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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘master’

‘You Murder the Children’: Rav Soloveitchik on Abortion

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

When one thinks of Modern Orthodoxy, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l soon comes to mind for his leadership thereof. In our time, however, Modern Orthodoxy has become a vague term with problematic tendencies. As Rabbi Steven Pruzansky–who has numerous shiurim on Yeshiva University’s Torah website–recently wrote, “Too often, one finds in the Modern Orthodox world grievances of one sort or another against this or that aspect of Torah, as if Jews get to sit in judgment of God and His Torah.”

No issue might better crystallize the dissonance between Rav Soloveitchik’s Modern Orthodoxy and today’s than abortion. Let us consider the great man’s views.

During a shiur on Parashat Bo in 1975, Rav Soloveitchik stated that “to me it is something vulgar, this clamor of the liberals that abortion be permitted,” adding:

“I consider the society of today as insane…I read from the press that in Eretz Yisrael they permit abortions now! Sapir [probably Pinchas Sapir] comes to the US and asks that 60,000 boys and girls should leave the US and settle in Eretz Yisrael. When a child is born, it’s also immigration to Eretz Yisrael, and yet you murder the children.”

Rav Soloveitchik then predicted:

“And if you kill the fetus, a time will come when even infants will be killed…The mother will get frightened after the baby will be born…and the doctor will say her life depends upon the murder of the baby. And you have a word, mental hygiene, whatever you want you can subsume under mental hygiene…And there is now a tendency for rabbis in the US to march along with society, otherwise they’ll be looked upon as reactionaries.”

Similar remarks appear in Reflections of the Rav:

“If the dominant principle governing the logos ["thinking capacity"] is that abortion is morally permissible because only a mother has a right to decide whether she wishes to be a mother, then infants may similarly have their lives terminated after birth. What if the child interferes with the promising brilliant career of the mother?”

These words might be jarring for those who view Rav Soloveitchik as the mild-mannered author of philosophically oriented books like The Lonely Man of Faith. Equally if not more jarring might be Rav Soloveitchik’s statements on sexual morality, which I discussed a few months ago.

Specific to abortion, one might counter that Rav Soloveitchik permitted an unborn child with Tay-Sachs disease to be aborted through the sixth month, but this proves just the opposite, namely: 1) What does this narrow, tragic case indicate about Rav Soloveitchik’s general view of abortion? 2) What does it indicate about Rav Soloveitchik’s view of abortion after the sixth month even in the case of Tay-Sachs? And vis-à-vis those who claim a woman’s absolute right to “terminate a pregnancy” at any point, I doubt such an attempt to (mis)represent Rav Soloveitchik as a “moderate” on abortion would be received agreeably. In this regard, one of Rav Soloveitchik’s sons-in-law, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, shlita, has observed in the context of abortion:

“Even if we were to accept that indeed it is the woman’s own body, we totally reject the conception that she then can do with it as she pleases. This is a completely anti-halakhic perception [emphasis added]. It rests on a secular assumption that, as it were, ‘My Nile is my own; I made it for myself’ (Yechezkel 29:3), as if we are the source of our own existence and therefore the masters of our own being. This is assuredly not the case.”

Rav Lichtenstein summarizes the worldview of that anti-halakhic perception as follows:

“The essence of modern secular culture is the notion of human sovereignty; individual man is master over himself, and collective man is master over his collective… From a religious point of view, of course, eilu va-eilu divrei avoda zara—both approaches are idolatrous. Here one establishes individual man as an idol, and the one idolizes, in humanistic terms, humanity as a whole. The basis of any religious perception of human existence is the sense that man is not a master: neither a master over the world around him, nor a master over himself.”

