Rethinking the Theology of Prayer (Part 2)

Human beings, since the earliest stages of its history, has always participated in a world of prayer. The English word “prayer” derives from the Middle English preiere, which derives from Medieval Latin precāria, from feminine of Latin precārius, “obtained by entreaty.” In the last posting, we briefly talked about some of the difficulties modern people experience with prayer.

One of the most intriguing critiques regarding prayer expressed in Late Antiquity, comes from one of the most famous and brilliant of the Early Church Fathers–Origen (c. 185-254). Deeply influenced by Hellenistic thought, Origen felt that the idea of asking God for things seemed absurd, for if God is omniscient, He knows what we need without us having to tell Him so. Furthermore, if God is good, He will give us want we need without being asked. He writes:

God knows all things before they come into being and there is no nothing becomes known to him from the fact of its beginning for the first time when it begins, as though it were not previously known. What need then is there to send up prayer  to him who knows what we need even before we pray? For the Heavenly Father knows what things we need of before we ask him (Matthew 2 6:8). And it is fitting that he, being Father and Maker of all who loves all things that are, and abhors nothing which he has made (Wisdom 11:24), should order in safety all that has to do with each one, even without  prayer, like a father provides for his little children, and does not wait for them to ask, either because they are quite unable to ask, or because through ignorance they often want to receive the opposite of what is of use and help to them. And we fall short of God more than those who are quiet children fall short of mind of those who begot them.” [1]

Among modern philosophers, Immanuel Kant wrote nothing about the efficacy about petitional prayer in any of his three great critiques, but in his  philosophic classic, Religion Within the Limits of Reason, Kant  blasted petitionary prayer much in the style of Origen and Maimonides:

“Praying, thought of as an inner formal service of God and [183] hence as a means of grace, is a superstitious illusion (a fetish-making); for it is no more than a stated wish directed to a Being who needs no such information regarding the inner disposition of the wisher; therefore nothing is accomplished by it, and it discharges none of the duties to which, as commands of God, we are obligated; hence God is not really served. A heart-felt wish to be well-pleasing to God in our every act and abstention, or in other words, the disposition, accompanying all our actions, to perform these as though they were being executed in the service of God, is the spirit of prayer which can, and should, be present in us ‘without ceasing.’ But to clothe this wish (even though it be but inwardly) in words . . . ”

He notes, “It is no more than a stated wish directed to a Being who needs no such information regarding the inner dispositions of the wisher; therefore nothing, is accomplished by it, and it discharges none of the duties to which, as commanded of God, we are obligated, hence God is not really served.” [2]

As we mentioned above, Maimonides probably would have agreed.

However, not every modern Jewish thinker thinks so critically about prayer. Rabbi Eliahau Dessler, one of the 20th century’s greatest  Judaic teachers of  the Mussar Movement, takes a different tact. According to Rav Dessler, utilizing prayer as a means for obtaining goods is nothing more than spiritual consumerism; such religious devotion cheapens the very act of worship.

Once this happens, the worshiper becomes what he terms as “a spiritual taker” and that all his/her prayers will  inevitably be by definition, devoid of sincerity. True prayer must divest itself from any tinge of selfish interest for profit. Every worshiper should specifically pray that, “May God’s Name be sanctified through me.” He adds, “If we are to be solicitous of anything, we should pray our prayers should enable us to pursue our ultimate goal and concern: to increase the light of God’s Presence in the world.

The goal of all worship should not be aimed at taking from God whatever we want but instead ought to be dedicated towards giving, for it is by giving we can discover Transcendence. We become most like God only when we give of ourselves. Rav Dessler’s point reminds me of a well known aphorism of the 20th century preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick, who  often said, “God is not a cosmic bellboy for whom we can press a button to get things done.”



[1] Origen and Eric George Day (trans), Treatise on Prayer (London: SPCK, 1954), 94.

[2] Immanuel Kant and Stephen R. Palmquist (trans.), Kant’s Critical Religion (Farnham, UK: Ashgate Pub Ltd, 2000), 456.

