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Time for Exams!

BS”D

The finals for this semester are closing in, and it provokes the inevitable question: What am I going to write about in my assignments?

This summer will present me for five finals, which all need a written assignment, one of them being a seminar paper, so there will be a lot of writing, which is fine, I do love to write, but it also takes a lot of extra reading. Nothing to do about that, besides to read.

What is nice about this semester, contrary to the last, is that I have more freedom to choose subjects, so the subjects will be more interesting for me. Anyway, as far as I have decided the subjects I am going to write about are:

The Use of Quranic Verses in Umayyad Architecture: In the course Archaeology and History of Muslim Jerusalem I have been wondering where to put my focus. Since the course mostly focused on the archaeology, and not so much in the history (well, it is part of it), I wondered how to combine it with my study of religion. My decision fell on the use of Quranic verses, which seems to be have very widespread during the Umayyad Caliphate, e.g. in the Dome of the Rock, so I thought that it could be interesting to see how the Quran was used as part of architecture and whether it was meant as some sort of educational tool, as was the case with other expressions of thought, e.g. in mosaics.

Christian Thought on Free Will: In the Early Christianity and Late Antiquity we have dealt most of this semester with studies on Augustine. In one of the classes we dealt with another Christian and contemporary of Augustine, Pelagius, who did provoke some controversy, among other thing on the question of free will and original sin. I found the thought interesting, especially from a theological point of view. Do we really have free will? If not, is God then Just? And if so, is God then All Powerful? It’s going to be interesting to see what these two thinkers thought of it.

Abraham ibn ‘Ezra’s response to Muslim Polemical Arguments: In the Medieval Jewish Exegesis we have dealt with the commentaries and methodology of four great Jewish commentators from the medieval Western Europe, namely Rashi, his grandson Rashbam, Abraham ibn ‘Ezra, and RaMBaN. Since I am mostly focused in the meetings between Islam and Judaism, I have decided to focus on ibn ‘Ezra and possible answers against Muslim attacks on the Jewish faith. I have to admit that I’m not too sure whether he really did deal with it, so I might change focus to his answers to the Karaites instead, in order to keep my focus on the Muslim world.

The Jewish Convert’s Attack on Judaism, and the Jewish Thinker’s Responses: The Battle over the Bible has really been an interesting course, where I’ve learned a lot of new things concerning approaches to the Bible as text and as phenomenon, both concerning Jewish, Christian and Muslim attitudes. Especially one Muslim caught my attention, the 12th century Jewish convert, Samaw’el al-Maghrabi, who wrote a polemical work against the Jewish faith called Ifham al-Yahoud, Silencing the Jew. This work apparently did become rather known, since we see a lot of later responses to it. One who responded rather early is Maimonides, though not on all of the Ifham, and probably not directly on it either. In his Iggeret Teyman, Letter to Yemen, he responds on some of the claims which is being brought forth in the Ifham. It could be interesting to see how the two view the Bible, and how Samaw’el’s approach differ from earlier Muslim approaches to the Bible.

Jewish Influences on Early Islamic Jurisprudence: This is one I’m really looking forward to, and which I have spend a lot of time considering. In the Early Islamic Texts and the Formation of the Muslim Community I have chosen to write my first seminar paper. I did decide from the outset to focus on Islamic law, since I feel that there are a lot of similarities between law in Islam and in Judaism, both in rules but also in methodology and attitudes. It is going to be a challenging subject though, leaving me with four problems to choose between. The first is the obvious comparative study of Jewish and Islamic Jurisprudence, where I wondered about whether there are any Jewish influences in the way early Islamic scholars approached the deduction of laws. One reason why I think so is the contrast in method there existed between the two earliest schools of law in Islam, al-Maliki and al-Hanafi, the former being situated in Medina and Mecca, and traditionally focused on tradition, based on the logic that since the prophet lived there, then he would naturally correct people who did things incorrect as well as showing the people the correct ways, whereas the latter, situated in Iraq, was much more inclined to relate to logical reasoning, something they might have learned from the many great Jewish scholars which had their ancient dwelling there, namely in the old Babylon. It wouldn’t be totally weird for the early Muslims to have relations to the Jewish scholars of Iraq. This doesn’t mean that there was influences or that they were total in so far as there were. The problem is how to relate to the matter, do we choose to make an external or internal study, do we compare the apparent similarities or do we go in and focus on the approach and outlook.

The interest in this particular subject was raised by two articles, one by Judith Romney Wegner, “Islamic and Talmudic Jurisprudence: The Four Roots of Islamic Law and their Talmudic Counterparts,” and one by Joseph E. David, “Legal Comparability and Cultural Identity: The Case of Legal Reasoning in Jewish and Islamic Tradition.”

In Islamic Jurisprudence there are four sources traditionally, two revealed sources, Quran and the Sunnah of the prophet (as it is found in the Hadith-literature), as well as Ijma, which means consensus, as well as Qiyas, which means analogical reasoning. The two first sources are agreed upon a hundred percent by all four schools, where as the two latter sources are subject for discussions.

Wegner, in her article, argues that the four sources are influenced by Jewish sources in the Talmud, the Quran being the Islamic answer on the Written Torah, the Sunnah on Oral Torah (written down in what is called Mishnah, which root is close to the root of sunnah), the consensus of the Ulamah, the learned Islamic scholars, being the Islamic answer on the consensus of the Sages, and Qiyas, legal reasoning being the answer on the Talmudic reasoning, two forms of reasoning which seem pretty similar, at least from an external point of view. And it is here where David comes in with his article, where he deals with different approaches to the comparative study, attempting to present a new approach, “jurisprudential consciousness”, based on the conscious ideas, principles, concepts, beliefs and reasoning of the jurist, which contrary to Wegner’s approach is a much more internal approach, leaving a different impression than the first.

An example is in its place, taken from David’s article. In both the Talmudic reasoning as well as in Islamic reasoning there is an understanding of judicial error, that is, a judge who makes a faulty decision. There are two categories under this subject, those faults which are based on lack of knowledge or understanding of the revealed sources, and those which is caused by flawed legal reasoning. In both Judaism and Islam the former has to be corrected, whereas the latter is accepted. And in both religions the former is based on precisely the same criteria, going against the revealed sources (in Judaism the Written and the Oral Torah, and in Islam the Quran and the Sunnah), where is the criteria differs in the latter case. In the Talmud the flaw based on legal reasoning is based on the wrong choice of two differing opinions, which have never been dealt with. It can be the case of two Tannaim (Mishnaic Sages) or two Amoraim (later Sages from the Gemarrah) who have a disagreement which was never solved. A later judge might then base his decision on one of the two opinions, whereas the general practice follows the other opinion. It is a fault, since he should have followed the normal practice, but it is still accepted. In case of Islamic thought, at least according to Shafi’i, the fault is caused based on flawed legal reasoning based on the principle of qiyas, analogy, not on the judge deciding the wrong of two differing opinions. And here we see a contrast between Jewish and Islamic legal reasoning.

But this is only the first of the four possible problems I might choose among. That is, how much similarity or difference are there between Jewish and Islamic legal thought, and can this be a sign of Jewish influence on early Islamic legal thought? The next problem is to establish connections. Namely, are there any Jewish converts who had influence on early Islamic law? If not, can we then assume that early Muslim legal scholars met with Jewish scholars and discussed with them? That is also an interesting question, a question which demands a different approach, focusing on historic accounts on interfaith meetings between Jews and Muslims within the first centuries of Islamic time.

The third question deals with the reasoning and methods of the “ahl al-ra’y,” the people of reasoning, the early Islamic scholars in Iraq, an important step in understanding the way the resonated in their dealing with legal questions. The reason for the importance of this, is obvious. If Shafi’i, a third century AH Islamic scholar, can be said to be influenced by Jewish thought, whereas the earlier Islamic scholar in Iraq differ strongly, then the question is how much Jewish legal thought influenced Islamic legal thought, and if at all.

The fourth problem is the already mentioned difference in approach found in the Meccan-Medinan legal thought, as expressed by imam al-Maliki, and the Iraqi legal thought, expressed by imam abu Hanifa, and their disciples. There are differences and the root and cause of these differences can be hinting to some Jewish influences on the one of them, so far as we can point to any similarity in the legal thought of the two religions.

My problem is to choose only one of these for problems, not having room or time enough to deal seriously with all of them. And I am in doubt which one of them to focus on.

So, there you are. This is my program for next two months. I’m looking forward to share thoughts and progress with you.

Slowly Slowly

BS”D

 

I have long time been a fan of Shahram Nazeri, the great Kurdish-Iranian singer, by some called the Pavarotti of Iran, a comparison which is meant positive, but which I find flawed. Nazeri has a different style and should not be compared to other singer, how great they might be, who perform with a totally different style of singing.

But, as I wrote, Nazeri is indeed a great singer, having the ability to pierce through into hearts with his melancholic voice, as he depicts the poets of Rumi. And that he does as no one else can.

See his version of Andak Andak, where he sings about the love-drunk returning from the flowerfield, after having worshiped wine, now coming gentle returning from the world of being and non-being, the non-being leaving and only the being staying.

What we are dealing with is the Sama, the sufi-dhikr, where the Divine and the created is becoming one through the devotion to God, done through song and dancing, as we see the Dervishes still doing it today. The love-drunk have drank from the wine of the Wine-Maker, worshiped Him through the wine, and are now spiritually lifted and aroused by the love for the Divine non-Being.

Or is it actually the other way around? Are we following the group of worshipers coming to worship, slowly, gently coming, being like flowers, prepared to be seen? Are we following them as they are getting ready to leave this non-existent world, and only exist what what Is, at least for a short time? The love-drunk drinking the wine and being one with the Being. Alas, such a moment only last all to short a time, and suddenly the water bearer sober us, and we are again among the poor:

The wine is from that world, the vessels from this;
The vessels are seen, but the wine is hidden!
Hidden indeed from the sight of the carnal,
But open and manifest to the spiritual!
O God, our eyes are blinded!
O pardon us, our sins are a heavy burden! (Masnavi, Book VI)

 

What is (the) Truth?

BS”D

Paul Salahuddin Armstrong posted af picture with a quote by Hazrat Inayat Khan, which really inspired me. The quote is one of ten utterances said by him, concerning the unity of mankind and the world (and everything in between). These ten utterances is considered the foundation of his Universal Sufism and goes:

  1. There is one God; the Eternal, the Only Being; None exists save He.
  2. There is one master; the guiding spirit of all souls that constantly leads all followers toward the light.
  3. There is one holy book; the sacred manuscript of nature, the only Scripture that can enlighten the reader.
  4. There is one religion; unswerving progress in the right direction toward the Ideal, which fulfills every soul’s life purpose.
  5. There is one law; the law of reciprocity, which can be observed by a selfless conscience, together with a sense of awakened justice.
  6. There is one brotherhood; the human brotherhood which unites the children of earth indiscriminately in the fatherhood of God.
  7. There is one moral; the love which springs forth from self-denial and blooms in deeds of beneficence.
  8. There is one object of praise; the beauty which uplifts the heart of its worshipper through all aspects from the seen to the unseen.
  9. There is one truth; true knowledge of our being, within and without, which is the essence of Wisdom.
  10. There is one path; annihilation of the false ego in the real, which raises the mortal to immortality, in which resides all perfection.

The one quoted by Salahuddin Armstrong is the ninth, “There is one truth; true knowledge of our being, within and without, which is the essence of Wisdom.” It made me think about what truth indeed is. Of course, all of us hold a set of beliefs, whether based on religious principles or not, which we understand our worlds from, and these beliefs are what is making up ‘truth’ for each and every one of us. In that manner truth is relative, being condoned to the holder and how he or she sees the world.

But what Hazrat Inayat Khan presents us for here is something else, something more confound. It is not merely knowing things or believing in something, but insight and understanding of our existence. I am not sure we can fully obtain truth, only attempt to reach it, but it can – I believe – only be obtained or approached by the full attempt to contemplate and ponder on our existence, our own private being, as well as the existence surrounding us, whether in the small or the big. Of course, not many of us have neither the time nor the opportunity to do that, at least not on a constant level, but that doesn’t mean that we should abstain from doing it at all, rather we should attempt to spend the time given us, no matter how much or little that might be, to delve into the nuances and understandings of our existence.

That said, when I read Hazrat Inayat Khan’s utterances, then I get the feeling that he indeed reached a glimpse of true understanding. Maybe not the truth itself, but at least true understanding of things, and how we are connected.

Anyway, just some thoughts I wanted to share.

The Chosen People

BS”D

Michael Kay, at “Thinking through my fingers” (visit his blog, he is seriously an amazing writer and brilliant thinker), wrote a post where he reflected on the Jews as a “Chosen people.” I found it highly inspiring and felt the need to let it out on him, so I wrote the following as a response (which I also posted there):

Hi Michael

And thank you for a wonderful and inspiring post:o)

I have some reflections to share, I hope it is okay with you. Unfortunately I’m not at home, so I can’t give precise sources every time I will be using them, but I will get back to it, bli neder.

I really do love R. Sacks and his attempts to connect our modern way of thinking and Judaism. In that sense I believe that he follows the tradition of many other historical Jewish thinkers, though whether he is on the same level always can be discussed (I don’t believe that he is on the level of a thinker like haRaMBaM, Z”L, nor do I expect him or any other today to be).

I believe though that the answer is found in each of the three categories, though mostly in the two latter ones. But we do find examples on the Jewish nation being something exemplar to the other nations in some Jewish traditions, one place is the Babylonian Talmud, tractate ‘Avodah Zarah, where God more or less makes a fool out of the nations, leveling Israel above them. That is one of the few examples on this though, the more dominant approach being the Biblical approach in Deuteronomy 7:7-8, quoted by you, expressing that Israel “were the fewest of all peoples.” If number or greatness of a people would be the deciding factor, then Ishma’el would be more likely, as we see that God will bless him “and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation” (Genesis 17:20). In this respect is it also interesting to consider the midrash on the giving of the Torah, how God had to hold the mountain over the Israelites, threatening them by destruction, since the sole reason for their existence is Torah (something also repeated in the Quran).

The Jews are chosen, not to be superior, at least not in might, that one seemed to go more to Ishma’el and ‘Esaw, but to be a light to the nations, and as a student of the Torah. You mention that “there is the problem of the Jew who abandons their responsibility and assimilates into the surrounding culture,” and that is – I believe – also reflected in the Torah, in the story of Dathan and Aviram, refusing to “go up” to Moses, and instead were swallowed by the earth. I read in this the consequence of assimilating, refusing to “go up to Moses,” that is, staying “loyal to the Torah.”

