Greg Leake emails: Hi Luke,
On the final YouTube of the last Torah Talk, you and Rabbs were speculating about what kind of people were attracted to the talks and I guess conceivably your blog.
I’ve done a little thinking about that. I don’t know why most people tune in, but I have an idea about why I do. In a way I am a very unlikely candidate to be keeping up with a blog that is essentially by Jews and for Jews.
However, I realize that the Jewish part of it is not chief among my interests in respect to your site. I sort of identify and recognize two interesting and paradoxical things about you and Rabbs.
The two of you, each in your own way, are intellectual outlaws.
You are both independent, original thinkers, suspicious of authority, unconventional in your slant, and bit iconoclastic. And the second thing is that you both have gotten yourselves into these dramatic existential bowline knots. (In seamanship, this is a form of knot where the more one strains to loosen, the tighter the knot becomes.) I can also identify to some extent with this situation. I call this the Lenny Bruce syndrome.
Rabbi Rabbs is probably the most forceful exponent for Jews fundamentally connecting with the observances of Torah of anyone I have met. Rabbs is absolutely insistent that his view of Judaism is the closest a human being can possibly come to carrying out Judaism’s prime directive. Rabbs believes in this unconditionally. And at the same time Rabbs absolutely believes that many facets of Judaism have basically ruined his life. In this last YouTube he mentioned that one of his mistakes was getting hooked up with this frummie point of view. He discusses being suicidal because of the exclusionary fact of not being married and having money. He has talked about how the absence of these things automatically turns one into an alienated outsider in the Jewish community. Oy vey! What a paradox. In other circumstances this could be amusing. However, the tragic thing about it is the utter and complete sincerity with which these views are held. It’s not like one could say, “Snap out of it,” because these are beliefs that are so fundamental to Rabbs and so genuine that to try and access some kind of regular life would be to fly in the face of the principles that he absolutely holds to be the most important truth of the universe. Now that is an existential bind. I mean, that is not something a person can easily find an angle that allows for some amelioration. You’re literally damned if you do and damned if you don’t. And of course Rabbs has all of these psychological symptoms. And one wonders if the symptoms helped create the current problems, or did living with an impossibly existential dilemma cause the symptoms.
At the same time Rabbs strikes out against his experience of these restraints in a lot of very talented humor. His humor constantly punctuates the unlivable factors and paradoxical ironies that come as a result of having to contend with all of these tensions. My hope would be that Rabbs would just allow himself the flexibility needed to live life on his own terms. However, this would seem unlikely, because he is always faced with the dilemma of absolute necessity and those demands over against the possibilities of his own freedom and a life to be lived. It would be sort of like trying to choose between your wife or your child. Just what does a human being do when the serpentine paths of reality eventually place one in this position where there are two directions and neither offers escape?
Luke was operating in a field that very easily invited one to comfortably cross the line. And Luke began to feel that he was in danger of crossing that line as would be natural for a young heterosexual reporting on the porn industry. At the same time he was listening to Dennis Prager, really one of the foremost moral philosophers in today’s world, and he began to be drawn to Judaism. And, you know, it takes a lot of those independent characteristics, ambition, and a willingness to be unconventional to be willing to go out and make a name for yourself in such an off-beat and disreputable area.
Luke even eventually gave up his source of revenue in order to meet the standards that Judaism exacted from him. Where another might dial back their efforts and come back at it from a different angle, Luke severed his financial contacts in order to carry out the will of these rabbis.
So in trying to do the right thing and trying to carry out the will of voices he believed to be exponents of moral authority, he now has himself in a situation that restricts him from being able to fully explore what possibilities life might offer. In a way it is a more secure situation for one who once felt himself coming close to crossing the line of a moral imperative. After all, the life of a modern Orthodox Jew with financial limitations does not give one much room to explore the insidious byways of life. Yet at the same time Luke acts as a provocateur on his blog. Many Jews come out sounding like Patricia Highsmith characters and the moral failings of the Jewish community can been seen starkly on his blog almost every day.
Both Rabbs and Luke are unconventional people bound to a system that requires complete conformity. And this system also restrains them from exploring the possibilities that could cause them to act on their own behalf.
My reasons for keeping up with these two inimitable characters is that I recognize them in their independence and unconventionality, and I also recognize them in the existential dilemmas that life has led them into. It’s all fairly remarkable when you think about it.
RABBI RABBS EMAILS: Hey Greg. That was awesome. The longest and most entertaining review of our show yet. It was like a full-blown movie review complete with psychological profiling, plot summaries, and story lines. I’m impressed, and I’m also flattered that you spent so much time on us. Thanks.
I just wish to comment on a few points: First, although the blog might be for Jews, I don’t think the show is for Jews only. In fact, this week, at least 11 of my friends participated in the chat room, and most of those 11 are Goyim. That’s the way it’s been since the show started, and it is a reflection on the fact that most of my friends, fans, and followers are not Jews. I’d say the show if anything has potential for mass appeal of both Jews and Gentiles. So you fit in perfectly.
Next, you make it sound as if the idea that Torah is the absolute truth is nothing more than a psychological abnormality in my mind. I would rebuttal by saying that Torah being the Truth is a fact, and my only mental ailment is the pain and anguish that comes from serving a lifetime sentence of celibacy, loneliness, and solitary confinement.
Finally, thank you for the wonderful compliments regarding my comedic gifts. Much appreciated, my friend.
GREG LEAKE RESPONDS: I am pleased to understand that I am not the only goy who tunes in. (It’s lonely at the top.)
I thought I should say something about your observation that my remarks sound as if I am discrediting the Torah.
I believe in G-d, and I believe that most of the world’s religions are valid ways of coming closer to divinity and understanding more of divine nature. For example, one could say that Judaism is a red light and Christianity is a blue light, and so is the most important facet that one is red and one is blue? Or is the important facet that they are both lights?
Another metaphor is blind men describing an elephant. One man describes the trunk, another a leg, another the tail, and so forth. They do not realize that ultimately they are describing the same thing, and yet each description is valid. I do not see the competitive factors of religion as being the most important ones. I view G-d as the eternal presence that ultimately informs most of the great world religions. I also believe that sometimes in religion we get more caught up in customs than the eternal truth. Some things are hard to make rules about.
I regard the Torah as one of the great religious documents of wisdom in the world. And if one were trying to come to grips with the important considerations in respect to the eternal, the Torah cannot be excluded irrespective of whether the person is a Jew.
I also believe that a lot of religious controversies are more a matter of language and culture than an actual disagreement about eternal divinity. For example, both Hindus and Buddhists believe in reincarnation. However, Hindus profess a number of subtle vehicles that need to be contended with before one can ultimately stop the incarnation process. Buddhists, on the other hand, do not profess the subtle vehicles, but rather say there are “tendencies” that remain after a person dies, and these “tendencies” are what brings one back into incarnation. Is there really a difference between Hinduism and Buddhism? Or is it simply that what one calls subtle vehicles the other calls tendencies.
I also think that sometimes the religion that is good for a person in one phase of their life is not necessarily the best religion in another phase. For example, in the Protestant tradition that I come out of, you will have instances of someone who was a serious Baptist for 20 or 30 years who ultimately decides that they are in more conformity with the Presbyterian church.
I don’t rattle on much about my own views, because it is not my blog, and you guys determine the subject. However, I hope this gives you some idea about why I do not discredit the Torah. I regard it as one of the immensely valuable pieces of wisdom literature we have contributing to our knowledge of G-d and His relationship to religious life.
RABBI RABBS EMAILS: Greg, true Christianity believes it is the 100% correct religion, true Islam believes it is the 100% correct religion, and true Judaism believes it is the 100% correct religion.
When something is 100% correct, that by definition means that all other religions are 0% correct. If you say that each of the three is part of the truth, then you contradict all three, because each one of those three disagrees with you. So, in effect, you would not be following Judaism nor Christianity, but instead, you would be following your own religion called Gregism, and you would be the sole arbiter of what the rules and beliefs of your contrived religion should be. Gregism would borrow from the other established religions based on what appeals to you.
Now, the best part is that although you often label me as a fundamentalist, and you claim I only consider fundamentalists as Christians, nevertheless, you are also a fundamentalist. How so? You preach fundamentalist Gregism. You believe your concocted religion is the ultimate 100% truth and that all other religions in their fundamental authenticity — even Christianity — are 0% correct.
Thus, when I say that Judaism is 100% true, you dismiss my testimony as the disturbed ramblings of psychologically damaged mental case, because it is impossible that anything other than Gregism is 100% true, as Gregism in its absolutism leaves no room for any other absolutism.