Monday, May 15, 2006

Responsibility to Tradition

"What's the big deal with having Jewish grandchildren? If there is no God, or if there is a Deistic God but no Yahweh, isn't Judaism simply a lifestyle choice? And shouldn't grandchildren (and children!) make their own lifestyle choices? If my grandchildren are relatively happy, I'll be happy."

Being part of a tradition involves passing on what has been received. We, as a People, have a responsibility to ensure that our own unique ideas, history, cultures, philosophies, our whole heritage really is preserved in the hearts and minds of our descendants. To fail to do so is to doom all that we have produced - and that which has produced us - to obscurity.

No other people is going to do it for us.

Of course we must respect the wishes of individuals, even if they are our direct descendants, but a proper education can invest in them a love and appreciation for their heritage that unaided independent study will hardly ever do.

30 comments:

respondingtojblogs said...

I can only echo what GH said in a previous comment.

Recently, the responsibility to tradition argument hasn't been doing it for me. I understand responsibility to familiy members while they are alive, i.e., I wouldn't want to pain my parents, because that's just wrong. I owe them a real duty as their son.

But what duty do I owe them once they've passed and the possibility of pain no longer exists. And by extension, what duty do I my ancestors? They are long gone and won't know of my misdeeds.

And why do I owe a duty to the tradition I was born in? The only conceivable duty I can think of is to transmit those parts of the tradition which appear to be correct. Under this rubric, you don't have to worry about the histroy of our people being passed along, but the imperative to comply with tradition?

Methinks you need a more expansive post.

respondingtojblogs said...

BTW, are these posts in response to Frum Skeptic postings?

I joined that group early in my blogging career and was less than impressed. The discussion seemed to be dominated by strange conspiracies and a discussion about UFOs. I had to unsubscribe to be able to use my email account.

Godol Hador said...

And again!

Orthoprax said...

Responding,

Judaism won't survive if its being taught in only what _you_ personally are convinced of. While what you personally believe is definitely important to how you raise your children, it shouldn't be the only thing guiding you. Show your children the heritage of our people and also show them your reaction to it.

The best thing to do is to give your children the power to make the same decisions you did. You steal from a Jewish child the knowledge of his heritage and it may never have a chance to become an important part of his life.

The potency of the Jewish future lies in our fidelity to the Jewish past.


And yeah, the last couple of posts are from FSG. Sometimes it gets into weird discussions, other times it gets into important issues. I usually get involved when those interesting issues crop up.


GH,

Yeah yeah. So I have a nuanced view of things.

respondingtojblogs said...

Judaism won't survive if its being taught in only what _you_ personally are convinced of.

I don't see why personal views will affect how Judaism is taught to other people. As to my own children, I can see myself unflichingly laying out what the Jewish tradition is. I also plan on teaching them critical thinking skills. They are always free to make their own choice. They may even choose the be frum. I can live with that. Some of my best friends are frum.

While what you personally believe is definitely important to how you raise your children, it shouldn't be the only thing guiding you. Show your children the heritage of our people and also show them your reaction to it.

I think there is a very clear dichotomy between teaching the tradition and adhereing to the tradition.

The best thing to do is to give your children the power to make the same decisions you did.

I agree.

You steal from a Jewish child the knowledge of his heritage and it may never have a chance to become an important part of his life.

So can I teach him about the Book of Mormon? It may become an important part of his life. What if he turns into a spiritually twisted soul because he doesn't know who Moroni was?

The potency of the Jewish future lies in our fidelity to the Jewish past.

I am more concerned about my kid's future than any putative "Jewish future."


And yeah, the last couple of posts are from FSG. Sometimes it gets into weird discussions, other times it gets into important issues. I usually get involved when those interesting issues crop up.

respondingtojblogs said...

Oops, that last paragraph is from the comment to which I was responding.

Ben Avuyah said...

I'm all for jewish education, the question is how do you get a good one without indoctrination ?

respondingtojblogs said...

Just as a realit check...

Am I insane for thinking homeschooling is the ideal?

And in preparation of the usual counter-argument of proper socialization, I don't think schooling should be sacrificed for socializing. There plenty of non-educational settings for socialization. I would rather my kid now about floating-point numbers and has to play Little League to make friends, than to sacrifice his/her education just to get a set of ready-made peers.

Orthoprax said...

Responding,

"I think there is a very clear dichotomy between teaching the tradition and adhereing to the tradition."

True, but if you don't even know tradition then it makes it rather difficult to adhere to it.

"So can I teach him about the Book of Mormon? It may become an important part of his life."

