Well it is hard to believe that my time in Israel has come to a close -- what a wonderful and special time it was! The learning was at such an incredibly high level (some of you have requested that I share more details as to what exactly I have been studying -- so I have appended some class notes for those who are interested - at the end of this entry.
In addition to the learning, the hevra -- the remarkable collection of rabbis who are participating on this program is also quite special and we have much to learn from each other. So, great learning, a remarkable group of learners, and then throw Israel into the mix – and the time here has been too good to be true.
What a privilege to be in Israel – to drink in the sights and sounds of this remarkable land on a daily basis. The only thing that makes leaving possible is the knowledge that we are at the beginning of a journey together and not at the end. As I explained at the beginning of this blog – rather than take my Sabbatical in one extended period away from the congregation – I decided to use this Hartman Fellows Program which convenes every July for the next several years (with video conferencing from my office during the year etc.) This then becomes a real win/win – for the congregation, the intrusion of my being away is manageable – and for me, it is an opportunity to participate in this wonderful learning experience.
After our last classes this morning –and a concluding luncheon with a lot of hugs and promises to keep in touch (it really is remarkable how close a bond is formed through study) it was off to the city for some last few errands.
One last walk past my favorite bakery.
It has gotten VERY hot here in Jerusalem – and hot here in the Middle East is hot! This is coupled with a nation wide strike that has been called by Histadrut – the Labor Union to which almost all of Israel’s workers belong to. It is a crippling strike and expected to begin at the airport tomorrow at 6 AM. Guess when our flight back to NY is? 6:45 AM!
We called our airlines and they asked us to be at the airport at 2 AM because they hope to move up the flight to get out before the strike? Will Rabbi Lucas make it out before the strike? Will he be stranded at Ben Gurion airport – stay tuned for the dramatic conclusion of our show.
More than likely the strike will be settled – and even if not – we will probably get out before the deadline –so am I worried? Not at all.
So after a quick stop at Mahane Yehuda to pick up my favorite spices, and a stop at Meah Shearim to get some new tzitzit for a friend's tallit , it is back to the apartment for some last minute packing and then dinner with friends and off to the airport. I have so many wonderful stories to share with you over the next few weeks and months and I look forward to seeing you all in shul! Thanks for sharing our experience with us through this blog. See you soon!
Most of our classes were taught in this classroom - here is a picture of a class with Rabbi Donniel Hartman
And for those who asked -- here are some notes from a couple of our classes. I am not sure if you will be able to make much sense of them as you don't have the sources that we studied for hours before the lecture to prepare for the topic -- but it will still give you a feeling for what I have been doing. The first are notes from a class with David Hartman on "Foundations of Moral Obligation", the second is from a class with Moshe Halbertal on "Great Texts in Moral Philosphy" -- Enjoy!
Rabbi David Hartman
July 15, 2007
"Foundations of Moral Obligations"
Bereishit Rabbah, 24
Should be read: First Rabbi Akiva. Then Ben Azzai. Ben Azzai attacks Akiva.
Ben Azzai finds Rabbi Akiva’s klal limited. Is it an extension of self love or is it an extension of humanity?
L’rayecha—refers to behavior. What you would want done to you, do to him.
Ben Azzai understands the neighbor to be you. What if you have self-hate? If it’s an extension of you, not a good source to build an ethic.
But could be, “he is like you—a representative of the human condition.”
“Don’t talk about what you yourself have not experienced. Stay with this nebuch religion called Judaism.”
This awareness of particular and universal—question is what happened to the God of Creation when He went to Sinai?
Fundamental philosophical issue is what happened to God? God wants to destroy world and then falls in love with Abraham and becomes a bloody, tribal God. We take God out of universal role and give him family role. That’s why Genesis is a family story.
Personhood of God by Yohanan Muffs. Psycho-dynamic study of God.
Most tragic pasuk in Bereishit: Lo osif l’kaleil et ha-adam… ki yetzer ha-adam.
“You just found out the people are that way? You created them!”
Heschel: All those who can’t understand God’s emotion in the Bible can’t understand the Bible.
In beginning God brought great expectations and then lowered the expectations. God is learning on the job. Maturing as he goes along.
Humanity of God is only thing Bible gives us.
What type of religious life does Rambam want? Love is based on knowledge and you can’t have knowledge.
“Ehyeh asher ehyeh…” I am in process. Who God is is still unfolding. Have we exhausted all images of God. Ehyeh says you haven’t.
Most serious theological issue you have to face is transition from Genesis to Exodus. From God who understands Sarah’s pain to warrior God who takes on kingdom of Egypt. So they’ll know I am God. How will they know it? Through my power.
Hazal understood that you cannot build theology on divine triumphalism. So they have to make new and different meanings of it.
Most crucial issue in modern Judaism is issue of siddur. Whole siddur has to be re-thought. How can we say the same things after Holocaust that we said before? Have to rethink religious language.
Are Jews at Sinai b’nai noach? If so, re’eicha include ben noach. But if not, question becomes who is re’eicha. (Read article by Akiva Simon from previous booklet)
(DH says: Read Hilkhot Rotzeich)
“I separated you from world so you could be Mine.” What does that mean?
“Those who hate God, I hate.”—issue of where do you draw lines.
13:13. Mitzvah to hate him. But Rambam is prepared to see person not just by his actions but by his beliefs. If you believe right you’re OK.
(But this has changed. Now essence is on religious behavior. This is why people aren’t up in arms about Habad. So they believe he’s the messiah? So what. They keep kosher.)
Hilkhot Avel, 14:2
Ben Zoma says getting it right re: God, is enough. That’s why he says Sh’ma Yisrael.
[Problem in our communities is that they’re disconnected from Torah. ]
Foundations of morality are normative connections in a community. For Rambam, re’eicha is someone you know. You learn to become an ethical person by living with your neighbor. That’s foundation out of which you build the ethical.
Meeting with re’eicha
Biggest problem of being rabbi is that you sacrifice your family for the congregation. Must demythologize the rabbi. There’s no role. You’re just a teacher. You’re a shnooky teacher. Start learning to be ethical by starting to learn to listen to your children. Before you embrace Darfur, there are children in your home who need your love. Ethics of intimacy. Relational intimacy creates ethical personality. There is a running away from intimacy so we gravitate to abstract ideas.
But we need to focus on logic of intimacy.
Election of Israel can be understood by this logic. You don’t make love to a universal woman. You make love to a particular person. Cannot be intimacy without particularity.
Rabbi Akiva challenges you to enter into a love relationship based on intimacy.
Ben Azzai wants you to transcend the personal. See the world through God’s eyes. He doesn’t trust individual and wants powerful corrective—every human being is beloved by God. For him this is the ground to build ethical world.
When Rambam talks about love he talks about love in behavioral terms.
[? About Akiva—how can he leave his wife for so long? DH answers: Not just him. She wanted him to achieve as well. Takes 2 to tango.]
[Hagadah: Shfoch hamatcha and then 5 minutes later we say Nishmat kol chai]
Danger of intense relationships is that they can become either avenues of embracing world or avenues of distancing self from world.
Intimacy becomes possessive. When child says, “Mommy do you love me?” Doesn’t want to hear, “I love all my children.” Wants to know that he in his particularity is loved.
Ben Azzai’s teaching is important because it’s the corrective for the dark side of intimacy.
Rambam, Hilkhot Avadim
Labor must be meaningful. Your creative process is not who you are.
These halakhot give you a refined sense of what the relationship is.
But then you get to chapter 9, 8
Halakha allows it but compassion and reason want you to behave differently. What a critique of halakha! Halakha doesn’t include these things? Din is not midat hasidut? Din is not rachamim?
This shows us that halakhah is incomplete and inadequate. If midat hasidut wouldn’t allow this, how can din be this way?
Look what he does: He poskins that way and then says “no” to it. Doesn’t allow Jew to be defined by halakha. But the Rambam fails. He doesn’t overturn the law. Why doesn’t he? What were the constraints? Why didn’t he? He’s bound by halakhic precedent. He can’t move beyond it. He is only able to offer alternative ways of dealing with it.
[“That’s why I say that all the agunot should marry and flood Jerusalem with mamzerim!”]
Then Rambam quotes Ben Azzai by quoting Job. I can’t act towards the Caananite slave in a certain way b/c of Job.
Then he says cruelty is a pagan quality. Whole foundation here of your faith posture is how you act toward non-Jew. “The way we feel compassionate for every human-being defines our faith.” If you are connected to God then you cannot feel disconnected from any other being. Here the particular halakhah doesn’t manifest the heart of the tradition. Shimon says: This halakhah is Caananite. There are details of the system and then there is the overall gestalt, the spirit of it all, that is not always embodied in every detail.
Torah is supposed to create a certain kind of mensch. How does Torah shape an ethical personality. To be ben Torah is to manifest a certain kind of gestalt.
By doing it this way, Rambam accomplishes something amazing. He shows us his critique of system.
Moshe Halbertal – Great Texts in Moral Philosophy
1. Aristotle – Nicomachean Ethics
2. Kant- Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals
3. Utilitarians- Mills (greatest good for greatest number, etc)
4. Nietzche- Genealogy of Morals (post-modern)
Study these systems and point to connections to Jewish thought and halacha
Speculate about what halacha would say about some of their claims
Aristotle – overview of main arguments
His conception of ethics- not about rules governing our behavior. His question is What sort of life is worthy of pursuing? Philosophy is a lifestyle.
