Friday, November 30, 2007

Letter to Aaron re: Reform, & tolerance of others observance.

Over medium.
I think that generally one must be sensitive to others' practices. But there has to be room for criticism. There are many ways to make eggs. I think that any genuine attempt to connect to Hashem is valid. However, one can make the argument that there are better ways of doing something. I'll give you an example. I know many musicians. Some I've heard do their thing with total kavanah and focus. But the product is not that great. On the one hand they are putting their all into it. So that's great. It's saying more than the person who is on stage, doing it by heart without any personal investment. So on that level it is superior. There's a great story of the Bal Shem Tov who of course was a great tzadik. He was traveling past a small house where a simple Jew lived. The simple man noticed the Bal Shem Tov passing by and rushed out to meet him. Recognizing that he was a learned man, the simple man asked the Bal Shem Tov to show him the proper places to pray in the siddur. The Bal Shem Tov asked what he was currently praying. Not knowing anything, he said he starts at the beginning and just reads through to the end. The Bal Shem Tov honored his request and showed him the places to daven, where to stop, where to start again, marking the pages with little pieces of paper. When it was time for the Bal Shem Tov to move on, the man, siddur in hand, walked him outside thanking him profusely. The Bal Shem Tov was not quite out of sight when a strong wind came, it caught the pages of the siddur and blew the pieces out! The man was horrified - he screamed after the Bal Shem Tov who was by a stream and couldn't hear him. He took out a handkerchief and placed it on the water, stepped onto it and glided across. He continued a way until he heard the simple man screaming for him to stop from the other side of the river. The Bal Shem Tov watched as the simple man took a handkerchief out, placed it the water, stepped onto it and glided across. Finally reaching the Bal Shem Tov, he explained what had happened. The Bal Shem Tov asked "How did you do that?", "Do what?" asked the man. "How did you glide across the river on your handkerchief?" "I saw you take yours out, put it on the water and step onto it, so I took mine out and put it on the water and stepped on it as well." The Bal Shem Tov said "Go back to the way you were davening."

So it's clear that not everyone's avodah is the same. But the question is: is there a way a Jew should live. Reform, Conservative and Orthodox all say yes. Any Reform rabbi would tell a secular Jew that there are things he or she should or should not do according to their religion. What those dos and don'ts are, are debated, but there's no question that each has clearly defined restrictions and promotions.

What I am critical of is the fact that those restrictions and promotions changed, when they didn't have to - when they should not have. And I think there's tremendous spiritual value in that way of observing. I expect that Judaism adapts, but my criticism is that the Reform movement started a kind of adaptation that was more for the sake of earth than for heaven. I don't mean that they are bad, or that their intentions were bad - but they were and continue to base their changes on social developments and pressures. For instance, the Torah clearly prohibits a Jew from eating shrimp. When the Reform movement hosted a dinner in which shrimp was on the menu, there was a raucous. Why? Because it defined clearly that the Reform movement was not making changes because the changes were necessary - but because they had deemed much of Jewish practice as valueless.

Wikipedia states that the reform movement "challenged many traditionalist Jewish doctrines, adapted or eliminated practices, and introduced its own theological and communal innovations."
My contention is that it shouldn't have.

The motivation for the creation of the movement was to preserve Judaism. But it was a knee jerk reaction which ultimately created a movement which I feel extracts meaningful, deeply important doctrines, beliefs and practices in the name of progress and modernity, leaving Judaism far, far removed from what it once was and should be. It's good that these young Jews are gathering to observe shabbat in their way - I mean it - but they're doing it because their watered down versions of Judaism have failed them. Their doing it for the same reason I have become more observant. The number of Orthodox Jews who are finding their way there due to overly restrictive orthodoxy, I feel confident saying, pales in comparison to the number of Jews who have been let down by their reform and conservative due to lack of depth and in many cases empty practice.

