Thursday, May 25, 2006

Contra Gafni (Kedoshim - 2003)

I had not originally intended to post this polemic essay, written three yaers ago. Howver, recent horrifying disclosures concerning the subject of my critique have made it, unfortunately, all too relevant. Further discussion of this matter will appear on my current parsha sheet, available via my email address.

Nadav, Avihu and Paganism

First, some further comments about the strange and tragic deaths of Nadav and Avihu, mentioned in Parshat Shemini:

First, notwithstanding the Hasidic emphasis on “quietism,” this is always balanced by the need for activity. The mitzvot must be done; one needs ab initio to invest energy, preparation, concentration in prayer; Torah study, in particular, is a demanding intellectual activity, requiring intense concentration. One of the scholars (I think it was the late J. G. Weiss) has an important article about Talmud Torah and Hasidism, and the impossibility of “thinking constantly about God” while cracking one’s head on a tough sugya in Baba Metzia. “Quietism” is more a kind of post factum, if one doesn’t pray with kavvanah, one can take consolation in the fact that God is always present; and anyway, the kavvanot are so to speak “built into” the liturgy by the Men of the Great Assembly who wrote the liturgy. Another problematic aspect of quietism for many of us are the issues raised relating to moral thrust within Judaism, the imperative for tikkun olam and action in the world, etc.—but this is a whole ‘nother question.

Second, the incense, ketoret, which plays a central role in the Nadav and Avihu story, is symbolically related to the most intense level of religious awareness and activity. It is dangerous: one who uses it for his own pleasure is subject to karet (Exod 30:37-38); if one even inadvertently forgets one of its component ingredients, one is subject to the death penalty. Similarly, in the story of Korah (Num 16:6-7, 17-19, 35; 17:1-5), the use of the ketoret is the litmus test distinguishing those whom God accepts and those whom He does not. In Kabbalah, the subject of the ketoret serves as focus for some of the most profound mystical meditation. The Talmudic passage describing its composition (Keritut 6b: “pitom haketoret”) is recited by some almost as a mantra, seen as holding deep mystical secrets. This surely relates to the fact that the incense was the only element of the Temple sacrificial ritual focused entirely on the sense of smell (because, as Hazal say, this is the most spiritual of the human senses?).

The third, and major point I wanted to raise in this discussion, is that the sin of Nadav and Avihu was somehow related to their religious enthusiasm per se. This relates to an insight expressed some weeks ago by David Hartman (in a sermon on Ki Tisa) regarding the dangerous potential inherent within the religious impulse as such. A hair-thin line separates the religious impulse from the idolatrous impulse; they are two sides of the same coin, and may easily slide from one to the other. All religious acts skirt at the edge of Avodah Zarah. This happens, as I imagine it, because the intense passion involved in serious religious feeling leads man to give shape and form to this emotion, which may very easily turn in a kind of pagan direction. There is something wild, uncontrolled, undisciplined, anti-social and anti-conventional, in raw religious passion, just as there is in other passions. As in sexuality, the line between the holy, the creative, the life-giving, and the realm of greatest chaos and sin, is very thin. Or else it is so all-encompassing that one wishes to spend ones whole life only in the presence of God, ignoring all normal, regular life, and even ordinary bodily needs; this is what is meant by death in mystical ecstasy (one interpretation of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu: that it was not punishment for any sin at all, but simply they were so caught up in mystical ascent, that their souls forget to return to their bodies!). I once knew a man who died of excess piety—i.e., constant fasting.

This wild aspect of the religious impulse is expressed in the midrash we cited above, describing how, at the moment of the Destruction of the Temple, a lion was seen leaving the Holy of Holies, which personified the Yetzer ha-Ra of idolatry—and yet it inhabited the Holy of Holies itself! In the same vein, the Talmud tells us that, because of this chaotic potential, the impulse to idolatry was slaughtered at that time; as a result, the service of the Second Temple was somehow pale, lifeless, lacking in the intense, overflowing vitality of the First Temple. It is ironic to contrast this fire and passion to the polite, dignified worship of the Western synagogue or church, the very symbol of middle-class respectability.

This is the source, Hartman added, of the dialectic described by Rambam in Yesodei Hatorah 2.2, between man’s attraction toward the Divine and his sense of it being frightening and overwhelming; the fear of coming too close, which leads to withdrawal. The religious enterprise is inherently frightening (even viewed on the purely human, psychological plane), because of the loss of ego, of the normal sense of self, involved; of the call for total surrender. For that reason, he holds, the religious impulse was sublimated, in later Judaism, into the strict structures and fixed forms of the halakhah; indeed, the halakhah in a certain sense became a kind of substitute for a more direct type of religious feeling.

