To all my readers:
Thanks for spending the time to read my thoughts and opinions regarding Kiruv. I know it is a complicated and emotional subject, but I must take a brief respite from this blog. Yesterday, I left Four posts with a large number of interesting and informative reference links that discuss the Flood, Kuzari Principle, the issue of Chanukah’s historicity and the Gadol Hador Archives by subject area. During this hiatus, I will be closing the comment section. Feel free to email me at kiruvnetwork@hushmail. I’ll do my best to respond
Monday, December 17, 2007
To all my readers:
Posted by Kiruv Awareness Network at 11:00 PM
[I will open this post up for comments when I return from my hiatus some time early next year (probably late Feb, maybe earlier). Commenting is currently turned off. I invite the reader review the entire dialogue here and make his or her own determinations]
This post presents a candid discussion about the nature and difficulties of engaging in honest dialogue with the Ultra Orthodox in general and those involved in Jewish Outreach in particular (known as "kiruv professionals"). It is a record of a recent email dialogue with an active commemorator of the Ba’ali Tshuvah blog - - BeyondBT.
The dialogue itself, as well as the summary below, provides valuable information and insight into some of the major issues that an intellectually honest BT must deal with when questioning the person or persons claiming to be teaching him/her about Judaism. It also exposes the reader to the kinds of techniques employed by Jewish outreach people to sidestep the most difficult questions about Orthodox Judaism. It is my sincere hope that this material, which by the way is not meant to be a scholarly work, be used as a starting point for the deeper research and soul searching that is necessary when considering a life altering decision to become Orthodox.
Why I am publishing this dialogue
BeyondBT is entitled to believe anything it wants; it’s a free country. But when it becomes a conduit for evangelizing an ideology that typically requires momentous life changes and sacrifices, it looses the right to forbid challenges to its beliefs, to remain unquestioned and unchallenged. If BeyondBt and similar outlets do not want their beliefs questioned then they should stop advocating them and they should certainly not, as is their policy, censor comments that respectfully challenge Orthodox dogma. In another words, once they disseminate their views in an attempt to influence others, I (and others) have the right to ask, “Why?” And I (and others) have the right to expect an intellectually honest response without obfuscations, evasions or pseudo-philosophical word play intended, consciously or not, to avoid substance.
Furthermore, I (and others) have the right to expect BeyondBT, as well as other active professional and amateur Jewish Outreach workers, to make full disclosure of their biases - - to inform others that the answers provided to common questions about disconfirming realities are always filtered through and the product of an ideology that prohibits any open-minded, open-hearted quest to corroborate the veracity of its doctrines. Most importantly, people have the right to know that kiruv people expect prospective BT’s to be open, vulnerable and willing to change but that they, themselves, have no intention of reciprocating.
I am well aware that the vast majority of this dialogue would have been censored by the BeyondBT administration, as well as any other Jewish Outreach blog sites, and I also admit that such suppression may appear justified from the point of view of a certain self-serving, contrived "spiritual" ethic. But, I also must say that, in practice, this attitude encourages a fundamental disrespect and superior attitude toward those for whom it claims to be helping, and a manipulative, controlling attitude towards those who have extended their trust. It is for this reason that I am sharing this correspondence (personal statements have been removed); It is an imperative to make others aware that the Kiruv industry in general and BeyondBT type outlets in particular, can not, as a general rule, be trusted to make the kind of full and honest disclosure of the facts that are necessary for anyone to make a life altering decision. In addition, publishing this dialogue provides a window into the difficulty of fruitful and honest dialogue with any individual who has strong preconceived notions that do not allow well established facts to interfere with their beliefs.
The dialogue: The four Questions
In order to keep the dialogue productive and honest, 4 straight forward questions were posed at the outset of the discussion. They were taken from the comment section of Naftali Zeligman’s essay
These questions, which were asked over a half dozen times and which were never answered, go to the crux of the issue, which is whether Torah is a document which relates provable facts. If it does not state a fact that is susceptible to confirmation it becomes a document of mere opinion. Is that what BeyondBT is saying or has he completely defaulted in expressing his own true belief?
