He was a religious revolutionary who refined his spirituality to such a degree that G-d spoke to him, in other words, he became a Prophet although his wife Sarah became a greater Prophet He was an iconoclast who openly challenged the universal beliefs of his time and insisted that there was only one G-d. He was stubbornly willing to give up his own life rather than compromise his beliefs.
The people that would evolve from Abraham would have to manifest all of those qualities in order to perform the role that G-d had set for them. In fact the only time the Torah defines the nature of the Jewish people it is to identify them as a 'Stiff necked' or stubborn. Still, if G-d required a people to carry a message through Crusade, Inquisition, Pogrom, and Holocaust, stubbornness would be the essential character trait. Orthodox Judaism believes that the Jewish people left the slavery of Egypt and rendezvoused with G-d at a mountain called Sinai.
There, through Moses, they would be given the Torah. Moses was also taught the deeper meaning of that book and that explanation was passed from teacher to pupil and was known as the 'oral tradition'. The Torah's insistence of "An eye for an eye", for example, was never meant to be taken literally, Moses was taught that it meant the financial value of the lost eye. The Oral tradition was in fact a system which allowed the , letters that are contained in the Torah to expand into a set of legal rulings that covered, building law, agricultural law, criminal law, sexual Law, business law and in fact a complete set of legislation for every conceivable aspect of a society.
The form that the Talmud takes is a key set of statements know as the Mishna, which draws its information from the Torah. These statements are then discussed at great length sometimes comparing the information in one Mishna with another and clarifying seeming contradictions. Once the discussions reach a conclusion that becomes the Jewish legal ruling or Halachah. The Talmud also carries background to the stories in the Torah and so the dialogue in Genesis between Rachel and Jacob is expanded upon and a deeper insight gained. After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70, the Talmud needed to be written down.
Those who carried it in their minds were being systematically persecuted and killed by Rome. There was a danger that it could become lost and so the oral law too became written. Its' scope is vast and it is contained in twenty huge volumes as thick as a telephone directory and twice the height. Those unfamiliar with Orthodox Judaism, sometimes believe that it became fossilised some time in the past and is not an evolving and dynamic religion.
This is certainly a myth. The legal precedents and principles that were given at Mount Sinai are elastic and capable of expansion or contraction to meet any given situation. The range of the topics covered in the legal rulings of the great recent and contemporary authorities makes this quite clear. Rabbi Moses Feinstein was among the top three Jewish legal authorities in the world. His legal rulings range from In-vitro Fertilisation to advising the Surgeon General of America on surgical procedures.
All his judgements are sourced in Halachah. The greatest current authority is Rabbi Eliashev of Jerusalem. The leading Jewish courts in the UK and throughout the world consult him. The scope of his decisions, demonstrate the ease with which the Halachah applies itself to contemporary issues. The emergence of Rabbis with that degree of expertise and authority involves a process of intense study that spans many decades. Such Rabbis will be expected to have mastered the entire Talmud as well as all the later legal conclusions of people like Maimonides to present day authorities.
They will have been rigorously tested, not just in their mastery of the Jewish Legal process, but their absorption of Judaism's highest ideals into their own personality and behaviour. The first Jews to settle in England probably arrived here with William the Conqueror in Sizeable Jewish communities existed in London, York and several other centres for the next three hundred years.
All of these Jews believed in the core beliefs that became known as Orthodox Judaism. In fact, York contained many Rabbis whose commentaries on the Talmud became standard texts still used to this day. Medieval anti-Semitism saw the security of these communities eroded until they were officially expelled in Small pockets of Jews who had been forced by the Spanish Inquisition to accept Christianity appeared as merchants in London during the 16th century and secretly set up synagogues but it was under Cromwell in that Jews were officially welcomed back to these shores.
By the nineteenth century the Jewish community was almost wholly Orthodox but was anxious, like their German cousins to have their Orthodoxy secondary to their efforts to gain acceptance as members of general society. The Jew might well be a Jew at home but in the street he was not expected to stand out from his fellow countrymen. This ambiguity is well illustrated by a letter written to the "Jewish Chronicle" in by the then Chief Rabbi, Nathan Adler defending the idea of setting up the country's first Jewish School:.
