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Heschel preferred frankness and authenticity to popularity

Heschel preferred frankness and authenticity to popularity. He told people exactly what he thought, because he believed more in the destruction of a false god than in the compromise of truth. Rabbi Heschel warned The General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federation and Welfare Funds, that while their members were concerning themselves with numbers, society was increasingly consumed by spiritual decline. He reminded those who measure religious engagement in terms of monetary contributions of an old Jewish principle: “The world stands on three pillars: on learning, on worship and on charity. We are not going to invite a friend to sit on a tripod, a stool designed to have three legs, when two legs are missing.” He pointed to the spiritual absence which was so typical of religious life in America. According to Heschel, synagogues and churches suffer from an identical disease: acute coolness, since leaders of religious communities think that spiritual problems can be resolved by administrative means.

Waldemar Szczerbiński, “Poland and Christianity in Heschel’s Life and Thought” in Abraham Joshua Heschel: Philosophy, Theology and Interreligious Dialogue, ed. Stanisław Krajewski and Adam Lipszyc (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 2009), 16.

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Without meaningful Jewish peoplehood, we will not remain Jewish for long

Without meaningful Jewish peoplehood, we will not remain Jewish for long; without a transcendent reason for Jewish survival, it is unlikely that many will want to. As for the world, healthy Jewish identity produces Jews who are grateful for freedom and contribute mightily to society at large.

Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, “Three Guests, Three Questions,” The Jewish Week (5 October 2012), 31.

Demographers tend to be a feisty crowd

The national Jewish surveys done in 1990 and 2000 were the subject of much controversy because of questions like these. Additionally, in the 2000 survey, data was said to have been lost, misunderstood and miscounted.

Demographers, it turns out, also tend to be a feisty crowd, and after both national surveys they publically ripped into their peers’ methodologies and analysis.

But Phillips said that what outsiders perceive as catfights are pretty standard for the academic world, where merciless peer reviews are common. He points out, too, that all the demographers who criticize each other continue to work together and share data sets.

Julie Gruenbaum Fax, “Who Knows Who L.A.’s Jews Are?,” The Jewish Journal (27 July-2 August 2012), 37.

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No other book composed in the early modern period had as profound and lasting an impact on Jewish life as Rabbi Karo’s Shulhan ‘arukh

No other book composed in the early modern period had as profound and lasting an impact on Jewish life as Karo’s. The Shulhan ‘arukh (“The Prepared Table” or “The Ordered Table”) eventually became the standard code of Jewish law throughout Europe and the Mediterranean world. with few exceptions, nearly every Jewish community had accepted it as authoritative within generations of its initial publication. The Shulhan ‘arukh as a “writing” delivered to the Jewish public by Joseph Karo had a truly transformative impact upon Jewish life. In this way, one can speak of Karo’s work as a discourse, as an idea. The book served scholars as a reference work and literate lay people as a manual of Jewish law. It stimulated commentary and controversy, resistance and cooptation. One is hard pressed to find another book written in the early modern period that endured as long as the Shulhan ‘arukh.

Yaacob Dweck, “What Is a Jewish Book?,” AJS Review 34, No. 2 (November 2010), 368.

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The renewed activity of re-attaching halakhot to the written Torah in Hillel’s time are due to the struggles of the times

The circumstances which brought about renewed activity in re-attaching halachoth to the written Torah at the time of Hillel are undoubtedly to be sought in the struggle of the Pharisees with the Sadducees, and in turn these circumstances necessitated the establishment of schools – the houses of Shammai and Hillel – who came occasionally together for academic discussions.

S.K. Mirsky, “The Schools of Hillel, R. Ishmael and R. Akiba in Pentateuchal Interpretation,” in Essays Presented to Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, ed. H.J. Zimmels, J. Rabbinowitz, & I. Finestein (London: The Soncino Press Limited, 1967), 295.

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“There is no young leadership if the young people branded as such have no real place in these bodies”

We have to make space for these young leaders in our normative governing structures. There is no young leadership if the young people branded as such have no real place in these bodies. Observing may be informative and donating a certain minimum gift is nice too, but to have young leadership means that they have a proportional share of the leadership body of the organization.

Sarah Eisenman, “A Young Leadership Lesson, From 1960?” eJewish Philanthropy (3 July 2012) {http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/a-young-leadership-lesson-from-1960/}

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Aesthetic Identity versus Collective Identity in the Jewish World

In referencing Jewish sociologist Steven Cohen, Smokler distinguished between the normative and aesthetic approach to Judaism – with the normative approach meaning anything larger than oneself and one’s immediate family while aesthetic refers to the more personal and journey oriented approach.

 

“We have reached an extreme where the normative approach has become the purview of the Orthodox community,” said Smokler. “Without the normative approach, the very idea of community is strained, [and what we’re left with is] a lifestyle enclave, a group of individuals with similar consumer patterns.”

 

“We face a challenge that young potential leaders do not have a collective identity – they have an aesthetic identity. We need both,” he continued.

Abigail Pickus, “The Search for the Jewish Holy Grail: NextGen Leaders,” eJewish Philanthropy (3 July 2012) {http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-search-for-the-jewish-holy-grail-nextgen-leaders/}

“Today’s public honors are more routinely bestowed on successful individuals in finance, or industry, or the arts whose personal lives are bereft of Jewish content”

…there was a time when American Jewish leaders chose their heroes and communal role models from the ranks of figures like Haym Solomon, a financier of the American Revolution. They may have overstated Solomon’s contributions to the war effort, but at least he was an engaged and observant Jew. Today’s public honors are more routinely bestowed on successful individuals in finance, or industry, or the arts whose personal lives are bereft of Jewish content.

Is this the road to Jewish group survival? In light of what is at stake, one wonders who is prepared to undertake the urgent task of constructing a more honest and more challenging story about the place of Jews and Judaism in America, a story of gratitude, patriotism, and compatibility, but also of difference, dissent, and distinctiveness.

Jack Wertheimer, “America and the Jews: Different, or the Same?”, Jewish Ideas Daily (13 October 2010) {http://www.jewishideasdaily.com/735/features/america-and-the-jews-different-or-the-same/}

“Far too many Jews are too lazy mentally to take the trouble to inform themselves about the trends and currents of contemporary life”

Far too many Jews are too lazy mentally to take the trouble to inform themselves about the trends and currents of contemporary life, and of how they and their lives fit into the pattern of what is happening…. They make a virtue out of their ignorance of the Jewish past, thus dispossessing themselves of vital links to the present and the future. As far as religion is concerned, when they do affiliate with synagogues and, when they do occasionally attend services of worship, they look upon it as a form of entertainment headlined by a rabbinical performer in the pulpit. The phrase, “I enjoyed the sermon,” is one of the chief criteria of the religiosity of the modern Jew.

Leon I. Feuer, On Being a Jew (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1947), 6.