Monday, July 05, 2010

What is spirituality?

On the last few comment threads, some of you have brought up spirituality. Adam, for example, says the OPR rabbi is causing "spiritual damage" to his congregation. Before that, on a post about the development of midrashim, Kramer claims that statements made by the Sages have more "spiritual value" than identical, or nearly identical statements found in the much older Apocrypha. Back on the OPR thread R. Harry says a Rabbi is supposed to deliver "spiritual guidance".

I confess to having absolutely no idea what any of that means.When challenged the speakers provided no explanations.

My theories
(1) Spiritual damage, spiritual value, and spiritual guidance are all nonsense phrases, that don't mean anything. What the speaker really means is something more concrete, and the mumbo-jumbo about "spirituality" is just a lazy way to sound pious. For instance, perhaps what Kramer is really trying to say is that he trusts the Sages more than he trusts the anonymous authors of the apocrypha; therefore he feels more comfortable reading in BT Sanhedrin that the phrase "vayihi acherai hadevarim ha'eyleh" at the beginning of the Akeida episode is a clue that Satan talked God into testing Abraham than he does reading pretty much the exact same thing in the much older book of Jubilees.  (click page 171) What he means by spiritual value then, is something like "this makes me happier" or "this just feels right." Likewise (according to this theory) what Adam really means is that the OPR makes him mad, and Harry's intent is that a Rabbi is supposed to tell us how to live our lives in ways that deliver the best results.

(2) We have something like spiritual bank accounts, to which we make deposits whenever we fulfill a commandment. According to this theory, perhaps Adam is worried that a shul-led by an OPR is not going to make as many mitzvah deposits as a shul with an OJR. How this works is unclear, however. If deposits to the account are made via actions, what difference does it make to the mitzvah-performing shul members is the man at the front of the room is a fraud? The congregation is still performing mitzvos; thus their deposits should still be good.  If Adam wants to make the case that what he is saying is true, he needs to provide more information about the mechanics. Same for Kramer. If this is what he meant to say, like Adam, he needs to explain why reading an idea in one book puts money into the account, while reading the same idea somewhere else does not. Harry, though, is fine: Per this theory, when he says a Rabbi delivers spiritual guidance what he means is that the Rabbi tells us how to make deposits and avoid unnecessary withdrawals (I don't see any reason why a knowledgeable and trained OPR couldn't fulfill this task. Knowing how to best fill up the mitzvah account doesn't seem to me to depend on belief in God.)

Anything else?

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