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Posts Tagged ‘observance’

Rationality, Not Rational

Friday, August 9th, 2013

“V’zeh yihiye mishpat haKohanim me’et ham me’et zivchei hazevach im shor im seh vnatan l’Kohen hazroah zerah v’halechaim v’hakevah.

The most frustrating conversations are with those with whom we have deep fundamental disagreements. If conducted in the right spirit, without personal animus and with sincere dedication to the pursuit of truth, they can be very rewarding. When we surround ourselves only with those who see things exactly as we do, we limit our growth. When we surround ourselves only with those with whom we have fundamental disagreements, we never get past the same discussions. We need a balance between the two.

I have a dear friend, a moral philosopher who is a Torah observant Jew. Our fundamental disagreement, one which we can never get past, concerns the relationship between God’s Law and God’s morality. Because the answers to such momentous questions lie at the heart of one’s hashkafa, we need to explore them periodically, testing the current state of our thinking for validity and coherence.  Parshat Shoftim gives us such an opportunity.

After stipulating that the Kohanim receive Divine gifts in place of a tribal portion of the land, the Torah enumerates the Matnat Kehuna. When the meat is slaughtered for consumption, they receive the right shoulder, the two bones of the lower cheek, and the stomach or gullet. The Ramban contrasts the midrashic reading on the significance of these body parts to that of the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim. The former identifies each of the body parts with a feature of the zealous act of Pinchas. The right shoulder representing the shoulder with which Pinchas took the spear in his hand, the cheek bones representing the prayers he verbalized, and the stomach representing the organs of his victims, penetrated by his spear. In other words, the Matnat Kehuna are not a sinecure for the Kohanim but a reward for the acts of their ancestor. In Moreh Nevuchuim, however, the Rambam offers a more direct explanation: each of these organs is the most select of the animal’s body parts, the shoulder being the most select of the extremities, the stomach of its innards, etc. The Matnat Kehuna represent then the recognition that the best goes to God, in this case through the Kohanim who have been designated to serve Him.

This is not the only such explanation that the Rambam proposes. In Chelek Gimmel we find a broad selection of other mitzvot for which he offers rational bases. There is no question that the Rambam maintained that the mitzvot each convey a benefit upon Am Yisrael. At the same time, Jewish law retains its positivist basis for observance since these benefits are not the rationale for observance. The Rambam makes an important move that allows him to accommodate within his approach both the inherent rationality of the Law with its positivist basis for observance: the general outline of a particular precept is rational while its details need not be. In Chapter 26 (Pines translation):

“The generalities of the commandments necessarily have a cause and have been given because of a certain utility; their details are that in regard to which it was said of the commandments that they were given merely for the sake of commanding something.”

The Rambam cites shechitah as his prime example. As he elaborates in Chapter 48, the general mitzvah of shechitah is intended to allow the people to have the good food they require while protecting the animals they slaughter from a painful death. The general mitzvah then exhibits a rational purpose intended to benefit the people. The details, however, e.g., the particular simanim which must be cut, are “imposed with a view to purifying the people.” The Rambam is referring to a passage in Berashis Rabbah cited earlier that asks what difference should it make to Hakadosh Baruch Hu if animals are slaughtered by cutting their neck in front or in back? The Midrash answers: Say therefore that the commandments were only given in order to purify the people.”

The diyuk in the Midrash is clear: “What difference do the details make to Hakadosh Baruch Hu? Say therefore that the [details of the] commandments were only given in order to purify the people.” The Rambam can therefore conceive of a functionalist law with a positivist rationale for observance. The generalities of the Law are rational; the details of the Law are positivist in nature. The fact that the Torah exhibits an interior rationality does not preclude an absolute mandate for observance. By asserting that the details serve the purpose of requiring commitment to law independent of rational understanding, the Rambam puts the halachic system firmly on a positivist footing.