Disputed Origins of Religion: Modern Views (Part 2)

In the last two centuries, we have witnessed the rise of many new theories concerning the origins of religion which continue the debate started by the ancients.  There seems to be little agreement among scholars as to how or why religions first originated.

Herbert Spencer identified the origin of religion  in what he perceives to be the universal practice among primitive peoples of worshiping the ghosts of their ancestors. He then goes on to trace the further evolution of religious consciousness through polytheism and ultimately, monotheism. Other thinkers like anthropologist E. B. Tylor, conceived  religion as evolving out of animism which saw the world as inhabited by souls which are present in all things, from the souls of animals, to the souls of human beings, the  souls of trees and plants follow in some vague partial way; and the souls of inanimate objects expand the general category to its most extreme boundary.

Freud considered religion to be rooted in humanity’s  experience of childhood helplessness. The belief in gods in particular and religion in general, was to Freud nothing more than the attempt to gain control over the sensory world, in which we are situated, by means of the wish-world, which we have developed inside us as a result of biological and psychological necessities. The gods were a necessary antidote for man to survive in what appeared as a nonsensical and hostile world. Since religion was nothing more than wishful thinking,  it cannot achieve its end. The sundry doctrines of faith carry with them the stamp of the times in which they originated, the ignorant childhood days of the human race. Freud felt that human experience has long taught us that man needs to grow up and leave the nursery world of religious beliefs behind. Continue reading “Disputed Origins of Religion: Modern Views (Part 2)”

From The Age of “Seducing By Scents” to “The Emergence of Ortho-Feminism”

I have often felt that misogyny has been one of the oldest sins since Adam and Eve.  The woman’s liberation movement has some remarkable antecedents in American history. It is remarkable how much the 20th century fight for gender rights have completely overturned thousands of years of  male hegemony.  It is no wonder why traditional religious societies across the globe fear it–change is necessary as it is inevitable.

Seducing By Scents

I came across an interesting article from House and Garden Magazine that illustrates just how much we have changed as a society over the last 300 years. It reads, “Legislation proposed in England in the 1700s: All women of whatever age, rank, profession, or degree, whether virgin, maid or widow, that shall impose upon, seduce and betray into matrimony any of His Majesty’s subjects, by scents, paints, cosmetic washes, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool, iron stays, hoops, high‑heeled shoes or bolstered hips shall incur the penalty of the law now in force against witchcraft and the like misdemeanors and that marriage, upon conviction, shall stand null and void.” —- Act of Parliament, 1670

Incidentally, one of our readers (see comments) points out that this story was originally a joke that appeared in the magazine. That is an interesting thought, but who really knows for sure?

The Humble Beginnings of Women’s Liberation

Now move the clock ahead about 100 years later . . . Abagail Adams penned one of the most famous letters of her era, demanding that the new Declaration of Independence respect the rights of its female citizens, which she unabashedly says:

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws, which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation. That your sex are naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute; but such of you as wish to be happy, willingly give tip the harsh title of master for the more tender and endearing one of friend. Why, then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity?” [1]

—-Abigail (Smith) Adams (1744-1818), Letter to John Adams, [March 31, 1776]

John Adam’s Fear of “Petticoat Despotism

Her husband John Adams replied:

I cannot but laugh…We have been told that our struggle has loosened the bands of government everywhere; that children and apprentices were disobedient; that schools and colleges were grown turbulent; that Indians slighted their guardians and Negroes grew insolent to their masters. But your letter was the first intimation that another tribe more numerous and powerful than all the rest were grown discontented. This is rather too coarse a compliment, but you are so saucy, I won’t blot it out. Depend on it, we know better than to repeal our masculine systems. Although they are in full force, you know they are little more than theory. We dare not exert our power in its full latitude. We are obliged to go fair and softly, and in practice you know we are the subjects. We have only the name of masters, and rather than give up this, which would completely subject us to the despotism of the petticoat, I hope General Washington and all our brave heroes would fight. [2]

Back to the Future: The early 2oth Century  Debate Concerning Women’s Suffrage

It is remarkable that the world has changed so much over the last 250 years. Some of you might be surprised to know that back in the 1915 many Orthodox rabbis opposed the right for women to vote. Woman’s suffrage proved to be a very divisive issue among American Orthodox Jews. Some rabbis felt that a women’s place is in the home. The rabbis feared that society will become corrupt should women invade the institutions of political power.

Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ben Tzion Uziel pointed out that there was nothing in the Torah to forbid women voting.  However, other rabbis argued, it’s against tradition—a woman’s place is in her home. Let the men worry about the politics!

Rabbi Uziel replied that in the olden days, men used to live in tents, in the desert, should we all go back to living in the wilderness just like our ancestors did? Ah, but the rabbis replied. If we give women equal rights to vote, they will want more freedom tomorrow, and who knows where that will lead to?

And That was Only the Beginning . . .

In a way, those early 20th century Orthodox rabbis were right.

An interesting debate has been developing in the Orthodox Jewish community. And that is the issue of Women’s “Prayer Groups.” Some have taken offense to women having “Minyanim” because only men can have Minyans.

Outraged by the growth of Ortho-feminism, a Queens-Long Island council of Modern Orthodox rabbis, the event symbolized a larger, possibly dangerous trend – the growing acceptance of women’s prayer groups.

Its action this month to ban groups such as the one in Hillcrest that hosted the bat mitzvah has shocked hundreds of observant women worldwide and a number of Orthodox leaders, elicited at least two letters urging reconsideration, and caused one leader of the rabbinical council to resign. Continue reading “From The Age of “Seducing By Scents” to “The Emergence of Ortho-Feminism””

Modern Orthodoxy at the Crossroads . . .

Gender roles continue to challenge the Orthodox world of Haredi Judaism in Israel–and elsewhere in the world today even now as women continue to be arrested for wearing a tallit at the Western Wall.

A  Primer on the History of Torah Reading

The idea of women’s aliyot (being called to say a blessing over the Torah) continues to pit the world of the past with the world of the present. I guess we could call it , “The Halachic War of the Worlds.”  That being said, one ought to ask, “Have rabbis always been so rigid?” The answer might surprise you—no! One Talmudic discussion reads, “Our rabbis taught: all are qualified to be among the seven (who read the Torah)–even a minor and a woman, but the Sages said that a woman should not read because of the esteem of the congregation (kevod ha-zibbur).” [1]

How are we to understand the concept of “communal respect”? We will examine a couple of other  interpretive possibilities.

(1) In ancient times each person called up to the Torah, had to also read the section of the Torah relevant to his her aliya. This of course differs from what we see in most synagogues today. Nowadays, it is usually customary for one individual to read the Torah for the entire congregation. Usually, it is the rabbi or the cantor that has this duty since it requires considerable skill.

Now in ancient days, most communities were illiterate. If a woman came from a wealthy home and was privileged to have an education, she could read the Torah for herself. However, since many males were incapable of reading, the woman’s skill made the men feel inferior. The issue became all the more acute if the men who protested happened to be the individuals who took the greatest amount of economic responsibility in running the synagogue. Simply put, money talks. Once these wealthy men made a ruckus in the synagogue, the Sages decided not to call women up to the Torah anymore in the interest of peace.  It had nothing to do with whether a woman was “ritually impure,” for even men were never required to maintain ritual purity. Some Hassidic savants argued that the words of Torah are beyond impurity and can never become ritually impure through human touch.

(2) On the other hand, it is possible that the Sages feared the possibility of sexual distraction. Maybe a lovely woman with a beautiful voice might have distracted the men to the point where they were no longer focusing on the Torah reading, but instead chose to focus on the woman reading from the Torah! This problem may have influenced the Sages to equate a woman’s voice with “nakedness,” thus becoming a sexual transgression (Ber. 24a).Those old rabbis always seemed to think a lot about sex.  Once the women were forced to stay behind the partition, the role of female participation became a non-issue and has remained so for many centuries. Continue reading “Modern Orthodoxy at the Crossroads . . .”

Beyond the Five-Sensory Zone of Consciousness

Redefining the role of prayer in a modern age is  one  of modern Judaism’s greatest challenges. This is true not only of Judaism, but of all religion as well. I see prayer primarily in existential terms.