The importance that all parties accept the possibility that they can be wrong
A 5th question related to BeyondBT’s willingness to accept the possibility that he could be wrong in his belief was also repeatedly posed and not answered. The absence of an answer was not just discourteous, it was something much more; it reflected a lack of integrity and goodwill that is a prerequisite for any good faith discussion. Both parties must be willing to make this admission.
If the potential BT, who does not have the time or background to thoroughly research the issues, or other interested persons, for that matter, is to trust their mentor, they should be certain to require this requisite before entering into any dialogue. Obviously, one can NOT be confident that the information they receive is credible if those communicating are unwilling to subject their assumptions to objective scrutiny. At a minimum, the outreach worker, if he is to act in good faith, must disclose that his own dogma precludes him from ever entertaining the possibility that his tradition could be in error. We would demand such disclosure in any other area of ones life. I see no reason to act differently in an area that is so elemental.
I addressed this point in my opening email that set forth the ground rules for the dialogue. BeyondBT never even once acknowledged what I had written there even though I thought I could not have been more clear. I wrote:
"The bottom line is this; if you have integrity, you must be willing to shift your initial position in conformity with the evidence. After all, how can you have integrity when you expect people to be open to your persuasion, an influence which may result in an individual making momentous and sometimes irreversible life changes, when you your self will not reciprocate the openness. With this in mind, I ask you - - BeyondBT, are you willing to consider the fact that you could have made a major life decision based on error or is it already a forgone conclusion that this could not be the case? If it is already a forgone conclusion that you are correct, why are we even having a discussion? Wouldn't it be the height of hypocrisy and dishonesty for you to engage myself and others when you fail to extend courtesy and decency with regard to disclosing your intransigency?"
Again, this question was NEVER answered, let alone acknowledged.
Obfuscations, Evasions and Pseudo-Philosophical Word Play
Moreover, it is ironic that BeyondBT and his Rabbi, who immodestly assume the strength of their presumptions, have the temerity to ascribe close mindedness to others, such as Naftali Zeligman, author of Letter to My Rabbi when they themselves are unwilling to ever consider that they themselves could ever be wrong. I was deeply disappointed and to some extent taken aback when the Rabbi of BeyondBT failed to address the critical issues that Naphtali Zeligman's essay methodically laid out. Instead, he excused himself from this request by dismissing Zeligman’s competence in Torah and by implying that Zeligman did not have the requisite openness that would justify his time. The Rabbi provided no support for his opinions and presumptions and he *seemed* to be imputing to Zeligman, maybe in a way that betrays his own projected intransigence, a close mindedness that I do not perceive as consistent with the tone of Zeligman’s letter. But Zeligman would be in a better position to speak on his own behalf concerning the matter. I would have expected that our Rav would have extended the gentleman the *benefit of the doubt,* but this was unfortunately not forthcoming.
Overall, BeyondBt did not make comments in a manner that contributed to the debate. He did not respond to the majority of my points. He either evaded them outright or he summarily dismissed them without any close scrutiny; no critique or honest evaluation was offered, other then to characterize evidence, that contradicted his assumptions, as conjecture or the empty and unsubstantiated musings of archeologist and academics. I would have expected a serious email setting out his own qualifications and endless notes backing up his conclusions, with sources and counter sources. I saw none of that. I find such behavior to be exasperating and immature. I would find such an approach unacceptable in my professional life and I see no reason why I should be any more tolerant of it when I am talking about a much more important issue.