* * * * * * * *

Last week, in our sequel to the treatment of the sin of Nadav and Avihu, we discussed the dangers of intense religious emotion run riot, which can on occasion veer over into the pagan or the idolatrous. Interestingly, the current issue of Tikkun magazine contains a provocative article by Mordechai Gafni in which he presents his own take on that same issue, in many ways diametrically opposed to that of Hartman. He begins with the rather shocking statement that: “The Temple of the ancient Israelites is the original Hebrew expression of pagan consciousness…. Both the Temple and the pagan cults shared an intoxication with the feminine Goddess, symbol of shared eros.” He portrays the intensity, the sense of exhilaration and heightened vitality felt by the ancient Hebrews at the Temple of Jerusalem (perhaps similar to what we discussed earlier re the sons of Aaron) as deriving from this erotic focus and the presence of the feminine element (“the Hebrew goddess”) within the Temple. To avoid misunderstanding, he takes care to note that “eros” is not only a synonym for the sexual, but refers to all passion, intensity, fulness and interconnectivity of being. He then goes on to make a case for an integration or higher synthesis of the prophetic and the pagan, the erotic and the ethical—also identified respectively as the embodiment of the masculine and feminine, yin and yang—arguing that properly understood the two are complementary and that are both essential for the fulness of human life.

My initial reaction was frankly horror: that Gafni had crossed the fine line separating the radically innovative from apikorsut (heresy)—a word that readers of these pages will know that I use with great hesitation. (I had noted in the past his fascination with borderline and liminal purviews on Judaism, in which the permitted and the forbidden, good and evil, juxtapose closely upon one another. He wrote a book, in Hebrew, about “mitzvah that comes about through sin,” precised in Deot magazine about three years ago.) After carefully rereading this article, I realized that the issues he raises are weighty ones, deserving of serious consideration; nevertheless, I find his treatment, and especially the central role he gives to what he calls “purified paganism,” deeply disturbing.

I shall attempt to summarize the salient points of this complex, subtle, and nuanced paper in a few sentences: the essential point, as I understand it, is that there are two different and often conflicting principles present in religious life, and in human life generally: 1) the ethical, or prophetic, concerned with laws and norms, circumscribing evil and defining the good; and 2) the erotic, or pagan, which celebrates the wholeness of existence, the fulness of life, the very pulse of the universe—that implied by the immanence of God, the title “Hay ha-olamim,” He who is the very life of all things. Since the time of the prophets, Judaism has emphasized the former; indeed, the prophets waged relentless war against the prophets of Baal and Asherah, who brought pagan idols into the holy place. Nevertheless, the pagan element, which he identifies with the worship of what Raphael Pattai has called “the Hebrew goddess,” enjoyed a subterranean existence within Jewish culture, surfacing now and again, in direct or more often allusive ways. This was particularly so in Spanish Kabbalah, which openly celebrated the union of the Holy One blessed be He and the Shekhinah, in language reminiscent of the sacred marriage of the gods in paganism, Hieros gamos. He calls for us today to renew this tradition and to create a synthesis, an integration on a higher, more sophisticated level, of the two.

I can well understand where he is coming from: he doubtless feels that the standard type of Orthodoxy, especially that of the yeshivah and Haredi world, is constrictive, life-denying, increasingly backing itself into a spiritually and emotionally unhealthy and stultifying place. There is a kind of dualism, a dichotomy of life and Torah, a sectarian mentality in which the “pure” and “holy” world of the faithful few is counterpoised to the impure, wicked world of all of secular Western culture. He is attracted to the tradition of Rav Kook, who held a panentheistic view of the world, seeing divinity everywhere, who called for the creation of a new, healthy type of Hebrew culture in Eretz Yisrael, encompassing elements of the vital, the creative, the physical and earthy, and even the erotic, within its religious world-view. I have myself more than once written in this vein about these subjects (see above, and in HY IV: Shabbat Hol Hamoed Pesah), speculating for example as to what a Judaism with renewed female input might look like. But what he describes as eros or paganism, I would prefer, following the lead of my friend and teacher Art Green, to call unitive consciousness or “non-dualistic” Jewish mysticism—and therein, it seems to me, lies a significant difference. The word “paganism” is, quite simply, totally “treif” for anyone who considers himself a religious Jew.

Several specific points of criticism:

1. First, his historiography seems somewhat tendentious. He relies heavily on Raphael Pattai’s interpretation of the First Temple period and his concept of the “Hebrew Goddess.” But Yehezkel Kaufmann, a no less authoritative Bible scholar, argues that the Israelites were so deeply ensconced in monotheism that they did not even understand the paganism of their neighbors, confusing their mythic systems for simple fetishism! Gafni uses isolated data—a single archeological finding here, a Zohar passage or Rabbinic dictum there—that seem to support his view. In several places he invokes Rav Kook to support his argument (whom he insists on referring to by the strange appellation, “Hebrew mystic Abraham Kook”; is he somehow embarrassed about Kook being an Orthodox rabbi with beard, payot and spudduk?). I’m not at all certain that Rav Kook’s statement that “Judaism is not a monotheistic religion” means what he claims it does. (But I’m writing this off the cuff; a full critical evaluation of his arguments, involving close scholarly review of his sources, would demand time and research that are beyond me at the present time.)