There are gentlemen who tremble at the idea of an exclusive Jewish School and think it injurious to our present or future social position. Today, there are literally are over twenty Jewish schools in Manchester alone and Anglo-Jewry does not see their success as inhibiting in any way Orthodox Jew's abilities to play a full and positive role within general society. Nonetheless, throughout Jewish history Torah scholars have come from all tribes, and from converts. Was this part of the Divine plan?
If yes, why does the Torah so often associate scholarship with Levi? Rambam Laws of Shmittah seeks to resolve this tension by turning all scholars into honorary Levites. Because he was separated-out to serve Hashem,. Therefore they were separated from the ways of the world —. And He the Blessed grants them what they need.
A time to build and a time to refrain from building - Bayit: Building Jewish
But this is not true only of the tribe of Levi;. He is sanctified as holy of holies,. Turning Levi into a symbol or metaphor enables Rambam to maintain that the Torah intends there to be a social divide between the scholarly elite and the rest of the Jewish community. It is a pretty vision. Unfortunately, the politics of this world rarely turn out that way.
G-d tends to provide for the this-worldly needs of scholars by way of non-scholars, who accordingly and properly have great influence over their Torah dependents. Scholars are not always satisfied with the bare minimum of physical comfort. Desire for power may be as prevalent among scholars as among businessmen.
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Scholars compete for the best fellowships, jobs, and students, not always nicely or with proper regard for ultimate ends. In sum: Concentrating authority in scholars does not successfully insulate Torah against the evils endemic to other political systems. We might seek to insulate scholars from the direct influence of the rich by creating a government-sponsored fellowship, a National Endowment for the Metahumanities.
Socialist Torah, rather than capitalist. I think the best way to evaluate this theoretically attractive vision is to think about the Rabbanut in Israel. An alternative vision emerges from a midrash cited by Rashi to Devarim I have heard that on the very day that Moshe gave the scroll of the Torah to the Children of Levi. They will say to us tomorrow:. Moshe rejoiced over the matter.
It was about this that he said to them :. But when the other tribes — all Israel! Moshe was comfortable in principle with both spiritual and halakhic democracy. Comfort in principle does not imply endorsement in practice. As Socrates loved to point out, democracy works well only when its constituents know the limits of their own knowledge, and prefer truth to power. In fact, only Eldad and Meidad were prophets, not the entire people of Hashem.
By the same token, not all of us — even among those who live the life of Levi - are halakhically competent scholars. Nonetheless, the democratic ideal properly has consequences. The chief of these are that scholars must be accountable to their constituents, must constantly seek to spread rather than hoard knowledge and authority, and must recognize the autonomy of individual men and women as a core religious value.
In the coming weeks I expect to publish several essays that have as their immediate practical aim the constriction of halakhic authority, and therefore might reasonably be seen as in tension with the last commitment above. So in the spirit of the first and second commitments, and of the month of Elul, I ask and invite you to look for them, read them carefully, and then hold me accountable.
Is it forbidden to check the answers one receives with other poskim? The Torah never permits any human being to completely abandon the exercise of moral and religious judgement. In its original contexts Pirkei Avot and , aseh lekha rav does not relate to laypeople asking live halakhic sheilot. Here for example is R. Even though in Tractate Avodah Zarah 19 they said:. One who learns Torah from only one Rav never sees signs of blessings in his learning,. In other words, asei lekha rav applies only to a specific form of learning — the memorization of halakhic statements.
It has no application to asking shaylahs. The Rav miBartenura provides a different context-appropriate explanation in his commentary to If an issue of law comes before you, and you are in doubt regarding it,. The mistaken insistence on asking all shaylahs to the same rabbi is often supported by a concern about shitah-shopping. This concern is grounded in a beraita cited on Eiruvin 6b:. The law actually follows Beit Hillel. But one who wishes to act according to Beit Shammai — may do so;. According to Beit Hillel — may do so. From the leniencies of Beit Shammai and from the leniencies of Beit Hillel — he is wicked;.
Please note, however, that the beraita has no general objection to asking different questions to multiple rabbis. The beraita discusses only circumstances in which the answers of Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel were known in advance, and where the primary ground for choosing among them was leniency. This bears no relationship to directing particular questions to poskim who are experts in the relevant fields, or who know your mind and soul better with regard to specific issues, or who share your values in particular areas. It violates the nature and purpose of halakhah when a psak causes unnecessary moral discomfort or emotional anguish, let alone harms a marriage.
We each have a responsibility to prevent this. Tosafot Niddah 20b see also Tosafot Chullin 44b and AZ 7a concludes that halakhah does not constrain people from asking, so long as they are transparent with the second posek; rather, it gives guidelines to halakhists as to when they can overrule the previous answer. Tosafot Bava Kamma a makes a stronger claim. This is not like showing a dinar-coin to a banker to determine its authenticity.
This position of Tosafot is cited as law by Shakh Choshen Mishpat One 20 th century posek explained the principle on the basis of a competitive market improving products:. The questioner Is obligated to ask the question to several sages,. From here it is also clear. Therefore the owners should not have relied only on the sage they asked first,. All this makes clear that laypeople have not only the right, but often the obligation, to ask for a second halakhic opinion when the first answer they receive feels wrong.
Everything that I am commanding you — that is what you must observe, to do. You must not add to it; and you must not subtract from it.
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Devarim can be read as a free-standing and self-sufficient sentence, which is why it starts a new chapter. However, the traditional Jewish punctuation reads it as the true conclusion of the preceding chapter, which ends:. Do not do the same for Hashem your G-d, because it was all the abominations of Hashem that He hates that they did for their gods; yes, they would even burn their sons and daughters in fire for their gods. If we could be trusted to choose actions which pleased Him, perhaps He would even prefer such freely-chosen worship above obedient service.
By contrast, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch reads our verse as rejecting human religious autonomy in principle. Only if you faithfully perform that which he commanded will you express the submission which He is expecting from you. He imposed mitzvot on you and taught you how to fulfill them, and these mitzvot and these ways of fulfilling them express His will. Rav Hirsch seems to believe that worship in a freely-chosen form is oxymoronic.
This profound philosophical dispute between Seforno and Rav Hirsch may reflect an even deeper disagreement about the nature of the Oral Law. This means that the Oral Law actually came first — the Written Law is just a way of encoding it. There is nothing creatively human about the Oral Law. Even the most brilliant rabbis were merely answering complex crossword clues correctly. This tracks with his absolute prohibition against adding. By contrast, Seforno may acknowledge that while the Oral Law is under the authority of the Written Law, it is the product of an unscripted human encounter with the Divine Will, and may reflect genuine creativity.
For Seforno, the prohibition is against undisciplined adding. He embraces the paradoxical formulation on Megillah 19b that G-d showed Mosheh everything that the Soferim would eventually originate. The Talmud says that this refers specifically to the rabbinic mandate to read the Megillah on Purim, but Rabbi Horowitz reads it more broadly.
The first is to lean the Torah that has already been given, in writing or orally, in all the previous generations. This learning is called mikra and Mishnah.
The second type of learning is? In his youth he does not need so much diligence and good memorization,. It is our creative contribution. But such contributions must be built on a solid basis of knowledge of the written Torah and all its previous interpretations, including those once regarded as creative. In turn, our successors will be required to memorize our creative contributions by rote before being allowed to attempt such contributions themselves.
Rabbi Horowitz thus sets out a model for the discipline that Seforno sees as the difference between legitimate creativity and illegitimate adding. Creativity must go hand in hand with genuine commitment to and respect for the past. Moreover, creativity is not an end in itself; rather, its value is predicated on being filtered via sound and mature judgment. Let us be frank — this model may not be useful in real life.
There is no formula for determining the genuineness of commitment to the past. Making memorization a requirement simply privileges those with superior memories. Similarly, good and mature judgment are often not recognized, especially by those who lack them. Why would an apparent sadistic streak emerge, rather than a joyous celebration of the reprieve?
The Kotzker replied: The most difficult temptations are those which convince a person that letting his or her worst evil inclinations flourish is actually a fulfillment of the Divine Will. We may convince ourselves that the very absurdity of an action is what proves its religious origin: who but G-d would think of such a command?