The dangers of the fundamentalist outlook
Former fundamentalist Christian, Raymond E. Griffith, provides a very interesting account of the intellectual dishonesty, moral shortcomings and existential fear that pervade the fundamentalist Christian mind, which is eerily similar to what I experienced in the behavior of BeyondBT. I could not have described my respondent any better. Mr. Griffith, partly in an autobiographically manner, writes of the fundamentalist
"He honestly believes he is right, but his belief in his belief is more important than the belief itself. Since this is under attack, he is in trouble. His attempts to escape the dilemma without confronting the fact that he is wrong are, of course, dishonest. But he doesn't see this. He has put up this desperate mental barrier that he cannot cross without devastating his self-concept and his faith. You are essentially correct that it is "denial, aversion, obfuscation and a moral inability to admit any error", but it is more than that.
That's why they're always so hesitant to answer any questions. In all my debates with them, I've noticed that inarguable losses are snipped and ignored (to be revived later on) but no point is ever actually conceded. …………………………………..Again, the objections to their arguments do not matter to them. They have been mentally conditioned to ignore it. ................. They are not here to learn. They are here to teach others the truth. Remember, they have absolute truth, so they don't have anything to learn at all!”
Also very telling was
The challenge then is not just for the inexperienced and trusting BT, it is also for the fundamentalist adherent. The arrogance, the supreme confidence that their ideology is inerrant, as well as the repression, dissociation, and denial that act outside the fundamentalist’s awareness, ultimately hinders the very thing that they value most --a connection with the Creator.
In closing I want to share with you Rabbi Emanuel Rackman's apropos words concerning the tragedy of the fundamentalist mind set. He writes, in One man's Judaism, that "A Jew dare not live with absolute certainty, not only because certainty is the hallmark of the fanatic...., but also because doubt is good for the human soul, its humility, and consequently its greater potential intimately to discover its creator.” According to Rackman the tragedy here is not just that fundamentalist certainty inhibits the good: thereby hindering the development of the noble trait of humility, as well as ones sensitivity of the divine; it also imbues the bad because “man's certainty with regard to anything is poison to his soul.."
Posted by Kiruv Awareness Network at 10:23 PM
The Blog is not a polemic about which is better or worse, i.e. the ultra-orthodox, fundamentalist way of life vs. the life (kinds of lives) you find in the "outside" world. This blog, however, does point out the critical issues ignored, obscured and / or distorted by Orthodox Society in general and Kiruv workers in particular, one of which is the pervasiveness with which Orthodoxy denigrates, in an attempt to sell its wares, the world beyond Orthodoxy. Kiruv workers often emphasize secular society’s negatives and ignore, downplay or even falsely take credit for its positive aspects just as they overly accentuate Frum society’s positive elements (which exist in abundance to be sure) while ignoring, downplaying and denying its negatives. Some will even project the blame on the secular influences for its own failings (acting like goyim, the goyish influence, etc)
The basis for these gross distortions and oversimplifications are many. For some, it emanates from a rigid fundamentalist mindset that exists outside conscious awareness and that engenders black and white views on life that is best understood with subtly and nuance. Others are more deliberate when they present this false dichotomy between the two worlds, intentionally contrasting an idealized and sanguine picture of the frum world with a pejorative depiction of the “outside world.” Such deceptive salesmanship can be expected from used car salesmen, but not from those whom we are most inclined to trust, especially when the product sold requires momentous life changes and sacrifices.
One common example is the familiar refrain concerning the sorry state of the American family - - with its 50% divorce rate. This statistic, which is so often trumpeted as evidence of societies decay and in contrast to Orthodoxies triumphant values, is extremely misleading in its hiding of all the details about distribution. It obscures the revealing fact that those who marry later in life, in their thirties, often-graduate educated middle and upper middle class professionals, have a very low incidence of divorce, possibly no greater then the Orthodox world. The divorce rate also tells us nothing about the quality of Frum marriages where economic, personal and social forces inhibit divorce.
