Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Changing Concepts of the Ultra-Orthodox Body Rabbi Avigdor Miller as a Test Case


Changing Concepts of the Ultra-Orthodox Body: Rabbi Avigdor Miller as a Test Case
Yakir Englander, Religious Studies, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60201, USA. E-mail:yakir1212englander@gmail.com. Profound thanks to my doctoral work mentors, Dr. Avinoam Rosenak and Dr. Orit Kamir, and to Dr. Henry Ralph Carse, who carefully read and responded, and translated this article from the Hebrew. The research was made possible under the generous auspices of a Fulbright-Rabin scholarship
In this article, I examine the entry of values perceived to be secular into Ultra-Orthodox Jewish thought. These values are introduced in an unconscious manner, and thus may be traced only in light of the subsequent changes that occur in Ultra-Orthodox thinking itself. I examine this subject through the work of Rabbi Avigdor Miller on the concept of the body.Rabbi Miller, one of the twentieth century's most important spiritual mentors in the United States, was chosen because of the perceptible change in his thinking in the latter half of his teaching career, when we find external (i.e., secular)
values playing an increasingly central role. This led Rabbi Miller to alternative readings of classical Jewish concepts, and even to a call for significant changes in the manner of living a worthy Jewish life

This article opened with the assertion that Lithuanian Jewish Ultra-Orthodox thought internalized, indirectly, secular values, translating them into the language of the Jewish believer's life of Halakha. The fact that the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is, in the West, a tiny minority surrounded by secular majorities made the inroads of what they consider to be secular ideas into Ultra-Orthodox thought almost inevitable.
Having said this, we note that such value-encounters, far from being fruitless, give rise to a unique cross-pollination. They bring to the surface issues that Ultra-Orthodox thinkers do not always find easy to grapple with, while creating uniquely acceptable translations of hitherto strange values.I have considered in this article how values perceived by Ultra-Orthodox Jews as secular, relating to experiences of the body, were incorporated into the thinking of Rabbi Miller. Rabbi Miller gradually internalizes the secular affirmation of the human body and of life in this world. Further, his description of the Jewish person rejects the very dichotomy between mind and body so basic to his own Ultra-Orthodox context, and bears more resemblance to secular-Western images of the body. For Miller, the worship of God must originate in a human person's natural experience of spontaneous self-awareness within the world, with special attention to sensory (physical) perceptions and to feelings
Only from these beginnings can a person of faith move forward to the knowledge of the divine, and finally to the creation of religious experience.In forging his innovative theology, Rabbi Miller was constrained to come to terms both with subliminal secular influences and with classical ideas from the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish tradition that nourished him and within which he lived out his vocation as teacher. The fertile encounter of the Lithuanian Jewish Musar movement with values from outside its borders led Rabbi Miller to create a radical and personal theological translation of classical Jewish concepts, opening the way for a new form of Lithuanian traditional thought.


  1. Silly conclusion

  2. Torah thought on נשא

    “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites: When a man or woman commits any wrong toward a fellow man, thus breaking faith with the Lord, and that person realizes his guilt ואשמה הנפש ההוא, he [they] shall confess והתודו the wrong את חטאתם אשר עשו that he [they] has [have] done. He hall make restitution in the principal amount והשיב את אשמו בראשו and add one-fifth to it, giving it to him whom he has wronged. If the man has no kinsmanגאל [lit. redeemer] to whom restitution can be made, the amount repaid shall go to the Lord for the priest—in addition to the ram of expiation with which expiation is made on his behalf [Cf. Lev. 5.15 f.]. So, too, any gift תרומה among the sacred donations that the Israelites offer לכל קדשי בני ישראל אשר יקריבו shall be the priest’s [Midrash Rabbah to him, the Israelite] לו יהיה. And each shall retain his sacred donations ואיש את קדשיו לו יהיה: each priest איש אשר יתן לכהן [Midrash Rabbah the Israelite] shall keep what is given to him לו יהיה .” (Numbers 5:5-10).
    במדבר פרק ה פסוק ט
    וְכָל תְּרוּמָה לְכָל קָדְשֵׁי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר יַקְרִיבוּ לַכֹּהֵן לוֹ יִהְיֶה
    במדבר פרק ה פסוק י
    וְאִישׁ אֶת קֳדָשָׁיו לוֹ יִהְיוּ אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִתֵּן לַכֹּהֵן לוֹ יִהְיֶה
    Midrash Rabbah - Numbers VIII:8
    “Another interpretation of the text, וְאִישׁ אֶת קֳדָשָׁיו לוֹ יִהְיוּ אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִתֵּן לַכֹּהֵן לוֹ יִהְיֶה What is written just before? וְכָל תְּרוּמָה לְכָל קָדְשֵׁי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר יַקְרִיבוּ לַכֹּהֵן לוֹ יִהְיֶה The Holy One, blessed be He, meant to imply: Any one who gives heave-offerings and holy things to the priest in a fitting manner will be privileged to marry his daughters into the priesthood, and so his seed will eat holy things. It is regarding this that it says, וְאִישׁ אֶת קֳדָשָׁיו לוֹ יִהְיוּ meaning that his seed will eat holy things as a reward for the merit of his having given of the heave-offerings, tithes, and holy things to the priest in a liberal spirit.”
    The Midrash learns from Numbers 5:9-10 a promise for reward for an Israelite giving heave-offerings, tithes, and holy things to the priest. The language is ambiguous on the meaning of לו יהיה in 9 and 10. Rashi (and Hertz etc) supports that לו יהיה to the Kohen. Midrash Rabbah here supports to the Israelite. Truly, what mitzvoth we do in this world, remains with us for true reward. Massing up of money means nothing. We can’t take money with us to the next world. Yes, we can take mitzvoth we did to the next world.
    Clearly passages 5-8 refer to restitution (reimbursement, payment for loss or damage) for wrongs Jewish man or woman did one to another. I like the Midrash Rabbah interpretation of לו יהיה to a Jew that does a mitzvah. Then passages 5-10 has restitution and doing mitzvoth. Beautiful.

  3. Kalonymus AnonymusJune 4, 2019 at 10:07 PM

    I also noticed that in some areas he is more modern/secular than my MO yeshiva,. In fact, he also was bivalent on Israel - bashing Zionism, but davening for the victory of the secular Israeli army. In worldly matters, he rejects the shtuyot of yeshivas like gateshead and ponovezh.

  4. Kalonymus AnonymusJune 5, 2019 at 12:56 AM

    Not sure what is so radical about his views, as purported in this article.

    Musar - you have to feel dead to gain life in the next world
    Chazon ish - there is no such thing as human life in this world, other than study.
    Chassidus: Original sin , G-d is everywhere, even in human sperm, so watch out
    Avigdor Miller: Mitzvah to make parnossah (good) , follow daas of the above gedolim.

  5. Kalonymus AnonymusJune 6, 2019 at 12:58 AM

    Why the Yeshivah World Breeds Mediocrity- Interview with Rabbi David Bar-Hayim

  6. Mo world breeds Goyim!


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.