R. Weinberg on Marxism and Religious Leadership
MODERN RABBINIC THOUGHT
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The history of Jewish martyrdom indicates that we have always adopted a perspective diametrically opposed to materialism. Jews throughout history could have moved easily towards a more promising economic situation by accepting the religion of the host country. They refused even when it meant persecution, imprisonment or death because spiritual ideas moved them more powerfully than economic incentives. All of Jewish history reflects the triumph of the spirit over crass materialism.
Modern science champions conquering nature, but it actually creates servitude to nature. Overemphasizing science prevents humanity from seeing beyond the natural order to the world of the spirit. The impressive technological means that enable a person to truly live and accomplish the most important things become life itself. Contemporary man misidentifies means as the goal.
Young idealistic Jews felt the attraction of socialism, a movement urging society towards greater justice and equality. But as Hermann Cohen pointed out, Marxist thought incorporates a self-contradictory mixture. On the one hand, Marxism denies the authenticity of ethical impulses, viewing them as expressions of economic forces. Those promoting religion and ethics are simply attempting to advance their class interests. On the other hand, Marxism portrays itself as a beacon of justice. The same movement attempts to unite ethical pathos with a denial of ethics.
R. Weinberg admires Marxs prodigious intellect and attributes it to his Jewish genes, but he blames Marxist ideology on the influence of German culture. Someone rooted in Jewish ideas could not adopt the materialistic outlook. Unfortunately, Marx grew up in an assimilated home and never studied genuine Judaism. Given a different upbringing, someone with such a mind could have made a lasting contribution to Torah.
The version of this essay printed in Lifrakim does not include
some more negative passages about Marx that did appear in one printed version of
the essay. Prof.
What has the grand socialist experiment produced?
The essays conclusion turns our attention back to the Jewish State.
The essay cited critiques Marxism from an ethical and spiritual
perspective. Another essay points out historical errors in Marxist thought. It is simply untrue that we can trace all
human motivations back to the economic clash of different segments of
society. In fact, human choices
incorporate both noble motivations and other, non-economic, ignoble
Bereishit Rabbah 22:7 suggests that the brothers fought over the
location of the
R. Weinberg on Religious Leadership
A sensitive reading of this gemara uncovers traits crucial for leadership. Kings can justify getting up late due to their immense responsibilities. Indeed, many kings emphasize the wide-ranging rights and privileges that come with the job. Consideration of the scope of their job may even justify abrogating certain rights. David did not think in those terms, choosing instead to focus on responsibilities more than rights. Someone witnessing David rising early and praying before God would think he was a commoner rather than a king.
Those dealing with global issues also frequently forget the plight of particular individuals. A king thinking about the economy, national security and the like might be forgiven for not noticing the struggles of a particular farmer or carpenter. David escaped this moral danger. He cared for particular individuals who came to him with questions impacting on their family relationships.
Arrogance represents another common pitfall of leadership; many monarchs throughout history suffered from the sin of hubris. R. Weinberg relates the story of Nero, who demanded to hear praises for his singing voice even though his singing was atrocious. David avoided this pitfall as well. Subjecting his halakhic rulings to the scrutiny of Mifiboshet reveals impressive humility rather than excessive pride.
The theme of compassion and care for individuals features prominently in
A leader must have vision and ideals that inform his decisions beyond
canvassing the views of public opinion and popular surveys. For R. Weinberg, R. Yochanan ben Zakkai
represents such leadership. During
the Roman siege of
R. Weinberg uses this approach in a brilliant reading of R. Yochanans deathbed scene (Berakhot 28b). The Talmudic sage instructs his students to remove vessels from the house so that they not become ritually impure and to prepare for King Chizkiyahu. He also offers them a surprising blessing - that they should fear God as they fear other human beings. What explains these specific parting messages to devoted disciples?
Even though R. Yochanan ben Zakkai made a calculated decision to
relinquish the struggle for the
R. Yochanans blessing conveys what his life was all about. Unlike those politicians who find out which direction the crowd is headed and run to the front of the pack, R. Yochanan had his own convictions and opinions. During a pivotal time in Jewish history, he took an unpopular stand and helped preserve Judaism. Wanting his students to emulate this quality, he blessed them that they should fear God as they fear humanity; they should courageously think about idealism and not take the safer route of easy popularity.
The need for leaders to exhibit dedication to an ideal animates R. Weinbergs interpretation of the sin of the spies. Like most commentators, R. Weinberg wonders what the spies transgression was; after all, they simply carried out their mission to report about the land. He explains that they lacked the enthusiasm for an ideal that enables overcoming difficult obstacles. Instead, they acted more like office bureaucrats, capable of filling out the correct forms and following a well-trodden path but not of overcoming challenges.
If the spies were not
capable of anything more, this limitation would not constitute religious
failure. But they had the potential for something greater; they were held back
by concerns for personal gain.
Based on a passage in the Zohar,
The essay on the meraglim advocates that spiritual leaders adopt a more ascetic position that eschews personal pleasure. The fact that priests do not own their own real-estate conveys the need for leaders to rise above their own desires. A person who wants to influence others needs to expend all his energy, time, honor and money. To me, some of the formulations in this section seem too strong. A leader ignoring personal needs engenders certain dangers, including the possibility of a selflessness truly indicating an identity excessively dependent upon ones rabbinic role.
One essay explicitly outlines four aspects of the rabbinic position: teaching Torah, rendering halakhic decisions, delivering sermons, and coordinating chesed. R. Weinberg mentions how some Eastern European Jews mock this last role, claiming that such rabbis are simply imitating their Christian counterparts. In fact, argues R. Weinberg, this role reflects a crucial aspect of Jewish leadership.
In this context, he
offers a profound reading of the story of the potential convert who asked that
Hillel teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one foot. Hillel instructed him, What is hateful
to you, do not do to your fellow man (Shabbat 31a). Many wonder how this principle
adequately encapsulates the entirety of Torah.