The Debate

Debate between myself and Rav Yoni Rosenzweig revolving around 2 main points:

1. How “Jewishly legitimate” are non-Halachik expressions of Judaism?
2. Can Halacha, as developed over the past 1800 years, adequately deal with Modernity and Jewish statehood?
(Warning – a long and heavy read but worth it. 250 words plus 8,919)
As a continuation to a discussion we had earlier that day, 
I wrote:
Although this may sound radical, the truth is that it’s already the reality – there is no “The” Halacha on any given matter.
The only way to create one without a Sanhedrin is to make up artificial lines between different social groups. The spectrum the בד”ץ uses leaves you and me way outside Halacha, where is ours, includes them but not Shira Chadasha and Aryeh Yaffe. Try looking at it from the outside – it’s ridiculous. Each sect working so hard to define – religiously, socially, culturally – who’s in and who’s out of the camp, or, to convert other groups to its version of Jewish legitimacy. Is there a more Galut mentality than that? The reality is that once you no longer live in a community that defines the borders of your reality in an existential defensive mentality – all the possibilities are out there for the picking and whether we admit it or not, it’s all about personal choice becoming just a matter of degrees and measures. The problem is that “we” (by that I think I mean “Orthodoxy”) have convinced ourselves and others that there is only 1 way to feel part of Jewish tradition and spirituality – the one that we say (and again, who is included in the “we” changes from group to group to the point that makes the argument mute), keeping the “others” socially and emotionally distant from Jewish tradition.
As a separate thing (I’m still trying to unify the 2 elements) The Halachik world doesn’t seem to have the language of transferring from Hilchot הזמן הזה to Hilchot לעתיד לבוא because the Halachik language is based on Hilchot Yachid in Galut and you get strange Psakim like policemen riding bicycles on Shabbat and a definition that says that 85% of the Jews in the world are תינוקות שנשבו לבין הגויים and THAT’S the reason you’re allowed to drink wine they’ve touched (but if you can avoid it – that’s even better…).
Torah and our other sources should be what propel the State of Israel forward in (at least) all social matters and not just cause us to instinctively man the barricades of the Shulchan Aruch not to change the status quo. As I mentioned – is there anyone who has a clue how to run a modern economy according to the Torah? is there anyone who even has a suggestion for it? is there anyone capable of imagining what “Jewish” foreign relations look like in a global village? So, are we doomed to wait for a נביא and until then we should just hold down the fort dreaming of the return of the good old days? as I said – i think we’re doing the best we can in translating the language we know into a new reality, but we need someone from the outside to expand the language we’re using, or better yet, just start speaking it and we will have to follow suit.
משל למה הדבר דומה?
When Eliezer Ben Yehudah revived the language he used as much of what he could from theמקורות but, obviously, it wasn’t nearly sufficient. The Hebrew of the sources just wasn’t rich enough to relate to the realities of modern times. Out of his familiarity with the new realities he tried to fit them into constructs that may have already existed but the result included many completely brand new words.
Thank God, there are significant forces waking up and starting to create a wider language. It’s a sign of a health to the nation – רוח חדשה – originality and creativity. (For years I’ve wondered – the cultural creation of the first Ge’ulah was Tanach- a tremendous, divine and inspirational vision, of the second – Talmud- law, what will be the creation of the third Ge’ula? I’d like to think it will be more than קבצי הלכות and commentaries on מחלוקת ש”ך – ט”ז).
Rav Rosenzweig wrote:
But regarding the issue itself, while I understand why the issues you raise feel so problematic, I do not agree with many of your premises. First of all, the statement that there is no “The Halacha” I believe to be totally wrong. I have always said that the reason why I think the chareidim are wrong to hate me and we are right to hate the Reform is because while our problem with the Reform is the form with which they reinterpret Halacha, the Chareidi camp has a problem with the contentwhich we came up with. In other words: I don’t have a specific picture of how Judaism needs to look; as far as I’m concerned you can have ten women make a minyan. I just want them to learn it out in the proper way in which all Halacha was learnt over the ages. My problem is not with Reform’s conclusions, but rather with the way they reach those conclusions, which is not according to tradition but rather according to “times changing” and “feelings”. The Chareidim, on the other hand, don;t like me because of my conclusions, the way I live my life, etc., but not because they have anything essential to say about the way I reached those conclusions. Which is why even they understand that I am a Halachic Jew, and they make a clear distinction between me and the Conservative or Reform.