Our role as a “light unto the nations,” is not fulfilled by being perfect observant, but by spreading (Jewish) values to the world, not by hiding in a ghetto, but by taking part in the world, while still staying true to the Torah. By relating to our brit with God do we show God’s intentions for all of us, that is, not necessarily by not eating milk and meat together, nor by not mixing materials in our clothes, wearing tzitzit (that us more for our own sake) and so on, that is mostly in order that the world may realize that we are Jews, and by that seeing our – hopefully – examples as related to God. And then there are some of our commandments which carry in them a deep ethical understanding, where the sole fulfilling of the commandment is giving a light, such as the already mentioned not eating meat and milk together. Think on Rashbam’s commentary to the verses dealing with not cooking the kid in its mother’s milk, and how he points out that it is deeply unethical to kill something and then enjoying it with its life source. The giving of tzedaqah, as contrasted to charity, is showing that caring for those in worse situations than ours is a plight, a duty, not something we are doing to feel good about ourselves. And so on. And the more we interfere with the world and get out there, the stronger this will stand. It is obvious that by hiding in the ghetto we, first and foremost, won’t experience much challenge (just doing what everybody else is doing), and, secondly, we are actually being “lights for the world,” not merely “lights.”

And it certainly speaks miles about God, that He would want to choose the Jews as His people. History have shown again and again that we have failed. Even today we find it hard to show our gratitude to finally having a country of our own (as well as others also, we shouldn’t forget that), but yet He stayed loyal through it all, even when we – in general – did not. Sure, He punishes, but more than that does He forgive, care, and love.

I think that we should have a double understanding of the choseness, not only talking about a chosen people, but also of chosen individuals. Abraham, more than anyone, allowed him to act in pure trust, going against the ways of his people. Abraham, though bringing a household with him, acted as an individual, for that he was rewarded, but he also became the example for each and every one of us.

Finally, I think that much of the bad reactions we get from Christians and Muslims, when they react to us being “chosen,” is projections. Both Christianity and Islam work with an understanding of choseness themselves, such as only having Christians being saved, as well as the Islamic Ummah being the perfect Ummah. They transfer understandings of these concept to how they believe Jews view the idea of being “chosen.” And maybe, probably, many Jews actually are viewing the notion of being Jewish and “chosen” the same way. But all in all that is something that is far from the Jewish thought (and not the thoughts of Jews).

Again, thanks for an inspiring post:o)

All the best

Radiating Love and Tolerance

BS”D

I felt like sharing another of R. HaKohen Kook’s letters with you, this talking about the relation between one’s quest for God and his love for mankind.

It seems like there’s something about it. I feel that in the periods where I tend to draw closer to God, and meditate more on His Teachings, then I become more relaxed and patient. I tend to see people more positive, and not wanting to get into long intense discussions.

R. HaKohen Kook calls it the “Higher Holiness,” which would seem to be to be related to one’s nearness to God, being shown through the holiness radiating from God through the believer, being visible through his care and tolerance for others. Anyway, judge for yourself:

The Holiness That Abounds with Love for All

The higher holiness abounds with love, compassion and tolerance, as the mark of its most radiant perfection.

Hatred, sternness and irritability result from forgetting God, and the extinguishing of the light of holiness.

The more intense the quest for God is in a person’s heart, the more the love for all people will grow in him. He will also love the wicked and the heretics and desire to correct them, as he indeed corrects them by his great faith.

However, a person is unable openly to show love except to someone in whom he finds a good element. He will thus be able to direct his love to the dimension of the good. He will not be hurt by the evil side in those people to whom he will extend love in meeting his commitment to love people, which involves being good and extending good to the wicked as well as the good.

Orot HaQodesh, Vol. III, p. 317

Rav Avraham Isaak HaKohen Kook, Z”L

BS”D

Rav Avraham Isaak HaKohen Kook was born in Russian Griva (today Daugavpils in Latvia) in 1865. Born to a Litvik father, it would seem normal that R. Kook himself would become follower of the Litvik movement, but having a grandfather, on his mother’s side, who was from one of the Hassidic dynasties, the Kapust, it is not weird to consider his way and embracement of the Hassidic ways. He did spend some times in a Litvik yeshivah, the same his father had studied in, but stopped there after one and a half year to continue his studies elsewhere. He got his first position as Rabbi when he was 23, in Zaumel (today Zeimelis) in Lithuania. In 1904 he moved to Jaffa (in today’s Israel) to become  rabbi there, where he engaged in ‘kiruv,’ outreach for Jews to bring them closer to Torah.

