Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Vaera (Mitzvot)

For further teachings on this parasha, see the archives for this blog at January 2006. For a new teaching on Shemot, see that parasha, directly below.

“And You shall Know that My Name is HWYH…”

The title verse of this week’s parasha—“I appeared to [the patriarchs] as El Shaddai, but by My name HWYH I was not know to them” (Exod 6:3)—in essence boils down to something very similar to what Rambam defines as the very first mitzvah: namely, belief in, or knowledge of, the existence of God. (For that reason, I have chosen this week to resume, or re-begin, our series on the Thirteen Principles). This same idea appears in several other nearby places in the Torah: in Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush, he asks with what name he should “introduce” God to the Jewish people (and to Pharaoh), and is told Ehyeh asher ehyeh: “I am that I am” or “I shall be as I shall be” (Exod 3:14ff.). Likewise in the plagues, the first seven of which are described in this parasha, there are numerous variations on the theme “by this shall they know that I am HWYH”; “that you may know that I am HWYH in the entire land”; “And Egypt shall know that I am HWYH” (see Exod 7;17; 8:18; 9:14; 10:2; etc.). It follows from this that God’s power is somehow connected to His Name and its being known. Likewise in Deuteronomy there are two significant verses (also liturgically), one phrase in the declarative and one in the imperative, stating that “You have been shown so as to know/ you should know today and reflect in your heart—that HWYH is God, there is none other” (Deut 4:35, 39; cf. also, e.g., Ezekiel 36:22 ff.; 38:23).

What is the significance of knowing someone’s name? In the slang of old Western movies, a name is sometimes called a person’s “handle”—something which one can grasp, take hold of, so as to talk about or address someone. (A small anecdote to illustrate the importance of a name: a new road was recently built near my home, after years of construction and no small public controversy, litigation and bitterness; even though it’s now been open for about five months, it still has no name, a fact that sometimes makes things a little awkward. How does one talk about it?) But in biblical thought, it would appear that a name is not merely an arbitrary external referent or signifier, but refers to something essential about the persona—or, in any event, that which can be known about a persona. Indeed, this is most probably the reason why improper use of the Divine Name, as in a false oath, is seen as so grave a sin.

What does it mean to know that God is HWYH? There is something ambiguous about this name: it is a fixed noun constructed from a verb meaning “to be”; an attempt to pin down in stasis that which is constantly moving, changing, flowing. God is Absolute Being, He is Everything, He is the All; but for that very reason, it is hard, nay, impossible, to pin down His nature, to say anything conclusive about Him at all. Even more so the name given at the burning bush, “I am that I am.” God wants us to know Him, to know that he is, but at the same time His nature and being remain allusive, paradoxical, unfathomable. For that reason mystics and prophets of all faiths who have had personal epiphanies, major or minor, usually fall flat on their faces when they attempt to capture their knowledge in words. Levi Lauer recently suggested, in a talk at Yakar, that the true meaning of “A man cannot see me and live” is that no man can see God and communicate his knowledge to others; they are like the dead who cannot speak, who—being no doubt naturally garrulous like most Jews—are frustrated because they cannot communicate with their fellow man.

This is the paradox of religious experience, and knowledge. This is perhaps why knowledge of God Himself (as opposed to knowledge of Torah, of how to live in the world, of guidance for real life) must be conveyed, in the Jewish tradition, by hints, by allusion, by teaching “chapter headings” and allowing the disciple, if he is wise, to figure out the rest for himself; or why Zen masters give their students koans, paradoxical and unsolvable questions on which to meditate.

But human beings, made in the image of God, are themselves in some sense unknowable. Shlomo Carlebach used to explain the custom of the bedeken, the covering of the bride with a veil before she goes to the huppah, as hinting that one can never fully know another person, even a beloved partner in marriage (and, I might add, this notwithstanding that the quintessential act of marital intimacy is called, in several important passages at the beginning at Genesis, “knowledge,” da’at). Similarly, Rav Soloveitchik once noted regarding hespedim, eulogies for the dead, that so long as a person is alive, we think we know him: we see him or her, encounter them on the street, in our homes or in the synagogue, think we know who they are. Suddenly, that person dies, and we find ourselves wondering: “Who was that person, really?” We realize that we did not know him/her at all. Of this, he invoked the verse in Jeremiah “From afar God appeared to me.”

(For further discussion, see the supplement below on the Thirteen Principles.)


