Mea maxima culpa

1 06 2010

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Over a year ago now, I wrote an essay for the New Oxford Review condemning the supposedly superficial religiosity of the “Berkeley liberal”. While I would stand by some of those criticisms still, I realize now that the underlying presupposition of the essay, that there are “good” religious people and “bad” superficially “spiritual” people is profoundly wrong. In the realm of personal choice in which we live, there is enough sentimentality, ignorant bigotry, and kitsch to go around, and to condemn someone for being too superficial in what he or she believes is like saying that the levees around New Orleans would be better fortified using bubble gum.
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On study of the Torah

1 06 2010

R’ Yehuda said in the name of Rav:
When Moshe ascended to the heavens, he saw God sitting and tying crowns to the letters [of the Torah].
Moshe asked, “What’s the hold up [i.e., why can’t you give the Torah as is]?
God replied, “there’s a man who will be in the future, after many generations, named Akiva b. Yosef, who will find in every jot and tittle mounds of halachot.
Moshe said, “Master of the Universe, show him to me!”
God said, “Turn around”
Moses went and sat in the eighth row of students in R’ Akiva’s class, and had no idea what they were saying. His strength deflated.
The class asked R’ Akiba about a certain matter, “From whence to you know this?” He replied, “It is a Law transmitted to Moshe at Sinai. Moshe’s mind was put at ease.
Moshe turned to God, “if you have someone like this, why are you giving the Torah through me?”
God said, “Silence! This is what arose in my thoughts!”
Moshe continued, “Master of the Universe! You’ve showed me his Teaching, now show me his reward.”
God said, “Turn around”
He turned around and saw that R’ Akiva’s flesh was being weighed out in the marketplace.
Moshe confronted God: “This is Torah and this is its reward?!”
God said, “Silence! This is what arose in my thoughts!”


In another Talmudic imagining, Moses actually spends forty days studying Talmud with God, but when the time is over he forgets the whole thing. In this, he is like all of us, who, the Talmud tells us, study the Torah in the womb, only to forget it when an angel touches our lips before birth- because the business of life is to learn, not to know.

-from The Talmud and the Internet by Jonathan Rosen