Sunday, January 3, 2010

Rabbi Marc Angel Takes on Kupat Ha'ir



With the scandal of Rabbi Leib Tropper still falling around us, I thought I would put in a word about Rabbi Marc Angel. I just finished reading Rabbi Angel's Maimonides, Spinoza and Us: Toward an Intellectually Vibrant Judaism (Thank you Miss. S. for the excellent book recommendation.) and am now a fan. If only Orthodox Judaism was the sort of religion that had people like Rabbi Angel running conversions and had not sold its soul to Haredi fanatics, we might not be in this Tropper mess. (I give credit to Daniel Eidensohn of Daas Torah for being one Haredi blogger who is serious about taking on Rabbi Tropper and his defenders within the Haredi community.) Rabbi Tropper was one of the major forces behind the Slifkin ban. For me these issues are connected. We have to deal with rabbis who put bans out on anyone who believes that the earth is older than six thousand years and feel that it is their right to destroy Judaism for their own personal profit because we choose to grovel at the feet of Haredim and beg them to accept us. If we are going to win the battle for Judaism we are going to have to turn the tables on our opponents and make the issue about their legitimacy. Instead of the issue being whether conversions of people (and their rabbis) who believe that the earth is older than six thousand years are valid, the issue has to be whether we accept the validity of conversions of people who do not believe that the earth is older than six thousand years. Evolution needs to be not just something that one can accept if one needs to do so for outreach purposes; the acceptance of the scientific process that has led us to evolution needs to be at the bedrock of our faith and no one who has any doubts to it can be allowed to serve in a position of responsibility in our community. Rabbi Angel's book is such a defense of Judaism. It is unapologetic in its support of Maimonides and is even willing to put in a good word for Baruch Spinoza. (I doubt an Orthodox rabbi could be much more pro Spinoza and still remain Orthodox.) More than that, it is willing to turn the tables on the opposition and say "not only is our Maimonidean understanding a legitimate understanding of Judaism, it is the legitimate understanding of Judaism. If you do not operate within the Maimonidean framework than you are the one who is not a true believer in Judaism.

The Maimonidean understanding of God, with its insistence that any notion of God having physical attributes, even emotions, or that one can use an intermediary for prayer of any sort is idolatry, is important to how I operate. It allows me to point blank dismiss all Haredi authorities as either being idolaters themselves or conscious enablers of idolatry. One of my favorite examples of Haredi idolatry is the organization Kupat Ha'ir. This organization offers donors specific blessings to be given by prominent rabbis. Recently I saw a brochure offering to send rabbis to pray at the tomb of the matriarch, Rachel, in Bethlehem. I was reading the descriptions of Mother Rachel acting on behalf of her children and desiring to hear from them and could not find a meaningful difference between that and my medieval and early modern Catholics beseeching the Virgin Mary. Traditional Jewish thought (as well as Protestant thought) looks at such actions as idolatry. (It is an interesting question how one gets around having to kill these idolatrous Catholics and can be allowed to live with them in a liberal and tolerant society.) As part of my Asperger nature, I am brutally consistent even to the point of what other people might see as insanity. If Catholics are going to be idolaters than those Haredim behind Kupat Ha'ir also should be deemed idolaters. Rabbi Angel, in his book, comes after Kupat Ha'ir in a similar vain.


A significant Orthodox charitable organization provides assistance to needy individuals and families. On a regular basis, it sends glossy brochures to potential donors, soliciting contributions. These brochures include abundant pictures of saintly looking men with long white beards, engaged in Torah study and prayer, and signing their names on behalf of this charitable organization. The brochures promise donors that the Gedolei haDor (the great sages of our generation) are official members of the organization. One of the rabbinic sages associated with this charity is quoted to say, "all who contribute to [this charity] merit to see open miracles." Moreover, donors are told that the Gedolei haDor will pray on their behalf and are actually given a choice of blessings they would like to receive from these prayers: to have pleasure from their children, to have children, to find a worthy mate, to earn an easy livelihood. "Urgent request are immediately forwarded to the homes of the Gedolei haDor."



Is it appropriate for a Gadol haDor to assure contributors that they will be worthy of open miracles? Can anyone rightfully speak on behalf of the Almighty's decisions relating to doing open miracles? Doesn't this statement reflect a belief that prayers uttered by so-called sages (similar to incantations uttered by shamans!) can control God's actions, even to the extent of making God do miracles?

