Monday, November 29, 2010

Should we or shouldn't we fast for rain?

On the Contrary quotes a letter of R. Moshe Lichtenstein arguing that we should not be fasting for rain. I summarized his main points:

  • A. Lack of danger - In the current situation we are not actually in physical danger (yet) from the lack of rain. The fasts are meant for real life and death situations. 
  • B. “Rainfall is livelihood” - Arguing that the connection between rain and economic status has dissapeared "So how can we decree a fast now, when the stock exchange went up significantly over the past year, unemployment went down (even though it remains troublingly high), the currency maintained its value, and the Israeli economy functioned better than that of most developed nations in recent years?"
  • C. Providence and nature -Our spiritual level is not one that allows a direct link between rain and our actions. 
  • D. Sincerity - "Fasting and crying out are mitzvot of the heart. Just as rending a garment when it is not a climactic moment does not constitutekeri’ah, and just as prayer without intention is meaningless, so too fasting, when there is a significant gap between its external expression and internal feeling, is inappropriate."
  • E. Inflation - "If you ask me what harm there is in fasting, even if it does not achieve the levels of intensity described above, I would answer with one word – inflation. Just as inflation ruins the value of a currency, it has a similar effect spiritually."
    •  F. The status of the Chief Rabbinate -"I will not expand on this, but merely assert that for all sorts of reasons the status of the Chief Rabbinate is very far from the reality described in the gemara in Ta’anit in which the decree of the exilarch obligated the entire community. I do not view the status of the Chief Rabbinate or its heads as being binding on the community nowadays. I wish the situation were different, but it is not."

While I agree with the general sentiment, I'm going to have to argue point C. The lack of rain is a punishment for sins. As such it would seem to me that it is used exactly when the spiritual level of the nation is low. I can speculate however, that what is troubling R. Lichtenstein are the lowly and demagogic uses in recent years of certain Rabbanim of the lack of rain and other natural disasters: In recent years we've heard that the lack of rain is because of Rav Amsalem, Earthquakes are because of gay pride parade and Katarina was because of the Hitnatkut (as was the Tsunami I believe). 

"The whole religious complexion of the modern world is due to the absence from [ ancient ] Jerusalem of a lunatic asylum." (Havelock Ellis - I was certain this was a Mark Twain quote, but Google thought otherwise)

The art of knowing god's will, or rather reading god's will from the elements is clearly one that has been abused. There is also the weird question, of why none of these rabbanim are able to warn us of advance of these natural disaster if the connection is so clear to them. Just once I'd like one of them to come and tell me "Whoa that gay pride parade..I hope those Haitians have earthquake proofed their house, cuz next week.." It is also somewhat weird, that the natural disasters are always linked to that week's agudah/shas/Mafdal political cause. I am sure that god does punish sins, and I don't doubt that the correct Jewish response to natural disasters is looking at ourselves and asking what have we done wrong. However, some humility is needed.

I am not able to worship a G-d Whose ways are all crystal clear to me – attributed to the Kotzker Rebbe (1787-1859)

 The overall affect of these dramatic statements is just a loss of faith by the people, and a general loss of respect for the Rabbanim involved.


3 comments:

stjust said...

fast or not for the rain? let me count the reasons!
it maybe more important to fast for the rain than for 10 tevet.
it maybe more important to fast for the rain than for 9 of av.
it maybe more important to fast for the rain than for 17 of tammuz.
it maybe more important to fast for the rain than for the fast of esther.
it maybe more important to fast for the rain than for all of shovavim followed by bh'b.
even though danger is not imminent & they can import in the winter tropical fruits from the tropics, peaches from chile & watermellon from south africa, could be that the country -why? even planet earth, ecologically speaking- is going to the dogs.
all info certified and audited by learned scientists as well as kookoo rabbis in hot air balloons.

stjust said...

more on this subject:
a- massekhet taanit- i don't recall it conditioning fast of kafna !?
b-Arguing that the connection between rain and economic status has dissapeared - why? do they feed on megabytes, gigapixels and yields of cash investments at YHE?
c-over the past year, unemployment went down (even though it remains troublingly high), I find that short sighted.
d -Our spiritual level is not one that allows a direct link between rain and our actions. That's a very odd argument & I wonder if for the same reason we should stop to recite 3 times a day, refaenu venerafe, mechaye hammeissim, chonein hadaas, etc...
e- Sincerity - ...so too fasting, when there is a significant gap between its external expression and internal feeling, is inappropriate."- even when there is explicit halakha? any halakhic authority justifying this view?
f- Just as inflation ruins the value of a currency, - interresting argument, but ma inyon shmeetoh etzel har sinai?
g- The status of the Chief Rabbinate ?? before getting rid of them, get rid a- of the puppet masters. meanwhile יפתח בדורו כשמואל בדורו that's what we have now and we are obligated in their respect.
What is troubling R' Lichtenstein is valid, but use of demagogic reasoning is plentiful in the gemore, yet this is the basis of our laws.
h- The art of knowing god's will, or rather reading god's will from the elements - not really, here they are plain -mipnei chataeinu type. no tsunami & no hitnatqut.

Benjamin of Tudela said...

I think the basic argument is that fast days are for "life and death" situations. In todays world we are not really there yet, and pretending that we are will only lead to insincerity in our prayers.
It is hard to be sincere when the world is just continuing with a buisness as usual attitude.