Or we may convince ourselves that only the most ethically counterintuitive actions can prove that we are acting out of genuine religious devotion, that we are utterly engaged in the fulfillment of His will rather than our own. Thus the true test of the Akeidah was not whether Avraham was willing to sacrifice Yitzchak, but rather whether he was able to abort the sacrifice when G-d revealed his error.
And, the Kotzker concludes, even Avraham was unable to stop immediately, even when presented with an angel telling him to stop — the angel had to tell him twice to keep him from drawing blood. A reasonable argument can be made that the popularity of creative stringencies in contemporary Orthodoxy stems precisely from this impulse, especially in the areas of conversion and agunot. There is real and culpable inconsistency in celebrating creative leniencies while denigrating creative stringencies.
At the same time, we should be hypersuspicious of any creativity that seems to draw strength from the number of victims it claims. If you firmly believe that you are mashiach, are you a shoteh? Rav Moshe Feinstein Iggerot Moshe deals precisely with this question. Rav Moshe was faced with this issue in The man in question believed that he was mashiach and that he was thus destined to save the Jewish people. On one occasion he stole the sefer Torah and went running with it into the street screaming about how he was going to fix the world.
Lest one believe that these were his only strange behaviors, this man would also hang out in trees and walk around town without clothing, claiming that he was like Adam before the sin. However, it is important to note that in all other behaviors Mr. Mashiach was a perfectly reasonable and sane human being. By the time that the man was ready to be married, he was working as an elementary school teacher and had not displayed any worrying behaviors for many years. The marriage went on completely without issue. Unfortunately, soon after his marriage the man reverted to publicly stating that he was mashiach and returned to going about his strange behaviors.
Since then, he had not displayed any of his crazy behaviors. Believing him to be completely back to normal, the man was taken to give his wife a get. All went according to plan, but on the way out of the proceedings, the man remarked to Rav Moshe that he still believed himself to be mashiach. Rav Moshe then had to determine whether or not the get that was given was a valid one, or if it was invalid due to having been given by a shoteh. After all, the second chapter of Mishna Gittin clearly lists a shoteh as one who is invalid to give a get.
This idea is hard to reconcile with the Rambam, who writes in Mishneh Torah Hilchot Eidut that one who is a shoteh for one matter is considered to be a shoteh in all matters, even if he is entirely rational when it comes to those other matters. The question of whether or not this man is a shoteh hinges upon the gemara in Chagiga which discusses the criteria that are necessary in order to deem one to be a shoteh.
Rav Huna posits that to be considered a shoteh one needs to go outside alone at night, sleep in a graveyard, and tear his clothing. In other words, if someone only performed one or two of those actions, there could easily be a logical reason for it. According to the gemara in Chagiga then, the man in question may not be considered a shoteh because all of his actions have logical reasons, stemming naturally from the one false belief that he is mashiach. The issue with this reading of the gemara is that the Rambam states in Hilchot Eidut that a shoteh in one matter is considered to be a shoteh in all matters.
The Rambam clearly states that such a person is invalid as a witness and, on top of that, that they do not have a chiyuv in any mitzvot! Rav Moshe interprets the Rambam as saying that the Torah does not give people only a partial chiyuv in mitzvot. Either a person is subject to all mitzvot or they are not subject to mitzvot at all.
It is this lack of obligation that disqualifies their testimony. Interestingly, Rav Moshe moves on to say that this overwhelming disqualification is ONLY with regard to testimony and obligation in mitzvot. In all other areas of Halacha, Rav Moshe claims that even the Rambam would agree that one irrational belief and the actions which stem from it would not make one a shoteh in regards to all of the matters which they have rationality with. Therefore the man who believed that he was mashiach would be able to give his wife a get without issue even if he is a shoteh. We then moved on to the path towards helping a shoteh recover from their illness through the words of Rav Yitzchok Zilbershtein, who discussed whether one is permitted to violate Shabbat in order to heal a shoteh resulting in him or her then being in a position where he or she is chayav in mitzvot.
For this, Rav Zilbershtein laid out three potential possibilities. It is completely permitted to heal a Shoteh on Shabbat. This position was brought down from the Beit Meir, who stated that the reason that one can violate Shabbat to save any life is the principle of violating one Shabbat so that the person saved can keep more Shabbatot. The person, being healed from being a shoteh , would then be in a position to keep Shabbat in a way that they would have been unable to before when they were not chayav in mitzvot.
