Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Archive for February, 2009|Monthly archive page

What role does religion play in success and happiness?

In Uncategorized on February 10, 2009 at 8:29 pm

Univesity of Miami Professor Michael McCollough has authored a study that unpacks why religious people are more successful, and generally more sanguine with their lives than secular folks. It seems that they have more self control:

Research has also shown that young children who do well at delaying gratification (i.e., forgoing a small reward in the present so that they might obtain a larger reward after time has passed) perform better years later on measures of academic achievement and social adjustment (Mischel, Shoda, & Rodriguez, 1989). Some social scientists consider delay of gratification to be an important dynamic underlying the behavioral choices of people who believe in an afterlife in which their behavior during this life will be judged. For people with strong beliefs in such an afterlife, it would indeed be rational to deny short-term gains that might come from engaging in behavior that is proscribed by one’s religion because the long-term (eternal) gains of not engaging in the behavior might outweigh the short-term gains associated with engaging in the behavior (Azzi & Ehrenberg, 1975; Iannaccone, 1998).

In other words, certain perspectives make it easier to ignore ones salivary glands when confronted with a pot of gold–and it seems it will also make one more successful as well as make one less prone to depression.

The Sages of the Talmud had much to say about self destructive behavior and its origins. Review some of the earliest understanding on the story of Cain and Abel–the first murder.
Here are some seemingly conflicting tidbits:

“Both small and great are there and a servant is free from his masters.” (Job 3:19) As long as a human lives, he is a servant to two urges. A servant to his Creator and a servant to his desires. When he serves his Creator he enrages his desires and when he serves his desires, he enrages his Creator. When he dies, he is liberated. The servant is free from his masters. (Midrash Ruth 3:1)

Rabbi Nachman Bar Shmuel Bar Nachman in the name of Shmuel Bar Nachman said: “And it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) ‘And it was good’—refers to one’s good inclination, ‘and it was very good’—refers to one’s evil inclination. You mean that an evil inclination is very good?!!!?!??! If it were not for the evil inclination one would not build a house, marry and have children, nor engage in commerce. Thus Solomon wrote in Kohelet “skillful enterprise come from men’s envy of one another.” (Geneis Rabba 9:7)

It’s another one of Ravavi’s faux Talmud pages for your perusal and benefit.

What role does religion play in success and happiness?

In Uncategorized on February 10, 2009 at 8:29 pm

Univesity of Miami Professor Michael McCollough has authored a study that unpacks why religious people are more successful, and generally more sanguine with their lives than secular folks. It seems that they have more self control:

Research has also shown that young children who do well at delaying gratification (i.e., forgoing a small reward in the present so that they might obtain a larger reward after time has passed) perform better years later on measures of academic achievement and social adjustment (Mischel, Shoda, & Rodriguez, 1989). Some social scientists consider delay of gratification to be an important dynamic underlying the behavioral choices of people who believe in an afterlife in which their behavior during this life will be judged. For people with strong beliefs in such an afterlife, it would indeed be rational to deny short-term gains that might come from engaging in behavior that is proscribed by one’s religion because the long-term (eternal) gains of not engaging in the behavior might outweigh the short-term gains associated with engaging in the behavior (Azzi & Ehrenberg, 1975; Iannaccone, 1998).

In other words, certain perspectives make it easier to ignore ones salivary glands when confronted with a pot of gold–and it seems it will also make one more successful as well as make one less prone to depression.

The Sages of the Talmud had much to say about self destructive behavior and its origins. Review some of the earliest understanding on the story of Cain and Abel–the first murder.
Here are some seemingly conflicting tidbits:

“Both small and great are there and a servant is free from his masters.” (Job 3:19) As long as a human lives, he is a servant to two urges. A servant to his Creator and a servant to his desires. When he serves his Creator he enrages his desires and when he serves his desires, he enrages his Creator. When he dies, he is liberated. The servant is free from his masters. (Midrash Ruth 3:1)

Rabbi Nachman Bar Shmuel Bar Nachman in the name of Shmuel Bar Nachman said: “And it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) ‘And it was good’—refers to one’s good inclination, ‘and it was very good’—refers to one’s evil inclination. You mean that an evil inclination is very good?!!!?!??! If it were not for the evil inclination one would not build a house, marry and have children, nor engage in commerce. Thus Solomon wrote in Kohelet “skillful enterprise come from men’s envy of one another.” (Geneis Rabba 9:7)

It’s another one of Ravavi’s faux Talmud pages for your perusal and benefit.

