Friday, October 15, 2021

The spoken word and piyuttim

People used to enjoy listening to the spoken word. The headliner at Gettysburg was not Lincoln, but Edwards Everett and his two-hour oration. And there are many other examples. The piyuttim, properly understood, belong to that world, not ours. The point was to *hear* them, not read them and the intent was for the power of the words themselves to affect you in the same way a soulful kumsitz might affect us now.

Perhaps that's why the piyuttim have become a kumsitz. No one actually *listens* to them anymore and I suppose hardly anyone even reads them carefully. Instead, they are sung, or - worse - the congregation chants or hums over them. In such places its nearly impossible for the words to reach you at all.
If the piyuttim are no longer used as intended why keep them? There's no magic to them. They aren't spells. Rambam and ibn Ezra fully opposed them. If we'd rather kumsitz why not reconstruct the service to support that preference just as it was first constructed to support an earlier preference?

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Today's topic is the behavior of some Hasidim on planes.

Today's topic is the behavior of some Hasidim on planes. When they are comfortable they are disruptive. On friendly airlines, like United and El AL, they mass in the aisles greeting friends and neighbors and making minyanim. They ignore crew commands and interfere with flight operations (notably they don't do this on unfriendly airlines. I've flown Royal Air Jordanian and Turkish and the Hasidim take a low profile on those flights.)
What to do? Will their leaders act? No. Not immediately. Not at the request of outsiders.
I don't believe a Hasidic rebbe will ever tell people to miss a minyan, even on a plane, even if it disturbs others or interferes with flight operations. Why?
Because the mind of the typical Hasid will recoil against it. Miss minyan? I've been ingrained from age 3 to never do that!! And Rebbes never do anything that cause the minds of their Hasidim to recoil.
Their business is show business. They make money by playing a role, by standing at the front of the room and projecting confidence, by pretending to be a conduit to the divine, not by telling people things they don't want to hear.
If you want change in those communities you don't go to leaders, you go to kanoim, who via intimidation, propaganda, harassment and other dark arts make people receptive to the idea of doing something new. Once that space is created a rebbe can act.
But please bear in mind what you're seeking is a big change and a tall order. Hasidim daven. Telling Hasidim not to daven is like telling them not to keep Shabbos or not to wear hats. It's a very hard sell. They might agree that their davening shouldn't disturb others but all they will do is blind their eyes to the fact that anyone is being disturbed.

WAIT Before you write a comment accusing me of bashing Jews, read the source material. Its a post written by (someone who posted it in a public group but then after after nods took it down posted it in a private group and now doesn't want her name associated with it) that was picked up by Natan Slifkin here:

Friday, October 01, 2021

Morality changes with the facts

Irrespective of the origins of the torah and the legal code, men have been using their limited, fallible, and subjective intellects to interpret it for well over 2000 years. At one point, they read the law in a way that permitted slavery and plural marriages; later they imposed new imperatives on the law and decided that neither practice could continue. At one point, they read the law in a way that outlawed interest and required us to forgive debts every 7 years; later they imposed other imperatives on the law and now we charge interest and debts are not remitted during shmitta.

What happened? The convenient explanation is that morality changed so the law had to change with it.

 Unfortunately, the word "moral" isn't a very good one. When we say that "slavery is morally wrong" do we mean that God disapproves of it or that we, the citizens of this time and place, are against it. Do we mean that slavery is always wrong, or that its only wrong when people say that its wrong?

My proposed solution is to abandon the use of the word "moral" and instead speak in terms of facts. 

Its a fact that society works better - people are happier, healthier and wealthier - after slavery is outlawed. At first, human beings did not understand this, just as they didn't understand that drinking sewage water was a health hazard. But in the fullness of time, men came to realize that society could reasonably expect to enjoy better outcomes if slavery was outlawed. 

We can say the same about the economic changes our Sages made. In the fullness of time, after enough data had been collected, they came to realize that society would function more successfully if debts could be collected after shmitta and if Jews could charge each other interest. So the changes had to be made. Not because "morality shifted" but because we acquired new facts and a new understanding about what makes a society more successful.

Doesn't God knows what makes a society most successful? Yes, he does. But we have to figure it out on our own. We have to stumble and lurch towards the truth. And during that process of discovery, we tend to read things in light of our existing prejudices. Once, it seemed crystal-clear that the book of Genesis described a recent creation, and a geocentric universe. Now, we know that neither of those proposals are true and we read and interpret the creation story in light of those new, correct facts. Our morality didn't change; the correct facts merely became known to us making the old readings untenable. 

We can approach the slavery and economic passages the same way. Once it seemed crystal clear that the Torah wanted society to be organized around kings, slavery and debt remittance every seven years. But now that the facts tell us that people are much better off when those policies are not followed, we have found new ways to interpret those passages. The original error was not God's, but ours. We are the ones who misread the book. We are the ones who interpreted the laws in light of our own incomplete knowledge. Now that we know more, and our facts are better, the passages must be re-examined in light, not of new morality but new facts. 

Whether our modern sages choose to lead - as in the case of pruzbal or heter ishka - or follow -as in the case of the Internet which was verboten until we all realized that internet usage was essential to living in the 21st century - this process of reinterpretation in light of new facts continues.