It would not be permitted to heal a shoteh on Shabbat at all. This is supported by the Biur Halacha since the mental condition of the shoteh is not enough to be considered a physical danger and allow the permission to save a life on Shabbat to take affect. It is permitted to heal a shoteh on Shabbat, but only when there is absolutely no doubt that the shoteh will actually be healed. This principle allows violating Shabbat even when no life is in danger, only the capacity to be chayav in mitzvot. We also noted a halakhic irony: it seems that the more valuable the shoteh is before being healed, the more difficult it is to permit healing him or her if that healing involves violating Shabbat.
Some of us thought this was perfectly reasonable while some of us thought it was counterintuitive. We also disagreed as to whether and to what extent our intuitions were relevant to the process of deciding the Halachah.eqaburazagyq.tk
This conversation was an excellent preparation for writing our teshuvot next week. Shoshana Jakobovits and Gershon Klapper. Or perhaps mitzvot which have a certain communal aspect? These are some of the overarching questions we explored this week. From "And the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath" Ibid. It is, therefore, written "to know that I, the L-rd, etc. Hashem replaced Moshe as leader only when after forty years, the same stimulus thirst led to the same response hectoring complaint. He did not expect real change in less than a generation.
Deepseated communal religious failures cannot be overcome rapidly or easily. Two points are therefore necessary by way of introduction:. Journalism at its worst is simply lashon hora supersized. All that said, the reaction to the articles in both the Charedi and MO community indicates that many of us saw the worst-case scenario as eminently plausible. Moreover, there was recognition in the MO community that while the specific sin in question may not be our failing, we share the underlying challenge of being successfully mechanekh Torah-educating for financial integrity.
Our response to this challenge cannot be merely curricular. We need to acknowledge usually with pride! Values-failures in the system likely reflect those who are teaching, not what texts they are not teaching, or modalities they are not using. Surely Moshe Rabbeinu tried having the Jews learn mussar along with gemara Nezikin! Teaching Bava Kamma in every grade will not help if students emerge with a list of successful defenses against tort suits. Teaching mussar will not help if a fundamental ethic being internalized is the worthlessness of human beings unredeemed by Torah.
So this word essay is not intended as a panacea. A luxury problem is one that we can devote time and energy too only because we have solved more fundamental issues such as survival and sustenance. For example: Rav Moshe Lichtenstein some years ago objected to declaring fast days during a drought until all the garden sprinklers in Israel had been turned off.
For a country that desalinates enough to handle all other needs, drought is a luxury problem. A problem of luxury is one that is legitimately fundamental, but only because we have allocated our resources in particular ways. For example: In the US and Israel today, even the temporary absence of running water is a fundamental problem with implications for survival, even though by historical or comparative standards the presence of potable!
For example, if a society largely supports its underclass by hiring them as gardeners, the absence of water for gardening threatens massive unemployment and economic devastation. But if we consistently produce many more professional Torah educators than our community needs, so that the economic viability of our scholarly class depends on the continuing availability of kiruv jobs, then we create a problem of luxury. And directly on point: Dignity and marriageability are each fundamental resources. A society that allocates these resources disproportionately to those who meet financial thresholds, even those financial thresholds are well above what is otherwise needed for physical and spiritual comfort, creates problems of luxury.
I contend that both Modern and Charedi Orthodoxy are currently such societies. It is of course true that individuals can and should resist the temptations to cheat or steal in order to overcome such problems of luxury. But remonstrations about individual failures will generally register as hollow and hypocritical in a society that allocates dignity and social prestige more to wealth or to the appurtenances of wealth, such as attending hyper-expensive schools than to virtue.
The rulers refers to those who rule over their evil inclinations:. Come make an accounting means make an ultimate accounting, namely of the loss involved in a mitzvah against its reward, and the reward of transgression against its loss. A group of Moabites turned to Sichon for help deposing him. They assumed that Sichon would allow them to pick a superior replacement. Sichon instead conquered their land for himself. The moral of the story is that good intentions sometimes pave the road to destruction. It is not enough to evaluate an action in the abstract; one must consider all its ramifications.