So your claim that there is no “The Halacha” is wrong. Halacha is anything which is extrapolated in the proper way from the Torah, because in that sense it becomes a legitimate expression of Hashem’s will. Anything else is not legitimate. And yes, I would say the same thing about Chassidut – that it must conform to Halacha. Reform and Conservative are non-legitimate forms. Avoda Zara is a non-legitimate form. And being a secular jew with “good feelings” towards some of Judaism (whichever sits well with me) is a non-legitimate form as well, no matter how much you try and cover it up. As I mentioned earlier today, it doesn’t mean there is no spirituality whatsoever in these things, but it is not “just another legitimate branch of Orthodox judaism”. As far as I’m concerned, the moment you can pick and choose anything and everything – you have forfeited everything that makes you a believer. This is what the Modern Reform and the Old Reform basically want you to believe, and it’s what you said to me today in your living room: that really we can do whatever we want. This is not true, and it would be the death of Judaism to believe it is. Religion has to be divine for it to mean anything, for if it were all man-made and it all could be bent one way or another – are we not merely following ourselves? What, then, would be left of our religion? It is our job (as Rabbis) to figure out what Hashem wants in relation to the world, and not what the world can handle in relation to Hashem.

What I mean by that is this: As a rabbi I have two jobs – I have to figure out what Hashem wants, and I have to figure out how and when to give that over to the masses. You want to mush those two things together, and say that teh interpretation of God’s will should be done in relation to time and place. That sounds a lot like Reform. The traditional way is to look at the sources in a vacuum, so to speak, and then the second step is to see how we apply them to the world. But the separation of the steps is a pivotal point (!), because it ensures we separate what Hashem is saying from what we are saying. Our way of life has to be God-centered in order for it to be considered a religion, but what Persiko and Sorek and all these guys want is a way for Judaism to merge with life (like you) – but they seem to miss the fact that the meaning of this is that life is what’s being worshipped, and people’s feelings are what’s being worshipped – NOT GOD. This is a major problem, and I don’t see how you solve it.

This is not to say there isn’t religiosity in secularism, Buddhism, Christianity, Conservative or Reform. Far from it. But to say that these are equally legitimate to a Halachic way of life – I see no other word for this other than heresy. It is tantamount to giving people the right to worship anything that suits them – including themselves. Once again, Persiko and Co. will say of course that’s not what they mean. And I believe them. But I fail to see how the road they’re taking can lead anywhere else.
All this is not to say I don’t agree we need a new language to tackle new challenges. But Eliezer Ben Yehuda didn’t throw out the old – he just added the new. I am all for adding new things, but not for tampering with the old. This new trend presumes, however, to do just that, to say they can pick and choose which Halachas they feel like keeping and which they don’t. And they offer no rhyme or reason for it – I dare you to send me an article by one of these guys explaining clearly and systematically how one is supposed to choose a halachic system. And remember: you want one for the tzibbur!!! How – if Halachic practice is supposed to change from person to person according to what he feels is truth and what he connects to and all that stuff – are we supposed to make halachas for all the tzibbur exactly? Only through rock-solid commitment to Halacha, is my answer. I wonder if you can give me as firm an idea.
I wrote:
I think you are being a bit naïve. You disagree on which sources trump which, to what extent you can rely on a Daat Yachid, whether מעלים האיסור or not, to what extent to use המחמיר תבוא עליו הברכה vs. כח היתרא עדיף and many, many other things that are part of the methodology of Halacha itself. By the way – have you ever read Psakim of the Conservative and even Reform movements? You may be surprised.
Furthermore, the fact that in 9 out of 10 times we can all guess up front what each important rabbi will say about most new questions that arise means 1 of 2 things – they read the sources to fit a predisposed conclusion, or, their logic and powers of analysis are such that they happen to always come to conclusions that fit in with their ideological leanings. ואם תאמר, no, they just have certain interpretations of core sources that manifest in the individual Sugiyot and therefore carry similar conclusions, יש לומר – since, as you agree, it is possible to read the Sugiyot in numerous ways – according to Mesora and the traditional methodology of Halacha – what causes one Posek to go one way and the other to go in another? They both know each others Svarot, they both know there is logic- and legitimacy- to both conclusions! The easy way out is to say it’s Masorot Psika and the more accurate option is – there are predispositions that people may or may not be aware of and admit – that cause people to interpret reality/sources that will fit in with the rest of their personality and way of life (this I get from Kuzari 1:65-67). This is also what I mean when I say there is no longer a singular “The Halacha”. What is THE Halacha on any given question? Depends who you ask. The fact that every Jew interested in following Halacha knows there is a supermarket of Poskim and Psakim out there – all, or most, of whom are “legitimate” as well as so many JEWS who choose none of them– changes the whole mindset of Shmirat Halacha and to a great extent removes it as an עול and כפויים ועומדים מהר סיני.
I’m sorry. Of course you CAN pick and choose whatever you want! That’s  בחירה חופשית. “ושמתי לפניך” I am commanding you ובחרת בחיים but we have the choice not too.