An Introduction

I have been interested for some time in Maimonides’ so-called Thirteen Principles of the Faith, the closest thing to a Jewish “catechism,” a condensed version of which some people recite every day after Shaharit, and which also serves as the basis for the hymn Yigdal, recited by many on Friday night. There are various questions raised by this: Does Judaism have dogma at all? What was the attitude of Hazal, the ancient Sages, to matters of belief? Why did Maimonides find it necessary to formulate Jewish belief, and why did he do so In the specific way he did? And what are we, with our modern (or post-modern) intellectual baggage to do with all this? I started writing a series of studies of the Ikkarim a year and a half ago, but stopped after the first few, so I have decided to resume it now, in this year of “miscellaneous essays.” I begin by reprinting the first section of the original series.

My interest in this issue began almost by accident: at times, especially on short winter Fridays, I don’t manage to get to synagogue shul for Kabbalat Shabbat, and end up davening at home with my wife. On those occasions, we conclude by singing together the hymn Yigdal, using a Moroccan melody I learned many years ago at the old wooden hut-synagogue in Omer. This hymn, by Daniel ben Judah Dayyan, is a poetic rendition of Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles, written in the late 14th century, almost two centuries after Maimonides’ death, one verse for each principle. I began to notice various interesting aspect of this hymn, and to wonder exactly why certain ideas were included while others were excluded, why they were formulated as they were, and on what points they deviated from Rambam’s original formulation.

But before turning to the Ikkarim per se, another, more basic question presents itself: are there in fact “dogmas“ in Judaism? One of the truisms of modern Judaism is that Judaism has no dogmas, and that a Jew is free to believe (or to doubt) as he wishes, and still remain a “member of the tribe” in good standing.

A homely story illustrates this well. A pious and Kabbalistically-minded friend of mine once confessed, rather to my surprise, that he didn’t believe in Torah from Sinai in the accepted Orthodox way. As at that time he was saying Kaddish for his father and leading the weekday prayer service at the local shteiblakh (prayer-rooms), I asked him whether any one objected to him leading services there, given his unorthodox opinions (assuming his theological views were at all known there). He answered, “No, but sometimes they object when I come to shul wearing sandals without socks.” In other words: people can take theological “heresy” in their stride, but even a minor deviation in halakhah, or as in this case from a nicety of socio-halakhic norms, deeply upsets people.

Some years ago Prof. Menachem Kellner of Haifa University wrote a book, Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought from Maimonides to Abravanel (Oxford, 1986), in which he rather convincingly demonstrates that dogma is indeed not a Jewish “game,” and that systematic theology, i.e., the systematic articulation of beliefs and required dogmas, only made its appearance in Judaism in the medieval period. This took place in response to rivals—whether from within the Jewish “family,” such as Karaism, or from without, by Christianity—which presented well-formulated and coherent alternative belief systems, requiring Judaism to defend itself by presenting its own beliefs in an orderly way.

But while Judaism did not have systematic theology until relatively late, it is a far cry from that to saying that Judaism has no beliefs and that atheism is a perfectly acceptable religious alternative. The situation is complicated by the existence of an additional dimension of Jewishness—the ethnic or national or cultural one—a peculiarity that confuses those coming from other religions or conventional definitions of religion. An atheist can be a proud, positive Jew who contributes to the Jewish people in all sorts of ways—but this does not mean that there is no religious content or definition to Judaism. Moreover, even after Maimonides formulated his Ikkarim, they were not universally accepted (see the Kabbalah’s approach to the nature of God, for example—a point upon which we will elaborate in the course of this series), and do not have the same definitive status as the halakhah.

Classical Judaism, of the Bible and the Sages, had a concrete, living faith and sense of God’s presence in the world, but this was expressed, not in sharply-defined points of dogma, but in Biblical narrative, poetry, and reflection, in midrashic stories and Rabbinic dicta; the basic sense of faith and trust in God served as the background, as the underlying ambience, for a wide variety of documents. From Psalms, to the prophets, to the legal chapters in the Torah and in the Talmud, to Job, to the Song of Songs… One could say, perhaps, that this is the truest expression of the ineffable nature of God: that God can only be spoken about or understood in a roundabout way, through frankly anthropomorphic images or even imagined conversations which point, indirectly, to Whom He is. Theology learned by induction, by implication, rather than by deduction, as in a strict logical system; with colorful, vibrant, literary language rather than stiff, formal, abstract philosophical conceptualizations. The totality of these images create a picture that is intuitively grasped more than it is systematically learned.

Turning to Maimonides’ Principles per se: while he was the first to articulate basic principles as such, there were others—R. Saadyah Gaon and R. Judah Halevi, in their Emunot ve-De’ot and Kuzari—who prepared the ground by writing theological treatises or polemics on behalf of “a beleaguered faith.” While the Principles are perhaps best known to most Jews today from the Ani Ma’amin printed in many Siddurim at the end of the daily morning service—thirteen short phrases, each one of which begins with the words “I belief with perfect faith that….”—this too is not from Rambam’s hand, but from an unknown author, who lived some time after him. In fact, the Ikkarim appear in the setting of Rambam’s Commentary on the Mishnah, his earliest major work. This work encompasses three or four major compositions scattered throughout the textual commentary, in the form of introductions to specific sections. The Ikkarim appear as part of the introduction to Perek Helek, the 10th chapter of Tractate Sanhedrin.

Why Perek Helek? This chapter is perhaps unique in all of mishnaic literature in that it contains halakhic statements regarding belief. The opening mishnah begins with the words “All Israel have a portion in the World to Come,” immediately followed by the reservation: “But these do not have a portion in the World to Come—One who says: there is no Resurrection of the Dead [taught in the Torah]; and there is no Torah from Heaven; and the apikorus [epicurean—i.e., hedonist? one who denies God’s existence?].” Why are these two doctrines specified? Was there a polemic edge to this statement, addressed to specific sects who taught these heretical beliefs? And why is it brought at all, if it had to be formulated in the uncharacteristic way, “he has no share in the World to Come,” a punishment which may have moral force for the believer but, unlike most of the sanctions invoked in halakhic, is without juridical force? I asked these questions of several erudite scholars of my acquaintance, who could be expected to be knowledgeable in all of the research literature, and they said that there are no clearcut answers to these questions.

It is against this background that we turn to Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles, and to their place in his Mishnah Commentary—the Introduction to Perek Helek. As we have already mentioned, the opening mishnah in this chapter is almost unique in Rabbinic halakhic literature in that it makes statements about matters of faith and belief, declaring that those who deny certain axioms “have no portion in the World to Come.”

The structure or arrangement used by Rambam in the Introduction to Perek Helek is rather interesting: he does not begin by elaborating the correct principles of the faith which will assure one a “portion in the World to Come,” as might be expected of a commentary on this particular mishnah, or if his aim were simply to formulate or systematize Jewish dogma. Rather, he works his way around and into the subject. He begins by discussing the role played by expectation of reward in religious life, whether these be earthly and material rewards, such as long life, material abundance, etc.; or spiritual rewards—partaking in the Afterlife, the Resurrection of the Dead, or the post-messianic world. Basically, he says that the highest goal is to serve God for His own sake, and not for the sake of any “prize” or reward; all such things are basically educational tactics rather than things with which one ought to be concerned (although he takes pain to state that they are true as such). He then turns to a discussion of Aggadah, and the dangers of taking aggadic language too literally.

One could sum quite simply by saying that Rambam didn’t easily abide fools. He was highly sensitive to stupidity and foolishness presented in the name of faith. He saw many of the common people in his day (as in our day!) imbued with false doctrines, folk attitudes and beliefs that corporealized faith, making it gross and superstitious, and taxing the credulity of anyone who thought about things with any degree of seriousness. He saw his basic role as teacher of the faith—both to the sophisticated, to whom he spoke in one way, and to the ordinary masses, whom he addressed in quite another way. He felt that wrong beliefs, even if seemingly related to the true God and integrated within a life pattern of observance of Torah and mitzvot, was ultimately a grave danger since, in effect, those who adhered to them engaged in something that was tantamount to paganism and idolatry. Hence, he insisted upon at least a certain minimal clarity about what we mean when we talk about God, and attempted to uproot and exclude from Judaism certain childish, overly literal and corporeal ways of believing or thinking about God.

Hence, the various parts of the Hakdamah are an integral whole: he begins by attacking two areas in which he found the people to have a particularly gross and misguided understanding of religious teaching—namely, their motivations for doing mitzvot with an eye towards reward; and their naïve way of reading midrashic and aggadic stories. He turns from there to the Principles themselves, which may be conceived as a minimum list of basic axioms of what one may and should believe, after eliminating certain prevalent beliefs that ought to be eschewed.

As I have noted in the past, Maimonides’ theology may be conceived generally as a minimalist one. Many things which are widely accepted in popular Jewish belief, or even in authoritative texts—such as a kind of ubiquity of miracles; angelology; the notion of Divine Providence acting even in the trivial details of life; the widespread power of prayer to change destiny; and the ability of various kinds of “holy men” to “force” God’s hand—all these are greatly deemphasized and marginalized, if not actually rejected, by Rambam. The same holds true for such doctrines as the Messiah: Maimonides firmly rejected attempts to predict a timetable, either for the coming of Messiah, or for the actual events of messianic times. The Ikkarim may thus be viewed as a rather spare, non-inflated Jewish theology. For Maimonides, the Creation itself, the lawfulness of nature, were themselves the strongest proof of God’s greatness and majesty, inspiring awe and reverence.

The Thirteen Principles as such are organized in three major groups, roughly corresponding to the three principles later elucidated in R. Joseph Albo’s Sefer ha-Ikkarim (14th century): God, Torah, and Providence. The Ikkarim reveals that they seem to fall quite naturally into these three groups: five principles relating to God and His nature per se; four relating to Revelation; and four concerned with Divine providence and reward and punishment.

These correspond, in turn, to the first three cases given in the mishnah that forms the basis for this chapter, of those who have no share in the World to Come: “one who denies the Resurrection”—i.e., Divine recompense; “one who denies Torah from Heaven”—i.e., Revelation; and the “apikoris,” broadly construed in Judaism to refer to one who denies God’s existence, or at least His relevance to the world. The term is a corruption of the name of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, ca. 342-270 BCE, who believed in a life of pleasure, albeit regulated by “morality, temperance, serenity, and cultural development”— a kind of disciplined, well-balanced secular humanism: hardly a riotous Dionysian approach, but neither a religious world–view in any sense. In common Jewish folk use, it came to mean a hedonist or one who thinks that the highest goal of life is sensuous enjoyment—or, more broadly, an unbeliever or sceptic.

Or, if you prefer, the three categories may be identified with the three moments mentioned by Rosenzweig: Creation (God); Revelation (Sinai); and Redemption (Messiah, etc.); or, more simply, teachings about God, Torah, and Man.

Turning to the principles themselves: the first two principles seem to contain the kernel of Jewish theology (in the sense of “God talk”), in the spirit of the midrashic statement that the Israelites only heard the first two commandments—“I am the Lord your God” and “you shall have no other gods before Me”—directly from the Almighty.

I. “Exalted and praised be the living God; He exists, and His existence transcends time”

The first principle is, quite simply, belief in the existence of God: what Rambam formulates elsewhere as “to know that there is a First Cause.” Certainly, it is impossible to speak of religion without a God. But more than that, the fact that there is a God in the universe allows for the possibility of meaning and, one might argue, provides the ground both for morality and for human responsibility. And indeed, such serious atheist intellectuals as the French existentialists Sartre and Camus felt forced, by the logic of that position, to state that there is no meaning in life except that which man himself gives to it. (They were “fortunate” enough to live in difficult and interesting times—i.e., the Nazi occupation of France—giving them ample opportunity for dramatic, even heroic and meaning-rich decisions.) In other words, for them man can be the source of meaning, but there is nothing ontological in the universe itself that makes for meaning; moral values are not objectively grounded, but are mere convention. Or, as Ivan Karamazov put it more cynically, “If there is no God, everything is permitted.”

Or, turning to more traditional Jewish language: the first imperative is kabbalat malkhut shamayim—accepting God’s majesty and kingship. As the Mekhilta (quoted by Ramban both in his commentary to Exod 20:1 and in his Hasagot to Sefer ha-Mitzvot, Aseh §1), put it: “Accept My kingship, and thereafter accept My edicts.” The knowledge that God exists is a precondition prior to everything else: hence, according to some, it is not so much a mitzvah in its own right as an axiom or “pillar” that logically precedes the mitzvot themselves.

What is important here is not only the intellectual knowledge that there is a God, but accepting His kingship. “The Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King—He will save us!” (Isa 33:22)—that is, He is the ultimate source of authority, of norms and standards, of power and majesty, and the redemptive force within history. The first principle thus corresponds to the first commandment: Anokhi HVYH Elohekha, “I am the Lord your God,” and to the key phrase in the Shema: HVYH Eloheinu, “the Lord is our God.”


Clarification: Re Conversion and the Young Israel Council

Last week I wrote about the obligation to show understanding and compassion to the stranger, criticizing the decision by the National Council of Young Israel banning the election of converts to Judaism (and women) to the office of president of member congregations. One of my readers wrote me by email, criticizing my statement that “[this] is simple racism.” As he put it “there are specific guidelines regarding the ger, which include certain reservations. … This may be a well-founded halakhic decision. To suggest that it is racism is to undermine the authority of an established Beit Din and is motzi la’az [slander] of Klal Yisrael.”

I wrote about this subject some years ago, in connection with the ordination of women as rabbis (in a paper posted here in HY II: Behaalotkha, and published in To Be a Jewish Woman [Kolekh Conference Volume, II], English section: 9-24). While the issues involved regarding converts and regarding women are not entirely identical, both the halakhic issues and the positions taken by outstanding halakhic figures and the public controversies are of some relevance. I quote here the most salient portions:

It is asserted that women [and converts] are debarred from holding any public office, based on Maimonides’ statement, derived from the Sifrei, that all office-holders in the ideal Jewish society must be male (Hil. Melakhim 1.5, based on Sifrei to Deut 17:15). But the wording of the Sifrei is ambiguous… Moreover, this Sifrei is not brought to this purpose in Talmudic literature, Maimonides’ codification of it being a kind of da’at yahid. During the early 1920s, when the issue of participation of women in elections of the Asefat Hanivharim (the precursor of Israel’s Knesset) shook the Yishuv, Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel wrote a major responsum on this subject, arguing in favor of the more liberal position.

