Tuesday, 26 June 2007

How flexible is Jewish Law - pt. 1

Originally published 6/26/07, 3:50 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
See this article first, "Jewish Law on Abortion and its Implications for Stem Cell Research" from the archives of Rabbi Noah Gradofsky.

Then "discuss amongst yourselves!"
Back later.


Note there was an extra period at the end of the URL, now with skipping the period, the URL emerges!


DrMike said...

The link doesn't seem to work for me.

DrMike said...

I wonder if swearing is allowed on this blog, because the article is a piece of bulls--t.

Imagine two scenarios of a policeman facing down an armed criminal. In the first scenario, the cop has a large gun and his buddy in a good position above with a sniper's rifle trained on the criminal. In the second, the cop is alone and carrying no weapon other than his devastating charm.

Well, in which scenario does the criminal surrender?

What Arnie Eisen is suggesting, via this article, is that Conservatists, having fully subscribed to the national of persona sovereignty, should throw themselves into mitzvah performance because, well, just because it's the Jewish thing to do.

What he hasn't done is explain why, once you cross the red line and replace God as your personal ruler with yourself, you need to keep any mitzvos at all? If I am my own personal ruler (I'm not, I'm married) then while God can make some worthwhile suggestions, I am not really at an obligation of accepting them.

The bar mitzvah analogy, for example, is a joke. Yes, everyone is there because they all have some connection to the family and showed up voluntarily but what if family A once had a close connection with the bar mitzvah and they then grew apart? They won't be there because they either won't have been invited or won't feel an urge to attend.

What about family B? They were invited but didn't come because they had another, previous engagement to go to, or just couldn't be bothered.

The beginning of the article is the most accurate example of the Conservative religion today - it's a movement where people agree to disagree. Arnie can come up with official standards all he wants (and I doubt he will). People will then cite their right to disagree and not keep them.

This reminds me of one interpretation of Balaam's blessings and why they were really a curse for Bnai Yisrael. If one reads them, Balaam promises one thing over and over again: God will love and protect the Jewish people unconditionally, i.e. without any obligation on the Jewish people to keep the mitzvos! This is the essential philosophy of Reform and Conservatism today - unconditional love from God, no responsibilities from us.

Anonymous said...

With all respect to Dr. Mike, the problem with the Conservative movement is that it wishes to have responsibilities but has removed any teeth to the structure of responsibilities. It believes that the observance of Jewish Law is a necessary ingredient in Jewishness but has destroyed any substantial reason for this observance. The result is the desired effect that the law is more pliable and thus without real force, as evidenced by the Conservative movement's recent decisions regarding gays, but the additional effect is that it also removes any real basis for halachic observance. As the Conservative movement distinguishes itself from Reform Judaism by advocating for the necessity of Halacha and, indeed, the obligatory nature of Halacha, this is a problem for them.

To perhaps re-phrae this, they declare that they are not Orthodox because they are more rigorous intellectually and thus cannot accept the concept of Torah miSinai. (It should be added that they also define Torah miSinai in such simplistic terms, making it a paper tiger able to be easily challenged, which is what they wish to do.) On the other hand, they are not Reform, not because they observe some halachic practices (which modern Reform Judaism also now does) but they include the obligation of Halacha as a part of their Judaism. Yet how do you have obligation without Torah miSinai? That's really what this article is about -- and the answer is still insufficient.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

If observance and responsibility are voluntary, then they don't really exist.

The law is only as real as the will to enforce it. In Conservatism's case, the law is merely a fiction.

Rabbi Richard Wolpoe said...

Note: everyone so far has commented on the Jacob Agus position on Conservative. No one yest seems to notice how he has painted Orthodox in a very limited way...

I left 2 comments on a 'school" discussion group. H ere is the gist of #1

Well there is a BIG straw man here an ultimatum of sorts - i.e. You are either a Fundamentalist or a Reconstuctionist!

That is like saying you are either a murderer or a hero - there is no in between.

How about a more accurate approach rather than an artificial reductio ad absurdum!

God gave the Holy Torah TO ISRAEL - Via Moshe and Yeshoshua etc. as outline in Avoth

The ORIGINAL TORAH is indeed HOLY, the latter stuff evolved because God did NOT hold onto the reins, but rather he gave over the administration of Torah to the Elders of the Jewish People.

That Pristine Torah at Sinai has been corrupted - and so was God warned by the angels in the Midrash that Torah could NOT be maintained as Pristine once HUMANS got their gritty little fingers on it! Nevertheless, the Will of GOD was that the Torah - which was withheld from humankind for 2,400 years was ready to be given.

All of Torah ever said was given at Sinai. So Says the Bavli. How could that be? Asnwer: The Torah is like a tree of life, but ONLY the seeds werre given at Sinai. Those original seeds of that Tree evolved and grew. [ e.g. the 13 middos created all kinds of new structures.

Saying that the programming language Java was given 15 years ago by Sun and that any new structure that uses THAT language is RECONSTUCTIONIST is patently absurd! The language was MEANT to create new structures and algorithms. And even new releases do not undo or undermine the old ones!

Lo after 3000+ years we have an amalgam. That amalgam looks less like it did at the start. Try photocopying a copy and its copy etc. many times and the original gets somewhat lost. But that is God's will - Lo Bshamayyim hi.

How far and how fast to evolve that Will of God has been debated since Hillel and Shammai and since R. Akiva and R. Ishamel.

Point? Jacob Agus has ignored the variety in Orthodoxy produced by very human psak, peirush, gzeiroth, & Takkanoth etc.


Rabbi Richard Wolpoe said...

Here is another comment that echoes many of my earlier comments. Jacob Agus has painted Orthodoxy as significantly more fundamentalistic than it is in reality.

Here is another either/or:
We must view every Midrash as either literal truth or as absurd hyperbole!

R. Avraham ben Rambam says that there is a third way - i.e the CORRECT way to neither take the text literally nor to dismiss it as meaningless - rather to see it as instructive wisdom and insight often in coded metaphor.

In our case, the Torah IS HOLY, but except for the shtei luchoth habrith it is NOT written in Stone. Rather parchment is more flexible than stone, and the Oral Law more so than the parchment-written law.


The straw man is th Agus is saying Orthodoxy has zero room to maneuver
Since everyting is 100% the will of "G-d Al-mighty!" That is how Conservative Judaism claism only IT can deal with modernity. But that straw man is a false premise.

while Torah principles are immutable from Sinai, their applications are clearly more flexible and have evolved over time.

It might be said that Orthodoxy does not move fast enough in the age of the Internet. That could be a fair criticism. Stay tuned for some Eruv controversies that illustrate that very phenomenon!