Moreover, why should people be made to feel they are not qualified to pray to God directly? Why should religious leaders promote the notion that if people will pay money, some pious individual will recite a prayer at the Kotel – and that the prayer uttered by such an individual at the Kotel is more efficacious than our own prayers? How tasteless and contrary to religious values is notion that a minyan of outstanding talmidei hakhamim will pray if you pay enough, but that only one will pray for you if you choose to contribute less than the recommended sum?


In this brochure, dressed as it is in the garb of Torah-true religion, we have a blatant example of superstitious-tainted Judaism. The leaders of this organization assume: (1) Gedolei haDor (we are not told who decides who is a Gadol haDor, nor why any Gadol haDor would want to run to the Kotel to pray every time a donor called in an "urgent request") have greater powers to pray than anyone else; (2) a Gadol haDor can promise open miracles if we send in a donation; (3) a prayer uttered at the holy site of the Kotel has more value than a prayer uttered elsewhere, that is, the Kotel is treated as a sacred, magical entity; and (4) A kvitel placed in a crevice in the Kotel has religious value and efficacy. This brochure relies on the public's gullible belief in the supernatural powers of Gedolei haDor and the Kotel. (pg. 107-08)

26 comments:

Heshy Fried said...

I would definitely not call myself Haredi, but I did post two times devoted to Tropper (google his name and see who comes up in the first 3 results) and there were several other orthodox bloggers that took Tropper to task, now I'm just trying to figure out how to do a Tropper- Tiger Woods post.

Either way - Kupat Ha'ir and I have written about it too - is such crap, it's like product placement with Jewish celebrities, next thing you know you will see Rav Shach drinking some frummie brand of orange juice or something.

Miss S. said...

Awesome - you know when I read that part of the book, I just knew that you would appreciate. I'm glad that I was able to win over another frum Jew to this side :-D

Jon said...

WADR:

The prescription here is flawed from the start, and I'll tell you why. But first, the minor issues:

-Traditional Jewish Thought has been the home to a whole number of views on anything and everything. As such, it's impossible to say that "Traditional Jewish thought looks at such actions as idolatry," because it's simply not true. If you want to say "Rationalist Jewish thought," fine, and I'd agree that we need to push our rationalism in our Jewish thought more, but we're already making a distinction. Moreover, the place they get the idea of praying to Rachel isn't exactly nowhere - it's Tanakh. There's an episode (I think at the end of Yirmiyahu but I don't recall) in which HKB"H asks the Avot what they'd say in defense of their offspring, and they say "destroy 'em" and then Rachel comes to the rescue. So again, we can argue about interpretations, but be careful before you say something has no place in "Traditional Jewish Thought."

-Christians basically aren't idolaters. Non-Jews are allowed to believe in "tziruf." Jews are not. At least that's what I've read.

But the main problem with what Angel is suggesting is that it amounts to the exact same system the Haredim have, except putting it in terms of Maimonedianism instead of Biblical Literalism. The last thing we need is that sort of witch-hunt. By doing this, we're legitimizing their tactics (such as book-banning) and turning this into a war. Does the Jewish community REALLY need yet another war? Does R. Angel want to responsible for starting that war? A Rationalist vs. Mystical war already took place when the Moreh Nevuchim came out, we don't need to do it again, and we're not doing anyone any favors by deciding WE have a monopoly on Jewish Thought.

yehupitz said...

I followed Gil's link. And I am disappointed. Why? Because I concur with you on most of the actual issues brought up in this post, but your tone makes me reject you fully. I see two sides of this kulturkampf in the Orhtodox community nowadays.

E.g., phrases like "If only Orthodox Judaism ... had not sold its soul to Haredi fanatics..." tell me you are not willing to consider the historical reality that led to the chareidi Geirus backlash that Tropper-EJF took advantage of.

"We have to deal with rabbis who put bans out on anyone who believes that the earth is older than six thousand years and feel that it is their right to destroy Judaism for their own personal profit". You do everyone, including your own team, a HUGE disservice by dismissing the other side as motivated by "personal profit". Disagree with their method and conclusions? Sure. But impute profit motive to R Eliyashiv? It cheapens your argument.

"the acceptance of the scientific process that has led us to evolution needs to be at the bedrock of our faith and no one who has any doubts to it can be allowed to serve in a position of responsibility in our community."

