Volume 39 Number 10
                 Produced: Wed Apr 30  5:08:06 US/Eastern 2003

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Daas Torah article in RJJ Journal
         [Farkas, David S]
"Open Orthodoxy": A Request
         [Stan Tenen]
self-serving efficacy of prayer and mitzvot; proofs of God
The Song Of Songs
         [Jay F Shachter]


From: Farkas, David S <DavidF@...>
Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2003 16:41:24 -0400
Subject: Daas Torah article in RJJ Journal

I agree with Reb Yitzchak Kasdan that the article by Rabbi Cohen in the
RJJ journal is well worth reading. Rabbi Cohen does a good job, as he
always does, of presenting both views on this issue accurately, and with
as little digression into politics as possible. I would add two small
points to that already raised by Reb Yitzchak.

1) The article appears to indicate that Reb Meir Hildesheimer sent a
letter to Reb Chaim Ozer asking daas Torah on the proposed transfer of
the Rabbiner seminary to Eretz Yisrael, and Reb Chaim Ozer responded
with same. However, I don't think it is at all clear that Reb Meir was
seeking advice. Reb Chaim Ozer had been waging an all out war against
the transfer, and had sent out letters to many great Rabbis of the time
in order to sway their opinions. Reb Meir's correspondence might have
been more in the way of asking for clarification of Reb Chaim's views,
given his opposition, than a solicitation of his views. For purposes of
this article, this distinction makes a great deal of difference. (
However the case, Reb Chaim certainly responded with his announced daas
torah. See the article for more details)

2) The article has a distinct flavor of resentment against the Agudah
for only including like thinking members in their Moetzes Gedolei
Hatorah.  While I understand this feeling, it is important for the vast
majority of Rabbis not associated with Agudah to get over this feeling
of resentment.  The Rabbis of Agudah call their leaders "Gedolim" in the
same way that Young Israel Rabbis call their leaders "Council" or as
others might say, a "Rabbinic advisory board". Their membership has
absolutely nothing to do with being a "gadol", and of course, some
members of that body might have the no more Torah knowledge than some
Pulpit Rabbis or knowledgeable Ballei battim. Some of them might well be
gedolim, to be sure, but if so, it is because of their scholarship and
character, not by dint of their membership in this organization. The
Agudah is a wonderful organization and it does a lot of good for
Jews. However, so does the Orthodox Union.  If the Rabbinic leaders of
the OU and other Orthodox bodies are going to thrive, they must be self
confident enough to rely on the gedolim within their own ranks, without
looking over their shoulder for approval from Agudah affiliated gedolim.

David Farkas Cleveland, Ohio


From: Stan Tenen <meru1@...>
Date: Sun, 27 Apr 2003 20:15:04 -0400
Subject: Re: "Open Orthodoxy": A Request

>From: Bill Bernstein <bbernst@...>
>The Mail-Jewish posts on this topic have been very interesting of late.  One
>of the nice things about this list is not only the broad spectrum of
>viewpoints represented but also the generally high level of Jewish education
>that posters exhibit.
>I get the sense that many on the list are unhappy with the general state of
>Orthodoxy, not just in America but maybe other places as well.  I would
>count myself among them.  I wonder whether we could have a decent discussion
>of the causes of that dissatisfaction and maybe even some suggestions for
>improvement.  It is a very sensitive topic, obviously, but discussion would
>help me at any rate to get my bearings here.
>   I would plead at the outset that anyone posting keep in mind that members
>on this list are people dedicated to HaShem and His Torah first and foremost
>and that what is said is said out of love for those things.  Given that I
>think we could have such a discussion without rancor and sinah.

As I suppose most on this list who have noted my messages already know,
I thoroughly agree with Bill Bernstein. Unfortunately, my attempts to
present this perspective have generally been unsuccessful, probably
because of my frank and not always diplomatic language, and probably
because discussion has always been interrupted by Avi's choices of what
to post. Logical trains of thought are defeated when messages in a
string of messages -- which make the logical case -- are left out.

 From my perspective, the situation is critical. In any business or
government activity, or organization of any kind, when 90% of the
natural constituency walks out, that is usually more than sufficient to
indicate to everyone that there has been some essential failure or
omission of leadership.

