Prayer, for All Its Public Features, Is an Affair between Man and God

July 15 2020

In the decades after World War II, one of the most salient differences between Orthodox and Conservative synagogues was that the latter had mixed-sex seating, and the great controversy within Orthodoxy was whether it was necessary to change this practice to keep up with the times. Shalom Carmy considers those debates in light of the changes to public prayer inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic:

Beneath the conflict about ritual propriety lurked a deeper question of religious orientation. At the time, many Orthodox leaders thought that the clamor for mixed pews reflected a spectators’ conception of communal prayer: The rabbi and cantor performed as MCs at the “services” at which the postwar upwardly mobile American laity played the part of the appreciative or critical audience. By this way of thinking, the Orthodox congregation, by -contrast, was presumed to consist of individuals who knew how to pray on their own, who grasped the structure and the basic content of the prayers for Sabbath, festivals, and weekdays, even if they were not experts on the texts and regulations. This triumphant sense of superiority was bolstered by one’s overall impression of lay commitment, observance, and lack of literacy when the uninitiated attended Orthodox synagogues.

I rehash this ancient piece of Orthodox triumphalism not because it is entirely wrong but because, like many partial truths, it manifests certain blind spots. When social isolation became the norm in March, the Orthodox synagogues that I know locked their doors almost immediately. Everyone knew the fundamental regulations; nobody had any doubts about the importance of health. Overnight, people who made their way to shul three times a day transferred their time of prayer to their homes, reciting the same liturgy, with the necessary adjustments, while requiring hardly any rabbinic guidance.

This smooth shift into the home, necessitated by the public health crisis, confirmed the creed that prayer, for all its public features, is fundamentally an affair between man and God.

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Read more at First Things

More about: American Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Coronavirus, Judaism, Orthodoxy, Prayer

 

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter