18 Apr

The War of Ideas

How should we relate to the multitude of ideologies and value systems in the world? “Both opinions are the word of the living God” – but to what point? Do opinions outside the realm of holiness also have a root connecting them to the divine? Certainly, morally corrupt opinions should be recognized as such. In fact, the moral standing of a society is defined by its ability to identify corrupt opinions and reject them. And part of bringing about the peace between ideas is by allowing them to do battle. Although, we must recognize that people often cling to a clearly false idea because of the spark of truth contained in it. And so, we must aim to identify those sparks of truth and acknowledge them, and thereby ‘uplift them’. In fact, the greater the moral corruption of a belief or opinion, the potential for holiness embedded in it is greater. Instead of developing a partial worldview we must strive to attain a more inclusive one. In our generation, this means to strive for a synthesis of the religious, national and cosmopolitan aspirations in society. Read More

18 Apr

The Religious Experience

The true religious experience in Judaism is not based on spiritual feelings originating in man’s emotions. These feelings are no more than a human creation and man cannot escape his human existence and encounter the transcendent Creator through them alone, but can only encounter himself. The religious experience should not be the cause for a connection between man and God, but rather it is a necessary result of this connection, originating in God’s revelation to man. The act of prayer, of approaching and appealing directly to God, is only possible because of the existence of prophecy, that allowed those who merited it to understand to Whom we are appealing.

The essence of preparation for prayer is linked to prophecy and is not about feeling any one particular emotion toward God, but in realizing the unification of opposing values, which is the goal of the inclusive monotheism. The authentic religious experience, then, requires approaching God through a synthesis of both happiness and fear, to feel both closeness and distance from Him at once. To ‘rejoice while trembling’. Read More

18 Apr

Free Will

Nature may behave mechanically, according to predictable laws, but Judaism sees the soul of man as being unbound by causality. Unlike other approaches, Judaism sees people as being truly free. God’s ultimate free will is the source of man’s free will, and He desired that nature be governed by laws, while man be free. God is not part of nature, but rather, nature is part of God. Therefore, people are accountable for their actions. Although man does not choose his initial set of conditions, he does choose his response to them.

Moreover, Judaism sees no inherent contradiction between divine foreknowledge and man’s free will. This follows from the recognition that His ‘knowledge’ is unlike our human concept of knowledge. Reality can be likened to a film strip, where God sees the entire film reel opened before him all at once, outside the dimension of time. We, on the other hand, experience the film of reality chronologically, and so we must act out of recognition of our free will, and the understanding that God neither compels nor decrees what we will or won’t do.

Herein lies the power of teshuva. As long as man’s will-power continues to identify with a sinful act, he is judged accordingly. But the moment he returns and regrets having done it, he uproots his will from the act; he no longer desires to perform it. By undergoing the process of teshuva, the act becomes retroactively imbued with an alternative meaning and it then can be seen from God’s perspective. Thus we can reach profound moral conclusions from an issue that is on the surface ‘purely philosophical’.
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18 Apr

The Evil Inclination

Both the desire for good and the desire for evil are inherent and fundamental to man and this was God’s original intention. The desire for evil is, in fact, grounded in man’s fundamental life force and vitality which are, in and of themselves, positive traits that express a love for this world. Love for this world is liable to bring one to sin, that is, to excessiveness that crosses moral boundaries. But, while evil deeds remain evil and must be opposed, the presence of certain desires themselves reflects a healthy vitality in one’s soul; greater spiritual development will necessarily entail more potent desires.

Capitulation to one’s base desires reflects a deep longing to be a slave; whereas the act of teshuva (repentance) is the greatest affirmation of the liberty of man, releasing oneself from the chains of habit and surrender to those desires. Man’s free will is actually above both his desire for good as well as his desire for evil, and one should therefore strive to lead a life in which both desires are in harmony with one another. In doing so, instead of utterly conquering and subduing one’s base desires, they should be redirected to positive goals; and channeled, under the lead of the desire for good, to the service of Hashem.
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18 Apr

The Purpose of Life

The highest purpose that one can choose for himself is to attain deep knowledge and understanding of God. Although, contrary to common thinking, God is not confined to the spiritual realm, but rather, as the creator of both the spiritual world and the material world, He is present in everything. And so the aspiration to truly know God, entails knowing Him through all aspects of life, from the basest material needs to the grandest pursuits of the intellect and the soul. In doing so, every individual reveals a unique aspect of Hashem’s oneness that only that individual can reveal; and this is the meaning of unity, a concept vastly different from uniformity.
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10 Feb

Modern Religious Zionism and its message to humanity – Text, Part 1

This is the text of Part 1 of Rabbi Uri Sherki’s lecture, “Modern Religious Zionism and its message to humanity“. It has been edited for clarity.

Shalom to everyone.

It is a pleasure to meet you and I hope that a day will come when we will meet face to face. But meanwhile, I hope that my few words will be of importance to you.

I would like to speak about some issues regarding the Torah, and the Dati Leumi (Religious Zionist) approach to it.

The Dati Leumi movement believes that we live in a very particular and important era of the history of the Jewish people. It is an era not only important because of the confrontation with modernity and its values, but also because of Zionism. We live today, so we have to consider these two important issues.

Our approach to modernity is linked to the problem of the relationship between holiness and secularism – Kodesh and Chol. Within the modern orthodox conceptual framework, we have two principal ideological positions: one is Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, and the second one is Rav Kook.

