Sunday, September 06, 2009

Sacred and Profane

There is a great story in Yael Unterman's biography of Nehama Leibowitz, but it requires some background information. Rav Avraham Kook famously believed that everything had good to it and holiness in it, regardless of how evil it appears to us. He even found the positive in idolatry.

In contrast, Prof. Yishayahu Leibowitz (Nehama's brother) took an extremely rationalist position on holiness. He believed that nothing is intrinsically holy and things become holy based on how they are used, not on what they are (similar to Prof. Menachem Kellner, in this post: link).

With that in mind, this story about Prof. Avi Ravitzky -- who I have on good authority grew up attending the same synagogue as the much-older Prof. Leibowitz -- is from p. 548 of Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar:

As an illustration, Professor Aviezer Ravitzky tells of the time he remarked to Yeshayahu, "I wonder how R. Kook made havdalah, how he could say that sentence, 'He who makes a distinction betwee the holy and the mundane."" Yeshayahu smiled, but prematurely, for Ravitzky then continued, "In your case, of course, it is difficult to understand how you can make Kiddush and say, 'He who makes Israel and the seasons holy'!"

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