Also ubiquitous is the oft-touted false analogy comparing the Orthodox community to the outside world’s social ills like violent crime and drugs. Again, it should be obvious that one cannot compare the frum community to the general American population. This common selection error or biased sample can only be avoided by comparing Orthodox Jews to similar socio economic classes, i.e. educated middle class Americans. In any event, many of the wider world’s ills are indeed shared by Frum society. In fact, a recent study from the American Psychiatric Association suggests that cheredi women suffer considerable levels of sexual abuse. Unfortunately, Cheredi apologists, who are theologically threatened by the very notion that such ills exist in their societies, have attacked the study (methodology, etc) rather then engage in honest soul searching that could lead to the kind of corrective measures that protect its precious children.
At the yeshiva I attended, Machon Shlomo - - similar to Machon Yaakov - - I often heard such disparaging references about the "outside world," sometimes subtle, sometimes overt. These exaggerated and oversimplified depictions became less restrained as the 2-year program of indoctrination progressed. This crude emotional manipulation, often based on exaggeration and fear, is constructed to create powerful incentives to join Orthodoxy as much as it is constructed to create powerful disincentives to leaving. I believe that many BT’s (and Frum people) prolong their stay in Orthodoxy simply out of fear of re-entering this world, a world that many desperately wanted to escape before becoming frum, and a world that is often at best devalued in Orthodoxy and at worst demonized.
Contrary to what the worst propagandists insinuate, the world is NOT predominantly filled with immoral, unrestrained, and self-indulgent people. It's a mixed bag, just like Orthodox Judaism; one encounters good people and bad just as in the frum world,generous and selfish people(just like in the frum world),sensitive and insensitive people (ditto), geniuses and fools (ditto), violent and gentle (ditto)spiritual and unspiritual people (likewise) -- and, of course, all combinations of the above.
Yes, there are all manner of terrible things in this world: war, poverty, disease, madness, sexual abuse, racism, and all the rest. A thoughtful and sensitive person has to acknowledge that modern society, especially American culture, is pervaded by suffering, shallowness, nihilism, and a vacuous popular culture. However, in the midst of all this there is good as well. There are people whose hearts contain benevolence and compassion and who try to relieve others of their pain, who sincerely come to the aid of those who are misunderstood, disadvantaged, persecuted and mistreated.
There are also many who seek truth, meaning and beauty who devote themselves to spiritual practices of various sorts, who seek to become more aware, more sensitive and who try to apply the truths they discovered in their daily lives. And there are people, who, although not focused on spiritual goals, have a basic decency about them and who try, in the course of their lives, to be kind to their fellow humans.
So, if one decides to leave frum society, it does not, by any means, necessarily entail leading an immoral, unrestrained, and self-indulgent life (unless you really wish to be so, in which case you'll tire of that soon enough). Nor is the outside world always a cold cruel and meaningless place. Nor need one assume an attitude of uncritical acceptance of the world. It's quite possible to remain acutely aware of the limitations and imperfections of the world and maintain a healthy, albeit ambivalent relationship with it, while constructing a secure and meaningful space for yourself within it.
- One is not guaranteed a happier or more secure life by becoming a BT, or remaining as BT, than the life one would have had by living in the non-frum world. What determines the spiritual and emotional quality of one’s life is what you "bring to the table" in terms of your personality, character, values, economic status, beliefs, education, interpersonal and family relations, and hundreds of other variables too subtle and too numerous to list.
- Being Frum is not a panacea for people, who for whatever reason are fearful or repelled by the adversities and pain and ugliness of the "outside" world. Frumkeit does not confer immunity from harm or fear and may have its own burdens and difficulties that are unique to it. The point is that there is no absolutely safe harbor from the adversities of life and there are "storms" in the frum world and the non-frum world. Life can be beautiful and fulfilling in both worlds and life can be hell in both worlds, and life can be everything in-between in both worlds.