2. The central issue is: What is Judaism? and, How do we read Jewish history? Is it, as Gershom Scholem once said, anything that Jews have created, or are there certain norms, an accepted mainstream or mainstreams and divergent eddies? Is Judaism descriptive, or prescriptive? Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that 80% or 90% of the Israelites in the First Temple believed in some sort of syncretism, and worshipped Ashera and Baal and who knows what. Does that mean that the monotheistic creed we have all been taught since earliest childhood is somehow inauthentic? If anything is central to Judaism, it would seem to be the oneness of God and the rejection, nay, all out war, against paganism, idolatry, polytheism. The “paganism,” which Gafni paints in attractive colors, as one of the two pillars on which he wishes to build his greater synthesis, is quite simply anathema to any Judaism that I know. What is the Shema, the very centerpiece of our daily prayers, if not monotheism? What was the réson d’être of Maimonides’ entire philosophical enterprise, if not the elaboration of a clear and coherent doctrine of God’s oneness and uniqueness? And what was the meaning of Kiddush Hashem, of the thousands of medieval Jewish martyrs who were willing to die rather than to worship, even for appearance’s sake, the cross? If we take Gafni seriously, all this was for naught, and we should revise Judaism to “synthesize” paganism and prophetism, and accept the worship of all embodiments of the Divine in nature, so long as it expresses the “fulness of life” and gives vent to passion and vitality. Shades of Henri Bergson.

Prof. Yosef Ben-Shlomo once claimed that the admitted return of mythic imagery within Kabbalah was made possible precisely because, by the twelfth century CE, Jews were so far removed from the old paganism of Baal and Ashtoreth, monotheism had become so deeply ingrained, that it was “safe” to reintroduce mythic language. He spoke of a kind of “purification of the mythic.” But this is still a far cry from paganism and worship of the mother goddess, even if she speaks Hebrew.

3. I am rather less sanguine than he about paganism. True, Gafni does allude, almost in passing, to the dangers inherent in paganism—the cruelty of Molekh worship, the absence of the ethical. But he barely mentions the dangers of sensuality run amok, the reality of sacred prostitution, the blatant anthropomorphism in which gods are born, make love, and quarrel with one another just like your average human being. Perhaps I have a more pessimistic view of human nature, but I cannot for a moment ignore that, while eros has its highly positive, invigorating, enlivening aspects, it is also identified with the Yetzer Hara, the “Evil Urge,” and as such has the potential to be highly destructive, dangerous, etc. The ethical moment in Judaism comes from precisely a sober, adult, unillusioned perception of human nature, that is the opposite of naive enthusiasm. Hebrew prophets, ethical teachers and sages, had good reason to fear the unrestrained passion of the pagan.

Paganism also entails cruelty, blood lust, the sort of demonic myths which, just a few short generations ago, led Nazism to murder millions of our people. Milton Himmelfarb once wrote an essay in which he traces the links among blood, sexuality and paganism. Perhaps the slogan of the 1960s, “Make love not war,” was based on a false dichotomy. Unleashing eros overly much also exposes the thin surface on which our civilization—and the civilized impulses within each and every one of us—is built, opening the way to chaos. It seems to me that in our day we have quite enough worshippers of the old gods of Phallus and Yon without adding to their number.

4. He makes at least one statement that is simply incorrect: “Ethics which are not rooted in eros ultimately fall…apart. …. By exiling God from nature and secularizing the sexual, we condemn ourselves to emptiness and vacuity. … The failure of ethics is always rooted in a failure of eros” (p. 54). Has he never met people of the “Yekke” type: formal, highly disciplined individuals, filled with a stern work ethic, sloggers without the slightest sense of humor of “fun” or lightness or irony or visible passion or “sexiness”—but scrupulously honest and principled? Such people may not be his cup of tea (or mine); he may find them “pinched” and “up-tight” and even unpleasant—but the type certainly exists, and I’d far sooner trust one of them to, say, manage a large sum of money than one of the more “interesting,” “passionate,” neo-pagan types. There is no absolutely no basis for the insinuation that such people lose their ethical compass as a result of their erotic repression.

At one point he mentions Jung’s statement that “I’d rather be whole than good” (which, to be fair, Gafni also rejects). That just about sums it up: a believing Jew (a) would unhesitatingly choose “being good” over “being whole”; but, more profoundly, (b) would reject the implied dichotomy: any “wholeness” that is not compatible with “goodness” cannot, by definition, be authentic.

