Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dayanim in brown suits and Kabbalah

In November of 2007 it was reported that at an Eternal Jewish Family trade show a rabbinic speaker made comments to the following effect:
Another "distinguished" speaker lamented that he saw a "supposed" dayan actually wearing some "brown" article of clothing and "smelled of cologne"; the EJF speaker commented something along the lines of, "can you imagine such a person serving as a dayan?"… (link)
It has been widely believed that the '"supposed" dayan' who fails to conform to the contemporary Chareidi dress code is none other than Rabbi Barry Freundel, who is in fact a dayan, and is also the head of the RCA's conversion committee.

Today I happened to have opened his book Contemporary Orthodox Judaism's response to modernity‎ at random and this is what I saw:


ParshaBlog has a post today called "Dybbuks, Gedolim, and adding to ikkarei emunah via makchich magideha." A couple of excerpts:
Judaism has several axioms, called ikkarei emunah. Rejecting these axioms puts one into the category of heretic. Yet there are few of them. There are many other beliefs in Judaism, and someone who rejects any of those might be grievously wrong, and an idiot, but not necessarily a heretic. This despite how these beliefs have always had, or have gained over time, common acceptance, including among great rabbis.

. . .

[. . .] in a theological debate, there is great temptation to turn one's frum position into an ikkar, an axiom. That way, you are automatically right; no one can question the foundations of the axiom, and you are not forced to grapple with its foundations yourself. Furthermore, your disputant need not be engaged. He is a heretic for daring to say this, and one should not engage with a heretic! And proof that he is an oisvorf whose words and proofs should not be considered is this position he is putting forth.

Thus, as an example, the belief in the integrity of the transmission of the Oral Torah is expanded to include the integrity of the Zohar, despite it being revealed / having been invented in the 13th century. If someone argues that this is not part of Oral Torah, and has proofs of late authorship, this should not be considered. After all, he is a heretic, according to Rambam! This even though Rambam did not agree with certain kabbalistic beliefs and considered them nonsense.
Interesting! I almost wonder, by the way, which would be considered the bigger outrage; a dayan who wears brown suits and cologne, or one who holds you can be a full and complete Jew while disbelieving all of Kabbalah?

19 comments:

  1. Well odds are anyone who disbelieves in the Kabbalah owns a brown suit so they're one and the same person.

    This was one of the things I like about the Brisker method. The ultimate question always must be: What's the halacha? What is our actual obligation? Not the fluff and extra tehillim that has crept up over time but the guts of the matter?

    A great example is last year's Bircas HaChamah. The obligation is fulfilled by reciting the blessing but somehow has morphed into a 50 page ritual! But the ritual is not part of the halacha.

    Too often we see the fluff and think that someone who doesn't accept it is an apikores. This is where knowing one's primary texts comes in handy.

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  2. Now the Rambam never stated he believed in the Zohar! This is worrisome. His turban appears not to have been monochromatic. And he read Arabic medical journals. Very suspect. If he lived now he would probably wear brown suits, blue shirts and cologne, proving he is as bad a heretic as Ronald Reagan.

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  3. I have never met Rabbi Freundel, I don't even think I have heard of him prior to today, yet I think he is my hero.

    Well now we know why RCA conversions are pasul.

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  4. Uncle Shimmy, it's funny, in my original draft of the post I had a line about how the Rambam probably used perfume of some kind, or at least rose water. But as this was based on my assumption regarding his culture, and not hard proof, I left it out.

    Anon, are they passul because of being soft on kabbalah agnosticism or brown suits?

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  5. there are unfortunately many statements in R Freundel's book that are questionable. i unfortunately dont have the book near me now, but there are statements in the part about women that need some explanation on his part

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  6. According to R. M. Cordovero at the beginning of his Or Neerav, though one is obligated to believe in Kabbalah, this is only true inasmuch as one understands Kabbalah properly as a rational system (though not rationally deductible). One who denies Kabbalah because he doesn't really know what it's about is not to blame. Of course, this presupposes that one properly distinguishes between real Kabbalah (Sefer Yetsira, Zohar, Gikatilia, Cordovero, Arizal, and the likes) and phony "kabbalistic" justifications for whatever minhag shtus and other superstitions.