[More recently,] participation of women in public life has become part of the zeitgeist of modernist Orthodoxy. For many years, the party of Religious Zionism, Mizrachi, always had at least one woman member as part of its Knesset delegation; after a hiatus of several decades, the deputies to the 16th Knesset also included a woman among their number. In the 1980’s, the issue of women’s participation on local Religious Councils was raised, with the pioneering case of Leah Shakdiel; in that case, the decision in her favor was issued by the High Court and not by the poskim. It is likewise interesting to note the presence of women on executive committees of Orthodox synagogues, and even as chair/president, in both the United States and Israel, and no doubt elsewhere. Today, this is accepted in a matter-of-fact way; by contrast, [Pamela] Nadell records in her book [Women Who Would be Rabbis] that, as recently as the first half of the 20th century, it was still heatedly debated whether a woman could be President of a Reform temple.

For further bibliography, see: Mishpetei Uziel, Pt. 3, Hoshen Mishpat, §6; Menahem Friedman, Hevrah va-Dat (Jerusalem, 1978), 146-184 (on the history of the election controversy, and especially Rav Kook’s position); Justice Menahem Elon in HCJ 153/87 (the Shakdiel case), cited in Ha-Peninah (Penina Rappel Memorial Volume; Jerusalem, 1989), 63-118; and, most recently, Aryeh A. Frimer, “Women in Community Leadership Roles in the Modern Period” [Hebrew], in Afikei Yehudah, ed. I. Warhaftig (Rav Yehuda Gershuni Memorial Volume; Jerusalem, 2005), 330-354. Much of the information about the current bruhaha is taken from an article in the YU student newspaper, The Commentator, Dec 3, 2007

True, one could argue that the ban on converts serving in public office is stated more explicitly than is that on women. But the issue is also whether the office of synagogue president is the sort of position of power Maimonides had in mind in the above-mentioned passage. Frimer (and others) suggest that the concept of serarah applies to positions of unqualified and unquestioned authority, such as that exercised by kings in pre-modern days. But in modern democracies, whose officials are elected by the people, for limited terms of office, and with checks and balances, and in which virtually all decisions are made by a number of officials acting in concert, this would seem to be inapplicable. I would add that, to the best of my knowledge, the religious and even the Haredi parties accepted Golda Meir serving as Prime Minister and even sat in her coalition; if, today, they criticize Tzipi Livni in the Foreign Ministry, it is on grounds of substance, not of gender. If this is the case for actual governmental positions, which wield substantial power, then קל וחומר בן-בנו של קל וחומר, all the more so ought it to apply to the president of a Young Israel, who may at most hire and fire a few individuals and be charged with handling a budget of comparatively modest sums—and even that, in cohort with the other synagogue officers.

But as I read further about the issue, I realized that the ban on converts is “collateral damage.” The real issues seem to be: (a) centralization vs. autonomy: i.e., an attempt by the National Council to concentrate its authority over the movement as against the autonomy of local congregations—an issue on which, as I’m not a member of a Young Israel, and have not even been a regular YI worshipper for nearly forty years, I have no real right or cause to comment; (b) the substantive issue over which this is waged seems to be the ongoing struggle in American Orthodoxy over what has come to be called “halakhic feminism.” This, as shown by the other decisions issued by the NCYI at the same time: a ban on women’s prayer groups and megillah reading in Young Israel synagogues; and the creation of a central committee to vet all Rabbinic appointments by Young Israel shuls, apparently to assure their halakhic and hashkafic adherence to Orthodoxy as understood by the NCYI. The covert purpose seems to be to prevent the hiring of excessively “left wing” rabbis—i.e., code for graduates of Rabbi Avi Weiss’s liberal-spirited and pro-feminist Yeshivat Hovevei Torah. All this sounds like a highly divisive move, an insistence on ideological purity forcing significant groups of people out of the Orthodox world—in much the same way as sharp disagreements in the Conservative movement over the homosexual issue, and the types of comments made there by one side about the other, threaten to split that group in two.

So I reiterate: what would Rambam say? The same Rambam who stressed ahavat hager (“love of the proselyte”) in Deot 6.4 and who wrote the eloquent, impassioned Epistle to Ovadiah the Ger, also wrote the above-cited halakhah. What then would he say about this situation? It’s a tough call.