But, at the end, the real question is: What is desirable for our age? Is the syncretism he proposes the Royal Highway? Or is the answer, rather, something that stays within the bounds of the inherited tradition—needless to say, interpreted with flexibility and openness of spirit? (Incidentally, I am not a little puzzled and troubled that, within the perhaps 3000 words of this essay, the terms “Torah” and “halakhah” do not appear even once.) Neo-paganism contains its own poisons, just like the rigid caricature that Orthodoxy has become for many in modern world, albeit in the opposite direction.

An important side comment: he talks about lines and circles, circular and linear thinking, as paradigms for masculine and feminine and the integration between them. I recently wrote about the circular motif in Hasidism, the Jewish year as a kind of “eternal return” upon the paradigmatic events of Exodus, revelation, etc. It occurs to me that part of the attraction of such a position in this fin de siècle age, is that the twentieth century was very much dominated by myths of progress, of constant forward movement—be it through science, through Marxian socialism, or through the American dream of liberal democracy. Today, many of us find ourselves disillusioned and disappointed in that promise. The New Age symbolizes a kind of return to old truths, to ancient wisdom, to a kind of philosophical acceptance of the world as a place where things don’t change as radically as we had once thought and hoped they would. “Tout ce change, tout ce la même chose.”

To couch my conclusion in Hasidic mystical language: the type of integration he seeks is ultimately only possible if one is God. Hasidism (this idea is most elaborated, as I recall, by R. Aaron of Starosselje) speaks of perception of the universe “from our viewpoint” and “from the viewpoint of God.” Only from the perspective of the Divine are the contradictions, the paradoxes of this world overcome. Perhaps on the level of deep meditation, some select human beings, those who achieved an extraordinarily high level of spiritual consciousness, like Moses or Abraham, may have comprehended how all things fit into the ultimate a higher unity—to meditate upon these secrets, but not to be make them a guide for action. For the rest of us, on this human plane, certain things—like paganism and prophecy—cannot be integrated or reconciled, but must remain as irreconciliable opposites.

I find it disappointing that someone with the prodigious talent, impressive knowledge in a wide variety of areas, both Jewish and general, and great charisma and ability to communicate of Mordechai Gafni has chosen to go down such a murky, doubtful road. It is doubly sad to have to say such things regarding one with whom I have enjoyed a certain friendship, and with whom I have been privileged to break bread at the Shabbat table (and these words, however harsh at times, are offered in a spirit of personal friendship). Gafni has been blessed with the gift of speech, of the ability to persuade others; our times are ones in which there is a great thirst for the word of the living God, coupled with great ignorance, making the masses of people not always selective or critical in the messages they accept.

These facts impose a heavy responsibility on those located at these spiritual crossroads to represent the truth, and not a syncretistic mixture of authentic Judaism and ideas taken from alien fields. Gafni has the potential to be one of the significant Jewish thinkers of this generation. I pray that, in his passion to reach out in new and unconventional ways, he not lose his inner compass and become submerged in the neo-pagan zeitgeist of our age.

Mordechai Gafni Responds

Dear Yonatan,

It is lovely to have occasion to write you. These two years i am traveling between Israel (my home is now in Poriya where our National community Bayit Chadash—initiated by myself with our good friends Avraham Leader and Jacob Ner David and of course my partner Chaya) and Oxford University, where i am teaching some and writing.

At this moment it is before Shabbat and i am sitting in the Bodleian Library in Oxford—almost ready to go visit my good friend Admiel Kosman who is here for a semester on leave from Bar Ilan. I appreciate your adjectives in describing my recent missive in Tikkun—“complex, subtle, nuanced and… provocative”—as well as the spirit of personal friendship in which you offered your critique, as well as your blessing that Gafni realize “his potential to be one of the significant Jewish thinkers of our generation”—a blessing you are apparently afraid I might squander losing compass and being somehow blind-sided by what you call the “Neo Pagan Zeitgeist.”

I honor you Yonatan and take your critique seriously even if i believe it to be profoundly incorrect. Incorrect both in term of reading of sources and in terms of what is psychologically and morally necessary for us to engage, as Jews and human beings in our generation.

I cannot fully elaborate my views in my response to you here so let me first mention that i have completed a long two volume work entitled On the Erotic and the Holy which i will be publishing together with my chevruta Avraham Leader in about a year. The Tikkun article is a truncated version of a ninety page chapter in that book, with hundreds of primary source footnotes all drawn from Talmud, Zohar, Luria, Cordovero and Hasidut. So the notions i am expressing are far from what you term neo pagan zeitgeist; rather they are rooted deep with the subterranean wells of the classical Jewish tradition. I of course consider Luria, Cordevoro and the Baalei HaZohar to be no less classical then Maimonides. A much shorter and more accessible version of this book was just published under the title Mystery of Love by Simon and Schuster, about a month ago… but i suggest you wait for the more complete scholarly version.

