Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wisdom from the Gentiles: Kurt Vonnegut

"I sometimes wondered what the use of any of the arts was. The best thing I could come up with was what I call the canary in the coal mine theory of the arts. This theory says that artists are useful to society because they are so sensitive. They are super-sensitive. They keel over like canaries in poison coal mines long before more robust types realize that there is any danger whatsoever."

"I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.""

"Where is home? I've wondered where home is, and I realized, it's not Mars or someplace like that, it's Indianapolis when I was nine years old. I had a brother and a sister, a cat and a dog, and a mother and a father and uncles and aunts. And there's no way I can get there again."

“Love is where you find it. I think it is foolish to go around looking for it, and I think it can be poisonous. I wish people who are conventionally supposed to love each other would say to each other, when they fight, 'Please-a little less love, and a little more common decency.”

"I thought scientists were going to find out exactly how everything worked, and then make it work better. I fully expected that by the time I was twenty-one, some scientist, maybe my brother, would have taken a color photograph of God Almighty — and sold it to Popular Mechanics magazine. Scientific truth was going to make us so happy and comfortable. What actually happened when I was twenty-one was that we dropped scientific truth on Hiroshima."

"Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas."

Kurt Vonnegut

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Study Torah as a businessman

Our task in life has no greater enemy, and there is no greater cancer on our present state, than ignorance. Study Torah thoroughly—Torah, the Prophets, Ketuvim (Hagiographia), Talmud and decisors. And do not study out of a desire to be a rabbi. Study Torah as a businessman, a tradesman, an artist, a doctor, or a scientist.

Collected Writings, vol. 7, pp. 157 [Ges. Schrift., vol. 5, p. 225] in Torah Leadership for Our Times, Jewish Action

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Marital Roles

"The female is the נקבה שכרך אלי) נקבה) Genesis 30. 28)...that which receives a vocation. The man chooses a calling, creates a position for himself, the woman receives both by attaching herself to a man and entering into his calling and position. The girl blossoms into a woman, a Jewess, and only at the side of her husband does she at length acquire a separate existence, and the narrower sphere of activity in which, united with her husband, she is called upon to perform her task as woman and Jewess in a definite calling and definite position. But just because the woman has not to acquire a calling and position for herself, she remains the nurse of all that is purely human in man. The great words with which the Father of humanity, as He fosters and watches over its development, announces its ultimate salvation and ingathering after all the mistakes it has made in the course of history are:  כי ברא ה‘ חדשה בארץ נקבה תסובב גבר “God creates something new on earth, a woman encircles a man” (Jeremiah 31,21). The calling and position for which a man has to struggle are really nothing but the foundation on which he has to build his life’s work, and carry out his own share in the general task of humanity. And there is a danger that he may completely lose himself in this struggle, that in striving to acquire the means he will lose sight of his real vocation and completely forget the great goal and his own task as a man, nay, that he will sacrifice and subordinate to these efforts what is genuinely human in himself. This is an error which can almost be regarded as the key to all the mistakes made in history. It is then the woman who leads him back to what is truly human in him. The riddle of history is solved with the domination of woman, with the restriction of the man to the sphere of the genuinely human which has been placed under the care of the woman. It is the return of the citizen to the man." R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch, Judaism Eternal II (New York: Soncino, 1976) p. 51.

“This will-subordination of the wife to the husband is a necessary condition of the unity which man and wife should form together. The subordination cannot be the other way about, since the man as zachar has to carry forward the divine and human messages which through every marriage are to be a living force in the household, and to which the husband and wife are in union to devote their forces. Just as the first command of God though addressed to the man was given through him for the woman as well, just as in consequence Adam should not have thrown over the command of God for the sake of Eve but Eve ought to have subjected her desire to the will of God as expressed to her though Adam, so thenceforward the husband was to be responsible for the task imposed upon man by God and to carry it out in his marriage and household.” R' Hirsch, Judaism Eternal, vol. II, p 58.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Some Gems from John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck gives Nobel Prize Speech

"the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit—for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature."
—Steinbeck Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

"How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can't scare him – he has known a fear beyond every other." Grapes of Wrath

“Man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, and emerges ahead of his accomplishments.” The Grapes of Wrath

“But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.” East of Eden

“And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good.” East of Eden

“There is more beauty in truth, even if it is a dreadful beauty. The storytellers at the city gate twist life so that it looks sweet to the lazy and the stupid and the weak, and this only strengthens their infirmities and teaches nothing, cures nothing, nor does it let the heart soar.” East of Eden