To All Classical Music Lovers

The following is primarily addressed to those living in Israel: The other day a friend of mine sent me a letter from the Israel Musicology Society followed by a newspaper excerpt, the gist of which was that the Israel Broadcasting Authority has decided to merge Kol Ha-Musika, the classical music station, with Reshet Aleph and Moreshet—other stations that broadcast to “limited” audiences—into a single station. In essence, this signifies the death of Kol ha-Musika as we know it: rather than 24 hours a day of serious music (including “world” ethnic music, artistic jazz, interviews and talk about music, quizzes, biographies of great musicians, live concerts, and more), those of us so eccentric and retrograde in our tastes as not to care for popular music (which has many full-time stations as it is), will be left with a curtailed diet of perhaps six or maybe even four hours a day of out favorite music.

This is but one more manifestation of the insensitivity of our Treasury officials to cultural values. We seem to have a government of bean-counters, who have shown their shortsightedness, if not boorishness, in their open contempt for and ignorance of anything that doesn’t contribute to “economic growth” (a code-word for the interest of the top decile of the population), in their handling of the recent/current teachers’ and university lecturers’ strike, so a move such as this hardly comes as a surprise.

Even those who are not themselves classical music aficionados should be concerned about this development, if only in the name of cultural pluralism. Must society only support the lowest common denominator? Historically, Israel has always had a flourishing classical music culture, far beyond its numbers. It takes pride in the Israel Philharmonic: one of the important features of Yom ha-Atzmaut celebrations is its annual festive concert. The great Arturo Toscanini came here himself in 1936 to conduct the inaugural concert of the then-named Palestine Symphony Orchestra, and remained a close friend throughout his life. In the Diaspora, too, Jews are and were among the outstanding performers and creators of the classical repertoire; the yiddl mit a fiddl was an almost mythic (Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern, and Yosha Heifetz are but a few names that come to mind). Moreover, the aliyah of recent decades from the former Soviet Union includes a large number of serious musicians and music lovers, who certainly constitute a significant audience for Kol ha-Musika.

The letter calls upon all those who oppose this move to sign an on-line petition against this move, at http://www.atzuma.co.il/petition/liornavok/1/1000. (If you don’t know Hebrew, all you need do is to fill in your name in English the yellow space, after typing Alt-Control to change the characters to left to right, after which you’ll see the arrow-head pointing right; and then clicking the green space on the bottom.) They also ask that letters of complaint be sent to Mr. Speigelman, the Ombudsman of the Broadcasting Authority, at ombudsman@iba.org.il. I strongly urge all those who care about the future of culture in Israel to sign this petition, and pass it on to anyone whom they think may be interested.

Bruce Blindman: In Memoriam

This past Friday marked the sheloshim of the passing of my father-in-law, Bruce Blindman (Barukh ben Berish), who left this world on December 3 (23 Kislev), and was laid to rest on the Second Day of Hanukkah. Because I married Randy in middle life, when I had already been living in Israel for a long time, and only visited her family in Minneapolis for brief periods, I unfortunately did not get to know Bruce very well. My strongest impression was of an extremely warm, loving person, who accepted everybody as he was, and took deep joy and pride in his family. This memorial piece will thus consist mostly of selections from things spoken or read at his funeral written by those who knew him best—his family. First, his wife of 57 years, Joanne Blindman:

Death always feels surprising even when you’ve been anticipating it. At the same time, the opportunity to participate with a loved one in the process of aging is a gift. When he was still home, Bruce would ask me, “Why are you so good to me?” His vulnerability reminded me of what it means to be a family—love, compassion, trust, touch, surrender and gratitude....

Bruce came from the era that Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation.” Duty, honor, country, commitment and loyalty were part of his moral fiber. His philosophy was simple—whatever you do in life, work or play, give it your best and maintain your integrity.

He was an involved father long before it was fashionable. He taught our daughters about golf, bowling, football, math, how to skate on our pond and how to swim.… When they became teens, he didn't always see the world the way they did. He demanded that they operate with the highest integrity and honesty… He respected their interests. Randy, who graduated near the top of her class, was interested in art, Debby in theater. He never once asked them to think about something more lucrative. Janny absorbed Bruce’s personality and, except for health concerns, never gave him a moment’s worry. He honored the choices they made about careers, marriage, lifestyles, and child-rearing. You could ask his advice, but he never gave it unsolicited.

