Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More G-d Stuff

I don't follow this one regularly, but I do pop in from time to time. This post got my attention, most notably, this paragraph:

"We are all afraid of Judaism becoming irrelevant. But we are afraid for different reasons, and our hearts sing in different ways. I have a place for feeling in my heart. I have a place for the Hasidism which sings such feeling and makes it true. It is in the way they sing and dance, as Professor Malter told his son. The scholarly world of academia cannot quite sing and dance like that. And as for me, there is something of that lightness in me, something that I would like to retain, that I cannot give up. I will not give it up."

This is my Chabbad background coming up again. (Just out of curiosity, how many of my readers, excluding Nemo, Yoni, and the Sabra, have learned hard core Chabbad Torah? I'm just curious, it would be cool if I could get a head count.) When Chabbad originally got started as a Chassidic movement, it had a mission statement: to combine Litvishe lomdus with all the emotional transcendence of Chassidut. As anyone who's actually been inside a Chabbad community long enough to be able to get at some actual Chabbad Torah knows, this is exactly what they accomplished. The Rebbe's sichot are intensely logical arguments, mostly between the Rambam and the Rashba, and half of Tanya is basically gemarrah. But yet it's mixed with a healthy dose of the Zohar, and laden with niggunim, and back lit by fantastic stories that make up almost as much of our heritage as the rest of it.

It wasn't until I left Chabbad that I realized how many Jews do not mix these approaches. Mainstream trend seems to be, either you're spiritual, or you're logical. The two don't mix. Now I understand that there are lots of people who just can't get into the spiritualism thing. It can get pretty hokey, I'll admit. And I can understand that there are people who basically thrive on air- on love and energy and the food of the spirit, and can't wrap their head around a halachik argument for the life of them. And I don't have a problem with the fact that there are people who can only really do one and not the other. But this puts me in a bit of a pickle.

See, the line between the rational and the spiritual is so stark, the divisions are so black and white, that it takes people a while to realize that the two can in fact intermingle. That a person can reach a truly spiritually transcending moment when learning a daf gemarrah, or a perek of Rambam, or even the kitzur shulchan aruch. The intellectual workings of the mind have always been intensely spiritual for me, and extremely emotionally uplifting. I connect to everything through my mind, so of course that's how I would connect to G-d and Judaism. But this connection is such a spiritual thing. I can't seperate the two no matter how hard I try.

And that's perhaps why I'vebeen having issues lately. See, when your connection to Judaism is all about nostalgia and community and maintaining a cultural heritage, those are things you still connect to even when you don't believe. But when your love is for the text, and the text is found wanting, then where are you? Where is the connection then?

Don't get me wrong. I still love learning. And I don't think, by the way, that the faults in our texts are any faultier than the faults in everyone else's texts, and this gives a certain amount of defendable legitimacy. But the connection is not the same.

Anyway, the reason I brought the excerpt from Chana's post is because we are all afraid of Judaism becoming irrelevant. And clearly different people are having different reactions as to how to prevent this. And I am more than willing to dedicate my life to the re-birth of a rational, halachik Orthodox Judaism that is capable of existing, and being halachik, and orthodox, (and even rational!) without stifling the individuality, or the passion, or the intellect of almost anyone. And I think part of the way towards doing this is by showing others what Chabbad has shown me - that the intellectual and the spiritual do go together hand in hand, and that when this is done properly it is potentially the most fulfilling way of serving G-d.

The problem is - I really don't know that I can do it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

G-d and the Chicago Cubs

Everyone should go read this. Because I said so. Actually no, because she's an amazing writer, and I think she made a very interesting point, and did it well. It may or may not be known that I have at various points in my life, lived in Chicago; and since no Jew has actually lived on the South Side of Chicago since roughly the sixties, we're all Cubs fans. Except for the obstinate ones who shall not be named but you know who you are. (Midnight Otter, that one was for you and your family in case you missed it. Don't think I don't know where you live....)

