Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thoughts and Projects

My wife and I have been going through Rav Kook zt"l's Hazon HaTzimchonut VehaShalom (Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace). The objective is to write a paper for the completion of her yoga teachers' course. Janet is currently vegetarian, although not ideologically so, but rather for reasons of health and preference. She was veggie for a number of years but in order to avoid inconveniencing hosts and guests as well as raising boys who wanted "normal food", she went back to eating meat for a number of years in between. The last couple of years she is still serving meat on Shabbat and Chag but not eating it herself. Our daughter Miriam, who is currently travelling in India, does the same. They both feel too heavy and uncomfortable after eating meat.
Rav Kook discusses the reason the Torah permitted the eating of meat after the Flood. There was a necessity of separating between the animals and humans in order to treat human life as more significant and more worthy of respect. People who treat animals and humans equally consider human life as equally expendable in times of difficulty. People who are coarse in their character traits and commit serious transgressions often try to compensate by some good deed to make themselves feel better, such a giving charity or helping their parents. If the Torah had been filled with obligations toward the animal world as it toward the human sphere, people would fulfill those impulses "cheaply" by good deeds toward animals. Animals do not compete with us and therefore don't get under our skin the way people do. In such a hypothetical situation the gangster would discharge all his desire to do good on animals and would never develop the truly human side of his personality. Only when the human personality will be fully developed in the time of the Redemption will it be possible to totally give up eating meat.

Another book I am reading, somewhat under pressure and not as successfully, because I have promised to return it to my brother-in-law on Sukkot, is called Hasidic Psychology: Making Space for Others, by Mordechai Rotenberg. The author is a descendent of hasidim but of a more "modern" bent, having been raised modern orthodox and gone into the academic world. He takes the kabbalistic concept of tzimtzum, the "contraction" of the Divine Presence in order to make room for creation, and turns it into a prescriptive formula for human relations. He presents the hasidic model of psychology as an alternative to the competitive Prussian-Protestant model of traditional psychology which, although it was formulated almost entirely by Jews such as Freud and Adler, was the product of the Germanic psyche.

My real problem, and this is a long-term one, is the relationship between Torah and media theory. I have yet to find a serious rabbi or Torah scholar who is asking these questions. The questions are, how do media work on the human psyche, what is the difference beween oral-aural, textual and electronic media; and finally, how do we go from understanding how they work to anticipating and affecting them so they will not hit us on the head as they did during the Gaza Expulsion. I read some McLuhan in the '60s and Neil Postman in the '90s but have not seen these questions addressed in the Torah world.
Let me give you an example. Perspective in art did not come into being until the Renaissance. Pictures drawn or painted before then are flat with no dimension of depth. Depth comes from binocular vision, the existence of two points of view. The innovation of such a concept requires thinking "out of the box". A certain amount of time was required to incubate the invention of movable type and free people from the manuscript perspective and add a dimension. The explosive Jewish contribution to scientific and social innovation was derivative from a previous bedrock of Torah as the basis of the thinking of all serious thinking by Jews. Torah consists of an oral and a written or printed culture coexisting simultaneously as separate layers at the same time. When you access them together you get "depth". This is an insight by me with as yet no proof. Anyone who wants to help me think about these ideas is welcome.


Netivotgirl said...

WOW! What a thought provoking post! I would hope that you are involved in chinuch. We need teachers and rebbes who teach our children to THINK and not study by rote.

Unlike your wife, for health reason I live on Peter D'adamo's "Eat Right For Your Type" blood type diet. Being a type O, meat is extremely healthy for me to eat while dairy products (which I adore) are detrimental. Many people I know with an array of ailments have been helped by this diet.

Sadly, being an Am Ha'aretz in Machshevet Yisrael (B'T from way back when,) I cannot suggest any answers. I can only tell you how much I enjoyed reading your post.
Bravo and chatima tova! And, may your wife get an excellent grade on her paper.

Batya said...

Goyish, fantastic post. I remember having miso when could it have been breaking the Yom Kippur fast in your place when we were all still in Bayit V'gan. I guess it was during the vegetarian phase.

I was vegetarian for 25 years and then felt "hungry." Since, like Esther, I'm "o" my present way of eating is modified low carb, far from vegetarian.

Anonymous said...

Great post.

I will eat a double burger in your honor for dinner.

Maybe for lunch.

Now I went and made myself hungry.

David Ben-Ariel said...

I used to be a vegetarian due to Hinduism, but when the God of Israel revealed to me Hinduism was false, I began to eat meat again (meat that is permitted in the Torah).

Interesting thoughts on why it's permissible to eat meat after the Flood. Worthy of more consideration.

I'll post this blog post of yours at my Jew, Jews, Jewish blog.