Prayer is rooted in the conviction that there is more to human life and consciousness than just the five-sensory world we experience. Our hunger and yearning the meaning of the universe and our lives  prompts us to move from the ordinary to a reality that is extraordinary and profound. It is precisely when this impulse is frustrated, we feel alienated and apart from the deepest spiritual dimension of our lives. Human loneliness can be transcended if we can discover the Ultimate that is not only Present within the world, but beyond it as well. Sufi tales, like the Hassidic stories, touch upon the universal truths that bind us together.

Once somebody dared the Sufi master Halqavi to go before the presence of a certain king and say a disparaging remark that would most likely cost him his life.  Without hesitation, he accepted the challenge. As soon as he was shown the throne-room, the king–a capricious character said, “Since you are reputed to be so clever, for my amusement, to say something which nobody who is  present can say.” Once again, without the slightest pause, the Sufi said, “I am not in Your Presence.”

This Sufi story has its parallels in the old Midrashic stories depicting the ever-closeness of God. When we pray, we become aware that we are  standing in the Presence of God, before Whom, our tradition says, “There is no place that is void of the Divine Presence.”

It is funny how our language is couched in the geometry of time and space. Sometimes we imagine that God is “out there,” when we pray “to” God. However, in truth,  our prayers do not have to travel through some ethereal space to God.  God’s Presence is much more non-localized then we ever imagined possible. He is here at this moment and not here at the same time — Hidden but yet revealed — all at the same time. Prayer awakens within us a sense of unity we feel in the heart of our soul.

Although God transcends the world, He infuses it with soul and existence. He is paradoxically close and yet infinitely distant. He is closer to us than we are to ourselves. He is not perceivable even when His Presence is encountered, yet He is present even when His absence is most felt. He is inherent in the world and but not contained in it; He embraces it and nevertheless is not confined by it. God’s Presence surrounds us in ways we can never fully know or understand.

Now, thus far I have used masculine imagery to explain God’s relationship to the world. Let’s use  feminine metaphors to convey the same truth, which should present to the reader an altogether different perspective.

Although God transcends the world, She infuses it with soul and existence. She is paradoxically close and yet infinitely distant. She is closer to us than we are to ourselves. She is not perceivable even when Her Presence is encountered, yet She is present even when Her absence is most felt. She is inherent in the world and but not contained in it; She embraces it and nevertheless is not confined by it. Her Presence surrounds us in ways we can never fully know or understand.

The time has finally come for us to realize that our concepts of God are invariably mediated through human language, which reveals concepts much like a prism refracts light. We cannot help but conceive of God through our unique cognitive and cultural lens. The Zohar certainly intimates this truth in one of its more profound statements concerning the gender inclusiveness of the Divine,“High mysteries are revealed in these two verses ‘Male and Female He created them’ (Gen. 1:27) to make known the Glory on high, the mystery of faith, out of this mystery, Adam was created. . . . Any image that does not embrace male and female is not a high and true image.”[1]


[1] Daniel Matt, Zohar, The Book of Enlightenment (Philadelphia: Paulist Press, 1983), 55.

Believing in something vs. believing in nothing

Dorothy Sayers observes, “In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair… the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.”

The absence of passion in the face of evil explains why evil is so virulent in the world. Such a listless existence is no way for a good person to live. Winston Churchill said it best, “The malice of the wicked is reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous.”

In terms of biblical theology, God’s ethos never occurs without pathos, as Heschel correctly observes. When the biblical prophets condemn injustice, they in turn mirror God’s own concern about societal evolution. Far from being a Deity that merely spends eternity reflecting upon His own Divine nature, the God of Scriptures incessantly demands ethical awareness and calls upon all of us to discover ultimate meaning by participation in the world’s redemption. In the Judaic consciousness, God’s role as Liberator is more important than His role as Creator. The One Who redeemed our ancestors, likewise expects us to emulate this role; paradoxically, the human hand resembles the Divine hand–not physically, but in terms of functionality.

Each person has a distinctive role to play and contribute toward this goal.  We cannot be good by simply avoiding evil; indifference toward human suffering only compounds it–whether we realize it or not. When a world stands begging for help, there can be only one ethical and spiritual response–Hineni–Here I am; I am ready to make a difference.