Cultivation of mood, habits, way to appear in the world. For Kant, moral philosophy is much more narrow, about rules of behavior.
In inquiring about what good life is about, accd to Aristotle, we think of the telos of human life is happiness (not the mental sensation of pleasure, which is of limited capacity in most of us and is a dead end b/c we get bored from things that give us pleasure and leads to self destruction) but rather happiness is finding activities which are an aim in and of themselves (not goal oriented). Happiness is this kind of well-being.
When we look at human actions- they are organized as aims. I.e. the art of training horses is an instrument for war. The act of war is an instrument of well being of police. The police are instruments for the well-being of the citizenry. There is a hierarchy of the aims.
When something is GOOD, it fulfills its function. A good car, is a comfortable, gets from point A to point B, smooth. So what is the function of being HUMAN? Then we can answer what a good human being.
Accd to Aristotle: There is an essence of a human being. Our mark is, as distinguished from other creatures, are our capacity to judge between good and bad and between true and false. The fulfillment of human life is to manifest that capacity in our lives: to live a life of reason, to be devoted to deepening that capacity for judgment and reason is the ultimate good. NOTE: category of duty/obligation is not present in Aristotle. Ethics is not about our capacity for self-denial, or sacrifice for others. Ethics is about developing what is most noble in us.
Description of character. Moral life is the training of the whole personality of a person. A moral action flows from one’s character- not the will imposing on one’s. Giving charity in a good human is not painful for him. Moral life is about character formation. Life watching a dancer do a complicated dance and it looks effortless, it flows from her. (MAIMONIDES struggles with this- he says ethical life is the imposition of the will over the instincts to respond to one’s obligation. For RMBM/halacha greatness in moral life is our ability, no matter our desire/feeling is to CONQUER our desires in the name of principles/duties.)
What is character and what is project of character training for Aristotle?
1. Sensations- our capacity to experience pain or pleasure- raw, share this trait w/dogs
2. Emotions- are far more complex than sensations. Emotions are cognitive and propositional. If I am fearful, it is because I have a belief that there is a danger to me. And there is an attachment experienced by my fear- i.e. the thing I am afraid of is important to me. Differentiation of emotions is about the attachments associated with them. Fear is generated by an external attachment. Guilt is generated by an internal attachment, I feel I did something that makes me feel guilty.
RAMBAM- ethics as embodied by the WISE MAN as refuah hanefashot- therapeutic. Neurosis arises from wrong set of beliefs (overly worried that your car is not safe in the parking lot) or wrong set of attachments (stinginess as over-attachment to wealth).
Aristotle- there are proper attachments. Love is the more worthy of attachments. What is worthy of loving in the world? (Stoics pre-empt loss by removing attachment from everything out of your control- only thing we are in control of is our moral self.)
3. Dispositions- habit of experiencing a certain emotion. Way we make an emotion wired into our character.
If moral life is about character formation, construction of virtues, and not about constructing rules of behavior, then what is character? Do we have a full picture of what a person of character should look like? What are his virtues? Moods? Dispositions?
There is a religious mood that tends toward melancholy. Happiness is seen as form of boundary expansion/release. And so you need to control frivolity.
However, too much depression can cause a person to suffer from apathy.
Interesting what Chasidut did to counteract/react this mood- on the other end of spectrum.
Aristotle attacks the virtue of humility (anavah) seriously.
Modern history of Zionism- many issues that we talk about- One that we don’t always talk about is attack on Jewish masculinity of old. Character of Israeli man is not Woody Allen. Macho culture. Assertiveness, emotional responses, way he walks, talks, posture all reflects this.
Clash between duty and overcoming inclination/flaw of self – is part of Jewish ethics
Not part of Aristotle’s concept.
What is our ideal character in Judaism? What is our set of ideal virtues? Differentiation between nobility and piety. Cultivation of civic virtue in Aristotle- versus other worldliness (how difficult civic virtue/acculturation within a Jewish culture which is always suspect/outside of the norms.)
Another clash between Aristotle and Judaism
Golden mean (formulated also by RAMBAM) – there is a middle ground between every extreme.
Courage is someone who takes risk for the proper goal. But not an impetuous risk taker and not a person paralyzed from taking a risk for a vital concern.
Generosity is the middle ground between overspending and stinginess.
Tempered person is the middle between apathetic and gluttonous.
[Problem for Aristotle is that the Golden mean is somewhat subjective. The virtuous path may not be courageous, maybe courageous is the extreme to fearful and cautious is the middle ground.]
If the mean is a rule of thumb is the proper way, then what do you do with a category like piety? What is piety if it is not about going above and beyond? Chassid is an extremist- a religious bohemian reacting against the religious bourgeois. Are they not virtuous?
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