Friday, March 23, 2007


Although it produced a great comment thread about academic kabbalah, yesterday's post about Yakov Menken was poorly argued. As many of you noted, the fact that the zohar is a hoax doesn't mean it was influenced by outside forces. My bad. Below, I try again.

According to Rabbi Menken, some changes to the services are legitimate and some changes are trief. How do we tell the difference? Simple. Is the change was inspired by the outside, its bad, but if it was derived from something like Kabbalah, its ok. Here's what he said:

This is why one might note a difference between changes in the service as part of a school of thought derived from Kabbalah, vs. changes in the service as part of a school of thought derived from Enlightenment-era Protestant Christianity. One is Jewish, and one isn’t.

The problem with R. Menken's suggestion is that it crumbles if you think about it for more than 6 seconds. Let's start with the obvious question: If Kabblah-derived changes are ok, why weren't they made by earlier generations? It's a Jewish article of faith that our ancestors were better than us in every way. When we permit Kabbalah-inspired changes to the service, aren't we sort of saying that their davening was inferior? This, not incidentally, is why R. Moshe Feinstein objected to hasidic nusach Sfard

Next, let's deal with the quaint idea that anything borrowed from the surrounding culture is unfit for a shul. If this is true, here are some other things I expect Y.M will wish to rule illegitimate:

* The old synagogues unearthed in places like Cana and Sepphoris (they all have floor mosaics, an art form copied from pagan Rome)

* The sefrie Torah used in every shul in the world (they are written in Ktav Ashuri, borrowed from ancient Babylonia)

* Printed chumashim (the printing press was invented by a gentile for the purpose of printing avodah zara. Presumably we should only use stone tablets - those are "Jewish.")

* Siddurim (From what "school of thought" was it "derived" that one should use siddurim at all? Is the notion of needing a written text in front of us derived from a Jewish school of thought? Tefillah is avodah shebalev, no? Using books sounds goyish to me. )

* Any of the tunes used for Kel Adon and Lecha Dodi (you can't find one that wasn't inspired by a peasant drinking song or a military march.)

It seems to me that if you aren't sitting in the field with your sheep during prayer, there's nothing authentically Jewish about it. The patriarchs didn't need books or buildings or songs or anything like that to commune with God. And if "authenticity" is your fetish, neither should you.

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