In that broad view, it will sometimes become clear that fulfilling a halakhic obligation is worthwhile, and even that transgressing a prohibition is worthwhile. Granting that there are weeds of many kinds in the Torah garden — does the gain of eliminating them outweigh the costs of communal discord, or the inevitable reality that some people will be caused unjust or disproportionate suffering? What if one turns many of the finest minds and souls away from Torah careers? Some of our writers seem to think that napalm is an appropriate garden herbicide.
In areas such as education, safety, inclusion, health, et al. These costs are often long-term and abstract. Making them part of our communal cheshbon takes conscious effort and often a sacrifice of near-term gratification. But our failure to do so creates environments which make the moral choices of the individuals in our community more difficult, and eventually but inevitably to the distortion of our communal structure of Torah values.
We should think long-term and structurally rather than focusing solely on immediately improving individual choices. We need mature willingness to acknowledge and account for the indirect moral and spiritual costs of direct moral and spiritual achievements. Scholars, professionals, and laypeople must realize that we are each part of the problem and necessary contributors to any solution. Every faction that exists not for the sake of Heaven — will not ultimately endure.
Which are factions that exist for the sake of Heaven? These are the factions of Hillel and Shammai. Which is a faction that exists not for the sake of Heaven? This is the faction of Korach and his edah. But nothing about the Mishneh denies a more complex reality in which factions are coalitions of people with different motives, and in which individual human beings often have mixed motives. The Mishnah should be used as a mussar self-check rather than to dismiss opposing factions as ephemeral. It should also be clear that there is no necessary relationship between purity of motives and quality of argument.
The best of arguments will be appropriated by the greedy if it serves their interests; and the righteous are fully capable of gross analytic or interpretational error. A demonstration of sordid motives does not absolve us of the obligation to accept the truth from whoever speaks it, and to reject the false likewise. But we must acknowledge that the halakhah does not always follow the best argument. Philosophy is properly a world of emet vasheker , truth and falsehood, in which arguments are evaluated without regard to who makes them.
But practical halakhah is a normative system, which is to say it exists in the realm of tov vara, good and evil. In that world, it matters very much who has authority, and order is better than chaos. Therefore, at times one must follow a weaker argument made by a greater authority over a stronger argument made by a lesser or non-authority, and law has an inertial preference for continuity. Halakhic decisionmaking must nevertheless not be allowed to depend exclusively or even primarily on who has authority rather than on the strength of arguments.
G-d made halakhah depend on textual interpretation and rational argument in order to ensure that Jewish religious leaders would always be intellectually accountable to the people. The mistaken idea that halakhah depends exclusively on personal authority leads to a politics of personal destruction, in which the only effective response to disagreement is to delegitimate the disagreeing person or community.
The mistaken idea that halakhah depends exclusively on perceived analytic superiority leads to a politics of intellectual dishonesty. If truth is in and of itself a sufficient ground for practice, then we cannot risk allowing anyone to think even for a moment that the arguments for a position we disagree with are compelling. Orthodoxy is currently plagued by an incoherent and malignant combination of these two mistakes. The consequences are that people who make bad arguments for positions we disagree with are attacked personally to deny them authority; and good arguments made by people without personal authority are ignored or disingenuously dismissed to ensure that no one follows them until they are given authority.
Rabbi Zevulun Charlop shlita, Dean Emeritus of RIETS, likes to say that mechadshim creative Torah scholars should be evaluated like baseball batters: even the best only hit safely once every three tries, and those with power are regarded as successful at much lower ratios.
Mechadshim with power are more likely to be wrong, and their mistakes are likely to be doozies. What happens to a Torah community that delegitimates public intellectuals after their first error, and rejects all disruptively creative ideas out of hand? A Torah community needs to be able to tolerate and survive significant and even potentially dangerous errors, or else it will stifle the creativity that is essential to its intellectual and spiritual health.
Our panic when confronted by presumptive halakhic authorities who make bad arguments about important issues, or presumptive nonauthorities who make good arguments, reflects a deep lack of trust in our community. We suspect first of all that our nonscholars cannot distinguish weak from strong arguments, especially when they have a rooting interest in the outcome.