The approach of Rabbi Hirsch is that modernity is an important thing, moreover – it is blessed thing, and we as Jews have the duty to adopt some of the main messages of modernity, most essentially the culture. And we must consider that God put us in the core of civilization because we have something to get from the nations, and we have something to give them. And what is that? The link between Kodesh and Chol – “Torah im Derech Eretz”, Torah and the way of the land. Torah is the law of God, and Derech Eretz – the way of the land – is modernity, essentially with the heritage of Western civilization.

This led Rabbi Hirsch to reject the idea of Zionism. For him, the goal of the Jewish people is to live between the nations, especially after the emancipation, which gave Jews the possibility to have an influence on the world around them. Zionism would be the opposite of this possibility – from this point of view it is a return to a nationalistic ghetto and for Rabbi Hirsch it is more important to have influence on the nations in their own countries.

The pupils and disciples of Rabbi Hirsch mainly adopted Zionist values. This approach sees the state of Israel as part of modernity – as one of the states that has high levels of progress and is the best manifestation of the emancipation of the Jewish people, especially after the holocaust – that proved that antisemitism is not a phenomenon of the past. Thus, having a modern state is very important for the Jewish modern orthodox consciousness. This is the approach of Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik and of Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, who considered Zionism positive but did not see in it an absolute or divine phenomenon.

The other approach is that of Rabbi Kook. Rabbi Kook is the main influence in the Dati Leumi public in Israel and considers the State of Israel and Zionism not only as a new modern state. It is the redemption of the people of Israel, announced by the Biblical Prophets as “Yemot HaMashiach”, the Days of the Messiah. It is the center of history. Because of this approach, there is a theological importance to the Jewish People being in their land, that is, settlements. There is a theological interpretation of secularism and rejection of the tradition, that is often considered as an accident or a problem. From the point of view of Rabbi Kook, it is a part of a very deep process made by Providence to transform the Jewish consciousness and prepare it for the return of prophecy and universal influence.

What our Sages in the Talmud called “Hutzpa beIkveta deMeshicha” is considered by R. Kook as the evolution of Judaism towards the inclusion of parts of secularity inside the holiness itself.

Rabbi Kook is an absolute giant of orthodox Halacha and cannot be suspected to have reformist or conservative leanings. All of his pupils and students understand this very well and are part of the strongest orthodox movement in Israel, but they are also Zionists and consider that there is a spiritual role to secularism.

It will be, I think, very tremendous to explore this thinking, and we will not have the opportunity to do so today, but I will say a word about the way Rabbi Kook considers Chol – secularity.

Rabbi Hirsch considered that Chol and Kodesh – Torah and Derech Eretz, must live side by side. Both are important as themselves. Rabbi Kook said that in the time of Redemption, in the Land of Israel there is a goal to create a synthesis between Holiness and secularity, to reveal the deep, divine unity between the two parts of reality and that is the reason that he sees in a positive light fields like politics or even the army of Israel, and also art and science.

For army and politics – we can say it is a Mitzva (commandment) to establish a state and an army in the land of Israel. That is the opinion of Nachmanides (the Ramban) and is adopted by the main Poskim. But what of art, economy, ecology and science? These are unnecessary domains (in the obligatory Halachic sense) but Rav Kook sees them as signs of a healthy life and national revival cannot be achieved without life. And life includes art, sensibility, and all the spheres of life which are not obligatory and not included in the Halacha. In this saying, we can hear echoes of the ideas of the Kabbalists, for example the Arizal, who thought that there is sanctity inside nature itself. The sanctity inside nature is not an Halachic one, it is another kind of sanctity, and we see this also in the teachings of Nachmanides in his commentary on the Torah when he interprets the verse “Fill the earth, and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28) as including technology and science.

So we have found a Mitzva that includes science and technology and every human activity as a religious obligation. This joins the ideas of the Kabbalists and Rabbi Kook that we have a mission in our days – to include as many domains of Chol-secularity as possible inside the Kodesh-holiness. That will be the renewal of the old consciousness of the Jewish people in the times when we were Hebrews and not only Jews, i.e. we were a nation with prophets, and not only a religion with laws.

As you can understand, this serves as the basis of many issues in the Torah and the interpretation of its texts, and also the relationship with our brothers who are not observing Halacha but whom we love as part of the reality of our nation in its revival.

Thank you very much.

10 Feb

Modern Religious Zionism and its message to humanity – Video, Part 1

This is the first part of Rav Uri Sherki’s lecture. The second part can be seen here.

The text of this lecture can be found here.

We would be very grateful if at the end of the lecture you would let us know your opinion about it, by answering a few questions on this page.

The purpose of this lecture is to introduce you to new directions for the development and involvement of Religious Zionism, which are currently taking place in Israel. We would like to start translating the concepts and ideas of these religious developments into English. This lecture is an introductory test that will enable us to start this project.

We are very concerned about the adequate presentation of this concept – such a presentation is naturally very difficult because of the differences in terminology and associations in Hebrew and English, as well as the different backgrounds and values of religious communities in Israel and America.

And so, we would like to test this lecture to see how it is perceived in English: how to convey the concepts, ideas, etc. and how to fine-tune the material to make it more understandable to an American audience.

The intended audience for this lectures was primarily the Modern Orthodox movement in America as a specific focus group, in order to assess the correctness of our approach and what adjustments it requires.

Thank you very much for your support and comments.