When the first world war broke out, R. HaKohen Kook was caught outside Israel, where he had to spend the war in London and Switzerland until 1918. In 1916 he became rabbi for the Mahzike HaDat in Brick Lane, London, and upon returning to Palestine, he became the rabbi for Jerusalem until 1921, where he became the chief rabbi for the Ashkenazi Jews in Palestine.

Though he was very skilled in Halachah, Jewish religious law, he still showed an openness and sense of universalism, which gave him hard opposition from many sides in the Haredi world, misunderstanding his embracement of secular people, who he saw as Jews needing to be brought back to the fold, instead of being condemned.

There are so much I could write about R. HaKohen Kook and still feeling that I didn’t tell enough afterwards. He indeed was a brilliant mind, a great thinker, and a role model, maybe even more today than then. I’m not sure I would be able to do him right though, so I’ll rather let you get an understanding of him by his own word. I hope that this will be my introduction to a series of post, where I will deal a little with his thoughts, and that they will make you more interested in this great thinker.

One of the reasons why I’m so fascinated by him is his sense of the combination of universalism and particularity in relation to each other. That the Jewish People has a special place, but that we also are connected to the rest of Human kind as well as creation. That we basically have the same sources, though different roles to fulfill. The first thought of his I want to share, is his letter “The Value of Opposition,” from his “Orot HaQodesh,” Lights of Holiness:

The Value of Opposition

Ideologies tend to be in conflict. One group at times reacts to another with total negation. And this opposition becomes pronounced the more important a place ideas have in the human spirit. To one who assesses all this opposition on the basis of its inner significance, it appears as illustrating the need for the spatial separation of plants, which serves as an aid to their growth, enabling them to suck up [from the earth] their needed substance. Thus will each one develop to its fullness, its particularities. Excessive closeness would have blurred and impaired them all. The proper unity results only from this separation. One begins by separation and concludes by unification.

Orot HaQodesh, Vol. I, pp. 15.

 

When I think about the conflicts we have today, this seems to be the essence, that sometimes we are so opposed to each other that we need to be parted. It is not always so. Or rather, I find some conflicts on different stages. When it comes to the conflict between believers, especially between Jews and Muslims, I do see us nearing the conclusion, that we need to be unified. I don’t mean by this that we should become one and same religion, but that we should be as brothers, seeing that though we are different, then we are the more similar, holding the same values and care for God. We both have our fanatics, who cannot accept any other than those thinking like themselves, but that is even yet another similarity which should bring us together, understanding that we share internal challenges, and in that way can fight them together.

We have been allowed to grow up and develop our particularities, identifying ourselves in relation to the other. Now it must be time to identify each other as brothers, and reach for a shared existence.

What’s Going On?

BS”D

 

As I hope you have noticed it has been some time since my last post. I am sorry for that, but the last couple of weeks have simply been too busy and packed, among other things with the conclusion of my assignments and the beginning of the new semester.

When I have received my grades I will most likely share one or more of my assignments, or at least tell about them, so for those interested, there is something to look forwards to!

My new semester offers both the continuation of some old courses, as well as the introduction of some new ones. Early Christianity and Early Islamic Texts are continuing, though with the unfortunate change in the former, that Dr. Paula Fredriksen is not going to teach us anyway, so we are continuing under Dr. David Satran (who definitely is a good teacher, no doubt). The focus in the new semester will be on Augustine, so I’m looking forward to spend some time on one of the biggest Christian thinkers. If any of you out there can recommend any material on him, then please let me know.

Hebrew is also being continued, though on a new level, which also introduce me to a course on Jewish Texts. On Hebrew. High level Hebrew. Just hope that it’s not going to be too high, though I do speak Hebrew I’m still not used to it in an Academic context, but I’ll guess that will change now.

