“Real art is not knowing where you are going, but are listening intently to something you don’t understand. And if your ego doesn’t interfere, this something you don’t understand may guide you to much more than you ever expected.”
Robert Pirsig

October 2009

A Modern & Critical View of Judaism

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The following is a rough and unedited (my) translation of a chapter from a book called “Nisayon” by Yair Caspi. I hope to provide more context about Yair Caspi in future writing. As I read it and recognized my place in an inherited identity I have actively rejected most of my life, it I felt compelled to take note of it and share it. It is a translation of section 9, chapter 2 titled “An Exemplary Society.”

There are two Hebrew words used often in the text “nisayon” and “tikun” which translate, correspondingly, as “attempt”and “correction.” They are essential words and do not lend themselves to simple and direct translation. Their meanings, especially in this context, are subtle (such that it can take a lifetime to meaningfully ingest them) and so I have been liberal in using different words in different contexts in an attempt to create a hopefully coherent translation.

Everything that follows is a translated quote:

A. Man discovers himself as an incomplete creation

A thousand times man looked upon the world: at the earth, the sky, the ocean, the trees, the animals, the people.

A thousand times he saw earth. Sky. Ocean. Plants. Animals. People. Then one morning everything changed. The pieces came together. Suddenly man saw a larger plan. And in this plan, every item was assigned a role. The inspired witness sat down and wrote: “In the beginning god created.” “Let there be light.” Suddenly everything started speaking. Suddenly the voice was heard. ” “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters.” “Let the waters under the heaven be gathered.” “Let there be lights in the firmament.” Suddenly man saw that in every stone and tree and animal there is purpose. Suddenly is was revealed that the entire world is part of a bigger plan.

He started envisioning new stages development. He understood that he is fundamentally different from the animals around him. He was gifted with a potential to peer into the unknown. He discovered an invitation to work alongside his creator in completing himself and his world.

The special invitation that man received aroused both excitement and objection. He liked the idea of being the creator’s helper but did not like being told what to do. Therefore, after some achievements he started wondering: maybe I’ve already the level where I can decided for myself what my future will be?

A desire awoke in him to crack the code. To know the creator’s final plan and to be like him, or to at least develop tools for reigning in the creator, to make him more generous and less demanding. To guarantee fulfillment of all desires. To alleviate all suffering. To not have to wait. To not have to experience helplessness. To be forever young. To be immortal.

The creator that invited man to a journey of growth was replaced with a selection of interchangeable gods that relieved man from the long and arduous journey. The new interest became a science. Experts appeared and and taught people how to be god, or how to find one that can work for them. Methods were developed. Stages and houses were built. Everyone got busy looking for the words or sacrifices that would guarantee man control over life by manipulating the gods.

The aspirational journey towards completion came to a halt. The creator from genesis became forgotten. People turned to delusions to guide them.

People wasted precious years of their lives worshiping false idols. Nations lost themselves. Until one of them pursued one of their false idols into a crisis that reminded them to listen to the voice of the creator that calls out to man to report for duty.

B: An exemplary people

The founders of our group were originally slaves of a king that planned to destroy them. Pharoh, like the tyrants that came before him to whom we enslaves ourselves, drew his strength from the faith shared by both his people and slaves, that he is the highest authority in the universe.

The people of Israel were able to escape only after they realized that there is a power greater than that of the world’s greatest empire. This power had other plans for them.

The people that owed their lives and liberty to god, felt it was imperative to tell the world the story of how they became enslaved by people, objects, methods, that seems like god but are not god.

They built a nation, one of a kind at the time, that came together around a sense of mission:

  1. Find the highest organizing principle of reality. A principle that remains essentially hidden from us because of our limited perception. A principle that is known to us only indirectly through a sense of purpose that pervades us. Remember that it is he who extracted you from your most difficult place.
  2. Don’t be tempted to grant authority in your life to anything that is not god.
  3. Recognize the potential, that exists in every moment, to choose to submit to the creator and to take part in determining your future.
  4. Always seek purpose and correct action.
  5. Make it your priority, as an individual and as a people, to always aspire to self and collective completion.
  6. commit to a multi-generational effort that requires a long term investment in education.
  7. Set dates in your calendars to commemorate formative events in which a purpose or role was revealed to you.
  8. Value individuals based on their participation in the efforts of self and collective completion. Cancel popular success indicators: beauty, money, power, intelligence, status.
  9. Don’t give up when you make mistakes. It is difficult to decode the wishes of an unknowable creator. Learn to regularly fail and resume your efforts.
  10. Do not become addicted to your work, as if the world depended on it. Set aside a day during which you set aside your work and remain available to receive whatever is present. A day without doing.