You _can_, but I don't think it will serve your goals. This isn't about what your children want or think is best, this is your decision and your judgement.

"I am more concerned about my kid's future than any putative "Jewish future.""

You don't think they're related, if not intertwined?


Ben,

"I'm all for jewish education, the question is how do you get a good one without indoctrination ?"

Good, then we've past the "if" question and are now onto the "how."

I'm not sure what the answer is, but it likely involves pluralistic presentations of the material and freedom of conscious and information.



Responding,

"Am I insane for thinking homeschooling is the ideal?"

Sure, it may be ideal, but it's just not very practical. I, for one, will not be able to just stay home and teach.

lev said...

Initially I thought very bed about abandoning Jewish traditions, though you can't claim that its inherently wrong to abandon the "instruction of thy father, and forsake the teaching of thy mother". It's an existential part to have that sentiment, and inevitably it creates a deep sense of guilt.

However, once you give that choice between tradition and secularism, from a historical perspective, we can't fail to envisage the consequences of this breach in orthodox religion. For though your immediate children might care somewhat for you heritage the further you go down the line naturally it will fade away till there will be nothing left any traditional - if not any - Jewish sentiment.

Of course there are exceptions but the odds are quite apparent.

So it would be reasonable to conclude that though it might alleviate the personal guilt when you provide a somewhat open-minded traditional Jewish education, it ultimately wont help for the sake of Jewish heritage.

I think that the good analogue to this is the famous "fiddler on the roof" were you sense the mockery of Tuvia who cares for Judaism only for the sake of "tradition!", however, to his dismay, it doesn't turn out the way he plans.

Nature will take it's course if you don't obstruct it.

Orthoprax said...

lev,

The idea is not compromise. For if I compromise x amount then the next generation will compromise y amount and so on until there is nothing left to compromise on.

The idea is to create a vibrant Judaism that can grow wider and deeper within and through modern society. It is not a compromise between tradition and modernity that I promote - it is a reconstruction of Judaism itself.

Just me said...

"It is not a compromise between tradition and modernity that I promote - it is a reconstruction of Judaism itself."

Sounds like you and I are a lot closer than I thought...
http://recoveringorthojew.blogspot.com/2006/05/why-i-am-not-orthodox-conservative.html#links
ROJ

lev said...

I'm not sure what your vision is, but if it's the fussion of "all" of your heriage within modern society as a whole, and not necesserily throuout pure Jewish decendents, I wish you luck on your endeavor.

Orthoprax said...

Just Me,

Well, I wouldn't say we're that close in thought. I don't want to relegate Tanach and Talmud to study only by those interested in ancient history. These documents are part and parcel of what makes us Jews.

A heritage is not just a history - it is something that must be actively recognized and made part of our daily lives or it will lose all significance. That is the greatest threat to Humanistic Judaism - irrelevance.


Lev,

Woah, hold on there. Your idea of fusion appears to end up really being a diffusion and dilution of Judaism into wider modern society. That's not what I was saying at all.

My ideas are more on par with the thoughts of Reconstructionist Judaism. There the idea of what Judaism is fleshed out from a series of ontological assertions into a whole way of life and civilization. It is impossible to "prove wrong" since it is not dependent on that type of thinking.

Just me said...

Orthoprax said...

"Just Me,Well, I wouldn't say we're that close in thought. I don't want to relegate Tanach and Talmud to study only by those interested in ancient history. These documents are part and parcel of what makes us Jews."

Good point. What I should have said was that they should in no way be taken as authoratative, as their "authority" is derived from the fallacious claim of an unbroken chain of tradition that has its origins at Sinai.

A heritage is not just a history - it is something that must be actively recognized and made part of our daily lives or it will lose all significance."

Agreed, so long as: 1) their authority is not seen as divine in nature; 2) there is a proper understanding of how the commandments, customs, and rituals developed; and 3) they do not conflict with reason or ethical behavior (e.g., shooing the mother bird away from her chicks, condemning someone who does not observe the Sabbath as espoused by the rabbis, etc.)

"That is the greatest threat to Humanistic Judaism - irrelevance."

I dare say you need to do a bit more reading about HJ before you are in a position to make the above claim.

Orthoprax said...

Just me,

Can you tell me why Jews in future generations will still actively participate in Humanistic Judaism? As far as I can tell, the only thing keeping them there now is pride and to prop up a faltering sense of identity.

Shlomo said...

Traditional values have to be sold to the coming generations. Best way to market them is to create a term with lots of sentiment behind it. That word is 'heritage'. It becomes the buzz word used to elicit unwavering loyalty and obedience.