Yes, Rav Soloveitchik earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Berlin (as likewise Rav Lichtenstein earned a Ph.D. in English literature from Harvard). Yes, Rav Soloveitchik enjoyed classical music (especially Bach). And first and foremost, Rav Soloveitchik was a Torah Jew for whom Halachah was not some intellectual game or cultural style, rather an all-encompassing conviction with profound social implications. Thus his denunciations of abortion, which derived from the same worldview as these remarks in 1953:

This Ain’t Torah

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Harassment and exploitation (not only in the area of sex) are expressions of abuse of power. This must be the common denominator to jealousy, lust, and ambition, which, according to the Mishna “remove man from the world.”

The most serious aspect of the Rabbi Motti Elon scandal is the fact that it emanated from a cult, defaming Judaism and the Torah itself, God forbid. I’ve been watching and hearing criticism of the path of the Torah – because of this news item about a sect that’s following its charismatic leader whose every word and action are subject to their adoration.

The phenomena of such unworthy leaders are typical of almost every such cult.

The despicable acts of indecency are not the problem here, they’re merely the symptoms. The problem is the cult, its mentality and dynamics.

We must make it clear that a cult not only does not represent the Torah and its followers – it is absolutely anti-Torah. It is wrong, detestable, despicable and an abomination.

Now we must admit a few unpleasant facts:

This kind of cult is typical of our generation, very in and new-age.

The fact that someone’s guru hasn’t yet made an appearance as a defendant on the nightly news does not mean the guru phenomenon is kosher.

The entire Jewish culture, starting with the Bible and going all the way to the latest commentators, repeats time and again the value of freedom. Our tradition demands of us to remain free, slaves only to the Eternal who is above all humans – and it absolutely forbids us to go back to being slaves of slaves.

The most despicable person is the slave whose master pierced his ear after he had said “I love my master” – choosing a love for flesh and blood over love of the Divine.

Not forced slavery, but rather willful slavery, the conscious choosing of subjugation, is the most repulsive level of the anti-Jewish existence.

That’s what every cult does, it may even be the most profound definition of what’s wrong with every cult.

We’ve seen these phenomena in the town of Migdal, in northern Israel, where Rabbi Motti Elon ruled over his cult of admirers.

There were times when I liked Rabbi Motti Elon very much, especially his classes. I still think he is one of the most gifted men of our generation. But I recall how surprised I was when I first saw the ads that were plastered in the streets of Jerusalem, inviting people to his “tish.”

Tish? This Zionist Yeke (German Jew) is having a tish?

Since that time, I’ve kept my distance.

I won’t claim to have presaged that these “tishes” would eventually turn into a cult, including the embarrassing and revolting charges of which Elon has just been convicted, but in my primitive kishkes (guts) I already felt that it’s all gone to his head, or turned his head – I won’t even attempt to psychoanalyze the man.

Naturally, I was told back then that I’m full of it, because a tish is connected to Chassidism, and Chassidism is Yidishkeit, and Yidishkeit can’t be bad.

But I happen to believe that Yidishkeit is Freedom, and freedom is very, very good, and anything that opposes freedom is not Judaism and not Torah, and is very, very bad.

I don’t have the energy to start a debate over Chassidism, but I must say that our generation has turned our glorious tradition into a complete fruit salad, served with pitiful, new-age whining, doused in pseudo-spiritual dressing, replete with hollow poses of Kabbala-like mysticism, self-worship, and heaping portions of slavery to charismatic charlatans.

After all, the self-deprecating before the leader is the other side of the coin of narcissism and self-centeredness, and both sides mean bondage, heresy and lowly paganism.

Instead of Tikun Olam through the kingdom of spirit and morality, the new age post-modernist is cynically employing “spiritual” slogans to usurp the world for his own needs, his dubious jealousy, lust, and ambition.

Rabbi Motti Elon does not concern me. But I am losing sleep over the innocent youths who choose slavery and blindness over an open gaze and freedom.

But what bothers me even more is the fact that thousands of television viewers today think that this anti-Judaism is our—and their—heritage.

Please speak up and tell them it’s not so.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/this-aint-torah/2013/08/08/

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