C: Being a Jew is difficult

The burden placed on the Hebrew people created an immense challenge: to differentiate yourself from the rest of the world. From what everyone else does. To carry loneliness for many years. To renounce the human tendency to make gods out of themselves or their creations. To also overcome the opposite human tendency of making due with what has already been achieved. Exemplify in your life the potential for human beings to be accomplices in the completion of the world.

The people of Israel liked the invitation to be pioneers in this human endeavor and the compliment that came with it – to be god’s chosen people. But after establishing the first temple they grew tired of the difficult and demanding mission – to live a life of unpopular commitment. Initially the world did not embrace the biblical insights. The Hebrew people could not prove they heard a voice. They had not statues and no pictures.

The people of Israel began to wonder and complain: why do we get to do all the hard work? Why do we need to dedicate ourselves to noble causes when everyone else is having a good time? It is reasonable that all the other peoples are wrong? Is anyone even sure that god exists and that he has a plan for human beings?

The story of first temple is the resolution of this tension: some worshiped god, some worshiped false idols. According to the scriptures more worshiped false idols.

The destruction of the first temple came after a period of corruption and idolatry. It revealed to the people of Israel that there they can be fired from special job they were given and that they can end up lost to the pages of history like many peoples that came and went before them. The people of Israel realized their responsibility for the destruction of the first temple and quickly (in Jewish terms), got another chance.

In the time of the second temple of the people of Israel they knew they have no way to escape from the role. There is nothing and nowhere else too go. But they did not want to lead on their own. Towards the end of the days of the second temple the Jews found resolved the tension between their burden of responsibility to lead in human development and their wish to be like everyone else: they became small. They decided to hold onto everything that was revealed until then. Add nothing new. They relieved themselves from the responsibility of discovering what the next step should be. They chose to leave their country and delayed resuming their responsibility to a distant future.

Judaism transitioned into a holding pattern. The Jewish role changed: no longer a though leader in human development but a “keeper of rituals.” Maintainer of the great achievements of our ancestors. Keepers of the wisdom that has already been attained and embodied. Protect it until the day we can resume our role. Protect and wait for someone else with a fresh drive.

Judaism went to ground. Quit the responsibilities of living a full and independent life. Quit from a postponed role. Quit from the land of Israel. In its diaspora it stayed bound to the latest common denominator that held Jews together: the established tradition as an unquestioned and unchanging way of life. The now physically fragmented Jews decided to freeze themselves in that moment so that one day they could reconnect and complete their unfinished work. Had they continued their work in the diaspora it would have fragmented into all kinds of Judaisms that could not converge in the future.

D: A light unto others

While Judaism was sleeping the world changed: the originally rejected revelations of the Hebrew people started to find acceptance.

A large part of humanity started to adopt the notion of there being one higher authority: one, highest, unknowable (with exceptions here and there) and inviting human beings to play a key role in the making of his world.

A general agreement was formed that idolatry was a mistake.

The bible and its story of revelation, the struggle against idolatry and their historical expressions as told through the story of one nation and its attempt to shoulder its responsibility, became a best seller.

The invitation extended to all people to become active participants in their own making and in the making of the world became widely accepted. From that a new concept was born that did not exist before: humanity, the society in which all human beings are equals, not measured by their tribal affiliation, status, wealth, etc., but only by the extent to which they are participants in the completion of themselves and the world.

The world received the future from the Jews: the revelation that what is does not determine what will be, but that the opposite is true: acceptance of the vision of the world as it is supposed to be changes the present.

It became widely acknowledge that this is a multi-generational effort and that we need to stop every seventh day to observe. Rest. Not do.

The original Jewish leadership role became common.

E: An exemplary society

In the middle of the 18th century, after forty generations of postponing, the Jews discovered that the diaspora is over.

The on-hold Judaism could no longer compete with education and culture. Many Jews felt that science, education, the nation-state open to all religions, socialism or democracy – they were now the leading voices in human development, and the special role of the Jewish people came to an end.