What I will do here, in the interest of Mahloket Leshem Shamayim [debate intended for the sake of Heaven] is to respond briefly point by point to your points... and just to allow your readers to understand what i am responding to, I will do so within the text of your missive, beginning my responses in bold with the world GAFNI RESPONDS and indicating the text i am responding to by the capped CHIPMAN

CHIPMAN Last week, in our sequel to the treatment of the sin of Nadav and Avihu, we discussed the dangers of intense religious emotion run riot, which can on occasion veer over into the pagan or the idolatrous. Interestingly, the current issue of Tikkun magazine contains a provocative article by Mordechai Gafni in which he presents his own take on that same issue, in many ways diametrically opposed to that of Hartman….

GAFNI RESPONDS: Yonatan, your perception is correct; i do view the intellectual work i am doing as being somewhat of a bar plugta (spiritual intellectual adversary) to David Hartman’s work which i have read in part and respect enormously even as i take issue...

CHIPMAN: He begins with the rather shocking statement that: “The Temple of the ancient Israelites is the original Hebrew expression of pagan consciousness…. Both the Temple and the pagan cults shared an intoxication with the feminine Goddess, symbol of shared eros.” […] To avoid misunderstanding, he takes care to note that “eros” is not only a synonym for the sexual, but refers to all passion, intensity, fulness and interconnectivity of being.

GAFNI RESPONDS: Here, Yonatan, is where the confusion begins… In my book Mystery of Love i point out that Eros is not as you misquote me “a synonym for the sexual among other things” at all. Indeed i argue based on the unpacking of an enormous amount of primary sources, that the Mikdash was the seat of Eros; Eros, i suggest, is in many passages virtually synonymous with Shekhinah and Zohar (on the latter see Liebes’ article “Zohar and Eros”).

Thus the fall of the temple, in my thesis—based again on massive sources in the Kabbalistic tradition—is archetypally to be understood as the fall of Eros. The exile of the Shekhinah, which is the Rabbinic understanding of the result of the Temple’s fall, is no less then the exile of the erotic.... And to where is the erotic exiled? The answer: into the sexual. One of the many expressions of the exile of the erotic into the sexual is in contemporary parlance where we have collapsed the word Eros itself into the sexual. Precisely what you do Yonatan in inadvertently misquoting me, is unconsciously fall into that cultural trap—Galut ha-Shekhina—of collapsing the erotic into the sexual!!

Thus when I use the word Eros I do so in ways consistent with my thought. It is not in any way synonymous with the sexual. It is exactly that suggestion that i am arguing against!!!! I do not even associate Eros with passion as you do in my name. Rather i suggest (ch 2 Mystery of Love) that there are four faces of Eros which are: 1) interiority; 2) the fullness of presence; 3) participating in the yearning force of being; 4) internalizing and acting from the awareness of the inter-connectivity of all being.

CHIPMAN: He then goes on to make a case for an integration or higher synthesis of the prophetic and the pagan, the erotic and the ethical […] My initial reaction was frankly horror: that Gafni had crossed the fine line separating the radically innovative from apikorsut (heresy)—a word that readers of these pages will know that I use with great hesitation. (I had noted in the past his fascination with borderline and liminal purviews on Judaism, in which the permitted and the forbidden, good and evil, juxtapose closely upon one another. He wrote a book, in Hebrew, about “mitzvah that comes about through sin,” precised in Deot magazine about three years ago.)

GAFNI RESPONDS: Yonatan, just to get the facts straight: my article in Deot was based on a chapter in one of my Hebrew books Safek (Modan 2000). The article belied no strange fascination with the liminal (although i do believe that in liminality—what someone once called pivoting points—truth is revealed); rather, the article dealt with a formal HALACHIC category called Avera Lishma, sinning for the sake of God. It is a subject that seems to be dismissed rather lightly in your remarks.

Indeed it is at the heart of Ishbitz thought as well as a central category of Reb Zaddok. It appears in several key Talmudic passages. It is the subject of a fascinating essay by the Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir of the last generation, Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz, and the subject of a long essay by Prof. Nachum Rakover. (Rakover incidentally misreads the Izhbitzer in his presentation as i point out in my doctoral dissertation on Izhbitz, which is thank God finally being completed...about twenty years after i first started thinking about it.. Oy veh.) It is in the borderline and the liminal places Yonatan that we often touch authenticity and discover the true nature of our divine souls... but more about that another time...

CHIPMAN: After carefully rereading this article, I realized that the issues he raises are weighty ones, deserving of serious consideration.

GAFNI: Thanks. Can i copy this part, delete the rest, and send to my mum? :)

CHIPMAN: Nevertheless, I find his treatment, and especially the central role he gives to what he calls “purified paganism,” deeply disturbing. I shall attempt to summarize the salient points of this complex, subtle, and nuanced paper in a few sentences […] But what he describes as eros or paganism, I would prefer, following the lead of my friend and teacher Art Green, to call unitive consciousness or “non-dualistic” Jewish mysticism—and therein, it seems to me, lies a significant difference.

