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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘‘Heresy!’’

Impurity, Heresy, and Immorality

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Although purity and impurity figure as essential dimensions of Judaism and Jewish law, the truth is that without the Beis HaMikdash we have little connection to the world of tahor and tameh, the pure and impure.

We have ritual washing of hands and we have the mikveh, but essentially we all remain in a state of ritual impurity.

It seems we have found a substitute, though, focusing instead on ideological purity and impurity. In recent years especially, we have seen members of the Orthodox community seeking to identify and root out heresy – whether suspected, imagined, or genuine.

We have seen this in efforts to ban books and label people as standing outside the camp. There has been particular anxiety over the “left” boundary of Orthodoxy. (Interestingly, there has not been a similar worry over heresy on the “right” boundary, despite the fact that some of what passes for basic Yiddishkeit on that end of the spectrum seems contrary to what we find in sources from Pirkei Avos through the Rambam.)

We have seen a similar focus on what we might call genetic purity and impurity, observable in heightened suspicion of and hostility to potential converts and even to people years or decades after their conversion. We have heard increasing talk of the “Jewish neshamah,” as if it is some genetic or otherwise essential aspect of our souls that makes us different from (and, in some unclear sense, “better” than) non-Jews.

The alternative perspective is that the souls of Jews and non-Jews do not differ; rather, Jews have been chosen to bear a special responsibility in this world, to be a “light unto the nations.”

What is most striking, however, is not simply the current concern with ideological heresy and impurity but the increasing passion and panic with which it has been expressed. The language and actions are strong, such as concerted efforts to push rabbis out of the Rabbinical Council of America. And the freedom of the Internet has made the “exposure” of alleged heresy easier; one only has to browse some of the comment threads on Orthodox websites to see the vitriol and unkindness expressed, often anonymously, by so many.

What happens when we step back and take a broader view of the concerns and rhetoric in the Orthodox world? It seems the most excited and passionate voices, among both centrist and right-wing groups, target ideological heresy, as if that were the greatest threat. But might we not say that the greatest threat is ethical impurity?

Why have we not mobilized with a greater or at least similar zeal to root out wrongdoing, to push people out of the Orthodox camp for corruption and criminal activity, for extortion and misuse of funds, for verbal and physical intimidation and violence?

The cynical answer, perhaps, is that we do not see morality as a matter of purity and impurity; that someone who is born Jewish and maintains proper ritual practice but engages in corruption has no lack of purity, whereas someone who is absolutely upright in his or her relationships and business dealings but whose beliefs are on the edge is an impure heretic.

Is there nothing wrong with this picture? Why are crime and corruption not considered a sort of heresy in themselves, a kind of denial of the Torah and its precepts?

Let us consider the reasons for the destruction of the two Temples: the first for the three cardinal sins of murder, sexual immorality, and idol worship; the second for sinas chinam, baseless hatred. Are these matters of ritual purity and impurity? Not really. Maybe one could argue that sexual immorality falls, in part, into such a category. Are they matters of ideological purity and impurity? Well, for idol worship, yes. Are they matters of moral purity and impurity? With the possible exception of idol worship, certainly.

When the prophets railed against the people, did they do so because of incorrect beliefs or because of corruption and immorality?

We lost our Temples largely due to ethical failure. Not heresy, but immorality. And yet today, when we claim to mourn our ongoing exile and the loss of the Beis HaMikdash, how do we direct our passion, our anxiety, our anger?

Can You Cry ‘Heresy’ in a Crowded Beit Midrash?

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

The most important discussion in orthodox Judaism right now is the pair of articles written by R’ Zev Farber. The articles have been deemed heresy by R’ Gordimer on Cross-Currents. If you are averse to reading anything that might touch on issues and ideas that are possibly heretical please stop reading and pick up a Nesivos Shalom or something.

Still here? Okay. The two articles say different things so I’d like to briefly address the Cross-Currents post as it relates to the “short article.” This article went through two versions. R’ Gordimer’s article used the first version which was more objectionable. R’ Farber’s article was edited a full week before the article on Cross-Currents was published. I find this to be egregious. If you are going to call someone a heretic, possibly the worst thing to call an orthodox Jew, you best be sure that every detail of your case is accurate.

The original version said this:

The simplest explanation for these differences between the accounts in Exodus-Numbers and Deuteronomy is that they were penned by (at least) two different authors with different conceptions of the desert experience.

and this:

Despite sharing many details with the desert story as told in Exodus and Numbers, there is no way to make the two versions work with each other without unreasonably stretching the meaning of the texts. Whether it be the description of the scout story, the reaction of the Edomites and Moabites to Israel’s request, or the legitimacy of dwelling in the Transjordan, the two versions work with contradictory assumptions.

I can see why R’ Gordimer thinks this is heresy. I don’t think it has to be as will be discussed later. But the second version is almost certainly not heresy. This is the revised version:

Despite sharing many details with the desert story as told in Exodus and Numbers, there appears to be no way to make the two versions work with each other without unreasonably stretching the meaning of the texts. The simplest literary approach is the academic one which posits multiple authors with multiple traditions. How such an approach meshes with traditionalist belief requires serious thought but it is necessary to start by recognizing the simplicity and straightforwardness of the academic approach.

There is nothing remarkable about this statement. It simply states that the academic approach is simpler. Simpler is not necessarily more truthful. Thus, there is no value judgment on whether the academic approach is preferable. I hope that if this was the only thing R’ Farber said, it would not have created a controversy. I hope. For this reason, I am disappointed in the Cross-Currents article.

However, whenever I raise this point I am reminded of the other “long article” where the heresy is stronger and harder to wiggle out of.

On to the second article.

This is R’ Farber’s worldview. It is his Grand Theory of Everything. His goal is clear. R’ Farber wants very badly to harmonize all the things he has taken for granted as an orthodox Jew, his adherence to halacha and social orthodoxy, with modern Biblical Criticism. This is his goal and it is important to begin with an appreciation of his assumptions.

R’ Farber takes the challenges presented by Bible critics very seriously. It’s hard not to take them seriously. They are asking good questions. It’s true that we have “frum” answers for most of these questions and some of the questions are not so bothersome. Yet, the challenges exist.

The maximalist Bible critic answer is the text is not Divine. It is a text that comes from people and therefore any anomaly is understood as poor editing by a later redactor. The various writers have different agendas and their works reflect their personal biases.

The maximalist orthodox Jewish answer is that the text is Divine. It is a text that comes from God and therefore any anomaly is understood as part of the infinite wisdom of the Author of the Torah. The different versions of stories and laws reflect Divine intent to teach us everything we need to know.

There is a huge chasm between these two approaches. They share nothing other than the questions that they ask.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/fink-or-swim/can-you-cry-heresy-in-a-crowded-beit-midrash/2013/07/23/

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