Occupy Noah

November 3, 2011
This is an interesting and quite Socialist view of our society, and inherently flawed. Those of us who are for less government do not feel less moral. We feel more moral. We feel that by centralizing the infrastructure you further this Hamas (corruption) that these rabbis are talking about. Conservative economics is not detached from morality. It demands the individual be responsible and realizes that the mechanisms of control lead inevitably to human nature’s monstrosity. A less biased look at our bank failures shows that financial enterprises do not inherently lend money to the poor unless their hand is pushed and when these controls happen in an unnatural way, chaos is at hand. There is a lot of blame to go around, and those that wore the garment of less government tried to salvage a botched war campaign in Iraq by floating the economy through greater lending. Sadly those who jump at the mention that the war was our downfall fail to realize that this is not what I am saying at all. There are many ways to fight a war, and the route our government took was the most humane. Our opponents are quick to mention torture, but we used those techniques in great quantities in wars we have won for example WWII. We weren’t exactly civil to captured nazis with information. These people were our killers and we chose nation building. It is sad that we can not see that our failures in Iraq were closer to the failures of King Saul who did not want to kill off the family of Amalek. It is frustrating to see religious people like this rabbi who see the Torah only as he wants to see it. He should know the Torah does not work in such a limited mid-evil and frankly Christian Catholic sounding perspective. This rabbi is not the solution. This rabbi is the problem. He is thinking within a box of methodology and this methodical box is what got us to where we are right now. Even the idea of less government is limited in scope. Once our people were dedicated to the burden of occupation there was no choice but to centralize and control our economy. Our leaders rather then owe up to the need of controls made a compromise of forced lending that devastated our system. The better system would of been to kill our killers and not be burdened with our enemies, but our politically correct culture could not do this. The OWS mob is looking for a bad guy to lynch, but there is way to much blame to push around. We should blame Jimmy Carter and the left for creating much of the infrastructure that was impossible to turn off. We should blame our Republicans for not realizing that they were riding a wild animal of spending and that the system could not burden both a an occupation war and an economy that was completely contrary to nature. Then we have to go back and blame our Left again who came back in and furthered wars they liked of their Muslim allies and sabotaged wars they didn’t…. and at the same time never turned off the unnatural spending. Our leaders all seem to think we are going to have to make measures of austerity, but really that is the simplistic response again. What we need now are leaders who are not caught in methodology and understand when to spend and when to trim for the ecosystem.

(Kavvanah) A Guest Post by Rabbi Avraham Bronstein- He is considering a year of Occupy Parsha.
Rabbi Avraham Bronstein currently serves as Program Director of the Great Neck Synagogue. He previously served as Assistant Rabbi of The Hampton Synagogue where he developed and coordinated the extensive Cultural and Adult-Educational Program.
Sermon: Occupy Noah
Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote on Parshat Noach:

The Flood tells us what happens to civilization when individuals rule and there is no collective…It was Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), the thinker who laid the foundations of modern politics in his classic Leviathan (1651), who – without referring to the Flood – gave it its best interpretation. Before there were political institutions, said Hobbes, human beings were in a “state of nature.” They were individuals, packs, bands. Lacking a stable ruler, an effective government and enforceable laws, people would be in a state of permanent and violent chaos – “a war of every man against every man” – as they competed for scarce resources. There would be “continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Such situations exist today in a whole series of failed or failing states. That is precisely the Torah’s description of life before the Flood. When there is no rule of law to constrain individuals, the world is filled with violence.

As I read Sack’s piece, I got the sense that making his point about failed states or chaotic, violent societies really takes the bite out of the narrative. It teaches us a lesson we already know about, say, Rwanda, but it doesn’t necessarily teach us about ourselves. If anything, we come away with a false assurance, almost a cultural triumphalism.
Instead, I would argue that the pre-Flood landscape Sacks calls “Hobbesian” is actually much closer to Wall Street, 2011 than Iraq, 2005. Our new Guilded Age, with its vast wealth and innovation but gaping chasm between haves and have-nots, is the direct result of an unregulated “war of every many against every man,” where the winners wield the political process itself as a weapon, using their resources to ensure that it represents their interests as opposed to those of society at large.
The Rabbis were eerily sensitive to this in their own depiction of the pre-Flood society. They describe a remarkable situation where, despite an environment of amazing prosperity, people were robbed of the opportunity to succeed:
The wantonness of this generation was in a measure due to the ideal conditions under which mankind lived before the flood. They knew neither toil nor care, and as a consequence of their extraordinary prosperity they grew insolent….So cunningly were their depredations planned that the law could not touch them. If a countryman brought a basket of vegetables to market, they would edge up to it, one after the other, and abstract a bit, each in itself of petty value, but in a little while the dealer would have none left to sell.
It doesn’t take a great imagination to make the jump to deceptive ATM fees, crippling student loans, punitive foreclosure procedures, and taxpayer bailouts of “too big to fail” financial institutions. The laws on the books that provide no protection to the weak nor accountability for the powerful ring strikingly familiar as well.
The amount of overall wealth in our society is truly staggering, yet our culture’s blinding focus on individualism has resulted in both the rich getting richer and social mobility becoming harder. In short, the “hamas/corruption” that doomed the world to the Flood was not Bernie Madoff – it was AIG and Goldman Sachs.
The Rabbis, as is well known, were ambivalent about Noah as a character:
“These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a righteous, innocent man in his generation” (Gen 6:9). Rashi: “in his generations.” Some of our Sages expound this to his praise: all the more so had he lived in a generation of righteous people, he would have been even more righteous. And there are those who expound it to his defamation: by the standard of his generation he was righteous, but had he lived in the generation of Abraham he would have been considered as nothing.
The most damning critique of Noah for those who thought less highly of him was his silent acceptance of the Flood without protest. In contrast to Abraham who forcefully resisted God’s plan to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gemorah, at possible risk to himself, Noah quietly built his Ark, content to save himself. He may have assured himself that his neighbors and associates deserved their fate, or he may not have really thought about it much at all.
I would argue that, according to this reading, Noah perfectly embodied the harshly individualistic culture of his generation. The same lack of shared responsibility than enabled Noah’s peers to steal each others vegetables blinded him to his responsibility to society at large. In fact, his success came at their expense. Noah may well have been righteous, but he was certainly “in his generation.” There are surely many Noahs in our world today, people who live privately decent lives but do not address the systemic failures and injustices of the system. Noah demonstrates a passive “hamas” by accepting the world as presented to him, by trying to succeed within the prevailing system and not making himself fully aware of its ramifications and larger costs.
The Midrash maintains that the extended period it took Noah to build the Ark was intended to attract the interest of those around him, so as to make them aware of what was going on so that they would reform their behavior. It could well have also been to sensitize Noah to the implications of his own lifestyle, to demonstrate to him that by continuing to passively live his life, he was condemning everyone around him to the coming flood.
Perhaps a question we need to ask ourselves is: what are the Arks that we build in our own lives to secure our own prosperity, and what are the costs (social, economic, moral) to the world at large?

I pray I will never see such a poor lecture given by rabbis …ever again. Probably will.