking made a couple of points that bothered me. He was talking about how when community leaders tried to go and onvince FDR to let the St. Louis in, and how FDR told them "not to make this a Jewish war." and from then on, he claims, silence from American Jewry. But you look twenty years ahead, and who's marching and getting killed alongside the blacks in the battles of the civil rights movement? look around any American Jewish high school today, and what are they all doing? fundraising and public awareness about Darfur.
I think his point was something along the lines of, Jews stick up for the underdog only when it doesn't directly affect our comfortable living situations; let's not turn America into the next Germany, so we need to keep a low profile.
but he neglected several important points. firstly, American Jewry didn't exactly sit back and do nothing. It's true they were prevented by the American government from doing as much as they'd have liked to. that wasn't for lack of trying, nor was it our fault. when the President tells you he's not going to do anything for you - or when he simply refuses to meet with you entirely - there isn't a whole lot you can do from there, you know? "The buck stops here," remember?
second point; both the civil rights movement and Darfur came post- Holacaust. bc G-d forbid we should actually learn somehting from being persecuted all our lives, such as, I don't know, it shouldn't be done. or allowed to be done. Never again didn't just apply to us as victims; it also applied to us as bystanders. we vowed not to be those people who simply didn't get involved bc it wasn't us. that was something of the point.
thirdly, he ignored a few other things; for example, how many Jews protested when the Turks were genociding the Armenians? I was too young to remmeber but I never heard about anyone protesting violently on their behalf. so I guess maybe we do pick and choose our battles a bit.
and then, what about the Jews of Soviet Russia? was this man aware of how many Jews risked their lives by smuggling themselves into that country for the sake of rescuing and teaching the Russian Jews? or smuggling Russina Jews out from behind the Iron curtain? so maybe occasionally, we do stand up for ourselves as a people, even when it is a little uncomfortable.
none of these things were really the point of his talk which is why I let the issue go for the time being. but this is my point about Darfur. we have a responsibility, as a a light unto the nations, as victims of genocide, as people who are supposed to be spreading a message of love for our fellow man which is, after all, at least according to Hillel and Rabbi Akiva, the heart and soul and crux of the Torah.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

So The Truth Is....

This was at least in theory supposed to be a coherent, thoughtful, insightful sort of a post. I don't want to be repetitive, or redundant, or, you know, to say the same thing over and over again in different words. But the fact is, this one is sill percolating, and I think it's going to be for awhile.

Okay, here's the thing. First of all, I'm going to give a little bit of background. I went to a Chabbad elementary school, and my family isn't Chabbad. So from the beginning of my thinking career, I've been trained to not buy everything I was told in school. Or, by anyone for that matter, given the fact that arguing is one of my family's favorite pastimes, and it's difficult to argue and yet agree with people at the same time. (although, being Jewish, we still manage.) It's also where I learned to argue in class in order to focus my attention; and in focusing my attention, I learned to love learning. And Torah. (Chabbad, just for anyone who doesn't know, learn some crazy cool Torah.)
For high school, my mother forbade me going to Chabbad, for various very justified reasons. So I went to a Bais Yaakov, a hashkafa that sees many things sort of the opposite from the way Chabbad sees them. It was kind of a culture shock, spiritually and intellectually. My experiences at this high school were largely enjoyable, mainly because I found a group of similarly minded Zionist-intellectual kofrim, and we stuck together. But again, the only way to focus was to argue, which the school made all too easy for me to do anyway, since I disagreed with them on many many things.
From here I spent two years in a modern orthodox seminary, again very very different from Bais Yaakov, and Chabbad. Here I spent less time arguing in classes and more time formulating foundations for building a life philosophy. Which happened also through arguing but...about different stuff this time. Mostly politics.

Here's the point. I've spent my entire life viewing things from different perspectives, then turning these perspectives on their heads and shaking them for spare change. I'm still not done figuring things out, I don't think there's a point where you're supposed to have figured everything out...but I've been doing some slow slow thinking lately. I've started turning new ideas inside out, and finding that there might be merit in some of them, but after all my experience with turning things inside out here's the only concrete thing that I've discovered; the fact that an idea has merit doesn't make it a whole truth. It makes it a piece of truth. There are lots of pieces of truth all over the place. (I've been collecting them for a collage to put on my wall.) But the fact that you found a new one doesn't mean that everything else you've learned or found before loses any of its truth.

Here's the thing about intellectual honesty. If an individual is being truly, gut honest with themselves, they'll be smart enough to realize that they'll probably never have enough pieces to make a whole picture. Which means that you can't come to a conclusion, because a conclusion is where the search ends, and the search never ends. There wouldn't be a point if it did. I used to think that the ultimate unification of everything in the universe made everything simple. I think now that it means everything is more complicated than we like to give it credit for.

This isn't really meant to be particularly groundbreaking stuff. At least it isn't for me. I guess I just needed to reiterate to remind myself why I never take any idea for granted.

Monday, November 06, 2006


so....I've been thinking about writing a serious post for awhile now. but....I guess the thought process is still thought-processing. you know how sometimes you mull things over and over and over again, trying to break new ground but still moving in the same endless circles? and then it starts going foggy round the edges of your brain until everything looks sort of dim and murky and you're not sure what the thoughts themselves are anymore? so, that's where I am. which is frustrating bc my brain is doing the work, but the results are minimal. this is the annoying bit of the process; the bit where I get stuck. getting stuck is not a good thing, that way lies discouragement. but I'm no longer in an environment where this line of thought grows naturally. that seems ironic for one in a university setting, but I suppose I'm not using my resources properly. rather, I know I'm not. I need more information. I'm stagnating. so, still working on the real post, but in the meantime, any new thoughts on truth anyone?