Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Saving the Phenomena

R' Josh Waxman responds to my recent post, and comment, on his blog.

He echoes R' Dr. Berger's point about "the scandal of Orthodox indifference." But does indifference make ideas correct? R' Berger argues that it does not.

R' Wolpoe, who has been my teacher in many things, well, I don't see how his post really "saves the pheonomena," to use Duhem's expression. In the final analysis, "Abraham" is addressing his prayer to God, asking God to make the sound system work. When he asks the sound system directly to work, "Eliezer" corrects him gently. Machnisei Rachamim is addressing a prayer to the angels, who in his analogy are the sound system, asking that they convey our prayers accurately.

Now, the angels do convey our prayers to God, as intermediaries, as we say every day in the first bracha before Shma. But there, they are part of the process, taking our prayers and weaving them into crowns with which they crown God (watch for a post on this, originally published in AishDas' short-lived parsha sheet, Mesukim Mi-Devash). We do not pray to them, we only describe their role in the process of transmission. Praying to the sound system is animism, and right out.

R' Waxman indirectly charges the worldwide rabbinate with indifference on a more central point than the actions of a "fringe" group. As he notes himself, much of the yeshiva world has dismissed Lubavitch for decades. Lubavitch doesn't want to join with other groups, the other groups are happy to let them go their own way. But this is a question of OUR actions, the prayers WE say in our shuls.

Sure, most of the hamon am aren't into fine points of theology. We're more concerned with making a living, supporting our families, setting some time aside for learning, doing good works, etc. Fine points of theology, the apparent contradictions between Ani Maamin and Machnisei Rachamim, well, it's tradition that we say both, so we don't worry about it even if we might think about it. Anyway, there are far more mitzvos regarding actions than there are regarding theology. It's just automatic - Jews believe God Exists as One Alone, is the Destination of prayer, etc. What's the need to worry about the fine points of what some other guys are doing in their own synagogues, away from the rest of us?

But R' Waxman implies that the rabbis don't care either, that the rabbis don't make a point of having the chazzonim avoid Machnisei Rachamim. And some rabbis surely do think about it, and either find a rationalization, or don't have us say it. IIRC, we didn't say it at Slichos this Sunday, Stu (who is also an AishDas activist - AishDas, raising consciousness of mitzvah performance) whizzed right by it without giving time to say it. If some people said it to themselves, that was their own call.

It's in the printed booklets, but do people's shul rabbis make a point of skipping it? make a point of telling the congregation and/or chazan to skip it? Or is the Fifth Principle simply not part of the later understanding of halacha? For instance, read Yigdal (the author lived in Italy c. 1400)
- the idea that God be the sole destination of prayer is skipped. Clearly there was disagreement with the Rambam even among Rishonim on this topic.

R' Waxman's title is also misleading - I'm not arguing that bowing to rabbis as a god-window is OK, I'm arguing that it doesn't necessarily disqualify THEM as good Jews, because they have a plausible rationale within the halachic system, even if we think that rationale is wrong. I'm thinking in terms of the (questionable) teshuva of the Rema on the wine of the Moravians - not that their wine is itself kosher, but that since we can conceive a [false but plausible] rationale whereby they could have thought it was kosher, we can't dismiss them as trustworthy to tell us "this is wine we will drink, this is wine you will drink". It's wrong, but it doesn't cross the line of taking them out of the category of "kosher Jews".

R' Waxman wants to save the phenomena, by dismissing the Jews and their thoughtfulness. I'd prefer to save the phenomena by finding halachic precedent for allowing them, even if I personally wouldn't do so.

IANAR - nothing is to be taken as real halacha.

By the way, I just picked up a copy of Al haTzaddikim in the Kehot store in Crown Heights. I hope to read it soon, and see how heretical it really is, or isn't. If it's in the Kehot store, odds are the leadership considers it not too far from mainstream, although it's still the original printing from 1991.


joshwaxman said...

thanks for the link. I'll consider your words. see also Akiva's comment on my post, saying that bowing to the Rebbe, or praying to the Rebbe, is *not* a Lubavitch practice, but rather just rumors.

Kol Tuv,

joshwaxman said...

just one quick comment for now.

"But does indifference make ideas correct?"

I was not trying to say the indifference makes ideas correct. Rather, indifference makes it such that they are not holding those ideas in the first place. If you would ask them, they might think about it and say that of course we do not pray to angels. But since they are not thinking about it, they are not praying to angels. They are saying mumbo jumbo.

Kind of like how outside of Eretz Yisrael, we can say that idolatry of the gentiles is not *real* idolatry, but just minhag avoseihem biydeihem.

And yes, I would say that most rabbis don't bother thinking about this stuff either. If something is in the machzor or the siddur, someone vetted it, so I don't have to bother with it.

Yes, I would assert that most Jews are not thoughtful about this kind of stuff.

Point taken about the title. Sorry about the misrepresentation.

Kol Tuv,

joshwaxman said...

another thought (sorry, these are coming to me sporadically)

"R' Waxman wants to save the phenomena"
actually, I might well say that they should NOT be doing it, and perhaps that an educational campaign would be in order. rather, i am saying that this error in action here does not describe current Orthodox *belief*, and therefore these actions should not be used as a justification or defense for even worse Chabad beliefs. For the divide is then just a tiny step, but in reality a major gap.

Kol Tuv,

thanbo said...

A lot of stuff in the siddur is the invention of the siddur printers, or the result of other mistakes that don't get corrected, or even sometimes discovered for decades or centuries.

Meanwhile, the practice becomes popular and then ingrained, and the "minhag shtus" origin ceases to matter.

I'm thinking of, e.g., three kabbalah-linked matters:

1) hakafot on simchat torah itself, rather than on motzi yom tov;

2) the pairs of sefiros/middos during the Omer, which is entirely an invention of the siddur printers;

3) I think you mentioned this one, Ledovid H' Ori as a Sabbatean practice.

The problems of Chemdas Yomim are well known. There was a long exchange in the Chabad journal "Heoros Hatemimim Veanash" (archived at haoros.com) about a number of Chabad minhagim, and whether they could be sourced in other places besides the Sabbatean Chemdas Yomim.

The sefirah pairs are based in some letter describing the Ari meditating on the 7 lower sefiros at this time of year, and so some printer came up with a ritual for it.

And hakafot was also based on an error in reprinting a letter where someone described the Ari dancing with the torah on the night of [motza'ei] Simchat Torah.

So what I'm saying, I guess, is that error can become enshrined, but probably won't if it seems to contradict the way Jews do things.

I saw Akiva's comment, I wonder, though, is it just the standard defender's remark, and if I go into 770 will I see a lot of bochrim davening with the Mashiach card next to the siddur?

They take something that is supposed to inspire one to better davening - watching how someone you respect does it - and turn it into a ritual, and by adding a physical picture, does that raise it to idolatry? That's R' Berger's claim, and you & I would probably agree it's wrong, but is it idolatry, with all the avoidance that comes with a conviction for idolatry?

Deborah Shaya said...

1. It is Hashem, the King of the World, who directly provides for all of our needs. And it is to Hashem, that we pray, for our livelihood and sustenance and health. Whatever we receive in life - materially and spiritually - is given to us by Hashem.

The Malachim are the creations of Hashem.

We are not allowed to pray to ANY Malachim.

When Moshe Rabeinu prayed, he prayed to Hashem. He did not pray to any Malachim or any celestial beings. These are all the creations of Hashem.

With regard to the Selichot, and the Neilah prayer for Yom Kippur in the Ashkenazi tradition - they include direct Tefillot and requests to Malachim. Prayers to Malachim are completely forbidden, assur, and cause very great damage and harm. I emphasise that this is something very grave which needs to be rectified - speedily.

The Selichot and the Neilah Tefillah for Yom Kippur should be amended speedily, to remove all prayers and requests to Malachim.

2.There should be NO MEDIATOR between a person's tefillot and Hashem. Mediation in any form is assur and completely forbidden.

If people want to pray to anyone else, and make requests of any being other than Hakadosh Baruch Hu, they might as well join Christianity.

We pray to Hashem – at all times. If a person is insisting on praying to one of the creations of Hashem, instead of directly to the King Himself, Hashem will say to us, "You are meant to pray to ME!"

Remember that Hashem, our G-d, is a very "JEALOUS G-D" who demands "EXCLUSIVE WORSHIP." (2nd Commandment of the Asseret Hadibrot.)

Our very own tefillot, directly to Hashem are much more precious than anything else. Hashem likes to hear the prayers, tefillot, from our own mouths. Even if all we know is how to recite the first 3 letters of the Aleph Bet: Aleph, Bet, Gimmel....