Friday, October 28, 2011

Ani Maamin - Statement of first Principles

At my older daughter's Bat Mitzvah a couple of years ago, I gave a speech outlining my values.  It is a good introduction to the blog.

We hope that our deepest values are expressed in the way we live and the way we raise you.  However, sometimes we may give off confused signals – we are only human after all.  Are the messages we are sending you every day the ones we mean to send? Are our values reflected by our actions?  I hope so, but I wanted to talk to you today about our basic values, in a very explicit way - so that there is no confusion about what we mean.    
The most basic idea that Mommy and I try to live by, and to teach you to live by, is the respect for the inherent value of every human being.  When we recognize that every person around us is created בצלם אלהים – in the image of God -  then we will treat them accordingly.  All sins against others come down to a failure to see the other as a person like ourselves, a subject in his or her own right, whom we must not harm, any more than we would want to be harmed.
Mommy has often summed up her teaching philosophy as simply respect for her students.    In my work, I try very hard to see the value of everyone I work with, on my staff, my colleagues, my management and my customers.   Most importantly, respect for you and your siblings as people is the basis of our parenting philosophy, although you might not always see it.  While this value is basic, it is a lifelong struggle to maintain it.  The temptation to see other people as objects is very great.  It is the struggle that defines our lives – we may not win it, but we must never give up.
However, we are not only human beings, we are Jews.  Being a Jew means to be part of a community that lives in covenant – in ברית – with God.    There are 2 important parts of that statement: First, we are part of a community, not on our own.  Second, we have a relationship that binds us together and obligates us to each other, and to God.  The content of that covenant is multi-faceted and multi-layered – but the fact of the ברית is what makes us Jews.
We are not simply Jews, though, we are Zionist Modern Orthodox Jews, and each of those modifiers is important to us. 
We are Orthodox because we are part of the community of Jews who are שומרי תורה ומצוות.  We believe that we are obligated and enriched in the observance of Halacha, and that Talmud Torah is central to the way we engage in our relationship with God. 
We are Modern Orthodox, because we don’t believe that our acceptance of Orthodoxy implies in any way that we need to reject the world around us.    We can learn from everyone, and we are confident enough in our identity that we can even internalize values from the outside world.  We believe that Halachic innovation has always been and continues to be the mechanism through which Torah remains a living covenant.
The first part means that we can look at modern ideas like feminism and say, “that makes sense, that works for us” and not feel we are betraying our Jewishness.  On the contrary, we can see that feminism is ultimately the recognition that women are included in the first value I talked about – that every human has inherent value.  The second part means that we can try to find ways to correct the discrimination against women within the context of Halacha, without undermining our commitment to Halacha.
Finally, we are Zionists – could you guess from where we live?  To me, being a Zionist is more than just the belief that Jews need their own country as a matter of our survival, although there is that too.  Zionism means that the only way that we as Jews can fully realize our covenantal destiny is to be a sovereign nation in our own land.  It was easy to be the “good guys” when we were persecuted in exile.  The test of our commitment to God and to God’s will is when we are in charge, when we are responsible for how we treat the poor, the oppressed and the stranger in our midst.   It is a privelege and an awesome responsibility to live in a generation where we can be part of this challenge.
I will end with the value of הכרת הטוב.  It is usually translated as “thankfulness”, but I want to emphasize the literal meaning – “recognition of the good.”   It is easy to read the newspaper every day and see all the problems in the world, and especially this country, have to face.  הכרת הטוב does not mean to ignore those problems, but to always recognize the tremendous blessing that it is to live in this time and place.  It means to recognize the effort and sacrifice made by the people who built and continue to build this country, and to thank God for the miracles שבכל יום עמנו.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Kicking off the blog

Let me start by introducing myself.  I was born in Canada, live in Israel, and was educated in the United States.  I am married with 3 children, thank God.  My academic training is in the hard sciences, and I have worked for the past 15 years on the border between software and electrical engineering, with a focus on analog and RF design methodology.  I recently completed an MBA. I am now embarking (with the support of my amazing wife) on a new chapter in my life - I have left my job, and I start (tomorrow!) to study towards a Rabbinical degree.  I consider myself Orthodox, but I am sufficiently progressive, that not everyone would agree.

Now that I have established that I like being a student, a few words about why I am starting a blog.  I am very interested in the interplay between ideas in different worlds.  I enjoy finding connections between religion, science, engineering, economics, politics and any other field I come across.  I expect the blog to be about ideas that I feel a need to discuss, opinions on politics and economics (a subject I am particularly interested in), and maybe some religion.  I plan to blog twice a week (בלי נדר - although I am purposely putting that commitment out there so I can be held to it.)

The blog will probably at times reference subjects (especially Jewish - see the Hebrew above) that might require an explanation for the uninitiated, but I will try to keep it accessible for a general audience.  If something seems unclear, let me know and I will try to explain.

A few words about the title of the blog.  "Kol HaAdam" is a play on the Hebrew word "Kol" which can be קול meaning "voice" or כל meaning "whole of" or "all".  The blog title therefore means either "Voice of Man" or "Whole of Man".  The latter is a reference to Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) penultimate verse:

יג  סוֹף דָּבָר, הַכֹּל נִשְׁמָע:  אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים יְרָא וְאֶת-מִצְו‍ֹתָיו שְׁמוֹר, כִּי-זֶה כָּל-הָאָדָם.13 The end of the matter, all having been heard: fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole man.

The idea is that the humility of the second meaning should be keep the arrogance of the first meaning (and the very idea that anyone wants to read my musings) in check.*

I don't expect anyone to actually read this first blog post, but I figure if someone comes across the later ones, they might go back and reference this one later to see what I am about.  I'll make sure to make the later ones more interesting.

*Note that I am a big proponent of gender neutral language, but I am not sure how to do that here.  Suggestions are welcome.