All I could think of when reading this passage is that I'm glad I don't send my children to the school where you teach. Many things should be part of the "bedrock of our faith". Like the Tiferes Yisroel, and YBL"C R Shmuel Kaminetzky, I have no problem conjuring up a worldview in which the world is scientifically demonstrated to be older than 6000 years old. But "bedrock"? As the kids say, "Puh..leese."

I understand the frustration you feel. But this attempt at reverse-delegitimization will and should fail.

Anonymous said...

Jon said "...the place they get the idea of praying to Rachel isn't exactly nowhere - it's Tanakh. There's an episode (I think at the end of Yirmiyahu but I don't recall) in which HKB"H asks the Avot what they'd say in defense of their offspring, and they say "destroy 'em" and then Rachel comes to the rescue."

It's midrash (Pesichta Eicha Rabah 24, quoting Yirmiyahu 31:14) -- but how could that legitimate treating the kever of Rachel Imeinu as if it were l'havdil some Christian relic?

Izgad said...

Yehupitz

“I concur with you on most of the actual issues brought up in this post, but your tone makes me reject you fully.”

I usually attempt to write in a restrained tone. I admit that this was one of my more polemical pieces. The argument that I often make to people is that they should not use terms that challenge the moral validity of the opposition unless they are prepared for war. The point here in this post was that Modern Orthodoxy should be prepared to go to war against the Haredi world. To not just disagree with them, but reject their very moral validity. The first step is to no longer regard it as relevant what their leadership claims. The next step is to not allow Haredim to teach in our schools or hold positions of influence. Later steps to consider down the road would be to reject Haredi conversions and even their kashrut. Other people might throw around claims about Haredim being like the Reform, Conservative and even Christians. I am prepared to even mean it.

If you think I stepped over the line then I happily accept the criticism.

“You do everyone, including your own team, a HUGE disservice by dismissing the other side as motivated by "personal profit". Disagree with their method and conclusions? Sure. But impute profit motive to R Eliyashiv? It cheapens your argument.”

I had Rabbi Tropper in mind when I said this. He is out to invalidate the conversion of anyone who believes in an old earth and he has proven willing to destroy Judaism for his personal profit. R. Eliyashiv does not come into play here since as far as I can tell he is not in control and not the one giving orders. He may be physically alive, but, in essence, he is as much the leader of the Haredi world as a certain Jewish preacher is the head of the Christian world.

“Like the Tiferes Yisroel, and YBL"C R Shmuel Kaminetzky, I have no problem conjuring up a worldview in which the world is scientifically demonstrated to be older than 6000 years old. But "bedrock"? As the kids say, "Puh..leese."

We need to be a religion that believes in facts. If we are not then we put ourselves at the mercy of those who will take their understanding of our faith and make a virtue of holding onto that interpretation regardless of the facts.

yeshayahu said...

I agree that it's awkward to more or less promise open miracles.

But the idea that the prayers of tzaddikim can be more efficacious than those of normal people has a long Jewish pedigree. Think of all the prayers of Moses -- El na refa na la, etc. And of the statement in the Gemara that all the sages had the power to revive the dead.

There is also much material to the effect that tzaddikim can influence the world after their death. Tons of tzaddikim have had visions of Eliyahu, for one thing. The tzfat mystics had visits from dead prophets and tzaddikim all the time. The Chassidim all believed in the power of tzaddikim after their death. If we consistently apply your point of view we'd have to declare that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov is heretical for suggesting he'll help his followers out of gehinom if they come and pray at his grave. Anyway, praying at the graves of tzaddikim has been done for ages. There's no way this is idolatry (though in particular cases it could be, depending on the intentions of the individual).

Izgad said...

Jon

“-Traditional Jewish Thought has been the home to a whole number of views on anything and everything. As such, it's impossible to say that "Traditional Jewish thought looks at such actions as idolatry," because it's simply not true.”

I agree that Jewish thought includes a wide variety of beliefs. In theory it includes Baal worship, Sadducees and Karites, though such groups would be outside “rabbinic” Judaism. Even rabbinic Judaism would include Shiur Koma and the belief that God has some sort of body.

My comment about traditional Judaism believing something to be idolatry was referring to the veneration of Mary. I cannot think of a single traditional Jewish thinker who would not sign off on Ave Maria being idolatry. So until you can show me otherwise I am willing to say that traditional Jewish thought, both within the rationalist and mystical traditions, view beseeching Mary as idolatry.