The new courses are Medieval Jewish Exegesis, with focus on Rashi, Rashbam, and Ibn ‘Ezra, Z”L, going to be interesting, and after the first class I can see that it’s certainly is going to teach me a lot of new things. Stay tuned for that one. I also am going to begin a course in History and Archaeology of Muslim Jerusalem, something I really am looking forwards to, but we are waiting for the first class, because of strikes (big dislike). And finally a course called “The Battle over the Bible!” on Jewish, Christian, and Muslim polemics and interpretation of the Bible. Definitely also going to be interesting, already having discussed whether the Rabbis believed that they had the exact original text being revealed in their hands (they didn’t!), so also a course I’m going to relate to a lot.

 

What else will I be focusing on this semester? Since I’m going to write a seminar paper on Fiqh, Islamic Jurisprudence, there probably will be some focus on that, as well as gender studies in Judaism and Islam, since my focus will be on that in context of religious law the next coming semesters (I think). I’m working on Langmuir’s and Geertz’ theories of Religion, so I’ll probably also deal a little with that.

Besides that it’ll probably be whatever comes to my mind, as normal.

 

That’s it I think. Take care out there!

My Rituals and I

BS”D

 

As I’ve told earlier, I work (volunteering) as a writer on a Danish web-portal, Religion.dk. The last article I was asked to write, was about my view on rituals.

Since I wrote the article, I have been thinking about it, mostly because I wasn’t very satisfied with it, but also about how I view and understand rituals in general. It’s like the thought doesn’t want to leave my mind. So I though that I wanted to reflect a little more on it, sharing my thoughts with you.

 

As you all know I’m a Jew, a religious one of the kind, and rituals play a huge part of my religion, from I get up in the morning to going to sleep in the evening (or night), whether we talk prayers, studies or something else. My first action when waking, is a ritual, giving thanks to G-D for letting my soul return to my body (according to Jewish belief that the soul leaves the body during sleep, having sleep being on sixtieth of death). Wakening can be considered a miracle and a chance for making a better life.

After waking up I wash my hand. Well, washing sounds a little simplified, I perform a ritual washing of hands, since I don’t know where I’ve put my hands during sleep (hmm). After that giving thanks for having a body that works as it’s supposed to, then blessing the “returner of souls,” putting on the Tzitzit (also with a blessing), blessing the commandment of studying Torah, as well as blessing the One giving us the Torah, establishing peace, reminding myself, and whoever listen, of the things we don’t have limits on doing, such as the study of Torah, doing good deeds and so on, reminding myself of things I have to do in this life, but for which I receive the “payment” in the World to Come, then going on to the prayer, putting on the Tallit and the Tefillin, and then the morning prayer.

Does it sound of a lot to do? This is just the first fifteen minute to half hour. Of course, the morning prayer, Shaharit, makes it even longer. My day is one long ritual.

This might most likely seem overwhelming for he or she, who isn’t used to such a structured day, and at first it was so too for me, but it is something you will get used to, making it a practice, a habit. And here lies the danger, that it becomes just that, a habit. The thing is, actions without thoughts are empty actions, like a body without a soul. What is your prayer worth, if your thoughts are dealing with everything else besides directing your focus to Him, Who you’re praying to?

 

The truth is that I appreciate the rituals, whether I say a blessing over a piece of chocolate or prepare myself for the prayer, it gives me a sense of structure, sense of the day, a pulse. But I also fear the rituals, for they can become habits, and if they become so, they become meaningless, even worse than that, a mockery. I sincerely believe that G-D wants us to live, to reflect, to perceive, but doing without thinking about what you’re doing, is doing the opposite of these things, doing an act without reflecting, being aware of it, is like making a body without life. That’s why my rituals are not only actions, done in order to make my life reflect my religion, but also being a provocation to reflection, whether tying my laces or relating to another human being (or just being in general).