Secondly, we suspect that many members of our community do not care about the strength of an argument, or about the consensus of scholars. Rather, they see the existence of any sort of argument as a matir , as giving them the right to do what they want. These suspicions are not groundless.
But we overreact to them when we seek to prevent non-poskim from having any input into halakhah, or seek to shoehorn all scholars into a conformist mold. A healthy halakhicate wants to be accountable to its laity, and wants everyone to be as autonomous as is consistent with preserving the role of halakhah as law rather than as subjective religious expression.
These overreactions often generate a vicious cycle. The overbearing push for conformity leads to a celebration of even shallow ideosyncrasy. Telling nonscholars or lesser scholars that they have no say leads them to deny the legitimacy of authority. By the same token, error should not be without consequences, especially if the error is not acknowledged.
Home run hitters usually strike out a lot because they take big swings, but not everyone who takes big swings is a home run hitter. I think we can admit that Orthodoxy faces enormous challenges. Not so much to our survival, as to our capacity to live integrated religious lives in modernity. We have not yet developed sufficiently compelling intellectual responses to Biblical criticism, or halakhic responses to the wonderful ethical challenge of participating as full citizens in a pluralistic society, or sociological responses to the existence of large numbers of Jews who see intermarriage as no bar to full communal membership, or moral responses to Jews who see no justification for heteronormativity.
These are just some of the many issues we confront where past ideas are insufficiently developed to guide us. We need intellectual incubators, not sterile industrial egg farms. One can of course deny the value of living an integrated religious life anywhere outside the beit midrash. Let me tell you a story. Once there was a pious Jew who owned a cow. They worked hard together during the week, and they each rested on Shabbat. Eventually the Jew lost his money and was forced to sell the cow to a Gentile. The cow worked hard for the Gentile during the first week, but when Shabbat came she sat down and simply refused to move, no matter how much the Gentile yelled at her or how hard the Gentile prodded her.
The Gentile came to the Jew and tried to cancel the transaction on the ground that the cow was defective. The Jew, however, understood the problem. When the Jew explained what he had said, the Gentile reasoned to himself: If a cow has that much awareness of its Creator, am I not more obligated to do so! Immediately he converted to Judaism.
Pesikta Rabbati That convert was Rabbi Yochanan ben Torata. There are many halakhic difficulties with this story. A cow being obstinate once a week is not grounds for reversing a transaction, and a Jew is not allowed to tell an animal to work on Shabbat. But aggadic narratives often rely on our willful suspension of halakhic disbelief. Other rabbinic narratives celebrate the spiritual intuition of animals, such as the donkey of R.
Pinchas ben Yair, which would refuse to eat untithed grains. Or learn human obligations via a kal vachomer from animals, such as the frogs who self-martyred by jumping into Egyptian stoves. Or have cows be religiously persuadable, as when Eliayhu haNavi convinces the sacrifice of the priests of Baal to accept its fate on Mount Carmel. So there is nothing unusual about this story. But why other than his name , is it told about Rabbi Yochanan ben Torata? I can find only three other possible references to him in Rabbinic literature.
Shemot Rabbah Ki Tisa Shir Hashirim Rabbah 7. Why were they nonetheless exiled? Because they loved money, and hated each other. Tosefta Menachot It is tempting to connect each of these statements to a fundamental dispute with Rabbi Akiva about the Bar Kochba revolt:. The first two connections are highly speculative, but I think the third has legs.
Why was Rabbi Yochanan ben Torata the one rabbi capable of articulating this critique? The story of the Shabbat-sensitive cow tells us that Rabbi Yochanan ben Torata converted not out of love of the Jewish people, but rather out of pure religious conviction. This is a situation that comes up regularly for conversion courts, and there are two ways to formulate the issue.
The second is fundamental: Is concrete ahavat Yisroel , love of the Jewish people as we are, with all our individual warts and collective flaws, an essential component of kabbalat hamitzvot? The story of Rabbi Yochanan ben Torata suggests that at least under certain circumstances we can make allowances for converts who are more connected to G-d than to people. Moreover, there is something very striking about a convert who articulates positions that no one else is willing to say publicly. It takes courage to convert a person with courage, as one will likely be assigned some of the blame when they later take unpopular positions.