That is when Zionism was born. Its members witnessed the erosion of Jewish life and loved the achievements of education and culture. But their Jewish wisdom alerted them to signs of an ancient illness manifesting in new forms: the human tendency to transform their tools and methods into idols. The false god of nationalism would become Nazism. the false god of Socialism would become Stalinism. The false god of the free market would become alienation and social crises. The false god of technology would become addiction to consumption. The false god of religious texts would become religious fundamentalism. The false god of man himself would become loss of inhibition.

As they joined the family of nations, the founders of Zionism recalled from their teachings that there is a higher organizing principle that exists beyond the things we make or see and that that only by turning to him can we embrace our achievements of science and culture, to give them a proper place and to avoid their idolatry.

An awareness of the sources of Judaism and their stagnation, the gifts and curses of culture, together gave rise to an integrated vision of a national, social, religious and cultural movement without any one part set above the others. This integrated movement would be something that the general culture needed in order to meet the challenges to come.

“You chose us” and “a light unto others” were translated by the Zionists into a vision of an exemplary society that would be created in the land of Israel and would incorporate Jewish foundations with modern cultural achievements.

This exemplary society would begin with the individual. It’s first manifestation would be the early immigrant who took upon himself the work of immigrating and settling in Israel.

Merchants and religious students would become new Hebrew workers sustaining themselves and creating a society free of exploitation.

The exemplary society would resume, as it did in the days of the bible, its role as a leader in social legislation. It will set new standards of mutual responsibility.

The indirect speech of the exiled Jew and the false 10th century European politeness would be replaced by directly spoken Hebrew. Directness would characterize relationships between people and would become a core principle in relations between parents and children. Clothing and rituals would speak of simplicity. Children would be taught humility.

Zion would be a society of exemplary education. People of all ages would be granted an education driven by the faith that man can and needs to change through knowledge that leads to right action.

The foundational framework of this exemplary society will be a new kind of society in which people co-create their lives out of mutual respect and friendship. The community will mege back into the land, a settlement that will define the borders of the nation, a life of work, deep mutual responsibility, aspiring to equality and willing to come to everyone’s aid.

The Zionist national-social-religious movement laid the foundations for a new value system and generated a leadership that was free to redefine the mission. The movement stirred much hope. The people carrying in their hearts a vague and mysterious mission, the priests of an unknowable god, slowly heard the calling. In order to find common cause without being able to agree on the detail they had to overcome geographic distances, cultural and ritualistic differences, mixed languages and tribal biases.

The early immigrants forgot one thing: they did not know who to thank when they formed their state. They attributed their success to themselves: their work, their group, the settlements, the country, the army and the wonderful youth.

6: Loss of purpose

The world is in trouble: the technological developments of recent generations has revived an enthusiastic pursuit of idolatry and given it new forms: worship of technology, shopping, social norms, conformism, word that does not demand of you, a total and enveloping pluralism that has removed all boundaries and inhibitions, and mostly the worship of man himself – all capable, all deserving all containing.

The world advanced too fast and did not leave itself space to observe and discover new roles and boundaries within the new technologies and ways-of-life they make possible.

Two camps have been formed:

In one camp are the worshipers of the “new” who believe that god resides in a new laptop, smartphone, apps, a new medication, a modern lifestyle or the latest things from the shopping mall.

In the other camp are the worshipers of the “old” who believe in a bible and faith that even god himself is not allowed to change. They narrow their existence and relieve themselves of the responsibility to discover the human role within the new manifested potentials. They believe that salvation will come when we confine the new reality within old rituals.

Man is in trouble: the new science failed to protect humanity’s achievements: family, education of kids for purposeful roles, acceptance of the limitations of life. Man is discovering that he is unable to overcome individual despair without identifying the root cause that is the general idolatry. He is unable to overcome the confusion and lack of meaning without accepting a burden of responsibilities. He will not be able to rid himself of his enslavement to consumption without replacing it with a renewed sense of gratitude. He will not be able to overcome the never ending pain without learning to see in trauma an unresolved attempt to become complete.

