Monday, January 19, 2015

EarlLefkowitz. Settling a controvery at MIT. Congress Bi-Weekly. vol. 39. no. 14. 08 Dec 1972.

[unclear] new stained glass window depicting the Judgement of Solomon and displayed at ceremonies [unclear]ng the 30th Anniversary of Associated Synagogues of Bos[unclear] [unclear]luminates the kind of psychogical insight that its innovative [unclear]Din has brought to bear on a thing to Paradise on a most recent deliberation.
The case involved a dispute among students attending the [MIT] who formed a jewish student congregation on the campus. The ensuing controversy, which threatened the very existence of the student congregation, was precipitated one saturday morning, early in the school term, when a student, in keeping with the views of the reconstructionist philosopher Mordechai Kaplan, elected to recite a revised blessing before the reading of the Torah, rather than reading from the authorised text. The revised version eliminated that portion of the blessing which alludes to the choseness of Israel.
One student who frequently reads the Torah at MIT objected strenuously to the reading of the reconstructionist blessing. At this point a dilemma arose as to how to proceed. Could the student minyan, which had conformed to traditional halachic standards by virtue of precedent, call someone to the Torah who would proceed to cite a different version of the Torah blessing? On the other hand, could it deny him a basic right as a jew for an aliyah to the Torah?
Having submitted a previous issue to the Rabbinical Court involving Individual Conscience and Religious Authority (selective conscientious objection to the military draft and other related matters,) the MIT students, together with Rabbi Herman Pollack, MIT B’nai B’rith Hillel director, were prompted to submit the present dispute to the same body.
A special session of the Bet Din, which convened at the Associated Synagogues Building in downtown Boston, crystallised the arena of contention between the disputing parties.
The party contesting the recitation of the reconstructionist blessing based its claim on the alleged disparity between the traditional and the revised blessing. On this ground, they contended, it is forbidden for the blessing to be recited and for the community to call up an individual who will recite it.
They proceeded to legitimise what they conceived to be the classical concept of “Jewish Chosenness” – chosenness implying shared interest and entailing additional responsibilities but not intrinsic betterness; at most, in the context of Judaism, a teaching of betterness to the world, but certainly not an espousal of racial superiority.
As to the issue of freedom of expression, they argued that if one held to the premise that any person can say anything he wants in a congregational service, what was to stop a jew from praying to a foreign deity if this were the dictates of his individual conscience.
Since the MIT student community by precedent had committed itself to a liberal non-orthodox service on friday nights and an orthodox service on saturday mornings, they argued, recitation of a reconstructionist blessing at the saturday morning service constituted an infringement of community rights and a denial of the democratic process.
On the other side, the party defending the recitation of the reconstructionist blessing based its position on what were assumed to be safeguards accorded to sincere individual expressions of conscience within the jewish communal worship setting. It called for inquiry and fuller exposition into the rights of an individual in a community.
While acknowledging the imposition of limitations on individual expression in communal worship, they contended that such a principle could only be applied to “patently blasphemous or heretical teachings.”
In contrast, they averred, the recitation of the reconstructionist blessing is not, in itself, objectionable. The problem is the omission. In terms of what is recited, there is no difference, anticipating the reading of the Torah and asserting that the Torah was given by G-d.
After the three and a half hour session and deliberation, Rabbi Samuel I. Korff, the presiding rabinic administrator, presented the findings of the Rabbinic Court to the students.
Rather than issuing a psak (specific the decree) as had been advocated by the faction opposed to the reconstructionist blessing, the Bet Din elected to couch its disposition in the form of “advice and guidance.”
The Bet Din did not enter into an analysis of the deviational qualities in the specific reconstructionist blessing. Recognising that such an approach could, in all likelihood, result in irrevocably splitting the student congregation to the detriment of all concerned, the Rabinical Court did not rule on the legitimacy of the Chosen People concept, considering it to be axiomatic.
There was no need for the Bet Din to “decide” whether Rabbi Akiba or Mordechai Kaplan was correct. The thinking of the Bet Din is self-evident.
The Court attempted to convey a feeling for the potency of communal prerogative in prayer. In a sense, the Court took its cue for the level upon which to conduct its deliberation from those students who favoured the reconstructionist blessing. In the face of communal rights, the Court declared, how much latitude can we accord the dictates of individual expression in a congregational service?
Does the sincerity, the piety, or the efficacy of an individual’s religious expression have any bearing on whether a community of worshipers can tolerate it, the Court asked?
With this frame of reference, the Bet Din pointed to halachic precedent to demonstrate that restrictions on individual expressions in public worship extend beyond the blasphemous or heretical to any expression of deviance from communal formats. The famous example of Rabbi Akiva was given. In private he took a long time to pray; in public he hastened his prayer out of respect for the community. From this, jewish Law derives that a person may not prolong his prayers at the expense of the community.
The Court also made ref[unclear] Maimonides’ Yad Chazak [unclear] in Hilchot Tefilla, section [unclear] made clear that the repre[unclear] of the community in prayer [unclear] even introduce the authoris[unclear] Kippur confessional into [unclear] rendition of the biweekly [unclear]sional service. There is a [unclear] of individual expression [unclear] constitutes a profound act [unclear]sonal piety that is privately [unclear]able, the Bet Din pointed [unclear].