Today, 90% of Am Israel has more or less turned its back on
Torah. Instead of competing for inclusiveness, and for mutual respect
among different views, which would allow a much greater percentage of Am
Israel to participate, we have, in effect, "Bar Khamsized" everyone who
doesn't fit our own particular (and often narrow) definition of Torah

Much of the Torah world appears to me to no longer even care about
reaching those who are excluded. There seems to be a failure of the
golden rule, where some seem to think they can be disrespectful towards
others, while demanding respect from them. In order for Torah, Torah
Jews, and Israel to be respected, _we_ must find legitimate (not fudged,
not merely polite) reasons to _genuinely_ respect non-believing, Reform,
Conservative, and Reconstructionist Jews, and non-Jews also. If we
cannot genuinely respect the contributions of others, even though their
points of view may be very different from ours, then we can't expect
others to respect our views.

I'm afraid that the realities of mail-jewish may prevent this from being
a forum on which open discussion that may reach outside of normative
Orthodox belief can be conducted. This is up to Avi, and to those he's
responsible to. (One problem I've had is criticism from people who
refuse to identify themselves, but who nevertheless have effectively
removed my voice from this forum on many important issues. This policy
is of course not conducive to open discussion.)

[It is correct that mail-jewish is NOT a forum to discuss issues or
present points of view that violate Halacha. Mod.]

In the greater scheme of things, we find that it's natural to look up to
validating authorities, and natural to look away from authorities who
merely disparage. Torah Judaism, in order to take the leadership Torah
deserves, must validate other paths rather than denigrate them. It's our
job to tell non-believers what's good about their (non-)creed, and it's
our job to tell Moslems and Christians what they're doing right (rather
than what they're doing wrong). It's our job to find value in the Reform
and Conservative paths, and in the secular path as well.

By talking up, rather than talking down, we contribute to the "rising
tide raises all ships" effect, and this benefits Torah exponentially.

Of course, I'm not advocating validating practices which are unhealthy,
immature, or just plain wrong. But I am advocating a view that says that
everything under God's heaven has a place and makes a contribution, and
that it's our job to find this and point it out. When Torah Judaism is
great enough to see the value in all good things, then and only then
will everyone respect Torah Judaism.

[However, advocating practices / beliefs that violate Halacha are not
acceptable on this list. Mod.]

However, there is an alternate -- and necessary -- view. Just as it's
essential for there to be an open Judaism that looks out into the world
and reaches out to shine light in the world, there must also be a
"closed Judaism" that appears to do neither. All whole systems --
particularly living systems -- must have an inside and an outside.

And the situation cannot be symmetrical. Those who only "look in" (and
do this job for our community) are never going to recognize the value of
those who "look out"; while those who "look out" must (with some irony)
recognize the value of those who only "look in," and who cannot
recognize their value. Not everyone can do the same job, and not
everyone can do all jobs, in a living system.

In other words, the call to be more open must include a component which
is open to those who are more closed. This is also the
credibility-giving and validating "higher" and more inclusive

I would very much like to discuss these and other "Jewish survival"
issues with as wide a range of Torah-caring people as possible. If you
set something up, please let me know. I have some colleagues here in
Sharon, MA., that also might want to participate.

Be well.



From: <avirab@...>
Date: Sun, 27 Apr 2003 19:40:31 -0400
Subject: self-serving efficacy of prayer and mitzvot; proofs of God

It seems to me that there are no proofs nor disproofs of the existence
of God which convince (all 'reasonable') philosophers, nor scientific
proofs/disproofs which convince scientists, nor historical proofs (like
in Kuzari) which convince historians, nor mathematical proofs (eg codes)
which convince mathematicians. 

I feel it likely that (God arranged the universe and people in such a
way that) there are no such proofs or disproofs in general. 

Will prayer and the fulfillment of mitzvot help us directly, personally,
and detectably in the ways that we think we want to be helped, getting
us what we consciously asked for? Excepting the miraculous, on the face
of it tzadik ve'ra lo (theodicy) seems to point to a general
non-existence of objective rational (as opposed to private, experiential
etc) proof of hashgacha whereas the self-serving efficacy of tfila and
of the performance of mitzvoth would constitute such a proof. 

I tend to the belief that other than for specific individuals as
mentioned in stories in tanach etc tfila and mitzvoth are not
efficacious towards the achievement of a pre-specified self-serving goal
in a statistically significant observable sense. 

Although there are claims of double blind experiments (with controls
etc) showing statistically meaningful medical efficacy for prayer, other
studies refute them (eg google "Efficacy of prayer" to arrive at
varied sources such as Francis Galton, ARCHIVES OF INTERNAL MEDICINE,
Skeptical Inquirer). 

There are many other reasons one should pray whether metaphysical (it
affects the higher realms), religious (it's a duty), or psychological
(makes us feel better); it can help us develop a connection to God, and
can aid us in defocusing on the self etc etc. Also, perhaps there is
indeed a response to tfila if the result is not statistically
discernable: eg one can daven for the strength to cope with existing
problems, or the spiritual depth to see their benefit, rather than to
daven for them to go away (these two would be difficult to verify
statistically until we know more about consciousness). Or one can daven
for specific good things to happen to others, or to all humanity, in a
type double blind way, and maybe this has efficacy. Etc etc.