It would have been amazing if all the cousins stayed at aunt Julies and observed an orthodox shabbat. There would have been many of those instances where we'd all pile on top of one another and just talked, played games... talked! It's something I missed this time around, because there were too many distractions. Shabbat binds family and community together in that way. So for me it's not about being tolerant of the other sects in the same way I'm tolerant of other religions. I hope I've made it clear that I am. But I'm comfortable saying I think it would be better for Jews if we'd all practice the way we did prior to the reform movement.


-----Original Message-----
From: Aaron
To: David Kopp
Sent: Fri, 30 Nov 2007 9:20 am
Subject: Re: shalom

acceptance that this is a viable and legitimate alternative, even if its not one that you personally believe in

to me (and this is no comment on you, but on "orthodox" religions in general) this insistence that "my way is the only right/correct way" is very childish. What's the right way to make eggs?

On Nov 30, 2007 12:16 PM, David Kopp wrote:
K now define "tolerance" and I'll see if I can explain why I do or don't have it.

-----Original Message-----
From: Aaron
To: David Kopp <>
Sent: Fri, 30 Nov 2007 9:09 am
Subject: Re: shalom

nontraditional practices? reform, conservative, any other stream of judaism

On Nov 30, 2007 11:47 AM, David Kopp <> wrote:
mmmmmm eggies!

I'm going there in a tanktop and thong, but I'm bringing a bowl, flour and a whisk. Wanna join me with a skillet and hotplate?

By the way, what other nontraditional practices?

-----Original Message-----
From: Aaron
To: David Kopp <>
Sent: Fri, 30 Nov 2007 7:32 am
Subject: Re: shalom

I love what you wrote. I wish you would apply the same tolerance to acceptance of other nontraditional practices.

Speaking of traditional practices that we both love:

Ultra-Orthodox warn tourists away from Mea Shearim over Hanukkah
Mae Shearim (Israel Images) Local haredi extremists plan to attack tourists who traditionally flood ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods over the Hanukkah season by throwing eggs and dirty diapers at them. The Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim and the town of Beit Shemesh, which house thousands of strictly observant Jews, plan to enforce their edict beginning on Tuesday, the first day for lighting Hanukkah candles. Some 80 volunteers are ready to pelt curious, photo-snapping tourists who, according to members of the religious sect, often arrive immodestly dressed and disrupt their festivities. "I do not want my children to see such a thing. What do I live in Mea Shearim for?", one resident told Ynetnews.

On Nov 30, 2007 4:15 AM, David Kopp < > wrote:
"Unfortunately" you don't know me well enough to know what my answer would be! I don't think it's regrettable at all. It's not "so bad!" I mean, they're not going out to the movies for crying out loud - they're honoring Hashem and each other as Jews on Friday night! It's fantastic. Now, I happen to like a quiet shabbat, and happen to think there's something magical about that - it's really the same thing except for the guitar! Does Hashem love what they're doing, WITH the guitar? Yep! I believe so. Would Hashem like it more without the guitar? Maybe! It's certainly more meaningful to me that there's nobody playing an instrument at my services and all I hear are voices. But ultimately it doesn't really concern me. You know, I heard a religious woman made a really interesting point recently. She was a president of a chapter of N.O.W., still is a member - she was asked by a liberal friend of mine: Do you think it's sexist that a woman is not allowed to read from the Torah? Isn't that unfair to women? And she said: If a woman wants to read from the Torah - power to her. Let her go find a place where she can read. I don't want to, and I want to be respected for my decision not to. Tonight a religious woman said to me that there are things she doesn't want to be a part of - the running of the shul, the leading of the service - she expressed thanks that she didn't have to do all the things that men do because it frees her up to do the things she prefers to do, like take care of the kids. I don't fault women for wanting to read from the Torah - like Ali - I fault the ones that call Orthodox sexist because in that system women don't read from the Torah. And I don't fault any of those young Jews davening the way they do, but I do fault the ones that pass judgment on Orthodoxy because that's not OUR way. I happen to think that way is a better way - but you happen to think the other way is better. Since the qualifying factor is ones own experience, we are relatively in the same position. My only lament is that their way of paying tribute to Hashem is a modification of something that was always beautiful in the first place, and needed no modification. That's what so many of my BT friends have experienced - that silent shabbat. But bottom line, it doesn't bother me, and I'm glad they're doing it - I just wish (like everyone else) that they did and understood it my way!

