Monday, August 09, 2010

Avi Shafran Worries about the Wrong Orphan

Odd new post from Avi Shafran this week. Briefly summarized, he's encouraging us to say Aleinu with extra special fervor because we live in a time when "evil salivates at the thought of what it would like to do to the Jewish People, when new incarnations of old monsters have risen, it seems, from the ground."

I dislike fear-mongering, and contest the notion that Jews are less safe today than we were at the hundreds of thousands of moments when Cossacks or Nazis or priests or peasant mobs had free reign over us. Still, Avi's advice is harmless enough I suppose: "Praying harder" never made anything worse. The rest of the post, however, is a reminder of Avi's failings and fixations.

Avi calls his post "An Orphan in Shul" and the conceit, elaborately developed, is that the Jewish people have abandoned this prayer. Reading Avi's touching concern for the prayer's feelings, I found myself wondering if Avi has ever written a an article about real orphans. A quick search of his articles  for the word "orphan" came up empty (a similar search for the word "liberal" produced two pages of results) This is significant, and not just because it suggests Avi doesn't care much for actual people, but because of what he says later in article:
Ours are times when it is, or should be, more clear than ever that the conventional roads to hope – diplomatic, military, political – are all dead ends, times for realizing, in the Talmud’s words, that “there is no one on whom to rely other than our Father in Heaven.”
Jewish tradition says Aleinu was written during the first conquest of Canaan, which means it was known and in circulation at the time of almost every crisis the Jewish people have ever faced. Oddly enough, its never mentioned. During the Syro-Ephramite crises, when Assyria "salivated" at the thought of conquering Judah, Issiah did not tell people to say Aleinu, nor did Jeremiah make that suggestion during the final, dark days of the kingdom, though the "monster" of Babylon was on the doorstep. In fact not once do we find a prophet of the Hebrew bible telling people that the Devil's saliva would dry up or that monsters would disappear if only Aleinu was said properly. What we have instead is a plain promise that God will protect us if we protect real orphans. For example
...if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever - Jer 7:6,7
What a missed opportunity for Avi! Instead, of offering us a new-fangled solution, he could have gone back to  tradition, the real tradition of our prophets, and encouraged us to invite divine favor in the old fashioned way. Rather than worrying about a metaphorical orphan, Avi should have reminded us about the real orphans, and the old guarantee we have from God. Instead of calling for more fervent praying, Avi should have followed the prophets and demanded acts, acts that benefit real people, in real ways; acts that according to our own tradition offer a sure promise of salvation.

Search for more information about Avi at

No comments: