Thursday, October 01, 2009

Authentic Pnimiyus Hatorah - not

This started as a response to the ongoing thread on parshablog reacting to my earlier post. It got a bit long for a comment box, so I'm moving it here.

In terms of pnimiyus (inwardness, secret meaning of) haTorah - we don't have any of it authentically, it has been reconstituted several times through history, and who are you to decide it's avoda zara?

As another poster noted, we don't have the Biblical nister, it wasn't written down. What other nistarot (hidden wisdoms) have we had?
  • The postbiblical period had something like occultism - see the books of Enoch or Jubilees or whatever. That morphed into:
  • Heichalot mysticism, loosely based on Ezek. 1. Heichalot mysticism ceased to work around the time of the Churban, and was finally given up in the early middle ages. Rambam in Guide III says that the old nister is lost, so he'll create a new:
  • philosophical nister, based on what he learned from his teachers. Meanwhile, in France and northern Spain,
  • Kabbalah was developing, in the sense of 10x4 or 5 mysticisms. (sefirot, olamot, partzufim).
  • Then it was resystematized/remapped in the 1500s by the Ari and his circle.
  • Then it was redigested/remapped by the Chasidim in the late 1700s.

We are so far removed from anything "authentic" that we have nothing.

So if something a) fits the facts of halacha, with only minor k'neitching, and b) fits the basics of Jewish belief, why shouldn't it work? be allowed?

It seems that people want there to be a pnimiyus haTorah, even if the hoi polloi don't grasp all the details. They have their folk religion to fill in the gaps between practice and law, between life and ideals. Angels and demons fill in the gaps between the ineffable God and the mundane world.

Superstition may be distasteful to those of us raised on Mod-O philosophism, but it was real to many of our grandparents and great-grandparents, not to mention the Chasidim (see Lis Harris' book) and my non-religious sister (raised in large part by a semi-traditionalist superstitious grandmother).

People need something to put meat on the bones of halacha. I think midrash tried to do that, and worked for a long time, but by the middle ages it faded, or morphed (via late midrashim like TDBE) into kabbalism.

I've got a lot of inchoate thoughts on spirituality and religion, and need some work to put them into order.

9 comments:

Garnel Ironheart said...

I think one of the justifications for all the ooga booga stuff is that men like the Ari, z"l, had a special connection to God which allowed them to reveal the original nistar stuff. Certainly no chasid worth his salt will ever admit that the Ari made it all up!

The end of Koheles, now how did it go again? Something about "Serve God, keep the Torah, that's the whole deal"? Or the whole "Walk modestly with the Lord thine God" stuff. To do that properly takes a lot more effort than people generally realize but being honest in one's dealings, never speaking loshon horo, showing kindness to the poor and downtrodden and learning with real kavannah isn't as exciting as learning kaballah!

thanbo said...

(reposted from parshablog)

I just realized - until the time of the Tannaim, or perhaps the 2nd Temple, the Jews didn't need a pnimiyus haTorah to provide a context for the mitzvot. We had the Beis ha /F/r/i/k/k/i/n/' Mikdash. We had the opportunity for annual or monthly communion with the Divine.

The constructed spiritualities, starting with the Heichalot literature, seems to have started in the post-biblical period, when the Divine connection (miracle fire, aron hakodesh, etc.) was missing from the 2nd Bayit.

I think that's the thesis of Elior's book "The Three Temples", which I have not yet read - the kohanim created the heichalot as an amplification of, and finally a substitute for, the Temple experience.

thanbo said...

Serve God, keep the Torah, sure, that's hard work, as I think a lot of us get reinforced every YK.

But that's a "what" answer, not a "why" answer. And "because He created the world and brought us out from Egypt" is a bit remote, it's not something experiential that grabs you and says THIS is why we have to do all this hard stuff.

Look at the Catholics - they gave up a lot of the experiential mystery (dissolving wafer, secret liturgical language [Latin], funny nun/priest garb), and now you have a lot of lapsed Catholics, or liberalized American Catholics who support abortion, running around. And the nunneries and monasteries are emptying out and dying.

People have some kind of need for the spiritual, to answer the "why". Mussar seems to be yet another (like chumra-ization) answer that diverts attention from "why" to more of "what", and hopes that the masses will lose sight of the real yearning while they get caught up in the emotions of "I'm not doing enough."

There is no good spirituality that I can see for the yeshivish world, that corresponds to the philosophism of the serious-MOs or the kabbalism of everyone else.
I'm beginning to wonder if AishDas ever has much future, without somehow becoming an answer to "why", spirituality, instead of "what" - better ethical behavior. Like, I've been a bit uncomfortable with mussar as THE answer to AishDas' question (how can the FFB make his practice passionate, not rote, like a BT), but until now didn't really have the words to explain it.

micha said...

