Voices from Russia

Friday, 24 April 2015

For Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, Faith Was Life… and Life Was Act of Faith

00 Rosh Hashanah. Jewish New Year. 5774. 20013. 05.09.13



One thing that distresses me is the level of hate amongst some otherwise good Russian people. I despise and oppose bias of any sort… be it racism, be it anti-Semitism, be it White Supremacy, be it integral nationalism (the ideology behind Galician Uniate fascist nationalism), be it American Exceptionalism. ALL are evil (and not only these are demonic, I simply don’t have the space for a full listing). I stand with my Jewish colleagues in mourning Rav Lichtenstein… he was a force for good, and there’s damned little enough of that out there.

May HaShem’s countenance shine upon his family, his friends, and his students. May they follow his shining example.



I remember Rav Aharon Lichtenstein often retelling the passage from the Talmud of Rav Yochanan ben Zakai’s death. The sage’s students surrounded him on his deathbed and asked for a blessing. Rav Yochanan’s odd response is this, “May you fear God as much as you fear man”. The students asked, “Shouldn’t we fear God much more?” Rav Yochanan replied, “If only that much. After all, God sees all sins; and yet a sinner’s first thought is, ‘I hope no man sees me’”.

Sometime in my time at Yeshivat Har Etzion, the yeshiva that Rav Aharon co-led from 1971 until his retirement in 2008, it dawned on me just how much this episode guided his life. For Rav Aharon, who died 20 April at the age of 81, a life of God was not a lofty journey to the unknown. It was, in a way, an act of much greater faith. It was perceiving God in our real world, and living a religious existence as real as your tangible one. Therefore, he demanded we pay as much heed to our religious duties as we would, later, to our employers. He spoke of the Days of Awe as stressful, as you would speak of a stressful job. When ultra-Orthodox circles viewed military duty as a spiritual degradation, Rav Lichtenstein viewed Israeli service military as something pragmatically spiritual… it’s a chesed, he wrote, the kindness of protecting your fellow Jew. Religious life is real, real life is religious.

This groundedness guided Rav Aharon’s religious humanity. After Jews decimated a mosque in an Arab village, Rav Lichtenstein joined a small delegation of rabbis delivering Korans to that Muslim community. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Rav Aharon called the mosque’s destruction “frightful… terrible both morally and religiously”. In a lengthy argument against rabbis forbidding the sale of Jewish homes to Arabs in Israel, as some prominent rabbis had called for, Rav Aharon wrote, “We… remain committed to our belief and desire ‘to proclaim that God is upright, my rock in whom there is no wrong’”. For Rav Aharon, to be religious started with being moral; to be Godlike was to bear deep respect for the others around you. He extended that respect to Jews as well. Rav Aharon disagreed sharply with Haredi circles on several fronts… to name a few, his belief in secular study as a religious opportunity (he held a PhD in English literature from Harvard); his belief that traditionally-observant soldiers should fight in the Israeli army; his firm belief that women should study Talmud at the same level of scholarship as men (Yeshiva Har Etzion’s sister institution, Migdal Oz, embodied that premise). Yet, Rav Aharon was quick to speak highly of the earnestness of the Haredi lifestyle and of the brilliant thinking that it produced.

In his straightforwardness, Rav Aharon saw obligations as obvious, as the default way of living life. When once asked how he had time to study with his own children, Rav Aharon (in his words) looked at the questioner as if the man had fallen from the moon. He told us, his students, that diaspora Jews should assume they’re emigrating to Israel, barring a compelling reason not to (for his part, he emigrated to Israel in 1971 when he assumed his role in Yeshivat Har Etzion). He asked us to assume we would go on to be Jewish educators, unless there was a compelling reason not to. That straightforwardness, I think, also coloured his renowned Talmudic genius. (A child prodigy, Rav Aharon studied under the towering Rav Yitzchok Hutner through his early teenage years, and then went on to become the chief disciple (and son-in-law) of HaRav Yosef Soloveitchik). Rav Aharon’s actual analysis of the Talmud, his innovation, was incredibly simple… he’d ask, over and over, how many ways we could view a single legal idea; then, he’d align hundreds of years of Jewish thought with one of these perspectives. From simplicity, an elegant wholeness.

With Rav Lichtenstein’s passing, we’ve lost one of the greatest models for bringing God on earth. That’s a tremendous loss. We’re Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai’s students, hoping for that blessing again.

23 April 2015

Abe Mezrich

Jewish Daily Forward



My attitude to Orthodox Christianity is much the same as Rav Lichenstein’s attitude to Orthodox Judaism. That is, we embrace modernity in the context of Tradition… we don’t embrace Tradition in the context of modernity. The Tradition lives as it always lived (as it shall live, as my observation of the younger generation shows me)… it itself is changeless, yet, its cultural and material context is in constant flux. You can’t “freeze” time as some Hasidic Jews and “Traditional” Orthodox Christians attempt to do. Life IS motion… that’s its very nature. Whether you drive an oxcart, an automobile, or a Lunar Rover, the principles behind it all remain the same. Yes, I’m for “Modern Orthodoxy”… if it refuses to attend to reality, it isn’t Orthodox… if it refuses to attend to the Tradition, we won’t see the reality aright. There is always tension in genuineness… if there isn’t any, we’re living a lie, and that’s that.


Sunday, 24 November 2013

24 November 2013. A Point to Ponder… Here’s a Parallel from Judaism We should Heed

00 Koshevskaya Cossack Icon of the Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God


Here’s a snippet from a longer article that applies to Orthodox Christianity in spades:

However, a deeper issue also underlies the battle concerning “Open Orthodoxy”, and that’s the question of inclusivity versus exclusivity. Orthodoxy’s growth over the past half-century has relied on, like Protestant evangelicalism, an inclusive model. Seeking to compete with liberal Jewish movements, Orthodoxy stretched its big tent to embrace Modern Orthodoxy, Chabad, the “yeshivish” Orthodox, and the Hasidic enclaves, like Satmar. Plenty of bickering took place internally, but for the most part Orthodoxy’s major wings learned from the bitter experience of earlier decades that peaceful cooperation would serve all of them better than open warfare would. The calamitous decline suffered by the Conservative movement when the Reconstructionists on the left and the traditionalists on the right angrily abandoned that movement’s big tent served as an object lesson as to why it was so important for inclusivity to be preserved.

http://forward.com/ar ticles/187039/why-is-orthodoxy-packing-up-big-tent/?p=2


Beware all purists, but beware konvertsy purists, in particular. We need a united Russian Orthodox Church here, and that does trump everything else. All those who wish to have calendar fights or squabble over this or that piece of liturgical minutiae can most sincerely shut the fuck up. All those with oddbod political and social notions should put a rag in it, the sooner, the better. Beware all those who talk of “purity”… all too often, it’s a smokescreen for exclusivity. You don’t have to wave a placard for a “cause” to be Russian Orthodox… you just have to be a believer.

There are enough parishes in this country, with enough space between them, to keep the peace. Let’s celebrate what we hold in common! What a concept!



Saturday, 31 August 2013

31 August 2013. Taking a Stand… Retracting It Under Pressure… What NOT to Do

00 cowardly lion. 31.08.13


Rav Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, said the following in 2011:

The consumer society was laid down by the late Steve Jobs coming down the mountain with two tablets, iPad one and iPad two, and the result is that we now have a culture of iPod, iPhone, iTune, i, i, i. When you’re an individualist, egocentric culture and you only care about ‘I’, you don’t do terribly well.

In a later statement, the Chief Rabbi’s office said:

The Chief Rabbi meant no criticism of either Steve Jobs personally or the contribution Apple has made to the development of technology in the 21st century.

Methinks that lawyers for Apple threatened Rav Sacks with a lawsuit (or big-time contributors held the lumber over him, which amounts to the same thing). The Cupertino Commandoes ARE that arrogant (so are big contributors). Rav Sacks should’ve stood his ground… his retraction nullified what was a perfectly-apt and spot-on observation. Isn’t there any courage and grit left today? One does wonder…


Gay People Should Feel At “Home” In Orthodox Synagogues, Says New Chief Rabbi

00 Rav Ephraim Mirvis. 30.08.13


Editor’s Foreword:

By the way, the moral theology of Orthodox Judaism (especially, Modern Orthodox Judaism) and Orthodox Christianity are very similar. Of course, since “our Lord Christ lived and died a believing Jew” (as a Greek country pappas put it in World War II) that isn’t surprising. The positions on homosexuality, same-sex marriage, female ordination, and gender roles expressed below are IDENTICAL to those of the Church. Ponder that.



Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who’ll be inducted formally as successor to Lord Sacks as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth at a ceremony on Sunday, also welcomed moves to give women a greater role, but ruled out allowing them to become rabbis. He said that he wanted to “strive for equality” but not “uniformity” in his role as the most senior Orthodox rabbi in the Commonwealth. On Sunday, the Prince of Wales will take his place among more than 1,000 guests at St John’s Wood Synagogue in North London as Rav Mirvis is installed as the most senior figure in the United Synagogue, the largest Jewish religious  body in the UK. He will be only the 11th holder of the office in more than 300 years… a period which has seen well over 50 Prime Ministers come and go.

Rabbis in the Liberal and Reform movements are amongst those at the forefront of the campaign for same-sex marriage. However, Rav Mirvis signalled that the United Synagogue would retain its traditionalist stance and opt out, in common with most Christian churches and all mosques, when gay marriage becomes law next year, saying, “We have a clear Biblical definition of marriage which is the union of one man and one woman, and through that, we value traditional family life, but I’d like to reiterate our genuine sentiment to every single Jewish man and woman… you have a home in our synagogue and we’ll make you feel comfortable regardless of who you are”. Asked, during a BBC interview, whether he was “out of step with modern society”, he said, “Equality is what we strive for, but when we talk about equality it isn’t uniformity. When we talk, for example, of men and women and the opportunity within synagogues and within community life, there are clear roles that different people can play and in that way each of us can achieve his or her own amazing potential”.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, a prominent figure in the liberal-leaning Reform movement, urged Rav Mirvis to break with tradition and abandon the title of Chief Rabbi as a symbol of reconciliation with the growing Progressive congregations. Now, Progressive synagogues account for around a third of all Jewish congregations in mainland Britain, but Rav Mirvis has already declined to break with tradition and visit one… although he insisted he wanted to work closely with non-Orthodox rabbis. Rav Romain said, “The Jonathan Sacks years were marked not only by his prominent contribution to wider society, but also by much internal division and controversy. Hope of rapprochement have already been dashed in advance by Rabbi Mirvis stating that he won’t enter a non-Orthodox synagogue. The refusal to even step inside a Reform synagogue makes it clear that he’s in no position to represent all British Jews. Rabbi Mirvis should, therefore, abandon the title of Chief Rabbi… once appropriate, but no longer so… and adopt a more accurate title, such as Senior Orthodox Rabbi”.

30 August 2013

John Bingham

The Telegraph


Editor’s Afterword:

Firstly, the Church condemns anti-Semitism in no uncertain terms; it’s position on that is that of St Ioann Kronshtadtsky, not that of the Black Hundreds. We understand (and value) our spiritual descent from the People of the Old Covenant. Secondly, the Church doesn’t excommunicate or shun homosexuals. It takes the Middle Path, as St John Chrysostom put it. It rejects same-sex marriage, but it opens its hands to homosexuals. Fr Vsevolod Chaplin (no Renovationist or “liberal” he) has written that he’s heard the confessions of homosexuals. Yes, homosexuality is a sin, but it’s NOT the worst sin. Konvertsy err when they think that we ape the sectarian “Evangelicals“. We don’t… the Church’s nuanced position satisfies neither the Extreme Right or the Extreme Left. As I wrote in the Foreword, the Church’s position and that of Orthodox Judaism on morals are very close, indeed. Reflect on this… Our Lord Christ “disappointed” many whilst He was alive, so, does it surprise you that the same is true of the Church that He founded? That’s a worthy meditation…


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