The country is in crisis: during the sixties of the twentieth century the vision of an exemplary society, that drove the Zionist movement in its first one hundred years, faded. The “exemplary society” was replaced by two narrow visions:

  1. The vision of a “normative” of people who measure themselves by other successful people. Hi-tech like silicon valley. Welfare like Norway. Wine and cheese like France. No more desire for an exemplary society. No more leadership in human development. No more interest in studying Jewish life wisdom. just let us be.
  2. The vision of a “religious state” (that never really existed). A return to fifth century Babylon, a temple with sacrifices, thousands of religious rooms, kosher restrictions. No vision for social healing. No responsibility for a national or international healing. And a totally forbidden religious healing.

Lacking a shared vision to heal nation and world, the Israeli society is tearing itself apart into interest groups. The orthodox Jews care about religious schools more than the state. The settlers care more about the settlements than the state. The liberals care more about individual rights than about the state. The yuppies care more about their career than the state or their children.

Long gone is a shared foundation that demanded of the different groups a measure of restraint and solidarity. Long gone are the values that governed the whole. Values that stated what is a society, what is a family and how to raise children. Values that indicated what is a correct balance between self and family interest, and social and global interest.

The Jews as a people are disintegrating. They have lost their founding principle: the shared mission accepted by all that transforms individual into a whole. no one knows who is a Jew because there is no agreement about the responsibilities that define a Jew. For many years the Jewish diaspora is also unable to embrace shared values. We have lost the principle that connects the diaspora to Israel and Israel to its Jewish roots. The threads that wove us together have come undone. The worshipers of the “new” and the worshipers of the “old” no longer belong to the same nation.

People have lost faith in their leaders. Leaders have lost faith in their people. Groups have lost faith in each other. It has become normal for everyone to think only of themselves. We have lost our interest in contributing. Sharing. Volunteering. Serving. Recruiting. Risk taking. Purpose is absent. A good reason to face and withstand the pervasive challenges.

Jewish wisdom has been orphaned. It secretly holds the connection between yesterday and tomorrow, between individual needs and collective responsibility for a nation and an entire world, between religion and science and between god and man. Jewish wisdom is trapped in silent archives.

7: The Mission

This crisis will not be remedied with local fixes such as bible study, religious studies, respecting the sabbath, Jewish-spirituality workshops, advancement of women in the orthodox society, recruitement of orthodox Jews, removal of settlements, a more equitable distribution of income, a change in method of governance, management, judicial responsibilities or elections. All of these medical interventions will not heal the heart.

A fundamental correction is required:

  1. We must renounce the delusion that someone is holding onto a Judaism that is ready to be used. No one can teach the Israeli role in this day and age. We need to go back to Jewish sources and read them freely, without a teacher that confines us to the survival perspective of the diaspora.
  2. Seek the essence of Judaism. The heart of the Israeli mission. Discern between it and the temptation of false religious gods, self diminishment in anticipation of the coming messiah, postponing Judaism to the future, blocking the creation and dissemination of false knowledge.
  3. Resist the temptation of whittling Judaism down to a culture, literature or spirituality. Listen closely to the desire tha tarises from deep inside. To the cry for meaning. To the secretly held desire to have faith. To rediscover a god and a human role in our sources.
  4. To tease out the tried-and-true methods of decoding responsibility and intention in reality. Return to thinking and talking about purpose and roles. Sins and punishments. Unresolved attempts. New prayers and vast fortunes.
  5. To renew an ancient profession: people who specialize in identifying the subversive workings of self-worship or the worship of things that are supposed to make the mission easier. To resume a special role: leaders in human development.
  6. Climb Mount Sinai. Demand a direct face-to-face with god. Do not come down without clear instructions.
  7. Author missing parts of Jewish teachings. Teachings about the state of Israel. Teachings about being a couple and holding two careers. Teachings about being parents to children who think they are god. Teachings about limitations on the use of television, smartphones & computers. Teachings about not needing to shop when feeling empty … and many others.

Nothing will work if we don’t take apart our lived religion and examine its roots, refind its essence and purpose, its gifts and its curses, and reassemble it as a living religions adapted for this time and for the future.

Only then will we be able to consolidate reason and purpose and a compatible value system. Only then will we find faith, mutual trust, leadership, clarity and authority to decide about the future of the conquered territories, social justice and the correct relationship between Judaism and the state of Israel and the things that are worth figthing for. Only then will we find hope for a future.

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