OHR CHADASH

Writings on Jewish themes

 

This web page currently includes five papers of mine on Jewish religious and/or philosophical themes.

 

1. Thoughts on Some Shabbat Prayers

2. A Conversation on Theodicy

3.1 The Diagram of the Supreme Pole and the Kabbalistic Tree: On the Similarity of Two Symbolic Structures

3.2 Symbolic Structures as Systems: On the Near Isomorphism of Two Religious Symbols

4. Mussar and the Renewal of Judaism (Draft #01)

 

Paper #1 is personal.  Papers #3.1 and 3.2 are scholarly (3.2 is a longer version of 3.1 and includes also some systems-theoretic ideas).  Paper #2 is partially personal and partially scholarly.  Paper #4 is mostly personal and is just a first very rough draft.  Comments on any of these papers would be very welcome (email me).  I hope to add to this page at some point a philosophical essay inspired by Franz Rosenzweig’s Star of Redemption.

 

Professionally, I’m a systems theorist at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. My academic home page is at http://www.pdx.edu/sysc/faculty-martin-zwick . There are links there to a page on the courses that I teach and to pages on the three research areas that I work in. The third of these research pages, http://www.pdx.edu/sysc/research-systems-philosophy, includes items #2  and #3 below, but also offers other papers on philosophy and/or religion.

 

‘Ohr chadash’ means ‘new light;’ these are the first two words of the prayer, “A new light will illuminate Zion.”

 

   -Martin Zwick

     Feb. 4, 2011

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1. Thoughts on Some Shabbat Prayers (2002)

 

Introduction:

 

What follows are thoughts about several of the Shabbat and daily prayers which are collected together, with translations, in Shiru Ladonai, a Siddur prepared by Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield, alav ha’shalom, of P’nai Or, the Jewish Renewal congregation of Portland, Oregon.  These thoughts reflect how I understand the prayers, what they mean to me when I am able to make a personal connection with them.  Most of the ideas expressed below are not original, but draw from a variety of sources.  The format is the following: the Hebrew prayer, or a fragment of it, is followed by an English translation, usually Reb Aryeh's but occasionally my own, and then by an interpretation or drash, in italics.

 

For most of us, there are too many prayers.  It is like a long seminar in quantum mechanics that we, middle school students who have studied some biology but not yet any physics, are invited to attend.  For the spiritually advanced and for those who are steeped in tradition, the array of prayers of the traditional service may be rich and potent, but for the rest of us, even the prayers of abbreviated services are too many.  A single prayer said with intention, or from a broken heart, or felt with one's body is worth more than a thousand prayers uttered without kavana.  If one can say (feel) such a prayer, dayenu.  This should be the goal of the prayer service.

 

The full paper on Shabbat Prayers is here (pdf).

 

The home page devoted to the memory of Reb Aryeh, which is a blessing, is here.

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2. A Conversation on Theodicy

The Global Spiral, January 9, 2008.

This paper is a dialog on theodicy—more precisely, on a modern version of the classical religious-philosophical conundrum of how it can be that (a) Evil exists, and yet (b) God is beneficent, and (c) God is omnipotent. The dialog was inspired by Susan Neiman's Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy, Princeton University Press, 2002. The idea of a systems-theoretic ‘secular theodicy’ is given in expanded form in three papers on my Systems Philosophy web page mentioned above: “Incompleteness, Negation, and Hazard (1984),Towards an Ontology of Problems (1995),” and “Understanding Imperfection (2000).”

 

The full paper on Theodicy is here (pdf) or here (html) in The Global Spiral.

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3.1 The Diagram of the Supreme Pole and the Kabbalistic Tree: On the Similarity of Two Symbolic Structures

Religion East & West, the Journal of the Institute for Word Religions, Issue #9, October 2009, pp. 67-87.

 

Abstract:

 

This paper discusses similarities of both form and meaning between two symbolic structures: the Diagram of the Supreme Pole of Song Neo-Confucianism and the Kabbalistic Tree of medieval Jewish mysticism.  These similarities are remarkable in the light of the many differences that exist between Chinese and Judaic thought, which also manifest in the two symbols.  Intercultural influence might account for the similarities, but there is no historical evidence for such influence. An alternative explanation would attribute the similarities to the ubiquitousness of religious-philosophical ideas about hierarchy, polarity, and macrocosm-microcosm parallelism, but this does not adequately account for the similar overall structure of the symbols. The question of how to understand these similarities remains open.

 

The full paper on the Diagram and the Tree is here (pdf).

3.2 Symbolic Structures as Systems: On the Near Isomorphism of Two Religious Symbols

In Markus Locker, ed., Systems Theory and Theology: The Living Interplay between Science and Religion, pp. 62-96.  Eugene: Pickwick Publications.  This article is a longer version -- which includes some systems-theoretic observations -- of the Religion East and West article on the same subject. 

 

Abstract:

 

Many symbolic structures used in religious and philosophical traditions are composed of “elements” and relations between elements. Similarities between such structures can be described using the systems theoretic idea of “isomorphism.” This paper demonstrates the existence of a near isomorphism between two symbolic structures: the Diagram of the Supreme Pole of Song Neo-Confucianism and the Kabbalistic Tree of medieval Jewish mysticism. [The abstract is afterwards the same as the abstract for the Religion East and West version.]

 

The full paper is here (pdf).

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4. Mussar and the Renewal of Judaism

This is a very rough first draft.  Feedback would be especially welcome (email me).

 

Abstract:

 

In its neglect of Mussar, Judaism has been missing a big opportunity.  No other component of Jewish thought and practice -- neither Halachic observance, nor mysticism or Chasidut, nor commitment to Israel, nor Jewish culture, nor action for social justice – can serve as well as Mussar as a vital center of a renewed Judaism and a unifying factor that can appeal to every kind of Jew.

 

The full paper is here (pdf).

 

Two important sites:

 

Philadelphia Musar Institute, Rabbi Ira Stone, http://www.phillymussar.org/stone.html

Mussar Institute, Alan Morinis, http://www.mussarinstitute.org/