When someone you love dies, you grieve for the future as well as for past moments. I remember walking on the golf course with Bruce, the first hole at the Minneapolis Golf Club, on a beautiful fall afternoon and wishing that it could always be as it was at that time. Bruce responded, “Well, I would like another thirty years, but what we’ve had, even with all the ups and downs, has been pretty wonderful. Life has no guarantees. Maybe the next thirty wouldn’t be so great.” Something sad has happened, but something remarkable has taken place as well. We said things during these last weeks that might have been left unsaid and we got to say goodbye. I quoted Shakespeare as I sat near him. “Good Night Sweet Prince. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

Next, his middle daughter, Janis Uffenheimer:

A measure of a man.../ How does one measure a lifetime?/ Is it in dollars and cents?/ In accolades and trophies?/ Or in the values and treatment of others,/ The example set and the love expressed?/ How do I measure the treasure of my father's impact on our lives?/ In scattered thoughts I try to gather the memories/ Singularly, our experiences were unique but the overall theme the same./ My father was everything to us./ Yes, he was a provider, a brilliant intelligent, capable, talented man./ He was strong, confident and honest to his core./ A man who loved and protected us./ Who let us borrow his strength so that we too could be strong, learn to be strong/ He was there for us always,/ wherever we were,/ in everyway he could./ He came and shared his assistance, provided his love and support/ by words, by look, by embrace./ His presence brought calm./ His precious, eye-twinkling smile lingers in our consciousness,/ in our hearts./ We feel him still/ and forever will.

His youngest daughter, Debra Blindman Frank:

You truly are my hero. And yes, I am still your little girl...who has always needed you, and whenever I needed you, you were there. Daddy, I have been terrified of this day all of my life. For the past few weeks I have had this terrible ache in my stomach, in my chest, in my heart. But, now that it is here, you know what?... I will be fine. I told you over and over I will be fine...and I will be fine. I meant it, Daddy--I am strong, like you. I fight to the end, like you. I will be OK. You've been fighting a valiant fight and you truly deserve your rest. Watching you battle out the last few weeks, you have taught me so many more lessons about life. Thank you for being such a wonderful father and friend and being proud of me and for loving me…no matter what. … You have always been my best friend. You were both easy on me and tough on me, and both were fine. Even if I disappointed you, which is the last thing I ever wanted to do, I knew you loved me. I don't ever want you to regret anything you did as far as I am concerned. That is why I am who I am today. I could always talk to you about anything and sometimes you would promise not to tell mom, and you wouldn’t tell mom, because you didn’t want to worry her...but you would tell Auntie Faye. Daddy, I know I often disappointed you or worried you or let you down, and I am very sorry... and I know you know that. You understood me, you always have, and I know you love me. I miss your warm loving hugs, your smile, your twinkling eyes, your laugh, I will miss not being able to hear your voice when I call….

Daddy, do not worry about Mama--of course she will miss you each and every day--she loves you so much. We are all so blessed to have someone like Mama--she is so special--we are all so lucky to have her. She tries to be so strong, but I know she cries a lot--she has been so sad and heart broken seeing you suffer like this. Mama will be very, very lonely for you. But, Daddy, we will be there for her, always, and look after her. Please don't worry about mama--Luther and I will take care of her. You do not need to worry. I promised you. We promise you.

Daddy, do you remember teaching me to ride my bike--you were running down the street holding my bike, I would yell, “Daddy don’t let go, please don’t let go,” and when you finally let go, and I was riding on my own, I didn't even know it! That’s what it is like now...I am riding on my own because you taught me how to persevere on my own. I remember you always coming to my rescue [when bad things happened]… my hero, always coming to my rescue. As your little girl, I always felt I was your son you never had, and that was just fine with me--I was a tomboy and loved it...playing baseball, hockey, bowling, golfing, finding stray lizards and cats and bunnies...just like you did when you were a boy. … Week-after-week I would watch you bowl, how you held your bowling ball, and concentrated on the pins, then take a breath, and begin your steps forward... 1, 2, 3, and 4 as you swung your arm throwing that ball down that alley and with that left-handed hook POW--another strike! By 5 or 6 yrs old, I began to copy the way you stood until you were ready, the way you took your four steps, the way you swung your arm and the way you would raise and cross your leg in the air behind you with your style and pizzazz, and I would pretend to throw the bowling ball just like my Dad (except for the left-handed part). You would say, “she really has timing,” and I guess I impressed you, because you bought me my very own “pink lollypop” bowling ball and signed me up for leagues. I was Bruce Blindman's daughter and I so proud of it. I was so proud of you—all those lines of people watching you, Bruce Blindman, my dad, throwing your non-stop strikes. I still have the ruby-diamond ring with the “300” on it… I remember taking you to Sophie’s softball game last year and as you were watching Sophie at bat, you said, “go, Debby.” It could have been a slip of the tongue, but I think you really were remembering and seeing you and me back in those days when we used to play….