Wondering

BS”D

 

I’m sitting and reading up on theories in Religious Studies, and went through some of the founding theorists (at least claimed to so), Marx, Freud, Nietzsche and Saussure. The last, being a linguistic, founded the theory on language as a structure of signs, being related to synchronic rather than diachronic.

A part of his theory is that words have their meanings from a structured understanding, being created on a conventional fundament, rather than having the words inheriting their meanings based on some natural relation to the objects of the words. That is, the word “dog” means “dog” because that is something we have agreed on, not because there is some natural relation between the word and the object. This is explained a little simple, I know.

 

Anyway, the thing is that he sees words as having meaning from their opposition, that is, a dog is a dog, opposed to cat, not based on the magical composition of the word dog, with the three letters magically put together and then giving this particular meaning.

Why that is important for the study of religion, is that this concept, the understanding of “symbols” or “signs” (words being signs or symbols) can be used in the study of religion as well, and thus we can understand what something is or mean, by putting against what it is not (for example, day is not night), hence we can get an understanding of what holy is by putting it opposite what is profane (or the other way around) as well as good and evil and so on.

 

Anyway, what struck me is the focus the various religions put on some symbols, for example “good” vs. “evil,” and how we can get a better understanding of the religions by seeing which symbolic value they put on what is “right” vs. what is “wrong,” as well as how they relate to it.

Here in particular I thought about Christianity and Judaism. Where the dichotomy is being formed around “good” and “evil” in Christianity (take for example Jesus and Satan), in Judaism it is more about “allowed” and “forbidden” in Judaism (doing the commandment or refraining from it), which seems to me that the two religions have different relation to what is a right moral behavior. I haven’t established any thesis or theory on this, it is just a thought I got, but if there is something about it, then the whole notion of “Judeo-Christian” anything seems to be, well, without any basis, since that would be putting two different notions, which differ to much to make it one. Or would it?

 

Seems like something I have to think a little more about, but please feel free to add comments. If it gave any sense at all.

 

Take care out there!

Freedom of Speech (?)

 

In Denmark we have a radio program called Radio24syv (radio 24-7), which have had some incidents making it look not too pro-Jewish.. Last year one of the hosts talked about the “damn Jew-lobby” and last week there was another incident, where the guest and a caller had a conversation lasting several minutes, talking about Nazism being a “beautiful” thing and that the existence of the “Mosaic society” should be discussed publicly, among other things, without the host reacting to it at all.

Of course does this not sit well with me, it’s not only being critical but rather hateful against  people like me, not because of what we do, but because of what we are, and only because of that. Stating that “Nazism is a beautiful thing” is crossing my borders, I have to admit.

But some people, commenting this, stated that it’s freedom of speech, that people have the right to speak their minds, but do they really?

I’m personally for freedom of speech, at least until the point where we are going from being critical and stating that, till the point where we are indulging in a discussion that speaks or encourage the killing or damaging of others. Also recently in Denmark we had an artist (artist for some at least), named Kidd, who wrote on his Twitter that he hoped something would kill the head of DF (Danish Popular Party), which did attract criticism, but he (and others) defended himself by saying that he didn’t want to do it, that is, kill her, but rather that he hoped someone would. Now, is that encouraging violence or is it simply stating his opinion, and should he be free in doing so?

We also have other cases, where people are being taken to court for hateful speech, for example the artist and blogger Firoozeh Bazrafan, as well as some neo-Nazis (who were deemed innocent) – not to compare Firoozeh and the neo-Nazis.

The question is, where do we draw the line? Should we – in the name of freedom of speech – accept every statement? Should, as another example, accept that an editor of an American newspaper write in his editorial that one option for Israel, should be to kill the president of the USA, or should that be considered a threat, encouragement to violence or the like?

And should we accept excuses such as religion? Would a rabbi, who stated that homosexuality is basically wrong, be freed while a non-religious person, stating the same, whether in a different phrasing, be punished?

 

Where do we draw the line?