- The Kiruv movement has a tendency to malign, vilify, and ( in milder form) mis-characterize the "outside" non-frum, and the BT or potental BT should be very sensitive and wary of any person who must deprecate one system in order to elevate their own system. Such a person should be questioned very closely as to what they mean and how they justify their mis-characterization of the non-frum world. If one does that I think that one will find that the strategy is simply setting up a "straw-man" to knock down in order to prop up their own belief system. Such a person is very selective in the examples and issues he or she chooses from the "outside" world and neglects the many adverse issues in the frum world. It is an argument with blinders on. Western culture is too broad and too diverse to pigeonhole it as either good or bad. Every culture has its good and bad aspects; to focus on one or the other aspect to the exclusion of others is disingenuous. One has to see the whole picture.
Posted by Kiruv Awareness Network at 8:34 PM
Problems with a Global Flood
Marc Shapiro on the Flood, Here & Here
"Believing in the truth of the flood (and a 5000 year old world) is more extreme than denying the existence of George Washington. Someone asked me if it isn't the case that we have more evidence for George Washington than for denying the flood. The answer is obviously no. We know about Washington because of one type of evidence, historical, and we have a great deal of this. However, the entire received body of knowledge in just about every field of human study is dependant on the fact that the world is not 5000 years old and that there was not a flood. These facts are the fundamentals of biology, physics, astronomy, history, anthropology, geology, paleontology, zoology, linguistics etc. etc. etc. Belief in a 5000 year old world and a flood which destroyed the world 4000 years ago is a denial of all human knowledge as we know it. It is a retreat into a world of belief, rather than one based on any sort of fact, and one who believes can believe anything he want to. The fundamentalist is not able to prove that Washington lived, only to say that he believes that Washington lives....Pay attention to what I am saying, it is impossible to make sense of anything in this world, in any field of science and many of the social sciences by adopting fundamentalist position. If people wish to live this sort of existence, fine, but one can't pretend that there is any sort of compelling reason for anyone else to. They certainly shouldn't try to put forth all sorts of pseudo-science to convince people of the correctness of their view.............
People often say that they can hold the positions they do because they are ignorant of science and history. This is incorrect. It is not that they are ignorant of all these fields; it is rather that they reject them. There is a difference. The proper word to describe this is obscurantism. And I for one don't think it will last forever. One can only go against the obvious facts of our day for so long. Rabbis could declare that Copernicus's views were heretical for only so long before
the weight of evidence ran over them. That will happen with fundamentalism, because if they don’t change, no one with any education will still be listening to them."
Egyptian and Assyrian history has an unbroken chain of monarchies and civilizations from 3000 BCE to the present, with no room for a flood that supposedly destroyed all life in the Near East (or, at a minimum, in Mesopotamia) c. 2105 BCE, the date derived from the Torah chronology. There is no mention of the Flood in these records of Egyptian or Mesopotamian civilizations which existed at the time and the physical evidence (e.g., inscriptions, among many other items) is staggering. the entire period is accounted for in tremendous detail, supported by over one million artifacts and the evidence for continuous, large-scale civilization in Mesopotamia and Egypt is "harder" evidence than our chain of tradition. There is no way that the descendents of Noach could have repopulated Egypt 200 years after a universally-fatal flood and restarted the culture, language, writing system, religion, etc. The very idea is absurd.There is no longer any room for doubt by any serious scholar. Rest assured that scholars in this area are "at each other's throats," and are quick to find flaws in, and attack, each other's theories. Nevertheless, there is universal consensus as to what was NOT happening c. 2105 BCE, -- "the Flood." In summary, the idea that there was a massive flood that destroyed civilization in Mesopotamia and/or Egypt c. 2105 BCE is universally considered absurd.
More on Nes-Nisayon
Was Noach a real person
Pottery & Paintings
Nuts on Bechofer's Blog
RYGB gets destroyed. It's a shame
It's just a flesh wound local flood!
Noach Lo Hoyoh Veloh Yihyeh
Another mehalech in Noach?
