|Volume 1 Number 47||Tue Apr 7 13:56:12 1992|
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 92 08:11:28 PDT From: email@example.com (Alexander Herrera) Subject: A Jehovah's Witness at the door I recently moved into a brand new house. I was still wondering how I was going to like the neighborhood, when I heard a shout, "Alex! Someone's at the front door for you!" My family knows that when a Jehovah's Witness comes to the door, it's for me. In our old neighborhood the Witnesses came by often. There was a Kingdom Hall two blocks away, and one of my old neighbors is a Witness. She sponsored meetings in her home, so we saw them a lot. I felt comfortable as I came to the door and stood face to face with a Witness. His name was Bobby, and he had his teenage daughter in tow. With his briefcase in hand, he began to tell me about the Awake magazine, and some subjects therein. I stopped him. I have a friend at work who gives me these magazines when they relate to Jewish issues. We will sit and talk about them. Of course, we will disagree, but we are working toward a better understanding of each other's faith. Bobby seemed surprised when I told him this, but he kept right on with his message. (Good for him! He didn't let me change the subject. :-) ) I changed the subject again. I began to talk about how we are different theologically, but in some ways, Jews and Christians are working toward the same practical goal. I began to talk about how I invoke the name of G-d. When I pray, I will use the name of G-d. When I say a blessing, I will use G-d's name again. I have a certain image or feeling in my heart when I do this. I am praying to the G-d of the Jews. On the other hand, I explained to Bobby, Christians have a different image or feeling. They are praying to Jesus, or through Jesus. (Bobby was starting to look uncomfortable) When they invoke G-d's name, they have a different background and history, so a somewhat different image or feeling accompanies it. However, wouldn't it be nice if everyone said "G-d bless you" when you passed them on the street? Wouldn't it be nice if the checkout person at the grocery store said "G-d bless you" as you left? Isn't our common goal to bring G-d into our day-to-day existence? Does it really matter what each of us really experiences when we say the words, just so long as the words were said in a way to wish us well? Apparently to Bobby it did matter. OK. I struck out again. I said "G-d bless you Bobby," and shook his hand. He smiled, and went on his way (1). I am writing this as a preface to the question, "Why are some Jews afraid/angry when a Witness is at the door?" I love it when these fine people come to the door. It shows they have commitment. They take their religion seriously enough to risk my rejection. I know what it is like to come to a stranger's house and know that I will likely be rejected. I know because I was a door-to-door salesman when I was younger. The difference is that I did it for money. If I didn't get up there and knock on a few doors, I wasn't going to eat. My physical sustenance depended on me going door to door looking for a sale. But what is a Witness's motivation? It isn't monetary. His religion calls on him to do it (2). Can you imagine how difficult it is to get motivated enough to knock on doors? It makes making a few phone calls to get a minyon together pale in comparison. Here are a few tips for how to meet these people on equal ground. The first thing I establish is that I do not accept the authority of their New Testament. I don't mind if they quote from it, but frankly, until they can establish its authority, the New Testament is only a group of interesting accounts to me. I tell them that they would be better off if they stick with quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures (I don't mind saying "Old Testament", but I prefer "Hebrew Scriptures"). Usually what happens at this point is that they try to establish the authority of the New Testament or the existence of Jesus as the Messiah through the Hebrew Scriptures. Good. We are now on equal ground. The vast majority of their biblical quotes are rather obscure. They would only be convincing if you already believed that Jesus was the Messiah. In and of themselves there is nothing that turns on a light bulb in the head and says to one, "Aha!" There is one quote that says that the Messiah will come from Bethlehem (3). That's a good one. The problem is that in the same account, Israel was being attacked by the Assyrians (4). Nothing like that was happening in the time of Jesus. They have to accept the whole account. I don't let them quote out of context. There is actually a clear quote in Numbers that Rabbi Aquiba used to support his position that the Bar Kokhba was the Messiah (5). It actually suggests the name of the Messiah as a "star out of Jacob" (6). Bar Kokhba means "son of a star" (7). Of course, the Bar Kokhba was *not* the Messiah, but it lends support to the position that you can support almost any position by using biblical quotation if you are diligent and selective. My apologies to the memory of Rabbi Akiba. Finally, I allow them the courtesy of not knowing the answer to any question I might ask. I expect the same courtesy. If I don't know something, I promise to look into it and will have an answer ready the next time they call. Just because we can't come up with an answer doesn't mean one doesn't exist. Relax. This isn't brain surgery. :-) I enjoy this sort of banter. I'm getting good at it actually. It's sort of biblical macho stuff. It keeps me off the streets. :-) I wouldn't expect that everyone would be able to carry on an impromptu discussion of the Bible, but if you would just say hello. Thank them for coming by. Say how much you appreciate their efforts to make the world better even though we differ. Keep in mind how much courage it takes to risk your rejection. Tell them that you already have a faith in G-d that you are comfortable with. Encourage them to seek out the unchurched. Smile. You might even tell them a little about Judaism, and why you love it so much. Oops...there's the door again. Ah...more Witnesses. It feels just like home. :-) Alex Herrera uunet!mdcsc!ah [Actually, my wife's favorite story is about some Wiccan friends she once had who used to greet the JW's with their black candles and other paraphenalia. JWs didn't come around that neighborhood often -- Yr. Mod.] (References on Request from Alex)
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 92 10:16:18 PDT From: Your Moderator <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Administrivia I've had a request to produce the digest more frequently. I'll now be sending out the digest whenever we've got over 8K to send out (down from the 15K that I had been using). Please let me know if that is too frequent. Remember, the frequency of the digest is directly proportional to the amount of material I receive. I'll send out no more than one digest a day, unless I have more than 15K backed up in a single digest. I'll send out the digest near midnight on every night but Friday; in deference to the Shabbat observant, Friday's edition will go out at 5:00PM Pacific Time. Your Moderator
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 1992 13:27 EST From: SCHILD%GAIA@leia.polaroid.com Subject: Changes in Liturgy "Similarly, saying "Our Parent, Our Ruler" seems much more awkward than saying "Avinu Malkenu." despite the masculine royal images it evokes of our Creator." I am glad you did not change this one :). As I have become more knowledgable in the history, and "mechanics" of prayer and what it is supposed to effect, I learned that G-d is referred to in the prayers as both masculine and feminine for good reasons. Simply put, G-d has aspects that are both as a Giver and Receiver, respectively, male and female. [not too hard to see the origins if you think a little ;)]. Each serves its respective purpose depending on the situation. In the case of Avinu Malkenu, the images you describe above are *supposed* to be invoked. Changing M and F aspects to one another or to both/neither/neuter kind of defeats the goal of prayer........ For a very clear example: In most early prayer books and still in current Nusach Ari and Sephardic liturgies at least, there is a line before Baruch Shemar saying "L'Shem Yichud Kadosh Baruch Hu V'Shechintay" For the sake of the union of The Holy One Blessed be HE and his SHECHINAH" that is the union of the masculine and feminine aspects of G-d that are respectively outside and within the world. It don't work if you S/HE it! There are many other places where the adjectives/pronouns referring to G-d are feminine too where if changed to masculine, removes the keli (vessel) prayer is supposed to be. >gender-neutral translations, though some were hard to make read naturally in >English. There is a Rabbi in the Gemara who says he knew when his prayers were accepted - it was when they were easy to prounounce :). Chaim
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 92 13:25:29 -0700 From: email@example.com Subject: Re: Humanistic Judaism >You can't have Judaism without people who identify themselves as Jews. If >Humanistic Judaism has that problem, then I don't see how you could view it >any other way. On the other hand, if the main goal of Humanistic Judaism is to >create humanists, I can see why an identification with Judaism would not be a >priority. Alex is correct; I may have misspoken. It may be that children of Humanistic Jews are as likely to identify as Jews as children of traditional Jews, but that "identifying as Jews" means something different for each group. Next, Alex indicated that the identification of the children is the yardstick by which he measures worth or value of the way *Jews* choose to live; however, it is not his only yardstick. I would like to add that it may be worth keeping in mind that there are a variety of ways to live as a Jew. Alex also states: >If I want to be part of a group, I will lose some individuality. If benefits >outweigh the loss then I join. I imagine there are compromises one must make >in order to be part of Humanistic Judaism. I am certain that I would have to >make many personal and intellectual compromises if I wanted to be part of >that group. I'm glad that Alex agrees that each individual must make his/her own cost/benefit analysis about the value of joining a group. This was my original point, more or less. It is certainly worth discusses the costs and the benefits, and we must acknowledge that different individuals will have legitimate reasons for computing these costs and benefits differently. Alex also notes that I implied that Jews are seduced from Judaism by the appeal of the underlying humanistic values of our society. He goes on to say: >While that may be true for a few intellectuals, I don't think it is true for >the majority of Jews who are seduced from Judaism. Most of those Jews simply >want to fit in and find it easy to do that here in America. Perhaps Alex's statement is correct. And perhaps the reasons change over time. What may have been true 50 years ago may not be true today. These are the kinds of questions about which sociologists write entire books (such as Silberman's _A Certain People_). Alex then writes: >Religion is not a guarentee that a person will be good, but the question is >who will do more good: a people who feel accountable to a G-d, or a people who >are accountable only to reason? How many people who technically "observe" religious rituals do so for social reasons (for example, making friends, meeting people, and feeling part of a community) and how many people observe the rituals because they genuinely "feel accountable to God"? There is absolutely no way of knowing, since we are unable to peer into each other's souls. Perhaps some people partake of religion for both reasons. There are undoubtedly some who do so for neither reason, but rather for the sake of gaining personal power. Consider the cases of Ayatollah Khoumeini, TV evangelists, and a certain rabbi in Brooklyn who wields extraordinary power in Israeli politics, yet has never set foot on Israeli soil, and who, incidentally, does nothing to stop the speculation of his followers that he is the Messiah. Religiosity is no safeguard against hypocrisy. Who was it who said, "Patriotism is the refuge of