We assume that we Jews have been around since Matan Torah (or sooner),we are doing the same thing they were, and the chain of custody has never been broken. Even if so, that still leaves me with the question, who cares about heritage or legacy? I'm more interested in why than what.

Perhaps at the end, to see coming generations live the lives we told them to live affords us some validation for our own choices. We all like to right.

Orthoprax said...

SL,

Heritage is what connects us to our past and makes for our collective future. It strengthens our identity and makes us more than lonely individual specks in the ocean of time. 'My' history isn't just my personal few decades in existence, it is the entire past of the Jewish people.

That's why I care.

Just me said...

Orthoprax said...Just me,
"Can you tell me why Jews in future generations will still actively participate in Humanistic Judaism? As far as I can tell, the only thing keeping them there now is pride and to prop up a faltering sense of identity."

"Heritage is what connects us to our past and makes for our collective future. It strengthens our identity and makes us more than lonely individual specks in the ocean of time."

Ortho, I agree with you on the value of valuing one's heritage; *all* branches of Judaism claim to do that.

For me, the money question is, which aspects of that heritage do you value and how to pass them along to the next generation?

If it's simply a choice between which branch of Judaism can do the best job of transmitting a heritage, then go Ortho. However, the second question is, what role does truth/accuracy play, vis-a-vis our heritage.

Please answer both questions.

Just me said...

Fyi, related to our discussion, I just posted on the topic of approaches to Torah according to Humanstic Judaism:
http://recoveringorthojew.blogspot.com/2006/05/torah-according-to-humanistic-judaism.html

Orthoprax said...

Just Me,

I value all aspects of the heritage, in general, minus the really silly parts. At the top of my list are things like the Biblical stories, Talmudic literacy, Jewish history, Jewish philosophy, and important traditional practices like Shabbos, the holidays, Torah reading, kashrut, tefillin, etc. I don't care what order people put their shoes on or when they cut their nails.

We can best pass the heritage along through education and by _immersing_ our lives in things Jewish. If our regular day involves the donning of tefillin (not that I do so every day, but just saying) and eating only kosher food, it would be difficult for children not to ask why.

Truth, of course, is also a primary concern and should not be sacrificed for the sake of tradition. But I think we also have to recognize that not every kid is going to grow up to be a philosopher and a sensible philosophy (theology?) that makes sense of life and values and ethics should be taught as step one.

I do not recommend leaving that blank and open to whatever foreign influences may come. And I am far from certain that giving an uninspiring materialistic worldview is the way to go. What do they provide in current HJ schools?

Shlomo said...

Re: “Heritage is what connects us to our past and makes for our collective future. It strengthens our identity and makes us more than lonely individual specks in the ocean of time. 'My' history isn't just my personal few decades in existence, it is the entire past of the Jewish people.”

Well. That is wonderful little sentiment. That you feel a psychological connection to your ancestors because you are living the same religion now as they did then is comforting I assume, but is it necessary? It is almost as if to say “My father was farmer. His father was a farmer. Therefore, I refuse to become anything other than a farmer.” Now if the world still has a practical need for this individual to continue the family tradition, then by all means. However, if reality says that the farm isn’t going to make it, or the son hates farming, then why should the son beat his head on the wall to make a go of it?

It feels as if you are making a roundabout argument for genetic memory, along the lines that our cellular and even atomic structure is distinctly Jewish somehow?? (Sorry if I'm off base.)You are also suggesting that identity is something we are born with and not into. My identity, as per my birth, suggests only that I am the son of x and y; a unique blend of genetic material. Everything after that point is socialization interacting with that genetic predisposition. Identities are thrust upon me by circumstances I don’t control i.e. religion, nationality, language, etc.

I am suggesting that identity is assumed (not intrinsic) and therefore having a heritage is not a necessity per se, but a consequence of coming into a group who has also had their assumed identity defined for them in a similar manner.

Chicken or Egg? Good question!

Re: “I do not recommend leaving that blank and open to whatever foreign influences may come. And I am far from certain that giving an uninspiring materialistic worldview is the way to go.”

Agree with the first part, but not the second. I find a reality based materialist viewpoint rather refreshing, because I can always check the premises and process of the philosophy. I never have to consider unknowns beyond what human comprehension permits.

Kol Tuv

(Awesome blog btw. Keep up the good work!)

Orthoprax said...

SL,

Identity is a complex idea. Part of it is knowing who your ancestors were and their history and part of it is also living a life where that identity is realized.

You can try and reduce your ancestry to the mere contribution of the genetic material of your parents but the truth is that it is more than that. Do not your parents have a special relationship with you? Do you not hold certain responsibilities to them above and beyond what mere genetic donation would suggest - and them to you?