First, I think that last comment should be repeated on an AishDas forum.

As for the basic question... My own position is closest to your line "So if something a) fits the facts of halacha, with only minor k'neitching, and b) fits the basics of Jewish belief, why shouldn't it work? be allowed?" I would ammend your "minor k'neitching" to only include things one can apologetically call being still open within the rules of pesaq. Since I said "apologetically", that's pretty broad and likely the same as your intent.

As I see it, aggadita is the theory, in the same sense that science produces theories that fit the data. Yes, theories evolve over time. Unlike science, in aggadita most of the evolution is because people are looking at the problem in a new way. A modern simply isn't asking the same question as an Aristotilian.

E.g. The rishonim discuss hashgachah peratis (HP) and conclude it's limited -- either to people, to people who earn it, to people who connect to it, to the nation that is directly under Him, etc... Today, nearly every O Jew would consider a concept of HP that doesn't include the path of every leaf that falls this autumn to be heretical. (They'd be wrong, as this isn't an ikkar emunah, but still, the error shows a level of attachment to the idea.)

But on another level we and the rishonim aren't really discussing the same topic. To a rishon HP is a theological question. To us, it's existential. Note that it's not until the moderns that HP becomes the same conversation as bitachon and hishtadlus. We're discussing topics that are not only different, they are products of different category systems.

-micha

PS: In preparing this comment you made me realize I had two blog entries I thought I wrote but never finished. One on the issue of Qabbalah vs the Rationailists and the other on the relationship between hashkafah and zeitgeist.

thanbo said...

I repeated it on Chevrah and got no response.

I started reading the Orthodox Forum book on Spirituality, and it so far bears out my small understanding:
- spirituality means many things, but the meaningful one for me is RAL's third one: the experiential component of avodas hashem, the reasons why we do what we do;
- Dr. Schiffman reports that Biblically the role of spirituality was filled by the BHMK, and to some lesser extent by tefillah, with an emphasis switching to tefillah after the BHMK was no longer available.

iaz0 said...

Micha, whence comes your following sociological statement:

"Today, nearly every O Jew would consider a concept of HP that doesn't include the path of every leaf that falls this autumn to be heretical. (They'd be wrong, as this isn't an ikkar emunah,.."

That is not at all my impression of ideas current in the MO world. It certainly reflects attitudes in the Hassidic world to the extent that the adherents think about such subjects. It may also reflect thinking in the general Hareidi world. I certainly don't believe it. Denial of that level of hashgacha pratit is not only not heretical, it is also consistent with the idea of a moral Deity. How else can one account for all the undeserved suffering that occurs daily in this world? If chance and circumstance govern most human lives, then they certainly govern the lives of animals or the fate of plant matter - together with indifferent nature.

iaz0

micha said...

I think it reflects attitude in the entire O world among people who do not think much about these subjects. In addition to those Chassidim and followers of R' Dessler's basic gestalt who do consider the topic.

Recall that for the last 3 decades, the typical MO student is largely a product of religious studies teachers who come from one of the two camps I'm referring to above. At least for grade school and much of HS. And if they don't actively study the subject, that's when their opinions are formed.

Personally, I believe in the newfangled universal HP because of chaos theory. At least within this planet and a good space beyond. There is no such thing as an event that won't have some impact on someone who deserves HP. Also, my understanding of Divine Timelessness makes hashgachah and laws of nature two different perspectives of the same thing that have no real difference in meaning.

-micha

iaz0 said...

Micha, your last comment makes the implicit assumption that college educated or otherwise independent minded Orthodox Jews haven't considered the problem of widespread suffering in the world and how it relates to the question of the level of divine hashgacha. How many MO Jews still subscribe to the ideology preached by their Hareidi rebbeim? Besides, any honest rebbe would teach that there is a fundamental difference between the Rambam's view of such hashgacha and that of the Baal Shem Tov and others. He might declare on the side of the latter, but the students will still be aware of the Rambam's hashgacha clalit.

I also don't understand your conclusion that hashgacha pratit must be universal since, allegedly, events in the world necessarily impact everyone. I don't agree with such a thesis, or would consider only serious health and life/death situations as requiring divine protection for those deemed so worthy.

iaz0

micha said...

Yes, my general experience is that O Jews of any stripe don't put much effort into developing their worldview. For that matter, people of any stripe. The O world has it somewhat more difficult because halakhah serves as the centerpiece of learning to draw the intellectually curious.

As for "spirituality", I would say it's living with an active eye toward being or doing the meaningful.

-micha