scoundrels"? The same is true of religion. >From what I understand of your response, Humanistic Judaism thinks that >reason is a proper G-d for Judaism. I find it difficult to understand how, >but I don't claim to be an expert. I would be happy to be shown how. Humanistic Judaism, from what I've read about it in Rabbi Shwerwin Wine's books on the subject, is secular and atheistic. "Reason" is not held up as a god of any kind. Like you, Wine considers reason to be a tool as well. He appears to argue that our reason--our common sense--tells us that our logic and rationality should be applied to work toward the common good, to improve society, to better our lives and the lives of the members of our community. The discussion then turned to the ultimate effects of reason, and whether being "methodical and efficient" is equivalent to "reason" (with Nazi Germany as our example). My position, again, is that just because the Nazis were methodical and efficient in their pursuit of the goal of killing Jews does not mean that killing Jews is a "rational" goal in the first place. Arguing, as Alex does in the following: > For instance, I cite a formal Nazi document requesting a better >design for the gas vans because "the merchandise aboard displays ... a natural >tendency to rush to the rear doors," and requesting proper drains "so that >fluid liquids can drain off during the operation" and for lights in the vans >because "screaming always occurs when the door are closed" (2). There was no >irrational hysteria in evidence here. Just the opposite is true. Given the >goal that the Jews should be exterminated, the Nazis showed a tremendous >capacity for reasoned thought. that the Nazis are paragons of clear rational thought because of their rational and methodical approach to genocide, is patently absurd. Anyone who has ever read their theories of race, or even Mein Kampf, certainly knows full well. Your argument confuses the rationality of means with the rationality of ends. For example, just because our best scientists might be working on Star Wars technology, it does not follow that pursuing Star Wars is a sensible national goal. The rational pursuit of irrational goals does not qualify as rational behavior. Alex then asks: >What is the answer to the question, "If I am not accountable to a G-d and I >am sure that I won't be caught, why is cheating on my taxes wrong?" Why >should *human* happiness necessarily be a consideration if there is no G-d >and there is no chance of my being caught? I am really curious as to how >Humanistic Judaism handles this problem. A Humanistic Jew would answer your question as follows: "Because we are accountable to each other as members of a community. We are all we have, we must rely upon each other. Our society depends upon mutual trust. If we lose that, we have lost everything." Lastly, Alex stated, in response to my comment that reason, properly understood, is an essential ingredient of our freedom and our humanity: >Here is a safe haven from argument that many groups use. If reason is >"properly understood," then we can experience freedom and our humanity. In >this way, Jewish humanists can exclude those from its ranks who don't properly >understand reason. > >I have seen this sort of definitional argument before. One can never be wrong >using it because by definition the main idea can never be challenged. One >might say, "They just didn't understand it properly." They are now no longer >part of the group or idea, and the rest keep going as if nothing ever >happened. Funny. That's the same feeling I get from people who claim they have the one *true* understanding. To address your point, I would imagine that a Humanistic Jew would answer you not by dismissing you by "defining you away" from his/her community, but by welcoming you to debate and discuss, freely and openly, any issue you would care to, and in the course of the discussion, the most compelling arguments will surface. Isn't that what we're doing in this forum, for example? Let each position be heard. >This sort of argument is used against me in stranger ways than the above. I am >a Mexican-American, and I am against bilingual education. What does this do >to the solidarity of Mexican-Americans who oppose me? Nothing. They simply >redefine me as a non-authentic Mexican. I can't really be an *authentic* >Mexican because I don't support bilingual education. The same things happen to >blacks who vote Republican. They are discounted and called black on the >outside, but white on the inside. This is, of course, ridiculous. I agree with you that it is possibly "interesting", but it is certainly stupid, irrational, and abhorrent, and not one endorsed by Humanistic Judaism as I understand it. >> In fact, [reason is] an essential ingredient of Judaism: much of the Mishna, >> Talmud, and various other rabbinic texts are fundamentally based on rational >> thought and deductive reasoning (even if they start with an assumption >> founded more on tradition and faith than reason: that G-d gave the Torah to >> Moses at Sinai, and that the Torah is the word of G-d). >You have echoed my sentiments exactly. Reason can be used to our advantage >if we start with the proper assumptions. Reason only becomes our enemy when >we make poor assumptions or no assumptions at all. Who decides what makes an assumption "proper"? Take for example, my own personal assumption in the nonexistence (or at least the nonprovability) of god. I assume from what you have written that you would consider this assumption of mine "improper" and "incorrect". Does that mean that all my reasoning is at best worthless and possibly even dangerous? If you set yourself up as the arbiter of what assumptions are proper, then you place yourself in the same position of those Mexican-Americans who try to redefine you. Just as it is possible for different Mexican- Americans to reach different conclusions about bilingual education, it is also possible for different Jews to reach different conclusions about the nature and existence of god and other questions involving religious observance. Peter D. Mark firstname.lastname@example.org
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