Sunday, September 18, 2011

Jews for Krishna

The fall issue of Reform Judaism magazine contains a passionate, even angry, attack on Jesus, Krishna, and John Lennon’s “Imagine” by Dr. Ze’ev Maghen of Bar-Ilan University. The essay is adapted from his book John Lennon and the Jews. I looked the book up on Amazon and it supposed to be an emotionalist appeal to Jews to love Judaism. I didn’t feel the love.

 In the essay, Dr. Maghen writes about meeting Israeli Hare Krishnas at Los Angeles Airport (LAX). After a few moments comparing notes about life in Israel, he wants to know why these Jews have dropped Torah for Gita. They explain that their new religion is better than their own religion, which drives Dr. Maghen crazy. The Krishnas reply in kind, and yet another opportunity for real meeting and dialogue is lost in the haze of emotionalism. Somehow this leads him to John Lennon.

 Dr. Maghen doesn’t want to imagine there’s no hell…nothing to kill or die for…no countries …no religion, etc. Me, I am more Lennon than Lubavitch. In fact I’m more Lennon than Lennon—I don’t have to imagine there’s no heaven or hell, I know there’s no heaven or hell; I think religion and politics are human inventions, and heaven and hell are just carrot and stick used to keep people in the fold. While I would be willing to die to save lives, and can imagine myself killing someone to protect lives, killing and dying for abstractions like religion doesn’t appeal to me at all.

True, I find the idea of “living for today” shallow, preferring to live in the moment rather than for the moment, all-in-all I like Lennon’s song. Anyway, Hare Krishnas don’t agree with Lennon either, so what’s the fuss all about?

My real problem with Dr. Maghen: He writes, "I passionately believe we ought to subordinate head to heart and rationality to emotionalism" (p. 213); "So far from being a function of logical or pragmatic thinking, Jewishness today is both a product and a producer of passion” (p. 248); and “love is a better motivation than Truth" (p.261). I believe just the opposite, and prefer head to heart, reason to emotion, logic to passion, and Truth to love. People who don’t often scare the crap out of me.

Here’s my advice to Dr. Maghen: The next time you meet Jews who have left Judaism talk with them don’t yell at them. Ask them why they left? Ask them what they found in their new faith that they couldn’t find in their old faith? Share in a passionate but nonjudgmental way why Judaism works for you. We can learn much from those who leave the faith.

And here’s my advice to Jewish Hare Krishna’s: stay away from LAX.


dtedac said...

Rabbi Rami,

I read the entire article in Reform Judaism magazine and I agree with your assessment. I understand that he may feel hurt by the Israeli Hare Krishna's apparent rejection of Judaism, but by reacting in anger, he drove them away. You can't expect to encourage a return to Judaism with that approach. If Mr. Maghen is smart, he will leave the job of touching hearts to God, because he is more likely to hurt them.


Anonymous said...

I didn't think much of the article either, and was particularly annoyed by the "Lennonism vs. Judaism" thing. Tasteless. Maghen sets up a false dichotomy between the universalist impulse (which he finds dangerous) and the particularist impulse (which he believes to be "Jewish" and therefore, good).

Rav Kook's "Fourfold Song" is the answer to Maghen's article. Self/Nation/Humanity/Universe are all worthy subjects for our song, and the music sounds better when all four voices harmonize. That Maghen feels the need to shut down others in the service of singing his solo is just sad.

Thanks for writing about this, Rami.

Dunestrider said...

I read the laughable Reform Judaism article. I'm not sure why the author thinks that John Lennon is connected with the Hare Krishnas. There is no connection, just a passing acquaintance. George Harrison certainly had a strong relationship, but not Lennon. Lennon was a staunch atheist (his song "Imagine" declares this).

The Hare Krishnas are staunch monotheists; some say more monotheistic than the Abrahamic religions, with those religions' conception of the dualism of good vs. evil, God vs. Satan, and so on.

This, and the article quoting one of the Hare Krishnas as saying "Swami Prah" reveals that the author did not even attempt to do his homework. It is "Swami Prabhupada", not "Swami Prah". This red flag renders the whole article, and the book on which it is based, as being suspect.

You will find many, many Jews amongst the ranks of the Hare Krishnas. Now, why is that? Is it for that same reason that many Christian scholars have praised the unparalleled theological teachings of the Hare Krishna founder, the Bengali saint, Sri Caitanya (CE 1486–1534)?