Me and the Mabul
Posted by Kiruv Awareness Network at 8:09 PM
Letter To My Rabbi:Tradition
The Kuzari Proof 3 Million Witnesses Can Be Wrong
The Sinai Argument
New Kuzari Proof
Lame Fundamentalist Arguments
Are talking donkeys silly
Fundies get their asses wupped again
Top 10 Proofs For and Against Judaism
Misc Bloggers on Kuzari
Who Wrote the Bible
Debate with Fkm
The Kuzari Proof The Exodus And Passover
Debunking the Kuzari
Orthoprax Blog Posts on Kuzari Proof
The Milk Miracle
Buddha's Many Miracles
The Aztec's National Revelation
The Aztec's National Revelation II
Posted by Kiruv Awareness Network at 6:26 PM
Seder Olam-discrepancy between a chronological view of the Talmud and chronological view by historians
Professor D.S. Levine
Letter to My Rabbi-Judaic tradition unaware of its own history
FIXING THE MIND
Blog Posts on the Historicity of Chanuka
The True Meaning of Chanukah by Mis-nagid - the Bais Yosef's Kasha
WHY DOES CHANUKAH HAVE 8 DAYS?
The Little Menorah That Didn't
The Little Menorah That Didn't, #2
The Little Menorah That Didn't, #3
The Little Menorah That Didn't, #4
The Little Menorah That Didn't, Part 3
The Little Menorah That Didn't, part 4
The Little Menorah That Didn't, Part 5
Hanukka: The Faith of a Suicide Bomber Maccabee?
Hanukka: Did The Maccabees Make It All Up?
Hanukka 2006: What's The Truth About Sources For The "Miracle Of Oil"?
Hanukka 2006: How Ignorant Are Haredim? This Ignorant
The Rebbe And The Menorah
The Rebbe And The Menorah, #2
An Early Hanukka Present: The Rebbe and the Menora, Part 2
Posted by Kiruv Awareness Network at 6:01 PM
Although at times irreverent, this closed blog is an excellent resource for inquiring BT's and FFB's. It covers just about every conceivable issue that a soul searching Orthodox Jew confronts when critically examining their tradition.
Nes Nisayon I
Nes Nisayon II
Nes Nisayon V2
Science Torah & Rabbi Carmy
Categories of Science
Faith in Science
The G-d of Science
Nes Nisayon I
Nes Nisayon II
Nes Nisayon V2
Gottleib Endorses Gosse
Why Gosseleib Doesn't Work
Pottery & Paintings by G-d
Myth Moshol Theory
When They Severed the Earth
Adam: Man or Myth?
Cassuto & Mythology
Breishis & Science
Can Torah contain Mythology?
Not in Chazal
Mythology is Aggadata
Myth/Moshol is Non Literal?
Mythology in the Torah II
Adam & Eve & Their Snake
Brisker Myth Moshol
Myth Moshol V2.0
Emunah Peshutah vs Chakirah Amukah
Don't Think It, Just Believe It !
New: FDA approved Emunahpeshuttia !
Avraham Avinu and Emunah Peshutta
Bored with Breishis ?
Har Sinai: A Case for Emunah Peshutah ?
Emunah Peshutah, Modern Orthodox Style
Emunahpeshuttia - Its for real !
When is emunah peshuta ok ?
The Point of Judaism
The Point of Life
The point of it All
Sacred Cows I
Sacred Cows II
Dinosaurs & Dibukim
Machshavah Candy Mix
The Kannoim & The Slifkin Bood Banning
Gedolim manipulated by Kannoim
The Lies of the Kanoim Exposed
The Kanoi Hador
The Kanoim Strike Again
Rabbi Aron Feldman & The Slifkin Book Banning
Rav Aharon Feldman's Letter
More of the Letter
Gedolim of Oz
Science is from Sinai
R Feldman insults Chazal
More on Rav Feldman
Move to the Right
Responses Rip R Feldman
More silly quotes from Rav Moshe's talmidim
The Strange Mystery of Rav Moshe - Resolved !
The Battle Heats Up !
Rabbi Heshy Grossman !