GAFNI: Yonatan, not a bad attempt at summation—a difficult job to be sure and one which is never met with blessing by the initial author.

Several short points; Eros has in my book Mystery of Love and in the longer forthcoming work On the Erotic and the Holy ten major qualities. The tenth and highest expression of eros is outlined in a chapter called Union and is very close to what you describe in the name of Art Green—which as i am sure you know is a deep strain within classical Kabbalah which reaches it’s apex in the writing of Pinchas of Koretz and others of his ilk in Hasidut. It is in this kind of Ehad consciousness that one experience the faces of eros, not least of which is what i have called the fourth face - the inter-connectivity of being. (see of course the parallel to the four faces of the Merkava)

CHIPMAN Several specific points of criticism: 1. First, his historiography seems somewhat tendentious. […]

GAFNI: Here Yonatan with respect you are simply way off base.. i cannot recapitulate several hundred pages of primary source footnotes in an email but suffice to say that our thesis is very well grounded. What is true is this is relatively uncharted territory both in scholarship and in popular thought... You are correct that i tend to side with Pattai against Kaufmann but based on important scholarly sources that Pattai was not aware of. See my upcoming work referred to above.

CHIPMAN: 2. The central issue is: What is Judaism? and, How do we read Jewish history? […] Is Judaism descriptive, or prescriptive? […] If anything is central to Judaism, it would seem to be the oneness of God and the rejection, nay, all out war, against paganism, idolatry, polytheism. But this is still a far cry from paganism and worship of the mother goddess…

GAFNI: Yonatan -here you surprise; to claim that a rereading of the old monotheism is somehow to betray the memory the martyrs is not what i would expect from you so i will not respond to it. What is true is that the old monotheism of Maimonides is found by many post Lurianic Kabbalistic thinkers to be dissatisfying at the best and HERETICAL at the worst. They argue and i with them that God’s unity means that all is included in God, not that God is a numerical and qualitative one. Ehad means that we all participate in divinity in some very profound sense and that what Izhbitz calls he’arah [“uncovering”] is about removing the veils that separate us from this elemental and erotic truth of being.

CHIPMAN: 3. I am rather less sanguine than he about paganism. True, Gafni does allude, almost in passing, to the dangers inherent in paganism […]

GAFNI: Yonatan, i said not one word to the contrary—there is no embrace of the pagan in my essay or though. There is an identification with the Goddess consciousness of eros and ehad which finds expression both in the Mikdash and in paganism (thus the prophets attacked them both). However, we need remember that the prophets, as i point out clearly, were also driven by the same eros—Shekhinah consciousness which animated the temple and is different form paganism. However, the great contribution of the prophets is their intuition that the erotic unbalanced by the ethical was in danger of collapsing into itself. What the prophets insist is that at a certain stage of human development—the stage we are still in now—the ethical must always take precedence over the erotic.

CHIPMAN: 4. He makes at least one statement that is simply incorrect: “Ethics which are not rooted in eros ultimately fall…apart. …. By exiling God from nature and secularizing the sexual, we condemn ourselves to emptiness and vacuity. […] Has he never met people of the “Yekke” type: formal, highly disciplined individuals, filled with a stern work ethic […] but scrupulously honest and principled? At one point he mentions Jung’s statement that “I’d rather be whole than good” (which, to be fair, Gafni also rejects). […]

GAFNI: Oy Yonatan, here you are either misrepresenting or you maybe missed the point. You mention Jung’s statement and then in parentheses say (“which to be fair Gafni also rejects”) Yonatan: I did not also reject Jung - the whole point of the article was a complete and utter rejection of this Jungian motif!!! Indeed your last two sentences here best sum up my thesis; That just about sums it up: a believing Jew (a) would unhesitatingly choose “being good” over “being whole”; but, more profoundly, (b) would reject the implied dichotomy: any “wholeness” that is not compatible with “goodness” cannot, by definition, be authentic.

GAFNI CONT’D: That is exactly the point! But let me add one critical point about which you said i was “simply mistaken.” I argue, and you correctly intuit between the lines, that this is a linchpin of my thinking: that virtually all failures in ethics are at some deep place rooted in the failure of eros. What you bring to bear as decisive evidence of my incorrectness is the archetype of the Ethical work ethic Yekke to whom you would rather entrust your money then to some neo-pagan type... Yonatan you have misunderstood Eros entirely; Eros is not some sort of in your words “sexiness.” Eros is about he fullness of presence, about deep interiority, and the like and i have been privileged to know a few Yekke types in my life time who were highly erotic holy beings of light. No neo-pagan characteristics. I do believe however that a more holistic and embodied model of Shekhinah eros would transcend and yet include the Yekke archetype.

CHIPMAN: But, at the end, the real question is: What is desirable for our age? Is the syncretism he proposes the Royal Highway? Or is the answer, rather, something that stays within the bounds of the inherited tradition—needless to say, interpreted with flexibility and openness of spirit? […]

GAFNI: Here Yonatan we finally get to the heart of the matter. You are caught i believe in what has been referred to as the pre-trans fallacy. That is to say there are, let’s say for the sake of this conversation, three levels of development: Simple–Complex–Simple or Erotic–Ethical–Erotic. [see below-JC] Level one and level three look the same but they are really entirely different. Paganism is level one eros not purified by the prophetic ethics of level two nor tempered by the advances of empirical science, nor enlightened by the great advances in moral (feminism, human rights, democracy, etc). Much contemporary Neo Paganism sees itself as advancing when indeed it is doing nothing but regressing to level one paganism. The suggestion i am making—with, Yonatan, very clear roots in one strain of Rav Kook’s writing, who talked extensively of our need to reclaim the Eros of paganism; yes, he says this explicitly in more then one passage!!!!—is that we reach forward to level three and not backward to level one. One can only reach level three by going through level two. Only an eros which fully incorporates ethics can sustain itself erotically. Conversely, all ethics not rooted in eros will ultimately collapse. The opposite of Eros is emptiness and all ethical collapse comes from the times when we are caught in the emptiness, crying out “i exist and then acting out in ways that violate our ethos - to prove it!”

This confusion between pre rational and pre ethics—with - the trans-rational and trans ethics (where ethos and eros are revealed as one) is symptomatic of both your critique of my article, much of the new age, and the old romantic movement which in many ways is the precursor to the contemporary new age. You understand me to talking about level one when i have explicitly accepted the prophetic rejection of level one even as i reach for the kabbalistic heralding of the possibilities of level three.!!

CHIPMAN: To couch my conclusion in Hasidic mystical language […] Only from the perspective of the Divine are the contradictions, the paradoxes of this world overcome. [..] on this human plane, certain things—like paganism and prophecy—cannot be integrated or reconciled, but must remain as irreconciliable opposites. For anyone who considers himself a religious Jew, the word “paganism” is, quite simply, “treif.”

GAFNI: Well Yonatan congratulations—your last three lines have just read the Zohar, Moses Cordovoro and Rav Kook right out of Jewish tradition. What you are doing—eloquently—is echoing the prophetic rejection of level one paganism. The essence of the evolving religious consciousness which is an essential anchor of much of Kabbalistic thought suggests that there is what to redeem and incorporate from pagan consciousness. Indeed, the Zohar suggests that the Mizbeah [altar] in the temple was the Ashera tree. Cordovero suggests based on that Zohar that “Malkhut is Asherah.” What they mean of course is not that the mizbeah was an actual pagan Ashera tree but that the essential energy of Ashera is virtually identical with the Shekhinah energy expressed in the Shekhinah symbols of both Malkhut and Mizbeah. Rav Kook, as i mentioned above, explicitly augurs for the reclaiming of the sacred sparks of what he calls ellilut, paganism. I, for one, would be saddened, Yonatan, if we emptied these schools of spirit from the wellsprings of Jewish consciousness.

CHIPMAN: I find it disappointing that someone with the prodigious talent, impressive knowledge in a wide variety of areas, both Jewish and general, and great charisma and ability to communicate of Mordechai Gafni has chosen to go down such a murky, doubtful road. [...] Gafni has the potential to be one of the significant Jewish thinkers of this generation. I pray that, in his passion to reach out in new and unconventional ways, he not lose his inner compass and become submerged in the neo-pagan zeitgeist of our age.

GAFNI: Personal friendship affirmed and backhanded compliments graciously acknowledged. I hope i have succeeded in both honoring you and responding to your issues in a clear manner at the same time. i am here with no books open before Shabbat so i have not cited chapter and verse, but i cite it all in the works i referred to in the letter.

With blessing for a Shabbot Shalom: Shabbat as symbol of Mikdash and Shekhinah, even as she personifies ethics in relation to the earth, and the servant Shabbat in whose sacred time ethics and eros are revealed as one.

Mordechai Gafni / Erev Shabbat Kedoshim [5663/2003]

An Afterword

The three-stage schema mentioned above, which I neglected to explain in my earlier summary of Gafni’s article, is central to his thesis. He uses a kind of Hegelian thesis-antithesis-synthesis schema, in which the third level entails a return to the first level, but on a higher, more spiritual, level of consciousness. A friend of mine illustrated this by means of a well-known Zen koan: “When one is not enlightened, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers. After attaining some spiritual insight, one realizes that mountains are not mountains and rivers are not rivers. But once one achieves true enlightenment, one realizes that indeed, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers.”

