Monday, 22 February 2010

The case of the "Halachic Martinet"

Being overly fastidious by - EG literally sticking to text over menschlichkeit - can lead to undesired results.

Martinet - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Din/Halachah/Minhag/Humra. For the term "Etiquette" Below and see how this works

• In an extended sense, a martinet is any person for whom a strict adherence to rules and etiquette is paramount: martinets often use "etiquette" and other rules as an excuse to trump ethics, to the point that etiquette loses its ethical ground.

[EG] The Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was famously described as a "strutting martinet" by Time in 1977.[1]

Perhaps the term "chosid shoteh" may be an apt parallel term to the Halachic Martinet. In any event, let's not get so carried away with the technical aspects so as to sacrifice ethics, morals, or "menschlichkeit". The recent scandals in "frum" communities has taught us to know better than to head down that path.



Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

While I basically agree with Rabbi Wolpoe's, the challenge is that Halacha, at times, seems to demand exactly that we choose to observe it in the face of a powerful ethical demand in the opposite direction. Of course, Akeidat Yitzchak is perhaps the most powerful example of this. The fact is, though, that Rabbi Wolpoe's standard does seem to have some exceptions.

What I would add, though, is that such cases are rare. Furthermore, in the case of Akeidat Yitzchak, it would seem clear that Avraham Avinu had no doubt that this was a directive of God. If he had some doubt, how could he have even contemplated it? This should direct us, in the least, to be sure to the best of our ability of the validity of a halachic demand that would seem to violate the norms of menschlichkeit.

This leads me to what I think is the real problem. It seems that there is trend of many people to actually like observing Halacha specifically when it is perceived to violate norms of general ethics. This very desire even drives people to attempt to define the halacha in a way that violates general ethical norms. I feel there are two possible reasons for this. One is the desire to be uniquely Jewish and abiding general ethical norms not only does not distinguish one as a Jew but even makes one like everyone else, ie. like the non-Jews. A second is the desire for a mystical high. The more contrary to derech hatevah one defines his/her behaviour, the greater the high, and abiding by moral derech hatevah is no different. The result is a high from not being a mensch.

I will have more to say about this issue in this week's Insight. The Purim story clearly weighs in as substantiating the value of seeing things through derech hatevah.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Rabbi R Wolpoe said...

no disputing Rabbi Hecht's points...

My salient thrust was aimed at those who subscribe to Halachic form and overlook substance, or just don't get it - the way a Chossid shoteh would refuse to save a drowning woman. Thus Halachic rigidity takes on a life of its own

I'm not referring to reactionary rigidity of a Chatam Sofer who resisted Reform. I'm addressing the rigidty of those who see trees without forests and are clueless about the over-arching cause.

Think of people protesting violence who then attack hecklers.