Sunday, January 3, 2010
Rabbi Marc Angel Takes on Kupat Ha'ir
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)