“-Christians basically aren't idolaters. Non-Jews are allowed to believe in "tziruf." Jews are not. At least that's what I've read.”

According to R. Menachem Meiri in the early fourteenth century it is ok for gentiles to believe in “shituf” that created the world in partnership with some other power. Meiri assumed that Trinitarian beliefs fell under this category and were not idolatrous for gentiles. This is certainly a controversial opinion. Maimonides calls Christianity point blank an idolatrous religion, unlike Judaism and Islam.

“Does the Jewish community REALLY need yet another war?”

As Aragon says in the Two Towers film, when King Théoden proclaims that he will not risk open war with the forces of Saruman: “Open war is already upon you.” The Haredim have declared was on us and questioned our legitimacy. Whether we like it or not we are at war. The only question is can we win this war. I know that as long as the dynamics of this conflict is whether they will accept us and we play the “me too game,” we are also ok, we will automatically lose. That leaves us with retaliating in kind. You cannot conduct a conversation with someone who rejects your legitimacy, but expects you to accept their legitimacy.

Garnel Ironheart had a good post on this recently. (http://garnelironheart.blogspot.com/2009/11/fighting-with-one-hand-tied-behind.html)

Izgad said...

Heshy

I do like your blog Frum Satire and am honored by your presence here. We actually met once in person. You were doing a stand up show in Cleveland.

Honestly Frum said...

I have taken on both Tropper and Kupat Ha'ir a number of times. The tzad hashaveh is they both introduce ideas that before hand were not part of mainstream Judaism and seemingly force them upon us as doctrine. Kupat Ha'ir through "gadol worship" Where they are getting people to daven to rav chaim kanievsky instead of G-d and Tropper by putting an undue burden on (some) geirim and determining who is and is not Jewish.

moish said...

the gemara says tzadik gozer hashem mekayem. That sounds like normativ judaism to me.

Izgad said...

Moish

Saying that God might choose to act in accordance with the wishes of a righteous person and is far more likely to do so than for you or me is one thing. The moment you suggest that people have actual power over God and can “force” him to do certain things then we have crossed a line into magic and idolatry. Keep in mind that I am down for the record as saying that most Haredim, and not just Chabad messianists, are idolaters.

yehupitz said...

Learn some chumash where Moshe davens for the people. Learn Masechta Taanis, which has numerous stories of rabbis (like Chanina Ben Dosa and others) davening for people, the people, rain, beauty etc. And then reconsider this ridiculous formulation "down for the record as saying that most Haredim...are idolaters." Such a sentence might be funny if it weren't so dangerous.

For the record, the Kupat Ha'ir promotions make me sick to the stomach. There's a political motivation behind the organization having to do with Bnei Brak politics and the guarantees are absurd. Someone called to ask if I would be their local rep and I refused. That's why I followed Gil's link. But your conclusion and accusations about the meaning of having Talmidei Chachomim or Tzaddikim daven for others are "not normative". Or, phrased more polemically, they are treif.

ilona@israel said...

then more scandals we have around names of religious people then less secular people respect our religion... and its a problem coz such relation can bring us to assimilation..

Izgad said...

Yehupitz

It is a commendable action to pray on behalf of other people. It is also perfectly ok to seek out righteous people for spiritual advice. The problem becomes when you go to beings other than God and beseech them to pray on your behalf on the assumption that these beings, who are not God, have some sort of power in of themselves.

Keep in mind Maimonides idolatry 101. You are not allowed to even show honor to the planetary spheres even if as acknowledged servants of God.

Anonymous said...

Ever consider that the Gras criticism of the Rambam - that because of the philosophy he studied he took interpreted the gemara incorrectly when the pshat sounds too "mystical."

yehupitz said...

Izgad, I have reviewed Rambam Hilchos AKU"M many times, and there is nothing there about the efficacy or inappropriateness of having Talmidei Chachomim or Anshei Maaseh daven on one's behalf. It has nothing to do with the spheres. Again, a perusal of whole chunks of Masechta Taanis (that's Shas, not Zohar and not Chassidic sources) will bear this out. It is more than "commendable". The point there is that it (often) works. Of course there are no guarantees. But to suggest that those who claim it is a good idea are idolaters is just treif.

Once again, IMO Kupat Ha'ir is nauseating.

Izgad said...

Yehupitz

“I have reviewed Rambam Hilchos AKU"M many times, and there is nothing there about the efficacy or inappropriateness of having Talmidei Chachomim or Anshei Maaseh daven on one's behalf.”