Gold Slobber

In Uncategorized on February 10, 2009 at 7:17 pm

A footnote to my previous post. When my sister was living in London, I went to visit her. She gave me the obligatory trip to where the crown jewels were displayed. I wear no jewelry, and these days, a cell phone has become my timepiece. In other words, jewelry is not only not my passion–it is not even of remote interest.

The display of solid gold scepters was where I noticed an involuntary reaction…I was salivating. Need I say more.

Why Goodness Cannot be Legislated (but maybe accountability can)

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2009 at 2:49 am

So sitting around the shabbos table, I point out that all the gold in the world would only fill up two Olympic sized swimming pools, and that gold has no utility, beyond its obvious use. Nobody was stunned by this observation. The fact that gold was beautiful guaranteed its status, it didn’t have to be useful. I was flabbergasted by this–maybe it’s because I’m not a fan of jewelry, but nobody gets how weird it is that gold became a standard for currency?

The only thing inevitable about the current economic crisis is that once everyone was given enough rope, they would surely hang themselves–and take us along with them. When the Maestro Greenspan gave his feeble excuses before Congress, he expressed his surprise that the institutions did not act in their own interest and police themselves. He expected them to be rational. In Peter L. Bernstein’s The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession, he points out that Gold is an element that is virtually without utility. It is useless, but it is rare and it does catch the eye. It is gold’s scarcity coupled with it’s allure that gives it iconic stature, its lack of utility is of no consequence. Ok. It’s visceral–we like shiny baubles, especially if everyone can’t have them.

This is what people value, and institutions are basically groups of people, led by the most ambitious and ruthless, but not necessarily the most reflective–maybe he should have taken an undergraduate psychology course to enlighten him. I thought everyone knew that economics was a behavioral science. In the words of Ben Zoma,

איזהו גבור הכובש את יצרו–אבות ד:א
(Who is considered mighty? One who conquers his visceral inclinations Pirkei Avot 4:1)

How have the mighty fallen?

Why Goodness Cannot be Legislated (but maybe accountability can)

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2009 at 2:49 am

So sitting around the shabbos table, I point out that all the gold in the world would only fill up two Olympic sized swimming pools, and that gold has no utility, beyond its obvious use. Nobody was stunned by this observation. The fact that gold was beautiful guaranteed its status, it didn’t have to be useful. I was flabbergasted by this–maybe it’s because I’m not a fan of jewelry, but nobody gets how weird it is that gold became a standard for currency?

The only thing inevitable about the current economic crisis is that once everyone was given enough rope, they would surely hang themselves–and take us along with them. When the Maestro Greenspan gave his feeble excuses before Congress, he expressed his surprise that the institutions did not act in their own interest and police themselves. He expected them to be rational. In Peter L. Bernstein’s The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession, he points out that Gold is an element that is virtually without utility. It is useless, but it is rare and it does catch the eye. It is gold’s scarcity coupled with it’s allure that gives it iconic stature, its lack of utility is of no consequence. Ok. It’s visceral–we like shiny baubles, especially if everyone can’t have them.

This is what people value, and institutions are basically groups of people, led by the most ambitious and ruthless, but not necessarily the most reflective–maybe he should have taken an undergraduate psychology course to enlighten him. I thought everyone knew that economics was a behavioral science. In the words of Ben Zoma,

איזהו גבור הכובש את יצרו–אבות ד:א
(Who is considered mighty? One who conquers his visceral inclinations Pirkei Avot 4:1)

How have the mighty fallen?