God expects all of us to embody the passion of liberation.

Rediscovering the Soul-Breath of the Sabbath

While it is true that many translations of the Bible such as the New Revised Version Standard (NRSV), the King James’ Version (KJV) and others render the verb וַיִּשְׁבֹּת (wayyišböt) as “rested,” a more accurate translation is “ceased,” i.e., “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because He ceased from all His work which God created to make” (Gen. 2:2). Ramban (12th century) interprets these words to mean “He ceased performing all His creative work.” Hence, for God, the Shabbat is really more a day of “ceasing,” rather than “resting,” as commonly believed.

But why does God need to abstain from producing new creative work? Obviously it is not because of tiredness! As theologian John Shea notes, a story about God is really a model for how we are to conduct our lives. God’s “ceasing” from Creation thus provides us with a template for emulating God’s behavior. As human beings created in the image of God, we too need to make time for rest and purposely abstain from interfering with Creation one day of the week. The passion to create can sometimes be dangerous—especially in a highly technological society that prides itself on its ability to create, manipulate and control the world around it. In our modern world, we often tend to think of ourselves as being completely self-sufficient.

There’s a great story I would like to share with you from Mrs. Lettie Cowman’s wonderful book, “Springs in the Valley.” In the deep jungles of Africa, a traveler was making a long trek. Coolies had been engaged from a tribe to carry the loads. The first day they marched rapidly and went far. The traveler had high hopes of a speedy journey. But the second morning these jungle tribesmen refused to move. For some strange reason they just sat and rested. On inquiry as to the reason for this strange behavior, the traveler was informed that they had gone too fast the first day, and that they were now waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.

Then Mrs. Cowman concludes with this penetrating exhortation: “This whirling rushing life which so many of us live does for us what that first march did for those poor jungle tribesmen. The difference: they knew what they needed to restore life’s balance; too often we do not.”

It is incredible to realize that Lettie Cowman wrote these words eighty-five years ago.

Later in the Book of Exodus we read: בֵּינִי וּבֵין בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אוֹת הִוא לְעֹלָם כִּי־שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים עָשָׂה יְהוָה אֶת־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת־הָאָרֶץ וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שָׁבַת וַיִּנָּפַשׁ “It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested” (Exod. 31:17).

Consider the following: The Hebrew verb וַיִּנָּפַשׁ (wayyinnäpaš)  in Exodus 31:17  can sometimes mean “rest,” “ensouled,” “breath,” and  “to catch one’s breath.”  It often points to the inner being of a person. Hence, a nefesh can also mean a living being. In the context of Shabbat, God ensouled this day when He rested with a dimension of His Presence, which the Kabbalists interestingly enough identified as feminine! The Sabbath reveals the reality of the Divine Feminine better known as the “Shekhinah.”

Why did God need to rest on the Shabbat day? Was He tired from creating the world? Hardly. Maybe it’s because the Sages wished to teach us that work is not an end in and of itself. To be healthy, to be free from the problems of earning a livelihood, we must have Shabbat as a day to renew our strength and spirits. Like the natives of Mrs. Cowman’s stories, we must have time to renew our spirits, to catch our breath and to become a living being once more. On Shabbat, God created the possibility of renewal, which, in turn, is one of the fundamental teachings of our faith.

The concept of the Shabbat is radical in many respects. For hundreds of years Jews, the ancient Greeks and Romans ridiculed the Jews for being lazy for resting on the Shabbat day. Yet, paradoxically, the Sabbath is perhaps one of ancient Israel’s greatest gifts to human history. While the Babylonians produced the ziggurats, and the Egyptians built the pyramids (No, the Israelites did not build the pyramids!), the Israelites introduced the concept of “holiness of time.”