As applied here (in my words): primitive man sees the world as filled with divine life, as vibrant with eros, and he invents pagan religion, or animism, in which there are a riot of different gods, and perhaps explicitly sexual rites in the temples, to give expression to this intuition. The prophets, imbued with a deeper ethical insight, are appalled by this, and condemn it outright in the name of the one God, whose demands upon humankind are first and foremost ethical and trans-sexual. But on yet a higher level, Kabbalistic consciousness sees the world as filled with Divine life and vibrant with eros, an apprehension which it expresses through the symbolism of the union of male and female elements or persona within the Divine (Tiferet and Malkhut, etc.), and the goal of man as living with a kind of purified eros within the world.

1 Comments:

Blogger Personal Development said...

I am sure you have heard the song "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club but have you ever given much thought to its meaning? While on Earth, you are living in a world of reincarnation which is governed by the law of karma. Karma begins to propel you as Soul on a personal journey through the universe. Karma ends when you have reached enlightenment and fully realise that this physical reality and the Universe itself is just an illusion. When you reach a state of knowingness that there is but One all pervading essence and that essence or consciousness is You!
So what is Karma and how does it work? While in the illusion you have a soul. This soul lives past, present, and future lives. To grow in love, joy, and awareness, you reincarnate into a series of physical bodies to experience different existences. This road leads to the experiences of being both sexes, all races, religions, and ethnic types throughout many lifetimes.
Karma in its simplicist terms can be described by the biblical statement "as you sow, so also shall you reap". Karma is the principle of cause and effect, action and reaction, total cosmic justice and personal responsibility. It brings 'good' experiences as well as 'bad' - a debt must be repaid and a blessing rewarded.

A more indepth esoteric look at karma gives us the following distinctions: Sanchita Karma: the accumulated result of all your actions from all your past lifetimes. This is your total cosmic debt. Every moment of every day either you are adding to it or you are reducing this cosmic debt. Prarabdha Karma: the portion of your "sanchita" karma being worked on in the present life. If you work down your agreed upon debt in this lifetime, then more past debts surface to be worked on. Agami Karma: the portion of actions in the present life that add to your "sanchita" karma. If you fail to work off your debt, then more debts are added to "sanchita" karma and are sent to future lives. Kriyamana Karma: daily, instant karma created in this life that is worked off immediately. These are debts that are created and worked off - ie. you do wrong, you get caught and you spend time in jail.
As a soul, you experience a constant cycle of births and deaths with a series of bodies for the purpose of experiencing this illusionary world gaining spiritual insights into your own true nature until the totality of all experiences show you Who you really are - the I AM! Until you have learned, you will find that pretending that the rules of karma do not exist or trying to escape the consequences of your actions is futile.
Although it may often "feel" like punishment, the purpose of karma is to teach not to punish. Often the way we learn is to endure the same type of suffering that we have inflicted on others and also rexperience circumstances until we learn to change our thinking and attitudes.

We are all here to learn lessons as spiritual beings in human form. These lessons are designed to help us grow into greater levels of love, joy, and awareness. They teach us our true nature of love. Where we do not choose love, show forgiveness, teach tolerance, or display compassion, karma intervenes to put us back on the path of these lessons. Quite simply, the only way to achieve a state of karmic balance is to be love.
Before you incarnated into your present personality, you agreed to put yourself in the path of all that is you need to learn. Once you got here, you agreed to forget this. Karma is impersonal and has the same effect for everyone. It is completely fair in its workings and it is predictable - "do onto others as you would have them do unto you" is a way to ensure peace and tranquillity in your own life as well as the lives of those you come into contact with. The law of karma is predictable - "as you sow, so shall you reap" what is done to you is the net result of what you have done to others!
Karma gives you the opportunity at every moment to become a better person than you are and to open up to the realization that you are the master of your own fate.

The goal of karma is to give you all the experiences that you need to evolve into greater levels of love, joy, awareness, and responsibility. Karma teaches that you are totally responsible for the circumstances of your life. They keep you on the straight and narrow until you have mastered your vehicle and can ride freely on your own. Once you understand that you are the master of your own circumstances and that everything you experience is a direct result of your past actions due to your thinking and emotional responses you can overcome its seeming negative effects by creating only 'good' karma.
Karma forces us to look beyond ourselves (oneness) so that we can see ourselves as we truly are Whole, Complete, at One with everything. Once we truly understand ourselves, we can see our divinity and our unity with all life.
Karma drives us to service. Love means service. Once you accept total responsibility for your life, you see yourself as a soul in service to God. Once you do, you become a fully realized being, allowing God to experience the illusion through you.
Belief in karma and an understanding of its workings will lead you to a life of bliss. Only your own deeds can hinder you. Until the time comes when we release ourselves from our own self-imposed shackles of limitation and fully understand who and what we are we will live under the mantle of karma. So until that day why not create some wonderful experiences for ourselves by "doing onto others, as we would have them do unto us". personal-development.info

7:38 AM  

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