Posts Tagged 'Orthodoxy'

The Greatest: Ali and a Strong Pluralism

Considered to be the greatest sports picture in the 20th Century, I have not been able to get this image of Muhammad Ali out of my head since he passed away last week.

Neil Leifer’s photograph captures the 23 -year-old heavy weight boxing champion Muhammad Ali standing triumphantly over the 34-year-old Sonny Liston. Ali had snatched the title from Liston 15 months earlier. One minute and 44 second into the first round, Ali hit Liston in the chin putting Liston down on the mat. In this iconic image Ali is screaming, “Get up and fight, sucker!”

This picture captures the image pf the spirit of a true competitor and gives us some insight into the life of a great athlete. In his life Ali was the consummate fighter. Fighting in the ring, fighting the draft, fighting racism, and fighting Parkinson’s. As President Roosevelt talked about in his famous 1910 Man in the Arena speech, even Ali failed he failed valiantly while ” daring greatly”.

In addition to all of this, this image of Ali standing over Liston has also come to symbolize my commitment to pluralism. I am not talking about the weak  sauce modern pluralism of “I am OK Your OK”. Just telling everyone “You Be You”  runs the risk of cultivating cold and dispassionate society in which no one cares about each other. I am talking about a strong pluralism in which there is actual mutuality and a sense of family while at the same time making room for deviance, diversity, and real differences. My commitment to pluralism is not despite my Orthodoxy , but because of it. As an Orthodox Jew by definition I think that my life choices are right. So what is my commitment to pluralism?

Living a life committed to Halacha is the greatest, but we are only our best when our competitors are at their best.  In my pluralism I want everyone to get up and fight. I sincerely hope that everyone else feels the same way. Together we need to make sure that everyone is at their best, only then will be mean something to win the title.

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“The” Principled Life

I have to admit that I respect people who live lives according to their principles.  Obviously, I feel more of a connection to them if I share these principles, but regardless, I feel that I can relate to people who live ideologically driven and reflective lives.  At the least, you know where you stand with these people. As an Orthodox Jew, it follows that I have an affinity for people striving to live lives committed to the structure of Halakha, Jewish law.  But, I am often put off when I confront people in my community who make claims that we alone keep the entirety of the Torah.  Implicit to this claim about the identity of Orthodox Jews is that any other Jewish lifestyle is inherently corrupt because it is less then complete.  We live our lives doing every Mitzvah, commandment, while they “pick and choose” their Judaism.

I believe that this identity of “Orthodox supremacy” is called into question within this week’s Torah portion Ki Teitzei. For example, no one would claim that in a effort to live a life committed to doing the 613 commandments that s/he should perform the commandment to divorce his/her spouse (Deuteronomy 24:1). Throughout the portion we see examples of the right way to deal with a non-ideal situation. One example is if you go out to war, then the Torah proscribes the procedure for taking an enemy bride. While I might portray myself as a follower of the law, I cannot abdicate responsibility for putting myself in certain situations, like going to war. Necessarily the religious life is inundated with having to makes choices. Evidently, we all “pick and choose”.

In a world plagued by a barrage of options, we can appreciate the allure of living in a closed community that will shelter us from many of these choices. Living with this structure might help foster a religious lifestyle, but it might miss the reality of how “choice-full” our lives truly are. On the other side, assuming that I am the lone arbiter of what is right and wrong seems to lead me down a path devoid of any lasting meaning. How do we make choices? Is living a principled life one choice or a choice that needs to be rehearsed many times a daily? May we all be blessed to realize our highest ideals. Shabbat Shalom.

– For more check out Peter Berger‘s Heretical Imperative: Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirmation

On Open Leadership

Recently I was reading the second book by Charlene Li. Her first book Groundswell made- well – a groundswell in helping many people understand the use of social technologies. Her second book is called “ Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead“. Openness requires more — not less — rigor and effort than being in control. Li includes suggestions that will help an organization determine an “open strategy”, weigh the benefits against the risk, and have a clear understanding of the implications of being open.

While there are many who mocked it, in reading this book I realized how prescient Yeshivat Chovevei Torah was in coining “Open Orthodoxy“. While this sub-brand of Orthodoxy has nothing to do with technology, it does aim to speak to the culture of the 21st century.  Our culture today is manifest in the emergent technologies of social media. Yeshivat Chovevei Torah strives to walk Li’s line of being open, transparent, and authentic. Obviously we have stumbled along the way, but all great organizations need to risk failure if they are truly striving for excellence.

Being Open Orthodox does not mean being more lax in observance of Halakha, it means being more rigorous in opening that process to more people. If we hope to live in a world in which Judaism speaks to Jews we will need to re-imagine Rabbinic control of information and wisdom. We need to explore new ways of thinking about how we can empower more Jews to make choices that are personally meaningful, universally relevant, and distinctively Jewish. This will not happen by controlling the message, but by developing a nuanced openness strategy.  I am proud to be a graduate of YCT and an Open Orthodox Rabbi.


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