The concept of rest is not just to members of the human family, the Ten Commandments insists that even animals rest on the Sabbath—how much more so should every person, whether Jew or Gentile! [1] In biblical psychology, even the earth itself possesses  a sentience just like human beings (cf. Lev. 18:28; 20:22; 25:2). In short, contrary to the view espoused by the behaviorists and the philosophers of positivism, man is infinitely more than a complex biological machine. According to Pharaoh, the Israelites were nothing more than animated tools, not much different from the bricks his slaves gathered. For Pharaoh, human beings live to produce–and nothing more. Continue reading “Rediscovering the Soul-Breath of the Sabbath”

Aspects of Holocaust Theology: The Metaphor of “God as Surgeon” (Part 2)

In the previous article written by Prof. Bauer, he refers to a correspondence with late Chaika Grossman, a leader of the underground in the Bialystok ghetto, who survived the war and served as a Knesset member for several terms. She went on to publish her correspondence with the Lubavitcher Rebbe on August 22, 1980, quoting Schneersohn and expressing some pointed criticism toward the Rebbe that created shock-waves at the 770 world headquarters in Brooklyn.

Within a week, the Rebbe sent her a reply on his personal stationary.  This letter has been reprinted in the Likutei Sichot Vol. 21, pp. 397-398. What is significant is that the Rebbe does confirm the gist of what he had originally written about the role of Hitler as that of a “new Nebuchadnezzar.” God merely used Hitler as His instrument much like he used Nebuchadnezzar in the days of Jeremiah.

As a proof text, he cites the passage, “Behold! I will send for and fetch all the tribes of the north, says the LORD (and I will send to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, my servant); I will bring them against this land, against its inhabitants, and against all these neighboring nations. I will doom them, making them an object of horror, of ridicule, of everlasting reproach” (Jeremiah 25:9). As additional scriptural support, the Rebbe cites the verse, Woe to Assyria, My rod in anger my staff in wrath!” (Isa. 10:5).

After citing these passages the Rebbe further explains that whereas the massacres described in Jeremiah were clearly because of a punishment, as the prophet forewarned they would be, the Rebbe insists that the Holocaust cannot be understood in this way. However, the Rebbe insists that his metaphor of the “operation,” does not even remotely suggest the idea of “punishment,” for as in the case of person undergoing an operation, its purpose is only curative—even though we as mortals cannot comprehend the magnitude of the Divine design.

Apologists for the Chabad movement go to considerable lengths to illustrate that the example of surgery is brought only in order to illustrate how something as horrible as an amputation—although beneficial—can seem criminal to the uninitiated. It is by no means brought in order to imply that those that perished were amputated for the benefit of the survivors. Moreover, such an operation serves as a tikkun for a greater good that cannot be intellectually imagined. If Hitler is actually the instrument  of God’s retribution, then Jewish suffering is because of their backsliding and sinful ways.

Of course, we reject such a fundamentalist theology.

When comparing the Rebbe’s text to that of his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Rebbe’s response seems hollow at best—unless he is refuting the attitude expressed by the previous Rebbe before him. For the sake of clarity, let us reiterate the scolding words of Rabbi Yitzchak Schneersohn once more. I will stress his points with bold-faced lettering.

Schneersohn writes in his Likutei Dibburim:

“Question: Who is punishing the Jewish people, and why? And every individual must himself arrive at the real answer: The current predicament is the same as it has always been, in every instance in which the Jewish people “did evil in the eyes of G-d.” Each such case was followed by a famine or an epidemic or a wartime crisis — until the people returned to G-d and were saved…

Is it conceivable that people who desecrate Shabbos and eat treifos and so on, will overpower (so to speak) the Will of G-d, Who constantly desires that Eretz Yisrael should be a land of Torah and mitzvos, and that Jews in all other lands too should observe Torah and mitzvos? Realize that life and death are in your hands. And we must all keep in mind that “the hearts of kings and states¬ men are in the Hand of G-d.” The Jewish people will be saved not by statesmen nor by presidents nor by kings, but by G-d’s Will, which will act only when we return in teshuvah. It is commonly observed that when a freethinker or even a G-dless individual stands at the bedside of a desperately ill husband or wife or beloved only child, and the doctors say that G-d alone can help, the latent Jewish spark is awakened and this individual too turns to Him in prayer. Jewry is a desperately ill patient in need of great mercy. No Jew in any country can be certain of his life, and of course not certain of his property. American millionaires and bankers and prosperous businessmen would do well to draw a lesson from the current state of the migrants: they,too, were once millionaires and bankers and prosperous businessmen . . .

