My teacher, professor and friend Aryeh Cohen says some smart things on JewSchool today. For example:
While the danger of performance as ritual is that it merely recapitulates the hierarchical structure of the community, the danger of empowered but uneducated Jews doing ritual is that Jewish ritual will take on the character of a pop-art retrospective. The intentionally ephemeral does not take well to the trappings of permanence. The spiritual moment of creation might not live as long as the zeroxed handouts which document it.
Yes yes yes and amen on not tinkering with ritual until you actually know what you’re doing and how to make something that lasts, you know? Ritual is powerful. I believe that it does stuff, it enacts, it makes things happen. You light candles in order to create Shabbat. You say certain blessings to create marriage. If you don’t know how the source code works, who knows what you’ll make happen when you enact it in the ritual space? Maybe not something good. Maybe something dangerous. It’s not that there’s no space for innovation, but learning and knowledge I think are important safeguards against innovation that is reckless and stupid.
He seems to critique the institution of the rabbi–which is funny, since he trains them for a living. Not sure if he’s talking about the rabbi job as a whole, or just the creepy rebbe dynamic, which I agree is just so dangerous and exploitative. The higher up a rebbe is as a “spiritual leader” above the laity, the more disempowered they become. I do think (at least I hope!) that it’s possible to have a rabbi who is just a “teacher” in the classical meaning of the word, someone who can partner with his or her laity to help them become more empowered, more informed, more educated–and more able to take charge of their own Jewish lives in a responsible way.
Anyway, rest of the article is here.