Thursday, December 03, 2009

The importance of theology

It's funny, a few weeks back I (experiencing a sudden lack of judgement) engaged in an argument with a guy name Moshe and some others on XGH's blog, who were trying to argue that the concept of Revelation at Sinai was not a critical belief in Orthodox Judaism.

One of the things they flung at me was - "Theology is not a big deal in Orthodox Judaism. It's what you do that matters, not what you believe. What are you, a Christian?"

So, today I run across this BT Lubavitch Rabbi who is arguing that we need to get back to theology.

The problem is, though he is pictured in front of an impressive bookshelf, his answers in this interview barely seem to hold together... I hope that it was poor editing on the part of the Jewish Press...


Blogger Izgad said...

Moses Mendelssohn famously argued that Judaism has no dogmas. It seems to people like Marc Shapiro are trying to go that route. It is helpful for those who consider themselves practicing Jews, but do not necessarily fit in the traditional notions of belief.
Personally I consider it a lot more important to believe that God is not physical and that praying to rebbes is forbidden. I am not about to even begin the conversation of Torah m’Sinai until Haredi ideology has been erased from the Jewish scene.

December 03, 2009 4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dunno. I kinda liked the interview. Shame he's a fundie.

December 04, 2009 8:40 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

What did you like about it?

December 04, 2009 8:58 AM  
Blogger evanstonjew said...

There is a third possibility that makes sense to me. OJ might be able to function without an emphasis on theology, but it does need an ideology. We desperately need some narrative and guiding principles that would intergrate various themes, mitzot, the Jewish people, the Jewish State, the role of Jewish culture.At present, the Jewish people are stumble through history with a zillion rabbis and no intellectual leadership.

December 06, 2009 12:02 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


What about religious zionism? That seems to cover the bulk of RWCJ/LWMO/RWMO and some others?

December 06, 2009 1:18 PM  
Blogger evanstonjew said...

My problem with RZ is political. They support the occupation and ethnic cleansing. If things will not go their way they will fight against the state and the democratic majority. Slowly but surely they are embracing fascism.

December 07, 2009 7:18 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Well, you didn't say that the ideology had to be one that you personally had no problems with :)

You specifically said that OJ needs an ideology. I would agree that non-OJ may have a problem with RZ, but outside of a few like yourself, isn't it the case that RZ seems to fit most of the criteria you outlined?

Offtopic, I was following up on your comment about "Lucian being the key to the Talmud" - I read Boyarin's article re Bakhtin and grotesque body rabbis, but I really don't get why this is important...

December 07, 2009 7:43 AM  
Blogger evanstonjew said...

On the Boyarin book...the question is why does the talmud juxtapose serious halachic discussions with the agadah parts which are all over the place in feeling tone. Are they using these stories to frame the halachot in some way and if so why and how? Fat rabbis and their sexual prowess is an impressive example but the issue is much broader. I think the question is important, especially if it comes with an interesting answer.

Yes I agree with you, RZ ideology works well for right of center RZ, especially those who have made aliyah. But there are many other groups including 12 million diaspora Jews. The blogger Chardal said that outside Israel there are only two stable solutions, religios fanaticism and intermarriage. I pointed out fanaticism was doing pretty well in Israel as would intermarriage if only there were more non Jewish women. Kidding aside, the issue of how to frame a compelling story for postmodern Jews is a problem that troubles many with few solutions in sight.

December 08, 2009 9:20 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

>I think the question is important, especially if it comes with an interesting answer.

Not sure what you mean by "important". I cannot imagine that whatever answer is arrived at would be accepted by any major stream of halachic Judaism. So, there may be a couple of hundred scholars at most who would find it interesting, as well as some fringe elements like us.

In terms of ideology, once again, I got lost, because originally I understood you to mean that OJ lacks a cohesive ideology. This would exclude most of the 12 million you mention.

But if I misunderstood you and you meant that the entire population of Jews needs an ideology, then you're right, RZ is inadequate.

Of course, my personal view of Jewish history is probably best titled "Shearis ha-Pleitah". There are periods of time when Jews encounter other cultures which have low barrier of assimilation. In those times, a majority of Jews assimilates and drops out of the fold. The remainder, usually the most conservative, withdraws and grows in isolation until the next period, when the cycle repeats itself. So my belief is that you will not find an ideology which unites everyone because for the majority of Jews, they are no longer seeking such an ideology. And for the conservative kernels, they are already happy with their own ideology and are not looking to unite.

My $.02

December 08, 2009 9:32 AM  
Blogger evanstonjew said...

We basically are in agreement about Boyarin. In this regard see the blog NotBrisk Yeshivish yesterday and today, where I and the learned savant M.F. Macdowell from 'On the Main Line' were hung, drawn and quartered for saying what seemed fairly mild stuff. The incident also confirms your second point.

Have you noticed how so many bloggers in this space act like gedolim leading little movements...they morph into a moetzet gedolei hatoral all their own. LOL.

December 08, 2009 2:50 PM  

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