Posts tagged " culture "

Learning from all Cultures

December 20th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 15 comments

As a Bible believer, is it best for us to follow only Biblical guidelines rather than learning the positive values from other cultures, such as Japanese or Chinese cultural values? I thought this would enrich our lives as well as our Biblical learning, but may not be what the Bible guidelines suggest us to do.

Thank you as always, Rabbi Lapin.

Dear Filemon,

You do ask interesting questions. This question is particularly apt because we are answering your question today, which is the eighth and final day of Chanukah. Despite popular attempts to make the historical battle of Chanukah sound politically correct by portraying it just as a long-ago fight for religious freedom, the holiday actually represents, for all time, the internal battle between those faithful to their faith and those who want to resculpt their faith to fit into the popular culture.

The dominant culture of that time was (Syrian-Greek) Hellenism and many Jews became Hellenists.  As a matter of fact, the ancient historian Josephus records how the most popular cosmetic surgery back then, twenty-one hundred years ago, was Hellenized Jews undergoing foreskin restoration procedures. 

However, the Syrian-Greeks did not, like other cultures, want to exterminate Jews.  They didn’t even demand an abandonment of Judaism. They demanded that Judaism become subservient. If a conflict existed between their values and Judaism, Torah, the constitution of Judaism, took second place. (I’m sure you see the parallels to today.)  For instance, as we hinted at earlier, Hellenists saw the body as perfect and the gymnasium as a temple, thus they forbade circumcision.  Loyal and faithful Hebrews continued to maintain that ritual.  The Maccabees , those who fought the battle, insisted that in every way, Torah values are always paramount. 

However, we don’t reject every idea of Hellenism outright. In Genesis 9:27, God blesses the father of the Greek nation with a gift for beauty. However, and this is vital, He praises it when it “dwells in the tents of Shem.”  In other words, ancient Jewish wisdom recognizes that there are legitimate values to be found in the nations, meaning nations other than those who follow the Torah. The primary condition for accessing that wisdom is that it must always be viewed through the prism of Torah; the Torah mustn’t be judged through its prism.

Today, for instance, in several cultures gender is viewed as fluid and subject to an individual’s choice.  Measured against Scripture’s, “Male and female He created them,” we have to reject the popular view as false.  It’s as if we have a foolproof nonsense detector which we can use to measure the value and authenticity of all ideas.

Not only is there no need to reject learning from many cultures; it would be foolish to do so. However, to explore the values of other cultures one has to feel secure in judging all aspects of those cultures against the Truth and rejecting any ideas that conflict with God’s vision, no matter how tempting, rational or popular they may sound.

Enjoy your studies,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Self-made Men?

November 2nd, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 31 comments

The November 14th issue of Forbes magazine includes the 35th edition of the annual feature, “The 400 Richest People in America.” I don’t know if the scorecard I noticed this year is new or just one that I never paid attention to previously, but as part of each billionaire’s biography there is a “self-made” rating.

Each individual is given a score on a scale of 1-10 as to whether his or her wealth was inherited or self-made. Although I looked, I couldn’t find a reference guide anywhere that defined what earned one a score of 4, let’s say, versus 5, leaving me to guess for myself. The top four entries, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg are all rated as 8s, while 10s are doled out sparingly. Not surprisingly, some descendants of great entrepreneurs rank as 1s and 2s.

These rankings irked me. While I abhor the notion of “white privilege,” “male privilege” or any other kind of privilege terminology employed as a form of extolling and perpetuating victimhood, these rankings seemed to ignore reality.

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Too Sophisticated for Scandal

May 10th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 44 comments

When I was a teenager, I knew my friend Toby’s grandparents as gracious, attractive and generous pillars of the community. When Toby shared their story with me we both thought it highly romantic. It seems that Mrs. D. was engaged to a friend of Mr. D. At the engagement party, Mr. D. came to celebrate with his friend and meet the fiancée. Shortly thereafter my friend’s future grandmother called off her betrothal. In only a few weeks, she announced a new one—to Mr. D.

When one of their children repeated the story on the occasion of Mr. and Mrs. D.’s 50th anniversary, it was indeed a charming tale that brought smiles to their children and grandchildren’s faces. Only years later did I stop to think how upset and worried Mrs. D.’s parents must have been and how painful and embarrassing this was for the jilted groom and his family. The scandalous event probably animated neighborhood gossip for many months. Fifty years down the road revealed a happy end, but at the time it would have been perfectly plausible to see this as a catastrophic and immature infatuation.

What does this have to do with the recent French election?

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Potatoes and Healthcare

October 26th, 2016 Posted by On Our Mind 2 comments

Imagine if a world body declared that every country must consume the same quantity of potatoes and rice per capita as every other. No more regional preferences. Whatever is eaten in one region must be embraced everywhere. It would be ridiculous. On the other hand, if a small town made that declaration regarding the families that resided in that town, it would be dictatorial but not as disruptive. The more homogeneous the people and culture of a country, the more socialized its medicine can be. The more varied  the populace, the more of a failure socialized medicine will be. If immigrants through the centuries are a symbol of America’s greatness, they are also one reason that socialism and America are incompatible.

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