Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Window into Prayer

My calendar schedule has suddenly become robust. There's a meeting tomorrow, I'm due in court soon, and someone wants to do lunch with me to discuss a possible gig. In another week-and-a-half, there seems to be an excursion to our Nation's Capital in my future -- I am now attempting to work in so that I can get some personal in along with the business. Accordingly, the next posting after this may be tomorrow, or in a month, or something in between.

We are now also in the first nine days of the month of Av, which have certain restrictions which my household observes. This includes no swimming (I've been doing bicycling and running for my workouts) and we don't eat meat (except for Shabbat), so my wife is now having fun with the various vegetarian and vegan recipes. Last night she made some Ma-Po Tofu, which was delicious. Not that I plan to become strictly vegetarian any time soon, but a vegetarian or vegan diet need not be dull, drab or boring.

As mentioned or alluded to in various prior postings, the insular religious Jewish community is now faced with several crises and issues, all of which somehow, directly or indirectly, tie in to the cultural effects of modern technology and communication.

Information can now be conveyed more quickly and efficiently. This has implications for politics, business and social relationships. America's economic greatness is due, in no small part, to the healthy independent press dating back to Colonial times. And I also hasten to note that the fall of the former Soviet Union had much to do with the Politburo's loss of its ability to completely control the flow of information.

Modern technology has made information far more difficult to control than in yesteryear. This has implications for the insularity which many of these social groups within the religious Jewish community have long strived to maintain. And it presents some significant cultural issues in the way the leadership of these insular groups conduct themselves. They nominally ban the use of the Internet (but make so many exceptions that the "ban" is meaningless).

The Agudath Israel of America, the leading insular community Rabbis, their social welfare organizations, their Yeshivas -- all are interconnected (though not without their differences and factions). One social welfare organization for the insular religious Jewish community in Israel is Kupat Ha'Ir, which has an American (and Canadian, for that matter) support group. They aid widows, orphans, and others in impecunious situations. I myself have occasion, from time to time, to modestly contribute to Kupat Ha'Ir.

The typical Kupat Ha'Ir solicitation brochure (from the American Friends of Kupat Ha'Ir) is usually received in multiplicate in our household, what with the various mailing lists upon which my my wife and I have, through not affirmative wishes of our own, had our names inscribed, and also as blow-ins to the various Jewish newspapers to which we subscribe. They all have the same themes: (A) G-d helps those who contribute to Kupat Ha'Ir; and (B) the great sages and Rabbis and students of Torah will beseech G-d in their prayers to confer blessings upon those who contribute to Kupat Ha'Ir (including, frequently, healing for the sick and infirm).

[For the record, I myself pray daily for the healing and recovery of various sick individuals, as does my wife, who is a physician. Taking it a step further, I have had occasion to see some of those individuals recover, and yes, I do believe that my prayers play a role in that recovery. But everyone, including and especially the physicians, must do their part; prayer, while necessary, is no substitute for skillful medical practice.].

Consistent with usual patterns and practices, the latest Kupat Ha'Ir solicitation promises contributors that, in organized shifts, various Rabbis and Torah scholars will recite the Book of Psalms ("T'hillim" in Hebrew) at the Western Wall (the "Kotel") in Jerusalem for 40 days and nights, for a total of 516 cycles culminating with the end of Yom Kippur, and that those who contribute will have their names specifically mentioned 516 times (never mind the significance of the number 516).

I certainly endorse the project, and will likely throw a few of my own dollars at it.

Against that verbose background, I note that the leatest solicitation piece from Kupat Ha'Ir contains a few paragraphs under the subheading "Complete Transparency," which tells the prospective contributor of all the meticulous preparations and precautions instituted by Kupat Ha'Ir in the project to ensure that everyone's name is included, spelled correctly, and spoken by someone who is concentrating wholeheartedly on his prayers. The solicitation brochure says, "Everything is transparent; there are no secrets and no loopholes."

For centuries, the Rabbis have operated covertly, and kept their counsel on even the most minute matters. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but trying to play both sides against the middle can backfire big time (as it seems to have with the Agudath Israel and its political posturing in the New York City election contests). Transparency is not part of the culture of these insular religious communities and their leaders. But now, they speak of "transparency" (and "Complete Transparency" at that).

[It is also noted that the word "transparency" is frequently bandied about in terms of the regulation of securities, tax-exempt organizations, and government.].

Praying at the Kotel is a very moving experience, and, as emotionally-laded as my first Kotel experience thirty-something years ago was, my awe, in many respects, increases each time I return. You just know that G-d is watching you when you go to the Kotel.

But nowadays, it is not just G-d who watches you. The Aish HaTorah Yeshiva, located next to the Kotel plaza, has a camera trained on the Kotel and now, effectively, the whole world can see you there!

Transparency at the Kotel is already a fait accompli. The whole world can see you there!

And so, the Kupat Ha'Ir has implicitly conceded that it not only fears G-d, but also fears the scrutiny of mortal human beings! Whether and when they begin to conduct their affairs with true transparency remains to be seen.

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