Dr. Elliott Malamet's blog

New Paths for Ba'alei Teshuva, Part 3

On one level, one could not help but be impressed by the intensity and earnestness at Aish Hatorah, circa 1983, of young people devoting themselves to the mission of revitalizing their own spiritual lives and attempting to persuade others to do the same. A spirit of idealism and camaraderie pervaded the walls. Yet at the very same time, I found myself deeply troubled by the messages I was hearing, and the  understanding of truth being purveyed was very different from the way I understood the term and continue to understand it.

What We Talk About When We Talk About War

In this, what was the summer of our discontent, it is worth looking at the words that were commonly used to moralize about the present war. At the top of the list perhaps  is "proportional",  defined in the OED as "corresponding in size or amount to something else,"  stemming from the late Latin proportionalis, "in respect of (its or a person's) share." But how does one parse what is the "proper share" that "corresponds in size or amount" to rocket fire and tunnel burrowing meant to infiltrate, terrorize, murder?

New Paths for Ba'alei Teshuva: Part One

This series of blog posts seeks to discuss, if only preliminarily, the journey of ba’alei teshuvah (loosely defined as those who were not raised in a home of halakhic observance but chose this way of life at some point) and their place within Orthodox communities. Along with reflecting upon my own experience as a ba’al teshuvah, I would like to examine the mirror that ba’alei teshuva hold up to Orthodox society and the phenomenon of self-negation that often accompanies this quest for acceptance.

Our Days Are Numbered

Mark Steyn put it quite simply in America Alone: “Experts talk about root causes. But demography is the most basic root of all.” Prognostications about the future of any country, race or civilization must begin and end with the hard numbers. Is a given culture creating enough babies to reproduce its ranks? To cite one of Steyn’s examples, “By 2050, 60 percent of Italians will have no brothers, no sisters, no cousins, no aunts, no uncles.

The Open Society

In his groundbreaking book, The Heretical Imperative, Professor Peter Berger argued that modernity—and its emphasis on freedom of choice—has profoundly affected every area of society, religion included. In a world where personal and communal identities are not givens, but must be constantly reinforced by a variety of means on a consistent basis, the question of how people who wish to maintain traditional religious outlooks negotiate with the freedoms that the open society delivers is a thorny question indeed.

Authenticity

Sin gets bad press these days, because it is experienced as a guest that brings a whole slew of unwelcome associates into the house--guilt, bad feeling, punitiveness. These alleged running mates of sin are anathema to most, and so the very ability to examine our realities is muted by the desperate postmodern drive to feel good at all costs. And the costs are indeed high, as the soft-pedalling of our spiritual mistakes morphs into a full-blown denial of the need to change.

Preparing to Die, Learning to Live

  Dear Sir,

    Thank you for your recent inquiry regarding the upcoming High Holidays. You want to know why it is that people who have palpably little Jewish involvement for the other 362 days of the calendar bother to attend synagogue services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. On the other hand you are puzzled by Jewish tradition, which places so much emphasis on these three days, as though God is unavailable on a cold despairing midnight in March. Sir, your questions are good ones.   

The Silence of Eternity

Education, Mark Twain once quipped, consists mainly in what we have unlearned. For a great many Jews today, shul is a kind of ponderous opera, taking place in a foreign tongue, that they desperately wish to unlearn. Depending on the opera house in question, the always well-dressed patrons sit in stony uncomprehending silence or continuously interrupt the performance with a rowdy mirth that attests to the inconvenience of self-restraint. One who wishes to cling to any remnants of the sacred must, like a well-trained spy, commit to forgetting all he has seen.

Jewish Spirituality in Our Time

The philosopher Thomas Molnar states that at present, religion is accepted and even flourishes, but only as a kind of "psychic weekend from too much materialism, exacting work, and blatant immorality." Molnar's criticism is acute; religion today has become a kind of lowest common denominator in many circles, an escape from pornography and politics, or just that big bad world outside. But escape is not the stuff from which spirituality is founded. Whether it is liberal Jews tired of a stripped down version of Judaism organized mainly around the bar-mitzvah and a smattering of ritual, or at the other end of the spectrum Orthodox Jews whose Shabbos joy is organized around the shul kiddush, there has been a feeling for several years now of the spiritual train having gone far off the track.

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