-----Original Message-----
From: Aaron
To: David Kopp <>
Sent: Thu, 29 Nov 2007 3:01 pm
Subject: shalom

Read this with an open mind. I ask, rhetorically (not for purposes of debate -- unfortunately, I know your answer :P): Is this so bad? Is this really not a valid, encourageable expression of judaism? Is there really only one right way? My gut says no. I find it hard to believe God does not approve, especially considering that traditional methods (see article) clearly don't work for these people. Especially given the options: no connection to Judaism or finding a personalized derech, it is impossible for me to conceive of this as anything but positive. Consider this next time you evaluate other streams of judaism.

Much love. I miss you already.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Kabbalah & Science, Prayer (Formal & Not)

I guess you could say that I believe that all things happen(ed) in a way that we can investigate, and eventually discover the mechanics behind them. Whereas science does not always yield the correct answer, it's a worthwhile discipline. Somehow, the spiritual and physical should match up though. It makes no sense to me that the physical world represents one thing and the spiritual world another, because G-d wouldn't have to make it that way. So I just shrug my shoulders when the two don't obviously match up. I'm also comfortable with the idea that plenty of the Bible is alegory. This is what I've been taught by some orthodox rabbis anyway.

But understand that there are a wide variety of beliefs on this. There are orthodox organizations that believe and teach that the world was created in 6, 24 hours periods, but that those periods (due to time stretching) appear to be 13 billion years. (Dr. Gerald Schroeder is not without his critics but his book about this remained on the New York Times best seller's list for a year. I learned from him directly - he teaches in Jersualem.) This theory also allows for a processed beginning - not one that appeared ready made as the first poetic yet cryptic lines of Genesis tell us.

Then, there are orthodox organizations like Chabad (where you came, with whom I most affiliate myself) that believe that the 6 days of creation were 6 days and there are absolutely no caviats on it - a tree was made as a tree, a human instantly appeared as a human, etc.

I pray 3 times a day - though that's just formal prayer. Meaning there are actually 3 prayer services that you can do alone, but should do with a group. The first one takes place in the morning and it takes the longest to do. The next one is done in the afternoon (from about noon till dark), and the third you do when it's dark. Those prayers were written by the sages to elicit emotion and give us a way of asking for things we might otherwise forget to ask for, or to steer our hearts and minds in the most effective way. It's exactly like a composer writing a symphony. Beethoven constructed his symphonies by using a theme and repeating it, making variations of that theme - by creating different movements, which ultimately built to a crechendo (sp?). That's the same idea when it comes to formal prayer, praying from a text. But I pray several times a day beyond the formal stuff. Just when I'm talking to the Conductor (King David actually refered to G-d as the Conductor!)

I study a few times a week here and there. I actually started a little learning group for guys on Sunday. And I learn on the Sabbath. I try to learn a few times during the week - a little this or that. Learning is a life-long endeavor for the religious Jew. There's SO MUCH! it's insane. Really daunting if you're not prepared for how much there is to learn. But the object, unlike the school systems, is not to reach a degree or even a rabbinical certification, but it's to ... learn! To learn and to teach, so that we can live as examples to the rest of the world and teach that way of living to the next generation.

The Kabbalah is definitely more mysticism than science - but there are some freaky parallels. Another (other than the account of the beginning) is that the Kabbalah teaches that there are 11 dimentions (actually 10 and one alternate.) These are energies or eminations that the Creator made the universe out of, such as Kindness, Severity, Harmony, Judgment, etc. The eminations are much more lofty than their names make them appear. Think of them more like forces.

