KIPPAT BINAH (The Thinking Kippah)
This section of the website reflects an effort to think creatively about the Jewish and Israeli situation as part, perhaps the keystone, of the human situation. The topic has a dimension of burning urgency.
Needless to say, the reader will find a lot of poetry here, as well as prose reflections on the current crisis.
Poetry will not stop a bullet; nor is it likely, in the short run at least, to soften the heart of a determined enemy. But it can unify, inspire, strengthen the besieged, reach out to the undecided. It can build bridges among causes that appear separate; it might, for instance, help the Jewish community to find a meeting_ground with others wishing to build and sustain a life_affirming culture. Within the Jewish community itself there are many gaps to be bridged, most of all the gulf between "religious" and "secular." This website is open to writers from both "camps." Of the first two "chaverim" to join the organizer here, both Israelis, Adelina Klein belongs to the "secular" literary world, while Shabtai Teicher is an Orthodox rabbi.
A word from the organizer about the ideas that have shaped her own contributions to this page, ideas influenced by the poetry of Paul Celan, who once said in the name of Marina Tsvetayeva: "All poets are Jews." His work implies a vision of poetry that is both religious and secular.
On the one hand, poetry (despite modernism) grows out of tradition; the poet, while situated in the present, is grounded in the past. Moreover, since to the poet words are sacred, the things named by words tend to become so as well. Like the system of "mitsvot," poetry aims at the sanctification of life. Nor is the poet necessarily troubled by the formal rigor of traditional life. No poet is a stranger to rigor ("There is no cheating in poetry," Paul Celan said to this writer); and those who write in sonnet or other fixed form are aware how form calls forth a secret richness. "How but in order and in ceremony/ Are innocence and beauty born." (Yeats.) A non_observant, yet in another sense highly observant, physicist and poet, the late Harry (Chaim) Sokolik, once said that living according to halakhah was like living inside a great poem.
On the other hand, although the poet as a person may be strictly observant, the poet qua poet shapes his or her thought not by derivation from tradition as authority, but through a global, intuitive processing. The poet listens, listens, and in the end gives back what rings true to him or her. The poet can live with constraints s/he did not invent; this, again, is similar to working within a form whose rules existed before the poem. But at the moment of composition the poet feels as though s/he were standing at Sinai, at the moment when only the "Aleph" of the Divine utterance is heard. As the poem takes shape, this "Aleph" is interpreted for the moment in which the poet stands – a moment that contains the past and yet is unique and unprecedented. Hence the association of poetry with prophecy, although the contemporary poet would not venture to preface an utterance with "Thus says the Lord." One has read too much psychology for that; and one has also (it is hoped) absorbed the lessons of the need for dialogue, for collegiality, which the rabbis collected in Pirkei Avot. Nevertheless the poet remains a strange, anarchic element, and encounters between the contemporary poet and the tradition remain uneasy.
Yet if more room could be found for contemporary poetry within a traditional framework of observance, what a renewal it would be! Within the tradition itself, there is consciousness that a renewal is needed. An authoritative tradition is founded on the word of the predecessors. As we get farther and farther away from the encounter with the Divine at Sinai, the vision becomes more diluted, subject to spiritual entropy ("yeridat ha_dorot"; the secular critic, Harold Bloom,
reverts to this idea in his concept of the "belatedness" of modern poetry). It becomes impossible to make decisions that are needed, because authority cannot be found for them. The community’s ability to respond creatively and resourcefully to new situations is in question. But according to the words of the sages, the prophet (hence perhaps, with all due caveats, the prophet’s more cautious poetic descendant) can propose – only propose – a "horaat sha’ah," a "direction of the hour" or emergency measure which is based on direct intuition. This, if halakhic authorities could deliberate such proposals and on occasion accept them, might make it possible to respond to new situations out of the spirit of tradition, but in new and adaptive ways.
In the early part of the century, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first rabbi of Israel, predicted that poetry would renew prophecy and bridge the gap between the sacred and secular visions. This development has been slow to occur and often even seems to be going backwards, as secular poets distance themselves from the tradition and the traditional community becomes stricter and more closed against secular culture. Yet, in recent years, there has been some reawakening to the
necessity for a middle ground and for a poetry that would transcend this great division in Jewish and Israeli society and consciousness.
Again, the informing vision of this section, and of the website as a whole, is developed from the work of Paul Celan, a survivor of the community of Czernowitz who in 1947 settled in Paris and continued writing in German, his mother tongue, until his death in 1970. In his formative years he had been taught Hebrew and received considerable training in traditional sources; as an adult, however, while continuing to identify as a Jew, he had nothing to do with traditional practice. He was strongly influenced by Gustav Landauer, a socialist thinker who came from an
assimilated background. And his later work, under the influence of literary modernism, is so fragmented that to make out its intention is often difficult. Yet in his two central works, the "Meridian" speech and The No_One’s_Rose, there is a hesitant, groping and circuitous exposition of how the poet’s global thinking can become a source of directions, and how poetic dialogue might lead to an understanding that could be the basis of action on behalf of the "Earth Household." At one point in "The Meridian" he says "this [i.e. the possibility that the poem could speak on behalf of the Wholly Other] is the only thing that I could add on my own account to the ancient hopes." In this time anything that promises, however tentatively, to add something to the ancient hopes is surely worth pursuing!
In this section, then, you will find various poems essays written in that hope, and with that prayer. Anyone who feels a connection to these ideas is invited to become a "Chaver" and to send work for posting here.