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  7. >This was one of the things I like about the Brisker method. The ultimate question always must be: What's the halacha?<

    No. Their ultimate question is how to do build a conceptual framework which is independent of reality. And this conceptual framework must be upheld regardless of reality or the consequences of following it. All that matters is its internal consistancy. And if the consequence is writing out most of Jewry (R' Chaim's idea of "Nebuch an Apikores") then so be it.

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  8. >According to R. M. Cordovero at the beginning of his Or Neerav, though one is obligated to believe in Kabbalah, this is only true inasmuch as one understands Kabbalah properly as a rational system <

    Yes, one of the many reasons why so many of Gurei HaAri spent so much time delegitimizing his whole approach to kabbalah and the propriety of following it instead of the Lurianic system.

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  9. Chardal,
    they didn't deligitimize his system. However, the Arizal's system is so much more encompassing, that it rapidly gained the upper hand, quite like Einsteinian physics took over Newtonian physics. That's not to say that Newton was wrong, but that his tools could not explain some phenomenon. Same thing with Cordovero: see how he has a hard time giving a satisfactory reading of the Idrot when the Arizal approach is simultaneously more straightforward and revolutionary.
    On a side note, cf. רפואה מעשית לר''ח ויטאל by Y. Buchman and Z. Amar for an insight about R. H. Vital's scientific approach to segulot and the like.

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  10. Man
    O man,
    How I miss
    Haloscan.

    DF

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  11. >they didn't deligitimize his system.

    Of course they did, R' Naftaly Zevi Bakharakh wrote (Emek HaMelech 6b) "My own thoughts are unsettled with regards to Moshe Cordovero's commentaries, though Moses is true and his Torah is true, in the world of tohu, in the world of ineffability and no other, but certain section of the Zohar will not tolerate these explanations, for they are still tohu."

    certainly the use of the word tohu in this context is perjorative. espacially since he always repeats the mantra that Torat haAri is Olam haTikkun vs. Remak's Olam haTohu.

    R' Menachem Azariah de-Fano wrote that someone who mixed the two systems was guilty of killayim (Tishbi, studies in kabbalah, vol 1. pg. 262) He certainly recomened that people choose the Ari's approach and reject the Remaks (which was less mythological and more scholastic)

    Of course, the Gurei haAri spoke of the Remak with reverence, however they were generally clear that one should not spend time on his system but rather develop the lurianic mythology.

    >Same thing with Cordovero: see how he has a hard time giving a satisfactory reading of the Idrot when the Arizal approach is simultaneously more straightforward and revolutionary.<

    It is mythological and not scholastic. He does not even attempt to understand the text but rather constantly proposed new mythological models which the text can, if one is so inclined, be read with. If is the kabbalistic equivalent of fanfic. Now don't get me wrong, I think that lurianic mythology can be quite beautiful (when it doesn't turn demonic or lead to ridiculous pop/folk superstitions), I just don't think that:

    a) it is the best way read the Zohar
    b) that it should be seen dogma
    c) it is compatible with earlier more scholastic systems (especially the Remak's)

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  12. Imagine a Eternal Jewish Family "supposed" dayan actually wearing some clothing and "smelling of a geo'res that recorded him on youtube trying to whore her out";"can you imagine such a person serving as a dayan?"…
    AMshiNover

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  13. Well, I don't wear a black hat, but I will be forced into buying one when my son becomes a Bar Mitzvah. The hat will be for him. Will I be outcast by my shul? It sounds like the begining of a good soap opera...

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  14. BTW, is wearing cologne like being like the "Umos Haolam", or is not wearing deoderant a chumra?

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  15. >Of course they did, R' Naftaly Zevi Bakharakh wrote (Emek HaMelech 6b) "My own thoughts are unsettled with regards to Moshe Cordovero's commentaries, though Moses is true and his Torah is true, in the world of tohu, in the world of ineffability and no other, but certain section of the Zohar will not tolerate these explanations, for they are still tohu."

    >certainly the use of the word tohu in this context is perjorative. espacially since he always repeats the mantra that Torat haAri is Olam haTikkun vs. Remak's Olam haTohu.

    First of all, Emek haMelekh is seen by many (e.g. the whole Sefardic world, from R.H. HaKoen miAraM Tzova throug the chida) as not authoritative. He was almost certainly not a talmid of the Arizal or his immediate talmidim. Second, he does admit that the Ramak's system still has a limited relevance (much like Newtonian physics), but that it is insufficient for some parts of the Zohar (like I said about the Idrot). This usage of tohu stems from RHVital's writings, they have a technical and not a judgmental meaning.

    >R' Menachem Azariah de-Fano wrote that someone who mixed the two systems was guilty of killayim (Tishbi, studies in kabbalah, vol 1. pg. 262) He certainly recomened that people choose the Ari's approach and reject the Remaks (which was less mythological and more scholastic).

    As a reminder, please not that the Rema' was the Ramak's chief publisher. The kilayim analogy precisely denotes that both are kosher on their own but that they should not be mixed (even if R. H. Vital himself copies some paragraphs of Pardes Rimmonim in Shaar haHakdamot). Moreover the Rema' mainly knew of Sarug's interpretation of Lurianic kabbalah, which is less compatible with the Ramak than R. Vital's.


    >Of course, the Gurei haAri spoke of the Remak with reverence, however they were generally clear that one should not spend time on his system but rather develop the lurianic mythology.

    About in the same way RHVital said you can learn all the post-Zoharic and pre-Lurianic Kabbalah in a few days. That didn't deter him from advising to learn R. Gikatilia's Shaarei Orah.

    >It is mythological and not scholastic.

    I've never understood that claim. On the contrary, all the mythological elements of the Zohar are chemically broken down to sefirot and shemot. Though the "big picture" given by popular/academic presentations can give this impression, a reading of Etz Chaim al ha-seder gives a very pilpulistic and abstract feel.

    >He does not even attempt to understand the text but rather constantly proposed new mythological models which the text can, if one is so inclined, be read with.

    I agree that for the main body of the Zohar Lurianic Kabbalah is unnecessary, however you need it for the Idrot and the Sifra diTzniuta. Lurianic Kabbalah aims at reconstructing a coherent reading of the Zohar through the lens of its most important texts (by the Zohar's own account). Ramak did the same thing with the Tikkunim.

    >I just don't think that:
    >a) it is the best way read the Zohar

    For the most difficult parts I think it is.

    >b) that it should be seen dogma
    Fact is it has been seen as dogma at least within the boundaries of Kabbalah by all the mekubalim from his time onwards, with very few exceptions (R. Shefatal Horowitz and R. Menachem de Lonzanno). I don't think you will find any afer the 16th century .

    c) it is compatible with earlier more scholastic systems (especially the Remak's).

    I wouldn't be so sure, but we can disagree.

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  16. Rabbi Freundel was my shul rabbi for a few years in the early '80's, and he has been my hero ever since. Among other things, (1) he was the first to warn us where Chabad's "We Want Moshiach Now" campaign was ultimately heading; (2) he identified and lamented, long before the publication of R. Haym Soloveitchik's "Rupture and Reconstruction," the trend toward Yiddishkeit by the book and away from family traditions; and (3) more recently, he was the only member of a panel of religion experts assembled by Ali G (http://www.metacafe.com/watch/138077/ali_g_debating_religion/) who seemed to realize that his host's increasingly outrageous statements about religion were a put-on.

    On the other hand, someone once joked to my father that a man who wears brown shoes does not believe in Ma'aseh Bereshis, and one should not say "amen" to his brachos. Giving the EJF speaker a kaf zechus, maybe he was joking, too.

    Aside to my friend Lakewood FD: if they kick you out of your shul, I can recommend a more tolerant one upstate.

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  17. FRED:

    who cares that he wore brown and cologne. more worrisome is that a dayyan would proudly use a goyyish name like barry.

    (in case r. freundel is reading, just kidding of course. iirc, my grandfather was his bar mitzvah tutor)

    DAN KLEIN:

    "Aside to my friend Lakewood FD: if they kick you out of your shul, I can recommend a more tolerant one upstate."

    if they kick him out i can recommend a more tolerant one just 5 minutes from his house (and it has a *great* rav). if you want to move to bklyn we'd welcome you too!

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  18. I suggest you mens dress shirts from mensusa.com the top seller in terms of Suits.

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