20 Great Kofrim according to Rav Moshe Shapiro
The Godol Hador vs Rav Heshy Grossman
More Kofrim According to Rav Moshe Shapiro
What Rav Moshe Shapiro Actually Said
Rav Moshe Shapiro Was Just Exaggerating !
Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky - Kofer !
R Dovid Gottleib - Kofer !
Message from Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky
Attack of the Clowns: Summary
An Apology to Rabbi Orlofsky
Playing Hide & Seek with G-d: Part II
Why are people religious ?
The Emperor Has No Clothes
Torah Min Hashamayim
Attack of the Clowns
The Inherent Paradox of Chareidi Hashkafa
The Difference between 'Us' & 'Them'
Were Chazal Charedi ?
5 things that the MO don't like to think about
Chareidi Wars: Episode 54
Rav Mattisyahu was right !
Maharal vs R Mattisyohu
Introducing the Ultra-Dumb-odox
Frumteens on being a smart monkey
Frumteens on goyim
Frumteens on goyim II
More from Frumteens
Its a hard life being a charedi apologist
Frumteens on Olam Habah
Hirhurim Comments & JewishWhistleBlower
Warm gooshy feeling
Spiritually Deficient People
The Big Question
Deep Yesodos in Kugel
Great Spiritual Debate
Are Orthodox Jews Spiritual
Zohar & Kabbalah
True Story of Zohar
Frumteens on Zohar
Zohar is Fake
Zohar, Kabalah & Ari
Strange World of Kabalah
Vision of Odyssey
Edah on Kabbalah
Read my Palms
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Although I do not have any personal experience with or deep knowledge of Zen Buddhism, I think the well written and insightful Book Review, written by J.H. Mind, on Akiva Tatz’s LETTERS TO A BUDDHIST JEW would be of interest and possibly benefit to those who are inclined toward and interested in the contrast between the spiritual systems and practice of Orthodox Judaism and that of Zen Buddhism.
LETTERS TO A BUDDHIST JEW purports itself to be a dialogue between Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz, a noted Judaic scholar, and David Gottlieb, an American Jew practicing Zen Buddhism
Unfortunately for the reader, LETTERS TO A BUDDHIST JEW is barely a dialogue. It is a virtual monologue during which the erudite Dr. Tatz so completely overwhelms David Gottlieb that this reviewer began to wonder if their dialogue was even a real one to begin with and not just an authorial device. The David Gottlieb on these pages is so colorless that it seems like he may not even be real.
Perhaps this should not be surprising as his grasp of Judaism is just as weak. One of Gottlieb's earliest letters to Tatz spells out a dozen or so basic questions that even a particularly literate Bar Mitzvah boy could answer. Gottlieb seems to know nothing at all about Jewish history, Jewish religious practices, Jewish philosophy or Jewish mysticism, even though he describes himself as a "seeker" and claims to attend a Conservative synagogue regularly. If Gottlieb's ignorance is real, then it is a bitter indictment of the pallid state of mainstream American Judaism. But there is something so contrived about the intellectual befuddlement evident in Gottlieb's letters that this reviewer strongly believes that they were intentionally crafted so as to give Dr. Tatz a ready-made foundation for his numerous theses in this book.
J. H. Minde says:
As my review shows, I was disappointed in this book, primarily because of its intellectual dishonesty. While Rabbi Dr. Tatz and David Gottlieb do a WONDERFUL job of bringing to the fore the mystical and spiritual foundations of Judaism, they are very unkind to Zen, which neither of them takes the time to examine, explain or investigate. "Zen" qua Zen is as unimportant to this book as having an accordian in outer space. Buddhism merely serves as a jumping-off point for their polemics.
I agree wholeheartedly with Minde's review. These were the wrong two people for this dialogue - unless, as Minde suggests, there was an agenda on the part of the author or publisher to steer Jews away from alternate traditions (which may be the case, given that it was published by an Orthodox company, rather than by a mainstream publisher).
Posted by Kiruv Awareness Network at 3:52 PM