I think we are talking past each other here. The issue here is not prayer, but the use of an intermediary. Maimonides certainly has a lot to say against using intermediaries and takes a fairly wide open definition of what constitutes an intermediary.

kishke said...

I was reading the descriptions of Mother Rachel acting on behalf of her children and desiring to hear from them and could not find a meaningful difference between that and my medieval and early modern Catholics beseeching the Virgin Mary. Traditional Jewish thought (as well as Protestant thought) looks at such actions as idolatry.

Really? It's in Tanach: קול ברמה נשמע רחל מבכה על בניה ...

As for Kupath Ha'Ir, I'm what you would probably call "Haredi," and I think it's a joke, as does just about everyone I know. Here's one joke that recently made the rounds in my circles:

Did you hear about the 75-year-old woman who gave birth?

She called Kupas Ha'Ir and pressed 3 instead of 5.

Here's another that went around Xmas Eve:

For a $250 donation, Kupas Ha'Ir will have two gedolei hador play chess on Nitul nacht at the Kosel.

Everyone thought these were hilarious. No one takes the thing seriously. Everyone I know looks upon their claims with disdain. I'll bet you don't know many "Haredim."

And finally, what kind of narishkeit is it to say that a belief in evolution should be the bedrock of one's Jewish faith? So foolish!

Izgad said...

“I'll bet you don't know many "Haredim."’

Kishke

I come from a Haredi family. Most of the people that I know and deal with are relatively moderate and, like you, dismiss Kupat Ha’ir as a joke. That being said obviously there are people out there who buy into their claims and are giving them money. More importantly, a major theme in this blog is that to understand extremists you have to look at the so called moderates who may not approve of the extremists, but still apologize them at various levels.
(http://izgad.blogspot.com/2009/12/haredi-criminal-in-training.html)
(http://izgad.blogspot.com/2009/09/rabbi-avigdor-miller-and-neturei-karta.html)

My cousins told me the chess joke.

kishke said...

That being said obviously there are people out there who buy into their claims and are giving them money.

They don't give money because of the claims; they give money in spite of the claims, b/c it's still tzedakah.

As for you coming from a "haredi" family, so what? Everyone has cousins. The point is you probably don't know a lot of "haredim" as friends; you don't meet a lot of them outside of your family; you don't socialize with "haredim"; ergo, you don't know much about how most of them think and what they really think about most issues.

kishke said...

So what does your "haredi" family think of your contention that Yirmiyah haNavi engaged in idolatry when he said קול ברמה?

Izgad said...

My Haredi family has known for years about my views and we have had many fun discussions.

I do not believe that the prophet Jeremiah engaged in idolatry by talking about the crying of Mother Rachel. Praying on behalf of other people is not a problem. Jeremiah did not pray to Rachel and Rachel was certainly allowed to pray to God.

In general I understand the whole Midrash about Jeremiah calling on the biblical patriarchs in an anthropomorphic Maimonidean sense. Jeremiah was calling on the merits of the various patriarchs to save the Israelites, but failed until he called upon the merit of Rachel, the act of being willing to give up one’s own honor in order to save another from shame. God’s message to Jeremiah is that he will save the Jews who are willing to act as the descendents of Rachel and sacrifice their own honor above and beyond even those Jews who are willing to martyr themselves.

Izgad said...

“The point is you probably don't know a lot of "haredim" as friends; you don't meet a lot of them outside of your family; you don't socialize with "haredim"; ergo, you don't know much about how most of them think and what they really think about most issues.”
I certainly socialized a fair amount (not that I in general am a very sociable person) with Haredim outside my family in the past. I grew up going to Haredi summer camps. And I retain numerous Haredi contacts. Put it this way. I am at least as qualified, in terms of my personal life experience, to talk about Haredim, as just about any Haredi rabbi out there is qualified to talk about Reform and Conservative Jews.

kishke said...

I am at least as qualified, in terms of my personal life experience, to talk about Haredim, as just about any Haredi rabbi out there is qualified to talk about Reform and Conservative Jews.

Which means you are unqualified - by your own admission - to speak about "haredim."

Izgad said...

How about this? When Haredi rabbis are no longer mouthing off about the non Haredi world and keep to tending their own house I will devote myself totally to my medieval and early modern Jews and Christians getting reading for the Apocalypse.