Although the rights of [unclear]mmunity cannot be infringed [unclear] the individual cannot be [unclear] from the community. On the contrary, the community recognised [unclear] cardinal responsibility to [unclear] to the alienated individual [unclear] desire that he experience [unclear] of eternal oneness with the [unclear]community. For, in the last analysis when the Knesset Israel [unclear] all jews including the dis[unclear] does the potential for sanct[unclear] of a people exist. According to kohanim (preistly representative of the people) were urged not [unclear] bless the people, but to emb[unclear] elements of the community [unclear] love, regardless of their [unclear] beliefs and practices, because basic measure of unity in the community was of paramount importance. This has application [unclear] case at hand, the Court suggested.
While the cantor dare not [unclear] from the structured text as he symbolises united Israel standing [unclear] God, the Court noted that [unclear]vate amida (silent devotion) [unclear] communal worship service [unclear] an opportunity for expressing spontaneous as well as the [unclear]tured aspects of prayer. Con[unclear] with one’s responsibility to [unclear] of his prayer an act of ind[unclear] encounter with God, here [unclear] permissible – and even desr[unclear] that the individual add person[unclear] quests that express his par[unclear] mood, within the beseeching [unclear]graphs of the private amida[unclear] prayerbook, reflecting the [unclear]structure, was not meant to ex[unclear] prayer but to inspire it, the [unclear] explained.
[unclear] the Rabbinical Court found [unclear] necessary to rule on the ad[unclear]bility of reciting the reconstructionist blessing per se. Instead, [unclear] apply noting that an individual [unclear]bidden to introduce sincere, [unclear]us, or even profoundly piestic [unclear]al expressions into the public [unclear]on of the communal service, [unclear]dents were supplied with food [unclear]ought on the vigilance Judaism [unclear] to the protection of jewish [unclear]unal rights in prayer.
[unclear] was a decision that was not [unclear] and yet it was made. The [unclear] involved in the dispute [unclear] to the conclusion that if an [unclear]dual student were to attempt constitute his own personal expression for the traditional blessing [unclear]ould not receive an aliyah.
These students who had favoured [unclear]troduction of the reconstruc[unclear] blessing came to an ac[unclear] of this position, viewed [unclear] this perspective.
[unclear]preciating the Court’s aversion [unclear]uing a formal psak which [unclear] have thrust a decision on [unclear] from the outside and provoked [unclear]verse reaction, they were also [unclear]ted in their acceptance by the [unclear]nition that those who opposed [unclear]citation constituted an active [unclear]nt of the student community [unclear] would have been offended [unclear] to withdraw all involve[unclear] the integrity of the orthodox [unclear] would not be preserved.
[unclear] saturday morning student [unclear]gation at MIT continues, but [unclear] who brought this case before [unclear] Din are not convinced that [unclear]ues have been resolved. The [unclear]ons raised by the inquiry be[unclear] Rabbinical Court of Massachusetts go beyond the narrow con[unclear] [unclear]of whether an individual can [unclear] an aliyah, in their view.
[unclear]ay relate the issue to the gen[unclear] context of Hillel programming [unclear]onder whether it is just to explicate the concept of “community rights” in accordance within halachic religious standards, given the present composition of jewish students on the MIT campus.
While acknowledging the strength of precedent that links the saturday morning minyan with halachic standards, their acceptance of the status quo is qualified by the conviction that provisions be taken to allow for a change in the character of the saturday morning “community” if students on campus desire that change.
Behind the ambivalence is the real question of what confers legitimacy and direction upon the MIT jewish student community – realigious authority, majority will, or a judicious proportion of each?
Most important has been the recognition on the part of the jewish students at MIT that their community could not afford to split up into two camps over this issue. The recognition was prompted by the mindful, conciliatory manner to which the Rabbinical Court converted the dispute.
The Bet Din avoided calamity by deliberately refusing to take an ideological position, but it did not escape from its responsibility to respond.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this episode is what it reveals about the plateau of social responsibility assumed by the Court. One might have expected such a “religious” body to be concerned exclusively with applying relevant halachic categories to the particular issue, letting the chips fall where they may. Instead, the Bet Din appears to extend its concern beyond an explication of principle to the more paramount need for reconciliation between the disputants.
“The injunction ‘Justice, Injustice, shalt thou pursue’ means a mandate to pursue Justice to the nth degree,” explained Rabbi Korff. “It means going beyond a decree that proclaims who is Right and who is Wrong. It requires us to lift both parties above the pettiness of their positions to a common understanding. The Rabbinic arbiter understands that Peace is a natural consequence of the restoration of Justice. Ultimately, both sides must be served by Justice,” Rabbi Korff added.
In shifting the perspective away from narrow, clashing ideological premises toward a common appreciation of communal prerogatives in prayer, the Bet Din succeeded in neutralising the bitterness which the dispute at hand had produced, engendering a display of unity from both factions at a moment when it was urgently required.
There were no winners or losers. The blessing could not be uttered not because it deviated from orthodox tradition but because, given communal prerogatives, any act of nonconformity, even the most noble, the most sincere, and the most efficacious, could not be tolerated. Here was common social ground all but the anarchist could subscribe to. In the end, the Court induced each of the contending factions to transcend ideological position out of a desire to keep the MIT klal intact.

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