Jewish Ethics and Play: The Exaltation of the Possible

By Pava, Moses L. | Cross Currents, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Jewish Ethics and Play: The Exaltation of the Possible


Pava, Moses L., Cross Currents


  It is essential to understand that a constant tension between two
  diametrically opposed concerns--preserving and betraying--is
  intrinsic to spiritual life. (Rabbi Nilton Bonder)

  The best way is that you grasp one thing, yet you must not let go of
  the other. (Ecclesiastes)

Although there is always a great temptation to do so, it is impossible to think of ethics as complete and perfect. Even as we surrender to an ethical system, as we always must, we do so playfully.

We view ethics as both real and not real, and in doing so, we temporarily give up the rationalistic demand for consistency. Ideals are always imperfect ideals. In embracing playfulness, we experience new pleasures and freedoms. We seamlessly move from the world of play to the world of the player (and back again).

In play, we grant ourselves and others the needed liberty to experience the world from different perspectives. Normal constraints are relaxed. Everyday points of view are challenged. New values, beliefs, and desires emerge. Responses become varied, paradoxical, and complicated. We stay with our emotions and stop hiding from them. We tolerate and welcome differences. We develop more sophisticated tastes, nuanced sensitivities, and mature emotions.

Over time, we discover that play is a way of being in the world more lightly and less permanently, yet more profoundly and comfortably. In play, we discover new purposes, choices, modes of being, and new opportunities.

More open ways of interacting with others suddenly become available to us. More honest communication is possible. According to the psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, one of play's all-time greatest advocates, "Playing has a place and a time. It is not inside ... Nor is it outside ... Playing facilitates growth and therefore health; playing leads into group relationships; play can be a form of communication ..." (Winnicott 1971, p. 41). Dialogue and dialectical thinking become a way of life. Creativity is enhanced. Imagination is embraced. Deeper layers of meaning are revealed.

In play, we hold on to our old selves less tightly. We take more risks. We move to the edge of our own capabilities and consciousness. We enter what one psychologist has dubbed a state of "flow" (Csikszentmihalyi 2003). We push and challenge ourselves and each other. We begin to experiment more, and we realize that to take ourselves more seriously, we have to take ourselves less seriously first. A tiny gap between the past and the future opens. Identities loosen. Transitions become possible. The promise of growth and transcendence is strengthened.

It is through play that we evolve. New and challenging ways of interpreting and making meaning in the world are adopted. Perceptions are widened. New connections are made, and old ones are seen as obsolete.

More complex identities emerge to subsume older and more simple ones. We are still who we always were, only better. Play is evocative and transformative:

  Through play we learn that all perspectives and behaviors belong to
  categories and that these categories can be manipulated. They can
  support each other (science and discovery), transform each other
  (art), or cancel each other out (comedy) ... When we are able to step
  back from one categorical level to see and play with it from another,
  we begin the process of transformation. (Gordon and Esbjorn-Hargens
  2007)

The content and authority of ethics derives from legitimate and open dialogue. It is a process that one chooses (or not) to participate in. Such a process--to work effectively--must recognize its own limitations and imperfections. Paradoxically, it must come to recognize that its own ideals are only imperfect ideals. Whatever we agree to today will become outdated and constraining over time. However brilliant and insightful we are now, no one can anticipate what the future will bring.

It is because of all of this that no matter how important ethics are to the quality of our lives and no matter how permanent we think our ethics to be now, we must learn to approach and embrace our own ethics in a playful and tentative way; as simultaneously real and unreal. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Jewish Ethics and Play: The Exaltation of the Possible
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.