THE POWER OF THE PRIMITIVE
By Rabbi Niles E. Goldstein
We are smack in the middle of what used to be a bloody, gore-filled mess: the week-long Chag, or festival, of Sukkot. Today, we celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles by eating in inocuous, beautifully decorated booths, shaking the lulav and etrog, attending services, and making this period as "family friendly" as possible. That's just great, I suppose. But it wasn't always this way.
When the Temple stood, Jews from all over the ancient Near East would make pilgrimages with their own families, sacrificial animals in tow, to express gratitude to God for the bounty of their harvest and the renewed gift of their very lives. It was primal and powerful. No one took anything for granted, and everything was attributed to the Creator, from the seeds in the soil to the blood in their veins.
I've seen animal sacrifice with my own eyes (in Nepal and Mongolia), and I know firsthand how horrific, yet paradoxically powerful, it can be. Its power lies in its primitivity. I'm not advocating a return to the Temple or to sacrifical offerings. What I am urging is that we not water down the roots of our tradition to make it more palatable to our modern sensibilities, but rather reclaim what is ours, a "primitive" (i.e. visceral, even non-rational) but transporting spiritual tradition that can transform our lives--if we let it.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
THE POWER OF THE PRIMITIVE
Monday, September 24, 2007
Here are three of the Sh'ma study texts that were used during the discussion on the Second Day of Rosh Hashanah. [Please use the comment link below to continue this discussion.]
1. Perhaps the most famous commandment outside of the Decalogue, the Sh'ma, has evolved into the Jewish Declaration of Faith.
Ba'al ha-Turim (14th century Spanish commentator) teaches that the Oneness of God conveyed in this verse signifies that, although the Holy One sometimes appears as a strict Judge and other times as a compassionate Being, God is really one and the same God.
The call of Jewish theology, we are reminded, is not simply an admonition to refrain from idols. Rather, it challenges us to view the One Deity as a composite bearer of seeemingly contradictory values--a tension that would be far less tolerable were it to be hosted by a human ruler.
-- Rabbi Bernard R. Gerson
2. In Hadassah Magazine, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg commented on the most effective method of assuring Jewish survival. His reflections are a commentary on the second paragraph of the Sh'ma:
"Educate, educate, educate. For the last century we have bet our survival on the idea that together we should fight our enemies. This has failed. We can hope to succeed only if we teach the young, and ourselves, the texts and rhetoric of the tradition. The future, if there is to be one, is in learning 'and thou shalt teach these words diligently to your children.' All else is vanity."
Judaism will not survive through anti-anti-Semitism, but only through Jewish knowledge. Besdies a league for anti-defamation, American Judaism needs a league for pro-Judaism.
--Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins
3. "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your being...." (Deu. 6:15)
When Rabbi Akiva was taken out to be killed by the Romans, it was the time for the reading of the Sh'ma Yisrael, and they kept flaying his flesh with iron combs, yet he accepted upon himself the yoke of the rule of heaven [ie. he kept on reciting the Sh'ma].
His disciples said to him: "Are you still faithful, Master?"
He said to them: "All my days I was troubled by this interpretation: 'With all your being'--even if God takes it from you. I said, O that it were in my power to fulfill this! And now that it is in my power, shall I not fulfill it?"
He kept prolonging the "One," until a his spirit left him at the word "Echad" [One].
A voice came from heaven and said: "Fortunate are you, Rabbi Akiva, that your spirit has left you at 'One.'"
-- Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 61b
Here's another NY Times article that came up during our discussion as well as in our comment box.
Here's a bit of it:
Where do moral rules come from? From reason, some philosophers say. From God, say believers. Seldom considered is a source now being advocated by some biologists, that of evolution.
At first glance, natural selection and the survival of the fittest may seem to reward only the most selfish values. But for animals that live in groups, selfishness must be strictly curbed or there will be no advantage to social living. Could the behaviors evolved by social animals to make societies work be the foundation from which human morality evolved?
In a series of recent articles and a book, “The Happiness Hypothesis,” Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist at the University of Virginia, has been constructing a broad evolutionary view of morality that traces its connections both to religion and to politics....Click here to read the full article.
And don't forget to click on the comment section below to post your thoughts.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Please use the link attached to find a NY Times article by John Tierney from August 14th on whether or not we are all living in a computer simulation. We are going to use it as part of our discussion on "Radical Theologies" which will take place at 4pm on Yom Kippur (right before the final services of the day).
In addition to this article, which was discussed briefly during our tisch on the second day of Rosh Hashanna, I'd be interested in hearing where we're all at - and what we've struggled with - since the Rabbi's challenge.
Here's a bit from the article:
Until I talked to Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University, it never occurred to me that our universe might be somebody else’s hobby. I hadn’t imagined that the omniscient, omnipotent creator of the heavens and earth could be an advanced version of a guy who spends his weekends building model railroads or overseeing video-game worlds like the Sims.
But now it seems quite possible. In fact, if you accept a pretty reasonable assumption of Dr. Bostrom’s, it is almost a mathematical certainty that we are living in someone else’s computer simulation....
Nick BostromClick here to read the rest of the article.
Monday, September 17, 2007
This is a meaningful opportunity for us to work together to support those affected by ALS and to spread awareness of the urgency to find treatments and a cure.
Team Sinvin will be proudly walking with over 65,000 patients, men, women, and children in order to raise funds in support of nationally driven cutting-edge ALS research and community-based patient services programs. This year marks the eighth year that The ALS Association has been working to fight ALS through their Walk to D’Feet ALS® program. Since this program began, over $50 million has been raised.
Please consider walking with us or sponsoring. With your help, we will be able to make a difference in the lives of people affected by ALS. With your help, we will honor, support and encourage Bruce Sinder and his family.
To learn more and to get involved, click here
This poem was written by member Polina Malamud
"To Miss The Mark"
As Yom Kippur begins again,
We think of all the wrongs we've done.
And cry to God to make amends,
Believe, we meant to do no wrong.
So, if I ever spoke you ill,
Or if I ever did you harm,
Or if in thought, I stained your name,
Believe, I meant to do no wrong.
And if I ever missed the mark,
And did what should not have been done
Please, let me try to make this right.
Believe, I meant to do no harm.
And if in dreams, I stole or killed,
Or wished to do someone a wrong,
Dear God, believe I meant no ill!
Believe, I meant to do no harm!
As we pray on throughout the day,
We think of all the wrongs we’ve done
And beat our breast in tears and shame,
I missed the mark; I have done wrong.
I spoke you ill; I did you harm;
By all these things, I stained your name,
And though I meant to do no wrong,
The wrong is mine, as is the shame.
I did what should not have been done;
In dreams I killed; in dreams I stole.
Please, let me try to make this right.
Please, let me fix this broken world.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
STUDY, SONG, & MUCH FOOD FOR THOUGHT
By Rabbi Niles E. Goldstein
We spent the second day of Rosh Hashanah engaged in study and song. It was probably the most inspired and engaging discussion I've experienced in the nine years I've served as the rabbi of our shul. Why? Content played a role, for sure. We talked about God, doubt, education, community, mortality, and other hot-button Days of Awe issues. What was more important by far, though, was the seriousness and passion with which everyone present approached the various topics.
Rabbis often feel frustrated (and sometimes saddened) by the obvious fact that our commitment to Judaism, and its attendant rituals and beliefs, is not as deeply shared by the very people we do our best to serve. Here's a rabbinic secret: We want you, we need you, we have to have you. So then, suddenly, a couple of days ago, there it was. WHAM! My dream come true. A diverse group with diverse ideas--all addressing religion and religious issues in a strikingly serious and impassioned way on one of the holiest days of the year. It was dialogical, confessional, devotional. It was "real."
As if our lives depended on it. And, though I don't know what cosmic force triggered this moment and those emotions, I crave more of them. I hope you do, too. What else is any of this for??
Friday, September 7, 2007
A sneak preview of a new film by Adam Zucker
New Shul member Zucker will present and discuss his new feature documentary, Greensboro: Closer to the Truth. The film chronicles the participants in the Greensboro Massacre — a 1979 attack in which the Ku Klux Klan killed five Communists in broad daylight, and no one was ever convicted. The film reconnects a quarter of a century later when the participants --widowed and wounded survivors, along with their attackers—converge at the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be held in the U.S. In 2004-2006.
“Witnessing the process of true reconciliation in action is an awesome sight to behold” -- The Austin Chronicle
Wednesday, October 10, 7:30 at VCS, free admission
Thursday, September 6, 2007
From today's Jewish Week...
Rabbi Goldstein, author of "Gonzo Judaism" (St. Martin's Press, 2006), conducts Rosh HaShanah services in a standard setting, his New Shul in Manhattan, but in a non-standard way. Instead of a rabbi's sermons, there is taped Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen music "very moving, very challenging songs." The congregants discuss the lyrics. Or there is a staged reading of part of a play that has an appropriate, reflective theme.
There's more... click here for the full article.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Rabbi Niles Goldstein
Holy mackerel! It turns out now that even Mother Theresa, the "Living Saint" (as many people called her), had her doubts about the existence of God. But why shouldn't she have had them? Any sensitive person, especially someone working in the muck and mire of human misery, is bound to struggle with questions of faith. But so what? The human mind is pretty complex. You can believe in a higher power and, simultaneously, still have serious doubts about it.
What I would give anything to see is that same courage among the atheists and agnostics among us, the guts to hold two beliefs at the same time: that God doesn't exist, AND that they may very well be wrong. As Emerson writes, consistency is the hobligin of small minds....