I have always wanted to be one of those amazingly cool girls who know everything about sports. I know girls like this, and I think it's cool of them that they know stuff about sports. And don't get me wrong - I can appreciate a good sports game, be it baseball, football, basketball, and even on the very rare occasion soccer. (Golf is completely lost on me. It will never not be boring) And I am a loyal fan of all my local sports teams (the Sox don't count, they're all the way across the city) in a general, city loyalty kind of way. Chicagoans are nothing if not loyal to their sports teams. But try as I might, I really can't get up the interest to memorize stats and nuances and famous plays made by various players. If I were being honest, I couldn't even name you more than two or three of the Cubs. And though yes, it disappoints me every year when the Cubs foul up again, I know better than to get too invested in it to begin with.

My brothers, on the other hand, are a different story. They are true fans. Not only do they know every stat and every play by play, and every trade, everything as it happens, but they follow the baseball season like a second religion. My Mom mentioned something to one of them about I don't even know who it was, I think it might have been the Red Sox, after the Cubs threw the playoffs, and my brother said "Why are we talking about baseball? The baseball season is over." For my brothers, it's over when it's over for the Cubs.

I mention this because even though I'm not a hard core Cubs fan, I know what hardcore Cubs fans are like. And they are a lot like religious zealots. First of all, there's the zealotry. The irrational belief in and hope for a redemption. The cultishness. And perhaps most of all, the beautiful sense of hope at the beginning of every new season, and the warmth of unity and brotherhood shared with at least half a city, just for being a Cubs fan. It's a pretty powerful thing.

Anyway, I was just recently home for the chagim, or part of them. In the course of my visit, I met up with some old and very precious friends. One of them is a long time respected teacher and mentor of mine, and we got into a heated conversation that didn't really go anywhere. The thing was, I knew exactly why it didn't go anywhere, and I couldn't bring myself to introduce the main point of disagreement, the point that would move it forward.

I don't really remember how the conversation got started exactly, but somehow I brought up certain events that occurred in the Beit Shemesh area in the last couple of years. My point was that these occurrences were actually approved by religious leaders, who seemed to be saying that Judaism believes that what these people were doing was halachically sanctioned and not only permissible but correct. Now I don't know about the rest of you, but nowhere have I ever read that it is halachically permissible to harass frum people (or anyone else for that matter, but mind you these people aren't exactly breaking shabbat or anything) because of the way they are dressed. I don't mean low necklines, tank tops, and short-shorts. I mean a kippa srugah, and maybe the mother doesn't cover her hair completely. Anyway, the long and short of it is, the argument my Rebbetzin was making (and she is, by the way, a legitimate Rebbetzin) was that leading a community is incredibly complicated and difficult, and that what the community leader really means or says is very often distorted by others for their own purposes. And that further there are good people and bad people in every community. And these points are of course not only valid but extremely important, and I submit to her superior wisdom and experience in that area. But it had never been a point I disagreed with, and it wasn't the point that was bothering me now. What was bothering me now, and what I could not bring up, was that it wasn't the people I was worried about - it was G-d.

Because no matter how many good people there are in the world, and no matter how many crummy people, and no matter what good or evil who may have done to whom, I cannot help a growing sensation that it matters very little in the end. I think we may end up all equally screwed, and I don't think that it's a license to be evil. I just makes me sad to think of all the people who go to so much effort and have so much faith and are still going to get screwed over in the end. G-d may have a plan that factors us all in, but He's had plans for others before us, people who were ten times as blameless and did ten times as much good, and they weren't happy plans. I know that this sounds like a very typical tzadik virah lo kind of situation but I'm not buying it right now. It's not that I think it's not true exactly, but it's just.... not that relevant somehow. It's too small to answer the question. Like so many Jewish arguments.

Anyway, to get back to the Cubs. I think believing in the Cubs is a little like believing in G-d. And the Messiah metaphor might be more apt, but this one feels relevant too. Every year we hope in the Cubs and every year they let us down. So many people put their trust in G-d and then get slapped in the face for it. But the kicker is, just like Cubs fans, they still come back for another season! No matter how many times it happens, they just keep believing in G-d and trusting in Him. It's like my friend the Rogue Unicorn said - we can't help it. It's in our blood.

And I still can't decide if that's beautiful or just achingly heartbreakingly sad.