Thursday, April 19, 2007

New Orleans and the Mind of God

There's a new tradition out. Here is the table of contents:

  • Editor's Note: "He Loved People" by R. Shalom Carmy

  • "Plunging into Mighty Waters and Emerging with a Broken Shard": New Orleans and the Mind of God by R. Emanuel Feldman

  • A Rabbinic Exchange on the Gaza Disengagement by R. Avraham Shapira and R. Aharon Lichtenstein

  • Sex Selection and Halakhic Ethics: A Contemporary Discussion by Dr. Joel B. Wolowelsky and Dr. Richard V. Grazi; R. Kenneth Brander; R. Barry Freundel; Dr. Michelle Friedman; R. Judah Goldberg; R. Ben Greenberger; Dr. Feige Kaplan, Dr. Edward Reichman; Dr. Deena R. Zimmerman

  • From the Pages of Tradition: R. Raphael of Bershad's Commitment to Truth by R. Shnayer Z. Leiman

  • Survey of Recent Halakhic Preiodical Literature: Cadavers on Display by R. J. David Bleich

  • Communications
    • Medical Malpractice and Jewish Law by Dr. Maier Becker and R. J. David Bleich

    • Women's Aliyyot in Contemporary Synagogues by R. Yehuda Herzl Henkin, R. Mendel Shapiro, R. Yosef Kanefsky, Dr. Ben Tzion Katz, and R. Gidon Rothstein

    • Uncommon Aiyyot by Grand Rabbi [no kidding!] Y. A. Korff, R. Elie Weissman, Dr. Joel B. Wolowelsky

    • Kol Dodi Dofek by R. Aton M. Holzer and R. Dov Schwartz

In R. Emanuel Feldman's article, he somewhat sarcastically and, in my opinion, not altogether convincingly, argues against the common occurrence of rabbis attributing specific tragedies to specific sins:
[T]he prophets of old were not as all-knowing as some of us claim to be.

Abraham, for example, the beloved one of God from whom He withholds nothing (Gen. 18:17), does not understand how it could be that the God of Justice would even contemplate destroying the righteous with the wicked. "Will the Judge of the entire earth not do justice?" (18:20 ff.). Were Abraham alive today, he would not have to negotiate the fate of Sodom with God Himself. Our confident, all-knowing Jews would readily explain God's ways to him...

Were Moses alive today, he would not have to go to the trouble of descending into the bedrock of the universe, nor would there be any need for God to give Moses a fearsome lesson in theodicy. Moses would need only to consult the pronouncements of some of our omniscient contemporary rabbis, and he would immediately discover the answer to his question...

To be sure, whenever disaster has struck Jewish communities, asnd whenever attachment to Jewishness was severely tested by tragic events, it became the task of rabbinic leaders to strengthen faith and to lift spirits. One of the ways this was done was to suggest possible causes and reasons for communal misfortunes. These invariably took the form of calls for repentance, for righting communal wrongs, for correcting personal misdeeds, and for moving closer to God. These were not attempts to enter the mind of God; rather, they were classic evocations of concepts of reward, punishment, and repentance. Beyond the consummate religious truths inherent in their message, they helped uplift downtrodden communities and to rekindle faith. Such approaches resonated with the people and provided them with a persuasive source of comfort and consolation, offering reason where before there had been only chaos, a sense of order where before there had been only confusion, a connection with God an Torah where before such connectedness had been dangerously frayed.

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