Friday, February 22, 2008

More questions

Courtesy of Arthur:

1- How can you separate Jewish Culture from Jewish Religion?

Are we talking about theory or practice? I would say that Culture and Religion are not separate entities unto themselves; they borrow and transmutate back and forth. Jewish folk-legends, for instance, is extremely rich and adds a great deal to Jewish culture and history. Yet, they cannot be said to clearly or exclusively belong to "religion" in the way that text study, halacha or mitzvot can. Jewish culture is made up of themes, stories, ideas, the arts, etc... Culture and Religion do not exists independently; rather, both operate as quasi-independent spheres.

For my own personal practice, I would say that I follow a very literary or psychological method, an approach borrowed from the lives and thinking of the Yiddish modernists did in the 20th century, and which the Haskalah movement did in the 19th. I live with a very Jewish consciousness and see the world through a heavily Jewish sensibility. I study Jewish history and am at least somewhat versed in certain Jewish texts.

Yet I would not describe myself as particularly "observant." I keep very few ritual mitzvot, and whatever ethical ones I do practice are more an accident of coincidence with basic modern secular humanist values than anything else (this is why, as I told a friend, I refrain from putting a Chofetz Chaim button on my blog- not only am I not familiar with the nitty-gritty of his teachings, but they are not source for my conduct).

I would argue that I think and feel in a very culturally Jewish way, while periodically dabbling with whatever elements of Jewish religion I find interesting or meaningful at the moment.

2- Why do you think Senator McCain will be any better or different from the current President Bush?

Well, for starters I don't intend to vote for McCain, so as far as I'm concerned, hopefully we won't get the chance to compare them. However I am optimistic that, should McCain win the election, there are some reasons to be hopeful.

First of all, McCain's success indicates that a sizable number of Americans, both Republicans as well as independents/swing voters, are plain sick of what Bush has reduced the Republican Party and/or Conservative movement to. Most of Bush's domestic policies tended to stick closely to whatever social issues were carrying the day for the Conservatives. McCain, for most of Bush's administration, did a decent job of rising above this. As some of the louder pundits are now reminding us, on a lot of issues, McCain has tended to hold the wackier elements of his party at arm's length. These are all good things. While I disagree with McCain on plenty, including the scope and plans for Iraq, one might hope that, as a veteran, he might at least bring a more realistic and personal view to the war, both in terms of how better to fight it as well as understanding the true costs it creates for soldiers and their families.

Reasons to be concerned: these days, McCain seems more interested in winning than sticking to his principles. His turn-around on wack-jobs like Jerry Falwell and his recent turn towards playing "gotcha" politics with Romney and Mrs. Obama makes me worry that the old McCain might be easily supplanted by a new, super-pragmatic one, who is more interested in trying to position himself as the GOP Messiah (by pandering to the same crazy elements) than in trying to reposition the party itself to be more centrist. Basically, it comes down to which direction McCain is going to jump- to the right, to appease Limbaugh, Coulter and Dobson, or the left, to try to undercut moderate support for the Dems and remind saner Republicans what their party used to be before the evangelicals and neocons cut in.

3- Why do you not want to live for a long time - not SHLIT"A?

I have nothing against longevity. But, as Ohr Somayach's Internet Rav explains:

The term "Shlita" is actually an acronym, and stands for the words "Sheyichye L'orech Yamim Tovim Aruchim." This means that we pray that he "will live many long and good days." As a word, "Shlita" means that the Rabbi is a person of "leadership."

I'm just trying to preemptively discourage anyone from mistaking me for a leader. (I don't think I need to worry.)

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