Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Rabbi Shmuel Ben-David: Idea vs. System, in "Isaac's Torah"

"Isaac's Torah:
The Memoirs of Jacob Blumenfeld"

Articulating Idea vs. System

An Eternal, and Literal, Tug to War

Rabbi Shmuel Ben-David. A real person, we believe, mostly. We met him through a memoir.

The setting begins in pre-World War II, in Central Europe, an area that wafted in boundaries between Austria-Hungary, Poland, Germany and Russia during the first half of the 20th Century. The holocaust, and before.

Rabbi Ben-David is a friend, confidante, advisor, co-philosopher, to the very real survivor of two world wars, Isaac Jacob Blumenfeld.

Blumenfeld narrated his verbal memoirs to author Angel Wagenstein. Mr. Wagenstein wrote the book, "Isaac's Torah" see ://

Read a review of "Isaac's Torah" by Richard Marcus at ://

Rabbi Ben-David comes into play after World War I, and during the years preceding the Holocaust, and into it. How much is fiction, how much is literal transcription, hard to tell. Does not matter. The work is "[a] conscientious transcription of another's memores and reflections" and is claimed to be without invention, says the author at page 1, "instead of a forward." Suits me. His ideas deserve special memorializing.

In "Isaac's Torah," at page 165, Rabbi Ben-David considers the relationship of a) original religious idea as expressed by the founder; to b) the later system that crusts around it, and takes on a life of its own - and they, the idea and the later system, are not interchangeable.

I. Listen in.

Fair use quote, nearly a page-paragraph, out of 306 pages in all. Fair enough. The rabbi is speaking to the Christian professor, who offered hospitality and hiding to the rabbi and Isaac, at the time of the German invasion of Poland at the outset of World War II. Here goes the rabbi: read slowly. We have separated out the sentences in clusters, from the one ongoing paragraph....
  • "And you, I dare say, are confusing the idea with the system and this is welcome to the system.
  • "It likes to be confused with the idea, and even to be perceived as its only materialized expression, equivalence, and interchangeable equal.
  • "How can I make myself clear? As far as I understand, you are a believing Christian, and does the Christian church not want to be identified with Christianity?
  • "But the Idea is one thing, and the System that has to materialize it, another.
    • "And a day comes when the defense of the Christian ideal of brotherhood, love of one's neighbor, and forgiveness for all, is taken up by the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the technologies for burning witches and chasing the devil.
    • "The spiritual glamour of your Christian idea is imperceptibly replaced by the glamour of church ritual, and the asceticism and personal dedication of the early Christians by the gluttony and lechery of abbots and cardinals. Isn't it so?
    • "The system has its own survival needs and logic, and if the Idea stands up to them, so much the worse for it -- it can be silently buried and replaced by an exact copy or a demonstration model. but you remain true to the original idea, regardless of everything.
    • "You can deal with myopic vision, but are powerless in front of color-blindness.
    • "And exactly there lies the zone where the Idea and the System blend so tightly that you don't know which one you are serving: the ideas of Christ or the canons of the church."


      For that, see :// - perhaps, as this Tony Warren suggests, from words meaning a weighing, a measuring against, as in balance scales. See the Jewish Encyclopedia, agreeing it is difficult to translate with precision, at ://

      II. Watch the wheel of the concept turn:

      1) Idea vs. System, and

      2) the System has to materialize the Idea, and then

      3) the System develops its own "survival needs and logic," and

      4) the System then subsumes the Idea for the sake of the System's survival, and yet

      5) the Idea can survive the System, outside the System.

      III. Today.

      This cycle comes to mind with today's Hartford Courant, and its article about all the unaffiliated - many of us - who may list faith as "none" on the questionnaires - the Nones.* A return to the Idea, outside the System.

      The Nones: They-we may be religiously unaffiliated in terms of regular participation, but search for the spiritual side. In other ways. Expression, help, dot dot dot dot. See Hartford Courant 4/8/09 at page C1. This kind of article gets us back on track with the Courant as informational, and educational, and helpful; not agenda-driven. Shall we renew our subsciption?

      IV. Then and now.

      How else have Systems distorted the original Idea.

      See the Idea in action, with examples of women's substantial independence, even serving as warriors, int he time of the Prophet, see cites at Studying War, Women in War. How has the System changed the Idea, in that religion as ours. Any religion. Any idea, any system.

      Witches and the Devil - The System creates anew its targets, reasons for being?

      If you haven't read the Malleus Maleficarum lately, go back to this Inquisitor's handbook, at "The Malleus Maleficarum" at :// The Witches Hammer. Hammer of Witches. Pound, pound, pound on them until they confess. Or go to its Index at ://

      Find its incarnation. Much is written about the ghetto in Warsaw, Poland. Here, see the city where Isaac's wife is being treated for an illness when the German invasion begins: Lodz. We do not know if she ended up in the ghetto there, but see the Lodz Ghetto, at
      • Jewish Virtual Library site at ://; and "The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto" by Lucjan Dobroszycki, at :// ; and
      • For an anthology of documents, poems, proclamations, photos, ephemera out of that experience, see :Lodz Ghetto, Inside a Community Under Siege" edited by Alan Adelson and Robert Lapides, see ://
      Isaac Blumenthal was in two concentration camps, one near Buchenwald, a labor camp near Weimar, Germany. He mentions Buchenwald. Here it is. The book does not focus on anecdotes of the experience of horror in detail, it is more a book of the human spirit, so see the horror's remains:

      Meet also Mendel - the main character in so many stories told by Isaac Jacob Blumenfeld from the Jewish experience, lexicon.
      * Nones. That sounds to old Latin buffs like the Nones, of Roman calendar fame - the fifth or seventh day of the month, when there is the visible new moon, or waxing crescent; with the Ides (the Ides of March, Caesar's downfall), the Calends or the first day of the month, from which our "calendar" comes, and the Pridie or the day before, see ://

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