Friday, January 25, 2008

The Old Ways: Past Tense in a Present Sense

כה אמר יהוה עמדו על-דרכים וראו ושאלו לנתיבות עולם, אי-זה דרך הטוב ולכו-בה, ומצאו מרגוע, לנפשכם

"Thus says Hashem (The LORD), stand on the highways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk upon it and you shall find rest for your souls. "
(Jerimiah 6:16)

When I talk about the Old Ways and my connection to them, it must be understood within a certain context. For me it is not a matter of disregarding the present or the changes that come along with it the progression of human history. It is for me a matter of never forgetting, loosing site of, or downplaying the past. One thing that I for example do not advocate is what I call The Fly Guy Affect.

The Fly Guy Affect is something I coined after seeing a scene from the movie I'm Gonna Get You Sucka. In this movie there is a character named Fly Guy who has been in prison since the 1970's and was released in the late 1980's. During one of the scenes he remembers when he was at the top of game and was the biggest "player" out there.

In the below scene Fly Guy gets out of jail to reclaim his "empire" from before he was imprisoned. What he doesn't know is that fashion has changed since he was in prison. So he leaves wearing the cloths he wore when he first went into prison. He exits the prison thinking he is looking good, like he supposedly did in the 1970's.

Fly Guy Gets Out of Jail

The above, of course, it not what I am talking about. What I am talking about is more of a Middle Eastern Judaic concept separate from a western one. I call this Living Past Tense in a Present Sense. I define this as: living one's life according to an ancient tradition or code, while consciously dealing with the current and future realities.

Simple Judaism's online site contains a page called Science and Judaism, which explains similar concepts in the following manner.

Judaism has empirical roots in the Sinai experience. For a Jew, faith is a rational extension of what he knows to be true. Faith is what allows us to stretch our horizons into areas we cannot know for sure (which actually is most of our life). Without this faith, we would be very limited indeed. But that does not mean that you can believe what you want.

Reason is what ensures that what we believe in is the most rational and empirically supported of all the alternatives. For example, when we say that we believe in G-d, what we mean is that G-d is the best explanation for the facts of the world as we see them.
Judaism values reason so highly that it is at the center of our Oral Law. Something which is purely logical needs no further proof, and is considered as binding as if a verse had been written in the Torah. But Judaism also recognizes that faith based on reason alone would be a cold, philosophical faith, not a real relationship with G-d. We are multi-faceted and capable of complex relationships with things. A Jew is simultaneously critical and believing, skeptical and passionate, questioning and trusting. it is this marvelous little bag of rich responses, which makes commitment to Judaism so rewarding.

Further, the idea is that there is no need to really conceptualize the blend of the past with the present. Living as a past tense person in a present sense is a part of everyday life here in Israel, as well as most of the Middle East. We live in realities that are predicated upon the past as it still exists, yet dealing with the world at it evolves.

It is no problem for example for me to dress the way Jews did years ago, and still use a cell phone. It is no problem for me to sing songs that are hundreds of years old, while using modern instruments. It is no problem for me to live a religious lifestyle the way my ancestors did and at the same time go surfing on the internet. So the Fly Guy Affect is far from what I am talking about when I talk about the Old Ways. The below videos are more in line with what I am speaking on. I have posted these songs before, but I like them so much I will post them again with explanations.

Tziyon Golan - Ya Mehhji

Note: The above song is one of my favorite old school songs that Tziyon Golan sings. The song is more than likely over 300 years old. It used to be sung by woman at Jewish weddings in Yemen when the bride to be was carried through the city to the home of the groom to be. The song is sung in Yemenite Arabic (the subtitles are in both Judaic Arabic, with Hebrew script, and in modern Hebrew). This beautiful song talks about how we Jews marry in the way that Moses the prophet of God commanded us. It further details the marriage of the Biblical patriarchs Isaac and Rebbecca, after the death of Isaac's mother Sarah. Much of Jewish marriage ceremony, for the last several thousand years, revolves around the story of how Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac, Isaac and Rebecca's marriage, and how the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) says that Rebbecca brought Isaac comfort after his mother's passing. More information on this here and here.

Midawane by Mawalane

Note: The above song is an Amazigh (Berber) song performed by Mawalane. When I started drawing closer to my family roots I started getting into Berber music from Senegal, Mali, and Nijer areas. The above video is a good example of a group performing old school songs with the ways of the present such as electric guitars. Many of the modern Berber musicians have been able to blend old methods of music with the modern instruments effortlessly. This song also makes me think of how I am hoping in a few years to visit Mali and Senegal in order to trace the Ever family trek before they went to America.


Miriam said...

Hey Ehav! good luck with your mission to Mali.

Re:fly guy gets out of jail. OMG! I can't believe you posted that. LOLOL.
Well as his right hand man said, "that's right!"

Ehav Ever said...

Hey Miriam,

I have a few years before I can make it a reality. It is really expensive to get to Mali. Let alone getting to Timbuktu is another journey in and of itself. I have to find someone who speaks French fluently to go with me. I knew someone in the US, but I lost contact with him. I do know of a Sheikh, Sheikh Abdel Haidaira, in Timbuktu who can help me, but email there is not very reliable. I want to get there before he forgets who I am.

Yeah, I thought that fly guy clip was perfect. That scene when he got out of jail and thought he was still in style is so funny to me. It was also funny that the guys playing his own theme music started laughing at him.