Are there serious sources which clearly state that it is incumbent upon
us to believe that tfila/mitzvot indeed has such a statistically
meaningful effect? [eg a literal understanding of ve'haya im shamo'a

If so, would a statistical disproof of this claimed efficacy then
constitute a refutation of [Judasim according to] these positions? 


From: Jay F Shachter <jay@...>
Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2003 19:07:04 -0600 (CDT)
Subject: The Song Of Songs

Now that we have finished celebrating the festival of Passover, it is
a proper time to respond to the comments that were made a month ago in
mail.jewish Volume 38, Number 94:

     Many, if not most, of my peers want a companionate marriage.
     It's not a matter of some notion of romantic love....

     However it took root among us, is it realistic, never mind
     desirable, to expect "modern orthodoxy" to REJECT the idea
     of spouse as boon companion?

This astonishing notion -- the notion that there is any branch of Torah
Judaism which rejects romantic love as a value and a goal -- must be
repudiated.  Far from rejecting the ideas of romantic love and of spouse
as boon companion, I would think that if there is any culture on earth
that cherishes and preserves these ideas, it would be ours.  We are
talking about the culture that has produced the most beautiful love poem
ever written: Shir HaShirim, which in English is called the Song of
Songs, or the Song of Solomon.

I have never been able to read Shir HaShirim, from beginning to end, in
a single sitting.  I can follow the recitation in synagog, because then
one is simply following a recitation in a synagog, making sure that the
words are pronounced correctly, and that none are skipped.  But when I
get home from synagog and I read the poem -- after a few chapters my
eyes are always too full of tears for me to see the words.  I am a
powerful man, both in my body and in my personality, but I cannot read
Shir HaShirim without crying.

I do not think I am the only one who is affected in this way.

It has been truly said that, "la poesie, c'est ce qui disparait dans la
traduction" (I'm sorry, I would translate that, but I can't).
Nevertheless, the Hebrew poetry of Shir HaShirim is so piercingly
beautiful that one can catch a faint violet whiff and dead leaf echo of
it even in English translation.  This is doubly amazing, in that English
translations of Shir HaShirim are not merely unskillful, they are simply
wrong.  (There is a difference between "the voice of the turtledove" and
"the voice of the turtle".  D. H. Lawrence wrote a poem about the voice
of the turtle, but I would not compare the Lawrence poem to Shir

Certain readers of this mailing list will protest that Shir HaShirim is
not about what it seems to be about.  They will protest that Shir
HaShirim is not an exultingly erotic poem of love -- that it is really a
religious poem, describing the relationship between God and Israel.

Such protests are all completely beside the point.  Shir HaShirim may be
about the love that we, and God, have for each other.  But anything we
say about God we say by talking about something else, because we can not
understand God, except through analogy and metaphor, through comparison
to something which we understand from our personal experience.  The poet
who wrote Shir HaShirim did not portray a relationship with God by
depicting the relationship between a boy and his dog, or between two
headwaiters.  The poet portrayed the relationship by depicting the
rapturous, total involvement of a man and a woman (I do not even say "a
husband and a wife," because in fact there is nothing in the text of the
poem that requires the man and the woman to be married to each other --
although I think that such an intensity of love can be felt only by two
people who are married, or who are sure they are going to be).  Believe
me, I am well acquainted with writing that carries multiple meanings.
But anyone who reads Shir HaShirim without being swept up in its plain
literal meaning deserves to be punished in the afterlife for
ingratitude, except that he has already punished himself in this world
far more horribly than God would ever do to him in the next.

A culture that is so cut off from the Bible that it can denounce the
sentiments of Shir HaShirim is not a culture that can claim to be any
form of Judaism whatsoever.  Shir HaShirim belongs to the sacred
writings which it was our mission to give to the world, and all the
writings are holy, but Shir HaShirim is the Holy of Holies.  And only
the hand of God on the lips of the poet can explain its singular place
among the literary works of mankind.  Shir HaShirim was the first love
poem ever written.  There was nothing like it in human literature before
it.  In my opinion, there has been nothing like it since.

We Jews are eager to point out that we invented guilt.  We should be
equally eager to point out that we invented love.

	Jay F. ("Yaakov") Shachter
	6424 N Whipple St, Chicago IL  60645-4111
	<jay@...>; http://m5.chi.il.us


End of Volume 39 Issue 10