I write with a sense of acute distress. It is my deep feeling that many of those who carry the banner of the Torah of Israel are taking steps in the wrong direction – a direction that ignores the many elements of Man as having been created in God’s image. This manifests itself in two ways.
First, Orthodox Judaism is slowly abandoning the Torah’s unique view of the image of God in Man. In its place, an ever more dominant religious view encourages Man to see himself as “a worm and not a man” – as one who is perpetually dependent on God; one whose actions are in essence meaningless beyond a modicum of hishtadlut (exertion). One who has no rights, only obligations.
Rabbis are glorified in descriptions of the wonders they perform and the miracles they merit. The encounter with God is sought more often in graveyards than in the land of the living – the markets and streets. The responsibility that Man should shoulder gives way to self-negation and self-annihilation. All of the above result in a trend that diminishes Man’s Divine image.
This type of relationship between Man and God has led to a decline in the believing Jew ’s attitude toward the human body, toward pleasure, and toward worldly matters. The religious world is inching closer and closer to something akin to Puritanism, constantly fighting against the aesthetic aspects of reality.
This also affects the relationship between the Jewish nation and the rest of humanity. Orthodox Judaism is consciously devaluing the notion of a universal humanity. This distancing from the rest of humankind is both ideological and existential. Anything that did not stem from “holiness” is deemed unworthy. Thus, there is no place for non-Jewish culture or for contact with it. America is viewed as an ama reika – an empty nation – and the culture of the world is considered a culture of emptiness.
This attitude is not restricted to matters of culture. It is more than likely that the overwhelming majority of the Torah world, and certainly the yeshiva world, has never been exposed to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the American Constitution, or the different types of church-state relationships that exist in Europe. This is part and parcel of not relating to Man as having been created in the image of God, a person responsible for himself and his culture.
As a result, the Torah’s influence on the world is diminishing. The utopian vision of shaping the world according to the Torah is becoming more and more distant.
My severe distress stems first and foremost from my heartfelt belief that this attitude toward Man is not the word of God. Torah and halacha are based on a different language, one that teaches responsibility and pride, freedom and merit, self-acceptance and natural morality. The Torah appeals to Man as a citizen of the world. It relates to a nation that lives a full and natural life set in reality. It describes its patriarchs as individuals whose existential world was a complete one, filled with material and spiritual wealth.
Not one syllable contained in the Torah calls upon Man to live life by abstaining from all that surrounds him. It is a Torah of life, and relates to life in its fullest.
In addition to the problems mentioned above, a new – and distressing – religious language is forming. It is a language that removes God from the picture. The life it generates is deeply spiritual, yet it lacks commitment to halacha and fidelity to the word of God.
I wrote my latest book, In His Image, in an effort to bring about a change in current trends and strengthen the notions of the image of Man, his free will, his life in this world, and his standing before God. These, I believe, are the foundations of faith.
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow