Friday, November 4, 2011

Some Notes and a Summary of Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels “Non-dual Judaism CONCULSION PART ONE

Non-dual Judaism is not an easy path to follow.  First there are the traditional Jewish reasons it is difficult to follow.  Then, there is non-dualism qua non-dualism as vision of the world that difficult to hold.  First, the Jewish reasons:

The foremost problem is that non-dualism, however defined, is "minority" view within the tradition.  Really, until the rise of Hasidism in the 18th century, there is very little evidence that there was anything like non-dualism within Judaism.  A few Sufi inspired Jews in the Muslim world in the Middle Ages, a small group of Kabbalists in 17th century Safed, flirted with the idea of the non-duality of God, but the embrace was never complete and did not spread to wider audiences of Jews.

It took Hasidism, with its broad base of appeal among common Jews, for something like non-dualism to emerge in Judaism and have a popular appeal.  Many scholars and religious thinkers speak about the near pantheism of many Chasidic masters and their ideas, utterances, and writings about God. 

The problem is, when you go back to the original Hasidic sources that are claimed to be non-dualist, there is actually a great deal of complexity.  Views of God in a massive work like the Sefer Emet, for instance, run the gamut.  God is portrayed as a being, as the world, as everywhere, as absent from the world, and all shades in between.  The early Hasidim were not ham strung by any one view of God.  They used whatever view suited the particular exegetical need before them as they wrote their commentaries.  Non-dualism was not necessary a goal of Hasidic Jewry.  Connection with God was, and whatever form that took, whatever concept of God they had, was never fixed or immutable.

It is the (recent) movement called neo-Hasidism that cherry picks non-dualism from the stack of Hasidic cards and places that value as paramount.  The difficulty with this is that much of Jewish tradition, especially its liturgy, not to mention the Bible, Midrash, Talmud, envision God as a Being and not as the non-entity of non-dualism.   

So to be a Jew and a non-dualist involves a great deal of quick translations, revisions and updates.  How does one sit through the long Yom Kippur services, with its frequent appeal to an entity called "God" who is petitioned again and again like a father in the sky, with a belief that God is not actually a thing out there, but present everywhere in the moment, now, here, and not some agency outside of the moment.  You would have to be an allegorist of brilliant gifts to translate such dualist moments like Yom Kippur into non-dualism.

And there are plenty more dualist moments that need to be squeezed down the non-dualist pipeline in Judaism in its normative, rabbinical form.  What needs to happen is a shift in how we think about basic terms.  A relationship between this idea that ALL is ONE, and the materials, written, sung, voiced, of Judaism.  That is what Rabbi Jacobson-Maisels is calling for, I believe, and it is a steep program with many obstacles in its path.

Next, we handle the problems with non-dualism qua non-dualism.

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