“But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed - because 'Thou mayest.” East of Eden

“We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the neverending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.” East of Eden

“When a man says he does not want to speak of something he usually means he can think of nothing else.” East of Eden

“..it's awful not to be loved. It's the worst thing in the world...It makes you mean, and violent, and cruel.” East of Eden

“Man has a choice and it's a choice that makes him a man.” East of Eden

“There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension.” East of Eden

“To a man born without conscience, a soul-stricken man must seem ridiculous. To a criminal, honesty is foolish. You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous.” East of Eden


Sunday, March 9, 2014

The World and You

"...as soon as enjoyment becomes the object of your life, you no longer regard yourself as belonging to the world but the world as belonging to you."

R' Hirsch, Horeb 4

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Principals of HTIDE and AHTIDE

HTIDE (Hirschian Torah Im Derech Eretz) is dedicated to all mitzvos, not just Torah study. It rejects the Medieval Spanish notion of mitzvos as handmaidens to the ultimate goal of philosophic understanding. This notion was influenced arguably by Aristotelian-Arabic philosophers. R' Hirsch's explanation of the meaning and symbolism of mitzvos helps to enhance our love for the mitzvos. Rather, mitzvos are an end goal themselves. (See 19 Letters, Letter 18).

Likewise, HTIDE rejects the exaggeration of and singular focus on the kabbalistic notion of Torah lishmah meaning Torah for the sake of study alone. It recognizes that this understanding was intended as a response to radical chassidus of the 18th century. It was not meant to replace the basic understanding of lishmah meaning not for self-aggrandizement but rather for serving Hashem and doing mitzvos.

HTIDE encourages us to study all of the Torah including Nach and Halacha, as the Gemara says we should.

HTIDE reminds us that Jews are supposed to care about all of humankind. We are not in it for ourselves.

The HTIDE person desires to contribute to his host country, to society as a whole.

The HTIDE person pays special attention to his personal conduct. If we need to look to the classier realms of gentile society for tips on this, so be it. "Derech Eretz includes everything that results from the fact that man's existence, mission and social life is conducted on Earth, using earthly means and conditions. Therefore this term especially describes ways of earning a livelihood and maintaining the social order. It also includes the customs and considerations of etiquette that the social order generates as well as everything concerning humanistic and civil education." R' Hirsch on Pirkei Avos

HTIDE welcomes all true advancements of human kind in the scientific or social realms, yet it examines Torah from within. It welcomes knowledge from the world if it fits into Torah, but does not synthesize Torah with external ideas.

While in Western countries, we conduct ourselves and maintain our homes and our physical selves with the orderliness and dignity that is characteristic of the West. This is a positive act, it is not a concession to goshmiyus. In the East, they suffered poverty, imposed upon them by dictators. There is no benefit to carrying over the results of that to America.

In AHTIDE, (American Hirschian Torah Im Derech Eretz) we have to be particularly careful in our selection of secular materials and our involvement with secular society. The amount of indecent and twisted material out there is extensive. Moreover, it has infiltrated all realms of society. In the old days, you had pool halls with pool hall type people and you had museums and schools with modestly dressed conservative people. Today, there's nary a difference between the two. So wherever you go, you have to exercise enormous care. One possible approach is to limit secular studies within the humanities to 19th century people or earlier. And early 19th century is better than later 19th century.

As Rav Breuer emphasized, Austritt goes hand in hand with TIDE. One understanding of that is as follows: once you open yourself to the outside world, you become vulnerable to its negative influence. Problematic groups even within Orthodoxy presumably all ready have allowed that negative influence to shape its core. Therefore, you need to avoid the problematic groups even with Orthodoxy because they have led the way in institutionalizing the bad of the outside world. However, in the 21st century we pretty much are forced to deal with other groups because the German community is so small. The same goes with the State of Israel. Half of Kelal Yisrael is there and the larger part of Orthodoxy is there. One pretty much has to work with it. This applies even more to the person who can't for whatever reasons live in Washington Heights. Then you really have to deal with the other groups. But even within Wash. Hts. you must deal with other groups because there are Haredim and Modern people there and likely few pure Hirschians. So Austritt today is a trickier business and requires tremendous self-discipline, particularly mental discipline, and, at the same time, more tolerance. You need more tolerance on the outside and more discipline on the inside.