So are you sure your mom's mom's mom isn't Jewish? haha

What else? That all you got?! HUH? You ask quesitons like a sissy! hahaha jk

-----Original Message-----
From: Mikaila Rimbenieks
Sent: Fri, 16 Nov 2007 1:34 pm
Subject: Re: Question, Again

You're funny. No I do have a lot of questions for sure. I am so
oblivious to world religions that I think it is time I knew a little
more. So basically, if I understood you correctly, you believe in a
type of scientific creation with a spiritual interpretation. Is that
kind of it? To me, what you say makes sense. I for one believe in
science and evolution but stress the spiritual connection that the all
living things have. It is complicated. How often do you pray or study
in regards to your religion? In comparison to your childhood, do you
feel more or less fulfilled? Is Kabbalah more on on mysticism or
science? Ok, that should do it for now.
Thanks Again,
On Nov 16, 2007 8:49 AM, wrote:
> Ya gotta believe that I really like explaining it!
> I'll expect more questions after this one...
> I do study Kabbalah - it's in sort of a reduced form. Chassidic teachings
> (Chabad is a Chassidic sect of Judaism) have Kabbalah interwoven into their
> teachings. When you study the deep aspects of Kabbalah it can be a little
> nuts. The concepts are very deep and revealing. It used to be decreed that
> you can't study it until you're 40 and have a family - this is because
> learning it can make a person unstable and a family (and age) offer some
> stability. But that's not really applied today. The Kabbalah center has
> most exploited this and it's a sensetive subject within the Jewish
> community, especially orthodox. The problem is that they don't teach
> Judaism - only Kabbalah. Which on the one hand is okay, but on the other
> one could make the argument that you can't have one without the other. They
> sell water that has been blessed by a rabbi (I've never even heard of water
> blessed by a rabbi) and they sell their red strings (which most people get
> when praying at Rachel's tomb in Israel) for a mint! It's a little like
> hmmmmm. Anyway. Kabbalah is the "how" of the universe. There are three
> pillars to Judaism. To teach only one of these is pretty nonsensical from
> the orthodox Jewish perspective. The Written Law (Bible) the Oral Law
> (details of the bible) and the Kabbalah (Mystical aspects of life & the
> Bible). Kabbalah can also be thought of as the metaphysics of the universe.
> HOW things happen and happened. The analogy I like to use to describe the
> Written, Oral and Kabbalalistic traditions is this: There is a very short
> written story that "a picture frame fell off a table". that's the written
> story. The oral aspects of it are any information pertaining to the event
> that wasn't contained in the text "a picture frame fell off a table"; the
> table was a dining table made of birch, Rabbi Brooks and his wife were
> photographed in the picture, the Rabbi's son knocked it off. The Kabbalistic
> aspects of the story deal with how it happened. The the rabbi's son's elbow
> was moving at 4 miles per hour. When it struck the frame the momentum
> transfered and due to the laws of entropy and gravity it fell along an arc
> trajectory to the ground. The tension broke the glass, etc. Kabbalah talks
> about the event also in spiritual terms primarily but also talks about
> physical aspects.
> One big question is: Does the Biblical account of creation match with the
> scientific? It would seem at first that it doesn't at all. Check out this
> "modern" description of the begining.
> How the universe was formed...
> There's only one physical creation, and that creation was a tiny
> speck....From the initial concentration of this intangible substance in its
> minute location, the substance expanded, expanding the universe as it did
> so. As the expansion progressed, a change in the substance occurred. This
> initially thin, non-corporeal substance took on the tangible aspects of
> matter as we know it. From this initial act of creation, from the ethereally
> thin pseudo substance, everything that has existed, or will ever exist, was,
> is and will be formed.
> This would seem to be at odds with the biblical account of creation. But
> this is straight from Nachmanides, the Kabbalistic Torah commentator who
> lived in the 1100s! Remember, the Torah does not have the luxury of
> changing its story. If science were to have discovered that the universe
> started as a yellow and white disc (Apache), a snake-skirted lady (Aztecs),
> a big black egg carrying Pan Gu (Chinese), or a golden egg (Hindu), then the
> ancient Jewish understanding of the creation of the universe, as Nachmanides
> related would be left out of serious scientific discussion.
> Does that help - I blabbed on a bit more than the question called for!
> David
> PS
> Keep em comin! Here, I'll help you start. Copy and paste this and fill in
> the blank. "Hey, what about________?"