A New Understanding of Pluralism

In Uncategorized on February 6, 2009 at 6:06 am

As denominations become more meaningless to the point that they are not taught to youth for fear of boring them to an early grave–it is high time to redefine pluralism. Make no mistake, the youth of today have the lowest threshold for boredom known to humankind and they would rather have teeth extracted through their heads than be bored. Why should we define Jews by terms that become more meaningless with each passing day? Here’s a snippet on how to educate by redefining pluralism. It is a different understanding of difference.

Beyond denomination, beyond race and ethnicity and beyond gender, young people have different temperaments that need to be addressed. I believe that a curriculum must be designed that addresses what I regard as the basic Jewish temperaments: the religious (who may or may not be idealistic), the idealist (who may or may not be religious) and the pragmatist. These three temperaments, valuable as each is, do not naturally co-exist, and when untended can become disturbingly destructive–a phenomenon, we know all too well.

In my judgment, it is the challenge of teachers to identify a student’s best version of his temperament, and then to nurture all their students to the possibility of integrating who they may eventually become into who they are at the moment. This process, however, cannot be done in isolation. Each temperament must take account of the other competing temperaments with consideration and kindness. The Sacred must consider the Idealist, and the Idealist must consider the Sacred, and both must consider the pragmatist as the pragmatist must engage with the others. To paraphrase Kohelet, this three-stranded thread will ensure that a community will never unravel.

If you wish to read the rest of the article, click here.

A New Understanding of Pluralism

In Uncategorized on February 6, 2009 at 6:06 am

As denominations become more meaningless to the point that they are not taught to youth for fear of boring them to an early grave–it is high time to redefine pluralism. Make no mistake, the youth of today have the lowest threshold for boredom known to humankind and they would rather have teeth extracted through their heads than be bored. Why should we define Jews by terms that become more meaningless with each passing day? Here’s a snippet on how to educate by redefining pluralism. It is a different understanding of difference.

Beyond denomination, beyond race and ethnicity and beyond gender, young people have different temperaments that need to be addressed. I believe that a curriculum must be designed that addresses what I regard as the basic Jewish temperaments: the religious (who may or may not be idealistic), the idealist (who may or may not be religious) and the pragmatist. These three temperaments, valuable as each is, do not naturally co-exist, and when untended can become disturbingly destructive–a phenomenon, we know all too well.

In my judgment, it is the challenge of teachers to identify a student’s best version of his temperament, and then to nurture all their students to the possibility of integrating who they may eventually become into who they are at the moment. This process, however, cannot be done in isolation. Each temperament must take account of the other competing temperaments with consideration and kindness. The Sacred must consider the Idealist, and the Idealist must consider the Sacred, and both must consider the pragmatist as the pragmatist must engage with the others. To paraphrase Kohelet, this three-stranded thread will ensure that a community will never unravel.

If you wish to read the rest of the article, click here.

A Macabre Jewish "Joke" Recycled

In Uncategorized on February 5, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Rumors spread in an Eastern European Shtetl that a Christian child had been murdered and a pogrom was in the offing. The whole community went to the local synagogue to pray and gird themselves for the imminent onslaught, when, Moishe runs in breathless, saying, “Good news, it was a Jewish child.”

Now, New York Jewish investors are mollified by the fact that Madoff’s primary targets were Jews which has mitigated the perceived inevitable anti-Semitic backlash. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

A Macabre Jewish "Joke" Recycled

In Uncategorized on February 5, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Rumors spread in an Eastern European Shtetl that a Christian child had been murdered and a pogrom was in the offing. The whole community went to the local synagogue to pray and gird themselves for the imminent onslaught, when, Moishe runs in breathless, saying, “Good news, it was a Jewish child.”

Now, New York Jewish investors are mollified by the fact that Madoff’s primary targets were Jews which has mitigated the perceived inevitable anti-Semitic backlash. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

If you’re reading this, you may want to…

In Uncategorized on February 5, 2009 at 4:59 am

Click on “Follow this blog” on the top of the right hand column. It’s a way for me to know who is out there–besides family members.