Thank you, thank you for being my Daddy. I can still see your smiling face, your twinkling eyes. I can hear your wonderful sweet laugh. Thank you for telling me that you loved me virtually every day of my life…. Daddy, thank you for always, always, always being there for me, no matter what. Thank you for teaching me how to see the good in everything and to always have fun. Thank you for wanting to learn about the things I was interested in. Thank you for respecting my opinion ever since I was a little girl. Thank you for showing me the courage to step forward and to stand up for what is right. Thank you for teaching me how to stick to something until I figure it out, no matter how difficult. You taught me so much about life, about having a positive attitude, about being myself. Thank you for you, for the man you were and will always be to me, and for always loving me so well and so much. Thank you for the world that you brought me and for all the good things I am. Thank you for all the blessings you have given me, and for every day to come. When I think of them or see or experience them, I think of you.

And finally, from his son-in-law, Naty Uffenheimer:

The first time I met Bruce was when Janis and I have just started to go out, It was a couple of years before we were planning to get married. I remember that he told me how much he cared for Janis and wanted her to find the right husband so she would be happy. How typical it is of Bruce. So loving and caring for his daughters and all his family. I remember how warm Janis’ home was with both Bruce and Joanne running the show there – and I thought how wonderful it would be if I could have one day such a warm – loving house and family.…

I always said that Janis was the best thing that ever happened to me, and deciding to marry her was the best decision I have ever made. And obviously, you, Bruce, and Joanne are responsible for raising such a wonderful daughter! I feel lucky to benefit from her good up-bringing. Thank you for doing such a good job!...

I’ll always remember your eyes. How much love and care they expressed when you came to visit us. Your easy going spirit, honesty and generosity always impressed me.

Many wonderful things were also said by his grandchildren—Maya, Ayla, Meka, Sophie, and Bea (Charlie, the one male of the clan, is far too young to articulate things)—and even by Naty‘s sister, Sita, but for reasons of space we cannot include them all.

At the sheloshim held at our home recently, my wife Randy, his eldest daughter, taught a passage from Sefat Emet in his memory. The passage (Toldot, 5648, s.v. be’inyan ha-be’erot; also brought on Song of Songs 4:15), draws a connection among the 48 times the word be’er, “well,” is mentioned in the Torah; the 48 prophets who were sent to Israel over the years (according to the Talmud); the 48 drops of dew which descend from heaven every day, according to the Zohar (“and a river goes out of Eden…”) —and all these to the 48 ways by which the Torah is acquired (in Avot, Ch. 6). The central idea is that there are “wells” of Torah implanted within the human heart, the pre-Sinaitic mode of derekh eretz that precedes Torah, and that the acquisition of Torah means, not only listening to the external voice of the tradition, but also a kind of delving or “drawing up” of that which lies within our heart.

Bruce Blindman was not an observant Jew: he belonged to that first generation of Jews born in America, around the First World War (he was born in January 1922), who first and foremost wanted to be Americans. The obituary in the Minneapolis Star & Tribune stressed his service in the US Army Signal Corps during the Second World War, his proficiency in the sports of golf and bowling (he held a nation-wide record for the highest score in a three-game series by a left-handed bowler), and of course his love for and pride in his family. But he seemed to embody many of the human qualities taught in the beraita of the forty-eight ways: honesty, uprightness, decency, and perhaps most of all, ahavat ha-beriyot—deep caring and warmth for all those he met. It was this that lay at what seemed a central maxim in his life—never to criticize others.

Interestingly, during the week of his death, I was primarily involved in two things: translation of a book about Martin Buber; and attending the opening of a film about Shlomo Carlebach, including a lengthy conversation the next morning with Haskel Roth, an old friend of Shlomo who featured prominently in the film. Both these figures emphasized the interpersonal. Buber, in his dialogic philosophy, specifically rejected the type of other-worldly spirituality that was not keyed to the here and now; that was why, in principle, he did not see mitzvot or fixed halakhah as important or even desirable—hence, his break with traditional Judaism.

Shlomo differed from Buber in that he was a frum person; he also differed from him in that he translated the most abstract, complex concepts into simple, down-to-earth language that could reach every person, as against the philosophical, intellectual style of Buber. But his teachings also basically revolved around the interpersonal. He was very much in the tradition of such Hasidic teachers as Toldot Yaakov Yosef and Me’or Einayim, who stressed that the application to the here and now, to “every person, at all times,” is what is important. (My friend Menahem Kallus once jested that Shlomo was a “Philonic” figure—i.e., like Philo of Alexandria, he read the Torah as allegory, as a source for contemporary lessons). Interesting, both of them cite the same teaching of the Zohar: that there are two questions a person may ask about another: “Who is he?” and “What is he?” By asking the former, he gives him life and light; through the latter, he increases death and darkness. Or, in Buber’s language, one comes from the world of the Thou, the other from the world of the It.

In his life, my father-in-life manifested these insights. Yehi zikhro barukh.


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