You Shall Pursue

August 1, 2013

Will We Need Torah in Olam HaBa?

Filed under: D'var Torah — Tags: , , — marleyweiner @ 2:27 pm

Some of my most interesting moral quandaries start as arguments on the internet. About a week and a half ago, I was discussing the Torah on a feminist website that I frequent. The woman I was talking with was not of a Jewish background, and was asking sincerely whether it is possible to redeem the patriarchal source material in the Bible, and whether or not it is in everyone’s best interest to just shed “Abrahamic religion” all together. Naturally, I think that there is much in Torah that can be redeemed and much that is life affirming. Mostly, because I believe that Torah is an accurate reflection of how we as a people are able to struggle toward the Divine and the just in an imperfect, shattered world. But this leads me to a hypothetical; if the world were not imperfect and shattered, if the vision of the prophets was fulfilled and people came to treat each other with dignity and mutual regard, what place would our deeply flawed scripture have in that world?

Our Torah paints a picture of humanity that is reflective of how it is now: flawed, sometimes misogynistic, often classist, violent, and xenophobic. And yet, even within the confines of humanity’s flaws, our patriarchs, prophets, kings (notice how many are men) struggle to define and refine a vision of a society that is just and equitable. There is beauty in standing up and saying that we as people can and must do better. That our ancestors did not use their flaws as an excuse to drop out of the work, and neither should we. That is a profound and radical statement.

But the ultimate goal is a world in which so much that the Bible takes for granted is unthinkable. Already, notions of purchasing your wife, owning slaves, are shocking to modern audiences. At what point do we transition from the Bible presenting a vision of a redeemed world within a flawed context to just presenting humanity’s flaws? In other words, if our world were indeed free of racism, xenophobia, classism, sexism, homophobia, etc. what would the place of scripture be?

I can’t imagine the Bible as purely an exercise in literature, divorced of its Divine demands. At the same time, I am aware that I disavow other works in the Western cannon that I do not consider holy because the morals within them disturb me. I don’t think we are at a place where we do not need scripture as a guide book for religious Christians, Muslims, and Jews. But what if, some day, we get to a point where our relationship with God no longer matches the path set forth in scripture? What does that look like?

I’m not sure of the answers for this. And I’m not sure what it says about my relationship with scripture today, and where I hope to see it evolve. But the questions have been bothering me, and I wanted to raise them.

January 7, 2013

Reconstructionism Part 2: All About God

Filed under: Rabbinical School, Spirituality — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 8:40 pm

There are many who accuse Mordechai Kaplan of atheism. This could not be further from the truth. Kaplan believed deeply in a Divine Power; it’s just that what he believed the Divine Power IS is radically different from what many other monotheists have to say about God. His vision of God, which he referred to as “the power that makes for salvation,” is one in which God is inextricably tied to the natural world, and does not operate on a transcendent level beyond the reality that we as human beings can see, and touch, and feel.  As a result of this, Kaplan’s theology (often referred to as”process theology”) and worship focuses more on the processes that make holiness evident in the world, rather than God as a being.

Kaplan gives the example of רופה חולים (healing the sick). Needless to say, when we pray for God to heal the sick, the patient does not always get better. Kaplan turns this prayer on its head; instead of praying for some mystical intervention, when we pray for healing, we are giving thanks for medical improvements that allow us to greatly extend our quality and length of life. We are giving thanks for dedicated doctors and nurses that work tirelessly to treat their patients. And we are giving thanks for communities to support us when we and our loved ones are ill. Recovery is not always possible, but reaching out to tap into the healing parts of the universe is. As Kaplan put it “The prayer form celebrates the reverent acknowledgment of those values and qualities which through human effort unite to satisfy the needs of man.” Kaplan’s God is a God of miracles, in that the natural world is a miracle; no more and no less.

I am a huge fan of process theology. As a Reconstructionist, I’m not terribly interested in a God who is a grumpy old bearded man in the sky who is watching for me to screw up so that he can pounce and SMITE. There is little that appeals to me in the idea that God is a bigger, more powerful version of human. And yet, I am also not terribly interested God as Prime Mover, a force that sets the universe in motion and then steps away without any ability to react to or care about the process that it has begun. The God that I yearn for is a God that is involved, immanent, and present with me in an intimate but ultimately totally non-human way. How does that work exactly?

While Kaplan used the phrase “power that makes for salvation,” I have for years been calling God “the Soul of the Universe,” or in Hebrew “רוח העולם” (Ruach Haolam).  Incidentally, this is a common epithet for God in Reconstructionist liturgy that I didn’t discover until years after I started using the term. In Hebrew, the word רוח (ruach), or soul, carries a slightly different meaning than the English soul. Ruach is the animating force, the breath, the indicator that a person is living. In Genesis, it is a ruach that God sends out over the waters in order to begin the process of creation. It is the force behind the first words. When I call God the Soul of the Universe, I am saying that God animates all that is living, that God is in every blade of grass causing it to grow, and in every spinning galaxy.

I also find the language of Soul helpful because it addresses the question of why the universe is ultimately imperfect and broken. There is no human being created into a perfect body. We have poor vision, high blood pressure, chronic pain. And yet, who would not describe the human body as a marvel of God’s work? And the soul, the triumphs of body and spirit, are not lessened by the fact that we are, each of us, born in an imperfect body that has so much potential to break. So too is it with all of creation. At its core, I believe that our universe is imperfectly created, and that God is a marvelous thing for providing for so much good in that imperfect system.

This view of God allows me to take a fairly relaxed attitude toward the Divine. I am a strong believer in finding the Divine through science (see my post about God and Quantum Physics or this video with the brilliant words of Neil DeGrasse Tyson). I am also a firm believer in religious pluralism. If God is not a being with one agenda true across the eternity of time and space, but is rather as fluid and changing as creation itself, then certainly different people can come to God in different times and different ways. If that is through Christianity, or biology, or chanting, it is really all good. It is about opening oneself to the miracle that we all exist, and allowing ourselves to be swept away.

December 2, 2012

On Jewish Learning

Filed under: D'var Torah, Rabbinical School, Spirituality — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 2:57 am

Mishnah is fun you guys. So is Bible. So is reading Kaplan and analyzing it for meaning. Before I started school, I was petrified that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the work, and while it is indeed kicking my ass, I’m pleased to realize that I actually do find most of my classes fun.

Our texts are so much more complicated, and human, than so many are willing to allow for. There is this idea that divine texts have to be perfect and sterile, in a way, but that’s now how it works. Our texts like to contradict each other, and double back on themselves, and yell at each other. Some things that I have learned this year:

  • There’s two versions of the Ten Plagues, each one espousing a radically different theology
  • Similarly, the two kingdoms (Israel and Judea) had radically different relationships between ruling power and God. In large part, the Israelite theology is the one that survived. The covenant theology with Moses is only one half of the picture.
  • The rabbis like to tell each other (in a coded, respectful way) that they are being stupid. The phrase “If so, then there is no end to the matter” has become a running joke in my hevrtua, because it basically means “stop being a punctilious asshole.”
  • Moses is REALLY grumpy. Like, he complains to God ALL THE TIME. And then God yells at him to shut up and do the staff thing, already.

What would it mean if religious people everywhere were able to open up to this ambiguity and embrace our texts in their portrayals of human begins with flaws grappling with God? I think it would leave us with a lot more room for forgiveness of one another’s flaws, to truly see each other as created in the Divine Image (the God of the Bible pulls some petty shit, y’all). As I said before to one of my classmates, “I prefer Moses grumpy.” If Moses is human and struggles with his path, certainly I should be permitted to struggle with mine, as should we all.

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