...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Friday, March 09, 2007

Thesising

Daniel's bar mitzvah was performed by Chabad--in fact, by the same Chabad family in Portland that is now politely but frustratingly ducking my thesis advisor's attempts to put me in contact with them. "I find it strange," Daniel said last night, "that they could be so open to athiest Jews who don't care at all about their Judaism, yet so closed off to someone like you, who's not Jewish but is legitimately interested in learning about their religion and their culture." "Yeah, I know, but it makes sense within their theology," I replied. "It's because Chabad believes the soul of a non-Jew is qualitatively different than the soul of a Jew. You have a Jewish n'shama, and I don't, and I can't overcome that with them no matter how interested I am in learning about Chabad."

My thesis advisor Sylvia and I were talking about the issue this morning during our weekly meeting. "They don't want to convert you to Chabad, so they're not as interested in talking with you," she explained. "But since they still want him to lead an observant life, they'll do all they can to reach out to him and his family."

If nothing else, the difficulty of getting in contact with Lubavitchers is interesting data about their orientation towards the world and towards non-Jews. The Jewish Renewal movement is explicitly inner-worldly, to use Max Weber's language: they situation themselves within the world, encourage social and political activism (recently a union organizing came and spoke after Shabbat services, for instance: a member of the congregation reminded everyone that supporting workers was an important part of tikkun olam), and are open to other religions and interfaith activism. Compared with Jewish Renewal, Chabad-Lubavitch seems very world-rejecting, the category that Weber presents in opposition to inner-worldly. But, naturally, it's more complicated than that: Chabad might be world-rejecting compared with Jewish Renewal, but understood against other Hasidic dynasties (Sylvia suggested that I not use the word "sect," since it's kind of polemical), Chabad is by far the most inner-worldly, willing to engage with and reach out to non-observant and non-Haredi Jews. According to some other truly world-rejecting Hasidic dynasties, like the Satmarer Hasids, Chabad is so inner-worldly as to appear tainted by the world (and their understanding of the Rebbe does not help Satmar/Chabad relations).