You are part of a family - a unique relationship that transcends those of regular friends and acquaintances. A family that is a microcosm of a larger social unit that reaches back all the way to antiquity.

There are no such thing as special "Jewish" atoms or even "Jewish" genes that confer Jewish identity. It is dependent on the individual's relationship with his past and his environment. This relationship is inherent and incontrovertible. If you are the son of a Jewish mother then you are Jewish and nothing you do can change that. This identity is not a choice.

The only choice you have is how far you wish to actualize your identity. You may be able to hide it very well. Change your name, move away from your home town, drop all of the things that make you display your Jewishness and nobody will really suspect anything. But at the end of the day you are, indeed, still a Jew.

Now, that being said, I agree that there is no _necessity_ to living as a Jew and/or celebrating who you are. If you don't value it or find it unpleasant then I guess you will find yourself sliding painlessly into assimilation. That is your prerogative.

I think that's sad though. I think Jewish tradition has much to offer but it is difficult to convince one who is dead-set against accepting it as so.

"I find a reality based materialist viewpoint rather refreshing, because I can always check the premises and process of the philosophy. I never have to consider unknowns beyond what human comprehension permits."

That may strictly be true, but you do struggle with unknowns regardless - you just don't seriously entertain any answers - or maybe you do but haven't realized it yet. Some may find that satisfying enough, but I think the wider majority is not prepared for that kind of philosophical uncertainty. The unknown is a real part of the human experience, most people cannot just pretend it isn't a problem.

Let me ask you a question: how do you justify holding value in anything? Ultimately, what is the necessity in anything that is done?

"(Awesome blog btw. Keep up the good work!)"

Ah thanks, I try.

Just me said...

At 1:07 AM, Orthoprax said..."I value all aspects of the heritage, in general, minus the really silly parts. At the top of my list are things like the Biblical stories, Talmudic literacy, Jewish history, Jewish philosophy, and important traditional practices like Shabbos, the holidays, Torah reading, kashrut, tefillin, etc. I don't care what order people put their shoes on or when they cut their nails."

Good points. I think the real question here is *how* are those aspects of our heritage you mention above being passed along? Are they being taught as divine commands from God, or as practices that some of our ancestors observed, who believed they represented the will of God. There is a big difference. And if you'll ask, how do you teach/observe Jewish tradition if you don't posit God as having commanded them, the answer lies in going back to the roots of the observances/holidays/rituals, some/many of which (before the priests/rabbis gave them new theological twists--see Hayim Schauss’ The Jewish Festivals (also printed under the title Guide to Jewish Holy Days) and Theodore Gaster’s Festivals of the Jewish Year, for the history and development of the Jewish holidays, for example), had meanings significantly different than those that we attach to them today, and as such, are much easier to appreciate/observe without having to posit The Big Guy upstairs as having commanded them, and/or as "rememberances" of an alleged exodus/sojourn in the desert. A good example would be how the modern day kibbutzim in Israel have "rescued" some of the holidays from their supernatural overlays, and observe them as agricultural celebrations, which was a lot closer to how they were observed in the time of King David, for example.

"We can best pass the heritage along through education and by _immersing_ our lives in things Jewish. If our regular day involves the donning of tefillin (not that I do so every day, but just saying) and eating only kosher food, it would be difficult for children not to ask why."

I agree. But, again, this gets back to the question of which parts of the heritage and how they are presented, as discussed above.

"Truth, of course, is also a primary concern and should not be sacrificed for the sake of tradition. But I think we also have to recognize that not every kid is going to grow up to be a philosopher and a sensible philosophy (theology?) that makes sense of life and values and ethics should be taught as step one."

I agree. However, I am not in favor of teaching any philosophical/theological system that does not accord with reality. And, when you apply that criterion, Orthodox Judaism does not pass the test. So, we need another system, one that embraces truth, reason, and scientific inquiry, not as dogma, but as a means to discovering truth/reality, to the best of our ability.


"I do not recommend leaving that blank and open to whatever foreign influences may come. And I am far from certain that giving an uninspiring materialistic worldview is the way to go. What do they provide in current HJ schools?"

Again, I agree. I think a combination of appreciation/observance of Jewish heritage, along the lines mentioned above, combined with an appreciation for those aspects of secular culture that are life-affirming, true and moral and ethical, is a good combination. As for the curriculum in HJ schools, I believe it is along the lines of what I just mentioned, but not being very familiar with them, I have made an inquiry and will get back to you with more specific information, once I hear back.

Incidentally, I am currently plodding through a rather excellent little book, entitled: "Respecting the Wicked Child: A Philosophy of Secular Jewish Identity and Education," by Mitchell Silver, PhD. The book is an attempt to bridge the secular humanist-Jewish divide and much of it is actually an outline for a curriculum for children. The preface starts off: "You are modern, secular, and thoroughly liberal--a child of the Enlightenment. So, why be a Jew? And how can you be a Jew and make your children Jews, without betraying your Enlightenment heritage? Such are the themes of this book."

ThePointInBlogging? said...

What's the blog address of this "Jew skeptic"?

Orthoprax said...

Just me,

No, the practices ought not be taught as divine commands. But at the same time I don't think they should be taught as the mere primitive cultic practices of our barbarious ancestors in a past tense. We can re-invent a lot of the practices we do and invest them with new meaning for our modern day. I don't mean that the origins of these holidays and practices should not be taught - but that their meaning is not restricted to the original intentions.

"So, we need another system, one that embraces truth, reason, and scientific inquiry, not as dogma, but as a means to discovering truth/reality, to the best of our ability."

I agree. I'll probably be posting my vision within the next week or so (assuming I don't get too busy in real life). I am sure to get a lot of criticism - though hopefully of the constructive type.

The problem with being skeptical is that it is far easier to deconstruct than to rebuild. I've been deconstructing Orthodox mythos and theology for years, now its time to work on reconstruction.

"Incidentally, I am currently plodding through a rather excellent little book, entitled: "Respecting the Wicked Child: A Philosophy of Secular Jewish Identity and Education,""

Perhaps I'll check that out. I'll put it on my list of books to read.




thepointinblogging,

Who are you referring to?

Harry said...

No, the practices ought not be taught as divine commands. But at the same time I don't think they should be taught as the mere primitive cultic practices of our barbarious ancestors in a past tense.

Ortho,
In what, may i ask, do you find 'meaning' in a non-divine - thus lack of purpose - tradition.
Most of our tradition is symbolyzed and cherished primarily by the infusion of 'meaningful' sentiments. It's as well that in regard to the voidness sentiments - that meny inevitably posseses - take confort in precisley what you wish to uproot. Thus what does your tradition realy hold for the ones who cannot accept the lack of understanding in human adversity.
For we cannot deny that G-d is the ultimate scape-root for our discomfort.

Just me said...

At 1:33 AM, Orthoprax said..."Just me,
No, the practices ought not be taught as divine commands. But at the same time I don't think they should be taught as the mere primitive cultic practices of our barbarious ancestors in a past tense. We can re-invent a lot of the practices we do and invest them with new meaning for our modern day. I don't mean that the origins of these holidays and practices should not be taught - but that their meaning is not restricted to the original intentions."

I agree. Wine (the founder of HJ) has a series of suggestions on investing the holidays with new meaning in the chapter on the festivals in "Judaism Beyond God."

"The problem with being skeptical is that it is far easier to deconstruct than to rebuild. I've been deconstructing Orthodox mythos and theology for years, now its time to work on reconstruction."

I'm with ya on that, bro. In the coming weeks/months, I'm planning to spend less time on deconstruction of OJ and more time on coming up with a viable alternative. Let's share ideas and see what we can come up with!

Now, as to your earlier question about how HJ handles chinuch for children, Rabbi Adam Chalom (whose statement about Torah from a HJ perspective I posted about ealier) gave me the following:

"My congregation has some materials about our school at
http://kolhadash.com/education/index.html

- in particular, our Youth
Education Handbook describes what each class studies.

You can also look at
what the Society for Humanistic Judaism offers by way of educational
materials (http://www.shj.org/booksEducation.htm)

- their journal
_Humanistic Judaism_ had a recent issue on the subject, if memory serves.

Best,
ROJ

Orthoprax said...

Harry,

"In what, may i ask, do you find 'meaning' in a non-divine - thus lack of purpose - tradition."

Something has to be divinely commanded in order to be meaningful? I don't think even you believe that.

"It's as well that in regard to the voidness sentiments - that meny inevitably posseses - take confort in precisley what you wish to uproot. Thus what does your tradition realy hold for the ones who cannot accept the lack of understanding in human adversity."

I don't wish to uproot what others find meaningful, but I find that their whole thesis on life is wrong. I do not want to destroy with nothing to offer in its place, so what I am working on now is that alternative.

I am actually currently writing it. Look forward to a new (rather long) post in the near future.

Orthoprax said...

Just me,

I'll have to read over the material you've linked before I can respond, but I'm also currently working on that viable alternative.

Watch this space for future updates. ;-)