When the Rambam declares the Torah a reflection of the rational Mind of God, he does not mean to assert that it has lost its essential character as commandment. Those who interpret Jewish law as a set of social policy prescriptions miss the distinction between rationality and rationale. This confusion plagued the Wissenschaft des Judentums movement, leading those who saw Jewish legal sources as rational responses within a historical context to deny their binding nature. Similarly, those who cast Torah entirely as positivist decree may be victims of the same delusion, denying rationality in order to preserve rationale.

The Future of Judaism

Monday, January 7th, 2013

From time to time, my views are challenged by both those to my right and those to my left. That happened recently in discussions about going ‘Off the Derech’(OTD).

The right constantly challenges me about why I do not discuss what they perceive to be a much larger instance of Going OTD among Modern Orthodox Jews. I am not prepared to concede the point. As many people have pointed out, there have been no studies (at least that I am aware of) that breaks the OTD phenomenon into percentages or numbers of individual groups. But I will concede that it is very possible that the MO community is the one that goes OTD is the larger of the two, at least in terms of percentages.

The Left keeps challenging my contention that I see Charedim to be the wave of the future. Again there are no studies that I am aware of that speaks to this issue.

In answer to the first question, I speak about Charedim because I believe them to be the wave of the future. Their current large numbers and exponential growth over the years would seem to confirm that belief. Lakewood Yeshiva has grown from a few hundred students in the 60s when I was in high school to over 6000 today with plans to accommodate an increase in growth to over 10,000 students.

That Charedi Mechanchim out-number MO Mechanchim is a simple fact of life which is bolstered by the fact that Charedim tend to go into Chinuch a lot more than MO Jews do. Some MO schools hire Charedi teachers in fact for lack of finding enough teachers that are MO.

Charedi family size is clearly larger on the average than that of MO Jews since they are encouraged to have as many children as they can. Nine or ten children per family is not an unusual number for Charedim. Not so for MO. The Charedi rate of growth will no doubt continue along those lines and increase exponentially with every new generation.

The only real question in my mind is what form Charedism will take.

I have expressed my views on this many times –views which were first noted by Rabbi Berl Wein. I firmly believe that Charedim will increasingly take the form of moderate Charedism. That means that Charedim will employ (and in many cases already have employed) many of the modalities of Modern Orthodoxy. Like having professional careers requiring university educations for example. That’s why places like Touro exist and flourish.

I can’t understand why anyone would deny this reality. Is there anyone who thinks that Charedim will suddenly reject the values they have been indoctrinated with and suddenly become adherents of Torah U’Mada?

That Modern Orthodox Jews have a sizable number is also true. But their rate of growth is a fraction of the Charedi rate of growth. The very nature of a more open society that is a hallmark of Modern Orthodoxy creates an environment that is more conducive to assimilation.

Those without a firm grounding in the values of observant Judaism can easily abandon it in college where the pressure to conform to the campus social life is very strong. Especially in those schools with little or no Jewish presence.

Who among MO will fall prey to these negative influences?

I believe that many MO Jews (those who I call MO-Lite of which I think there are a great many) do not provide their children with the kind of grounding that can withstand the pressures of campus life. By opting for the best university they may sacrifice a strong Jewish presence other schools might have – and hope for the best.

On the other hand committed MO Jews on either the right or the left will survive and so will their children. They will opt for YU, Touro, or a university like Penn with a strong Jewish presence.

In the Charedi world where observance and fear of outside influences infecting their Hashkafos is always the primary concern – they do not fall prey as much to assimilation because they fight it tooth and nail… preferring isolation over any exposure at all.

True, Charedim have other problems much of which is caused by that very isolationism. But even if you even leave out the attrition rate of both MO and Charedim, the exponential growth rate of Chareidim over that of Modern Orthodox Jews definitely points to their numbers increasing and comprising the lion’s share of Orthodoxy.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/the-future-of-judaism/2013/01/07/

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