More sharply: Imagine that the Bar Kochba Revolt is beginning, and the rabbinic community is lining up behind him. The universally acknowledged gadol hador , the great scholar-leader of the generation, clearly believes the times to be Messianic. At this point a conversion candidate states during his interview that while he of course believes in the Messiah, it seems wholly implausible to him that the Messiah is anywhere nigh, and that the gadol hador — indeed the whole rabbinic establishment — has in his humble opinion succumbed to irrational exuberance.
Would such a convert make it through the process? One of the great beauties of Rabbinic tradition is its willingness to preserve even the sharpest of self-critiques, without allowing the possibility of error to lead to paralysis. I wonder if there were rabbis who specifically recognized the need for importing such a critique in a time of mass enthusiasm, and who welcomed Rabbi Yochanan ben Torata specifically because of his stance rather than despite it. I like to think that they did so even while disagreeing with him.
We should not need converts to fill the role of social critics; it is a terribly unfair burden to place on them. Bar Kochba failed despite rabbinic support, and Zionism succeeded despite rabbinic opposition. As a result, it is only in narrow sectors of Orthodoxy that messianic populism causes us to overlook ongoing social ills. Yet we cannot disclaim responsibility for those sectors. Perhaps a subtle message of the Omer mourning is that Bar Kochba might have succeeded if he had paid more attention to Rabbi Yochanan ben Torata.
Rabbi Joseph B. More precisely, an image arising out of a partial understanding of the work dominated that landscape. It had enormous value in explaining, validating, and valorizing the character of the Eastern European Talmudic scholar to an American Jewish culture with a tenuous-at-best relationship to rigorous traditional Torah study, and in more generally presenting halakhic dedication as enabling rather than inhibiting the development of a rich internal life. So it can be no surprise that, as with all hyperintellectual books that become cultural touchstones, some errors and loss of context were the price of popularization.
Such distortions are calibrated to the needs and desires of their time. When the Talmud records halakhic disputes, he seeks only to explore the conceptual underpinnings of each position. The same is true with regard to disputes among later commentators and decisors. Let us begin with the question of whether the Ish HaHalakhah reflects the highest form of Jewish religiosity. This section is translated as follows on pp. However, in order to fulfill the task, we must undertake a comparative study of the fundamental and distinctive features of the ontological outlooks of homo religiosus and cognitive man.
For only by gaining an insight into the differences and distinctions existing between these two outlooks will we be able to comprehend the nature of halakhic man, the master of Talmudic dialectics. It is almost impossible for translations to capture allusions, especially when the alluded-to text is less known than the alluding text. But readers of the English have no way of knowing that the Rav is citing language from Talmud Sukkah 28a. Here is the Talmud:. A beraita:. Hillel the Elder had eighty students —. Thirty of them were fit to have the Divine presence rest on them as it did on Moshe Rabbeinu;.
Thirty of them were fit to have the sun stand still for them as it did for Yehoshua bin Nun;. Twenty of them were intermediate. The greatest of them was Yonatan ben Uziel;.
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They said regarding Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai that he did not leave aside. What is the meaning of great thing? The Making of the Chariot;. What is the meaning of lesser thing? The challenges of Abbaye and Rava. This naturally raises the question: Who is the master of the Making of the Chariot?
This question was the subject of great medieval controversy. Rambam Laws of the Foundations of Torah identifies the making of the Chariot with rational metaphysics, and he was sharply criticized for this by those who identified it with mystical experience instead. It is true that Ish HaHalakhah points out repeatedly that its eponym is not interested in either rational metaphysics or in mysticism. But I contend that the Rav held a third position. I contend that for the Rav, the master of the Making of the Chariot is the author, not the subject, of the book.
In a subsequent installment, I will seek to justify that claim on the basis of Halakhic Mind. Please stay tuned, and I very much welcome anticipatory questions, challenges, and comments. Purim, Anti-anti-semitism, and Modern Orthodoxy . The midrashic suggestion that she was ordered to come wearing only the crown captures the atmosphere of the verse perfectly, although the specific facts necessary to create that atmosphere may well be culturally dependent.
Vashti refuses, and the king at least banishes her and removes her queenship. Now how do the Jews relate to all this? But Haman does not see it that way.
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