I wish I could find a video of when Junebug Spade OG'd (Over Gold). Also, the scene of the Black Revolutionary who was married to a Euro-American woman with Euro-American kids. That one I wanted for a post I did a while back.

Anali said...

This is quite an interesting blog that you have here. I just stayed up very late last night watching an excellent PBS show called "The Jewish Americans." Here is a link if you are interested.

As an African-American, it was really interesting seeing that so much of it was devoted to the Civil Rights Movement. Also I happened to go to Brandeis University for undergrad and saw one of my former professors!

Ehav Ever said...

Hello Anili,

Thanks for stopping by my blog. I will take a look at the link you provided thanks. Several years ago when I lived in America I was involved in Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity I had a chance to interview the first non-African American member. His name was Dr. Georg Iggers. His family had escaped Nazi Germany when he was 12. When he came to America he instantly became involved in the Cival Rights movement, specifically in the NAACP. He assisted with the Little Rock Arkansas 9 lawsuit.

He lost contact with Phi Beta Sigma for about 40 years until one of the members found him. I was the first to interview him. It was really interesting talking to him about his experience. A few years ago some of the members of Sigma had him as a speaker at the University of Buffalo.

Anali said...

Wow! That's pretty amazing!

rivkayael said...

I think your rootedness in tradition (or by extension, shomer mitzvot-ist people) explains why you are able to function in the world at large more stably than you would otherwise. Was learning Rambam's yesodei hatorah and stumbled across his chiddush (said so matter-of-factly) that "chemical reactions happen because of the rotation of the sphere" (loosely translated). Now, we know that people thought the world was *FLAT* during the 1100s. So what on earth was Rambam talking about? Perhaps scientific dogma didn't really bother him so much because he chose to base his ideas on some conception of Torah and mesorah so it didn't matter where the *truth* came from. Same thing with you and Orthodox Bible scholars who study biblical criticism I think.

Ehav Ever said...

Hi Rivkayael,

I hope you are well. In terms of the flat earth theory, it is understood that much of the world, historically, never thought the world was flat.

Contrary to what most people think, the Earth was known to be spherical in ancient times by many civilizations. During the later Vedic period (in the Shatapatha Brahmana, ca. 6th century BCE), the idea that Earth was spherical appeared in ancient India. This is also recognized in another Vedic Sanskrit text Aitareya Brahmana composed around the same time, and in a later Sanskrit commentary Vishnu Purana. Aristotelianism in particular was extraordinarily powerful as a philosophical system and Aristotle clearly taught the Earth’s sphericity. Nearly all the Greeks who had a view on the shape of the Earth agreed that it was a sphere. Eratosthenes’ measurement of the Earth’s circumference (250,000 stades) was very close to the modern figure. Shortly after the collapse of the Ming Dynasty, the Ge Chi Cao treatise of Xiong Ming-yu was written (1648 CE), and showed a printed picture of the earth as a spherical globe, with the text stating that "The Round Earth certainly has no Square Corners". The early Muslim scholars who held to the round earth theory used it in an impeccably Islamic manner, to calculate the distance and direction from any given point on the earth to Makkah (Mecca). This determined the Qibla, or Muslim direction of prayer. Muslim mathematicians developed spherical trigonometry which was used in these calculations. Ibn Khaldun (1406 CE), in his writings the Muqaddimah, also identified the world as spherical

Jeffrey Burton Russell is a professor of history at the University of California in Santa Barbara. He says in his book Inventing the Flat Earth (written for the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's journey to America in 1492) that through antiquity and up to the time of Columbus, “nearly unanimous scholarly opinion pronounced the earth spherical.” It was mostly a few ancient societies along with select group of later European scholars who started the claim of a flat earth.

Of course in the Tanakh there is Yeshayah 40:22 that states.

היושב על-חוג הארץ, ויושביה כחגבים

So in terms of Rambam I believe that what he was using as the basis of his scientific understandings were things that were common during his time, and before. I.e. world is a sphere, many believe so also, but not everyone. Foundations for it can be found Torah and Mesorah okay spherical earth. Even though there may be elements of the science of his time, that we have better or more accurate understandings on, his approach using the science of that time was an accurate method. In that vein the foundation doesn't change, and elements of how that foundation stands doesn't change, but using the science of the era helps in dealing the gaps in between as that science progresses man eventually is able to understand things in a better way than the previous generation. I believe going backwards towards Gan Eden in a sense when Hashem and Torah could be understood without the intellectual barriers that exist in generations after the event. Similar to how those who were at Har Sinai obviously had a more clear of understanding of what they experienced as compared to those who were several generations removed from it.

So yes, I agree with you that the reason that it is easy in a standpoint like mine to deal with current realities is because I start from a known base point, Emunah in Torath Mosheh. From there it is a matter of using the tools of past eras as well as the modern eras to fill in the gaps in between. I believe that is part of what Hashem has built into the equation of human living. Kind of like Torah and Halakhah being the vehicles to the destination and the ability to apply the scholarship of the past and current eras to deal with or live out said things being the fuel.

It is like Moshe ben Chaim at states.

"God is the source of all knowledge. And knowledge is the set of truths that by definition explain matters of creation and God’s will, with “reason”. This means, that the only path to knowledge, is a path where reason guides every step. If we do not engage reason, then what we fathom are mere fantasies that do not reflect what is true and real."

Supreme1 said...

Peace and Blessings brotha, I am feeling your site here and please, please when you get to Timbuktu, let us know of the great knowledge you may find in the ancient libraries there or at least the information that was once contained in the ancient libraries.