Category: Random Acts of Scholarship

Update: Readers of this post may also be interested in my master’s thesis
When I made my preliminary comments on the Conservative movement’s recent decisions regarding homosexuality, the best source available at the time were press releases and either superficial or inaccurate coverage in the mainstream media. Fortunately, Steven I. Weiss has graciously posted the text of the actual teshuva. At 55 pages including footnotes, it is not exactly a light read but it is an important read nonetheless, given the serious nature of the topic discussed, and when others comment without having read the actual text. If you are new to this site, you may find my post “Lonely Men of Faith” a helpful context. This post will focus specifically on the Conservative teshuva itself.

Advisory: Normally YUTOPIA is a family blog, but given the topic of the post, some readers may feel uncomfortable with this discussion.

Articles, Papers, and Publications Jewish Culture Jewish Law / Halakha Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava

In this season of teshuva leading up to the yamim nora’im religious discussions primarily focus on personal change. We look to change our practices, ideally becoming more committed to Torah. We seek to change our religious perspectives, hopefully reconnecting with the Divine. For Rambam, this process of change is not simply behavioral, but existential. As we acknowledge and renounce our transgressions we also take measures demonstrating that we have changed to the point where we “are no longer the same person who committed these actions” (Hilchot Teshuva 2:4).

But what does it mean that we are no longer the same person? How does the process of teshuva effect a change so substantive that it alters our fundamental identity? In order to fully understand this transition we must tackle the philosophical question of what is the true essence of our personal identity – to find the essential determinant which makes us “us” such that changing this element constitutes a meaningful change in our identity. While this challenge may seem daunting to lesser minds, it is no match for the discerning duo of The Incredible Hulk…and an Oxford PhD.

Articles, Papers, and Publications Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava Sermons, Lectures, and Divrei Torah

The following is an exposition of an idea quoted in the Daily News (December 25, 2005)
I’ve always found it interesting how Hannukah, a relatively late Rabbinic enactment, has become of the most widely recognized and observed Jewish holidays. To be sure, its proximity to Christmas has helped; Hannukah falls around the most celebrated holiday worldwide and comparisons or connections between the two are understandable. Thanks to an increasingly politically correct climate, Menorahs are often displayed in more ecumenical seasonal displays, further increasing Hannukah’s exposure.
But I would also suggest that it is Hannukah’s intrinsic messages and meanings which inspire countless generations. Compared to other Jewish holidays, the primary themes of Hannukah are not exclusively relevant to religious Jews, but are universally fundamental and basic to the larger population as well.

Articles, Papers, and Publications Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava Sermons, Lectures, and Divrei Torah

So the return to Washington Heights for Shavuot was really nice. From what I can tell, the drasha went pretty well, although I think the delivery went better the second time when I was at the bridge shul. Anyway, here’s the quickie write-up of the shiur.

Articles, Papers, and Publications Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava Sermons, Lectures, and Divrei Torah

Rabbi Josh Joseph recently brought me on board the Orthodox Caucus’ new project called Torah Currents. Periodically I’ll be sending in anecdotes or short ideas mostly in the section called…

Articles, Papers, and Publications Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava Sermons, Lectures, and Divrei Torah

A little while ago, Rabbi Josh Joseph of the Orthodox Caucus contacted me about a publication they were putting out about dating. Someone tipped him off to this website,1 and…

Articles, Papers, and Publications Jewish Dating

Homosexuality and Orthodox Judaism

A few months ago, Avraham pointed me to this Forward review of Rabbi Steve Greenberg’s new book Wrestling with God and Men. I wrote some preliminary thoughts based on the review, but the YUCS server crashed as I submitted it for posting. This technical glitch proved to be fortuitous in that Rabbi Greenberg visited UC later that week and I was able to talk to him personally and purchase a copy of the book. Although he still did not convince me of his arguments, he conveyed the emotional turmoil with which people live. In halakhic matters, people often ignore the human dimension involved of an issue and develop their opinions in a social vacuum. However, halakha is ultimately followed by people many of whom face difficult conflicts for a myriad of personal reasons. While personal issues alone are not sufficient to change Jewish law, we cannot ignore the tension and struggles that people face in their quest to be observant Jews.

Below is my review of Rabbi Greenberg’s book, as submitted to a writing seminar.

Articles, Papers, and Publications Jewish Law / Halakha Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava

From The Globe And Mail: This year, Germans celebrated the 200th anniversary of the death of Immanuel Kant, reports Philosophy Now magazine. “Kant has traditionally been portrayed as a dutiful…

Academia Random Acts of Scholarship

Recently, I submitted a paper for a class titled “Theology and Mythology of Evil.” The class read texts from several cultures and religions, each attempting to resolve how Evil could exist, especially in a world of an omniscient and beneficent God (or Gods as the case may be).

I noticed in the class a tendency for people to assume that there exists a particular “Jewish” attitude regarding Evil. Although this is true to some extent, the overall perception mirrors the attitude of the yeshiva – that one or two opinions believed by Jews makes the opinion “Jewish” – to the possible exclusion of everything else.

This attitude is precisely what prompted me to start the Mahshevet Hazal shiurim. With this in mind, I collected several sources from the Talmud which illustrate the plurality of opinions regarding the problem of theodicy. While retaining the multiple and often mutually exclusive positions in the Talmud, I offered my suggestions for a unified Rabbinic approach to Evil.

Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava Random Acts of Scholarship

Although the MAPPS program offers unparalleled academic freedom, the directors of my program require one particular survey class, “Perspectives in Social Science Analysis.” Over the 10 week quarter, Dr. John…

Academia Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava Random Acts of Scholarship