Fellow Jews! Things are grim. This is the dense and gloomy darkness that precedes the dawning of Jewry’s sun, with a complete Redemption through our righteous Mashiach. In the meantime it is dark. The one ray of hope is teshuvah — observing Shabbos and the laws of Family Purity and the other practical obligations, and bringing up one’s children in kosher Talmud Torah schools and yeshivos. Fellow Jews! Vigilantly observe the laws of Family Purity, and Family Purity  will vigilantly watch over your children.” [1]

Now, if Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn’s theology is consistent with that of his father-in-law, whom he routinely quotes at every opportunity, then the real reason why God amputated a limb from the Jewish body was to preserve it from the contagion of sinfulness that characterized the spiritual lifestyle of European Jewry. I do not recall the exact place where I first read this thought, but Rabbi Y.Y. Schneersohn once asked the question, “If God is punishing the Jewish people with the Holocaust, why is it that only the pious and religious Jews are the primary victims and not those who have gone astray from the world of Torah and mitzvot? The Rebbe replied, that when a father punishes a child, he always smacks the child in the face, and the righteous Jews are indeed “the face” of Jewry.”

Despite efforts of Lubavitcher scholars to exonerate their Rebbe, not one of them has yet to deal with the theological legacy left by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. The student is merely reformulating the thinking of his master… Rabbi Schneersohn’s attitude is no different from that of the Christian evangelist Pat Robertson who routinely interprets mayhem and destruction to God’s retributive nature. Simply put, God hates sinners and He is willing, so we are told, to wipe them out–whether by flood, earthquake, pestilence, or even genocide.


[1] Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn and Uri Kaploun (trans.), Likkutei Dibburim Vol 5, (Brooklyn, NY: Kehot Publication Society, 2000), 317-325.

Woman Arrested at the Wall for Wearing a Tallit?!

Byline: Friday, 2:00 PM

This past week, the Israeli police arrested a woman who was praying at the Western Wall, while wearing a tallit (prayer shawl). This was the first time a woman was arrested for wearing a tallit and reading from the Torah.

The Haredi Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch argues that the “Women of the Wall” group is creating strife and friction that defiles the sacredness of the Wall “The group has a place to touch the Kotel, the High Court of Justice gave it all it needs,” he said, referring to a ruling allocating an area adjacent to the Kotel, yet away from the public eye, where woman may don talitot.

The origin of this dispute centers on whether a tallit is considered to be an exclusively male garment or not; one  ancient Targum asserts that a tallit and phylacteries are a “men’s garment,” which is off-limits to women (Deut 22:5).[1] However, the Talmud itself merely says that a woman is exempt from wearing a tallit or phylacteries because these are time-bound precepts that must be observed within a specific time of the day. Commentaries point out that while a woman is “exempt” from observing these precepts, she certainly is not excluded from observing these precepts—should she choose to do so. Continue reading “Woman Arrested at the Wall for Wearing a Tallit?!”

The Divine Feminine—The Theology of Immanence

The Divine Feminine—The Theology of Immanence

History has shown us time and time again how God-images impact the way a religious culture treats its female members. Cultures ruled by a misogynistic conception of the Divine, cannot help but treat its women in a barbarous manner. Indeed, a society that hates its women becomes incapable of loving anything else. Conversely, a religious culture that respects and values the maternal aspects of the Divine Feminine produces a community of believers where life becomes sacred and holy. The reverence for life—across the ideological spectrum—becomes the basis for all societal evolution and development.

Indeed, the new feminist theological movement offers to liberate men and woman from the shackles of a pure masculine anthropomorphic spirituality while expanding their theological horizons about the mysterious nature of the Divine that conceives, carries, and gives birth to all life-forms. Every metaphor of God in the Tanakh paints its own unique picture for how the divine interrelates with the world. The metaphor of God as Mother reveals relationships that in some ways go beyond the limitations of paternal imagery. Continue reading “The Divine Feminine—The Theology of Immanence”