וכי איכפת לו אם שוחט מן הצוואר או מן העורף?  I don’t do it for HIS sake, I do it for my sake, or Am Yisrael’s sake orשם ה’ sake or whatever. I think we may have a different understanding of what religion is, or more accurately I do not believe Judaism is a religion or even more accurately, the “religious” aspects of Judaism I find to be unhealthy additions from Galut, an adoption of Christine and Islamic pale imitations of Judaism. I don’t see my Avodat Hashem as a need to prove anything to anyone – including a deity, or to sacrifice to show devotion, etc… I see it as the actualization of the characteristics of the Jewish people with some of those characteristics hardwired in by God– as expressed in תורה שבכתב, and others as they’ve accumulated over time – תורה שבעל פה. Which brings me to my next point relating to your next paragraph. You are very obviously a Monotheist. You speak repeatedly of what Hashem wants from the world/us and worshiping life itself vs. worshiping God. You seem to refer to these concepts of “will” כפשוטם. I don’t. To the extent that I am able to understand the terms – I am a Pan-antheist. I believe in the revelation of god’s “will” as being through life itself, first and foremost – the historical developments of Am Yisrael, as well as the rest of the human condition. Halacha is the methodology and language to translate that “will” into a normative way of life. Revealing the laws of physics which are embedded in the world, vs. interpreting a constitution which is external to it.
This goes back to what I was saying before. I don’t see Yahadut as a form of worship, rather much like eating a cucumber (no, that isn’t a typo). Torah – and Halacha – teach us what is good for us. What is מתאים to our individual and collective predispositions. If you’re smart – you listen. Much like listening to a doctor – if you’re smart and not a masochist you’ll take the medicine, eat veggies, work out, not smoke, etc… if I decide to “disobey” the doctor and smoke but to listen to him and exercise – fantastic. Much better than disobeying him on both. I don’t look at a smoker and say – you’re choice is not legitimate. I might say your choices are stupid and you’re a fool, but your choice is legitimate (Rambam, of course, would disagree).
Being Jewish is not dependent on a person’s choice. He is part of the collective, the chain, the testimony and whatever else you want to call it whether he’s a great Jew or a horrible one. He has the choice to choose what he wants and the choice is legitimate. It’s not up to me to give him legitimacy. It’s been over 100 years since anyone cared about our legitimacy. The Torah defines it as such when it stated the reality of ונתתי לפניך את החיים ואת המוות את הטוב ואת הרע. It seems to me that we’re arguing about our need to feel “right” and that if we gave that up, there would be nothing to keep us religious, or, Halachik. As if our ability to be religious is dependent on it being 100% “right”, meaning everyone else must be “wrong”. I don’t feel my religious lifestyle and choices are dependent on anything external such as that.
A student comes to you and says – either you’re מתיר for us to לטבול right after ראיית דם ends or we scratch the whole thing – what do you say?
I say – good for them. They’ve chosen to be part of the tradition to this degree. They’ve chosen to eat a fresh salad but left out the healthy cucumbers. Maybe I can make them realize it’s worth tossing in some cucumbers as well, but even if they don’t – I’m happy they feel connected to the extent that they do and choose to live by it.
 Rav Rosenzweig wrote:
(1) I’ve read responsum and spoken to Conservative and Reform Jews. I was surprised – by how ridiculous their system is.
(2) Not really sure what you were trying to prove with that whole first comment you made. Of course there are differences between different poskim, and of course I would disagree with some of them on some core issues. But all of that is within the framework of the halachic process – not outside of it. And regarding predispositions of poskim – once again not really sure what your point is, but here again you are making the mistake you make repeatedly, which is to jumble up the analysis of the sources together with the psak Halacha Lemayseh. Why do you insist on putting them together? It may be that when it comes to application different poskim have different trends, but I want to hear if you can tell me – only regarding the analysis of a given sugya – whether you can tell me what kind of analysis Rav Ovadia will have and how it will differ from Rav Moshe Feinstein’s analysis. You probably will tell me that there will be a greater number of leniencies by Rav Ovadia – but that’s bottom line psak, not the analysis. Stop jumbling up the two – this is exactly where this whole school of thought is making the mistake. I’m not saying the human agent doesn’t play a part in psak, but in all psak – in every teshuva I’ve ever seen – it plays only in step 2 of Halacha Lemayseh, and never in step 1 of source analysis. I dare you to find me a counter-example.
(3) The fact that there are many poskim and psakim doesn’t remove the burden of Shmirat Halacha – it makes it harder to be an honest Jew. If you’re dishonest you’ll treat it like a supermarket, but if you’re honest you’ll try to follow a consistent line instead of doing what’s comfortable for you. Once again, this seems to be a line of thought you deem proper, and it’s hard for me to see why. Why is it ok to have a Psak supermarket, and for people to choose according to their whims? You think this is the way to a proper form of religion?
(4) You wrote that you don’t think Judaism is a “religion”. REALLY???? What the heck does that mean. You write that the religious parts are unhealthy additions of Galut. REALLY???? Are we reading the same book? You know – the one with all the sacrifices? The one which the Rambam – despite his words in Moreh Nevuchim – paskens very clearly in terms of the sacrifices in the Yad Hachazaka? What exactly are you on about? Ritual is one of the most major things in the Torah, and your ability to just shrug it off as something of the past is classic Reform interpretation. It’s all this modern trend that’s twisted us to believe we can say and write things like this. Oh, and of course you can write things like this – but don’t call it Judaism. Because it’s not. Judaism is full of ritual. Ritual with a lot of meaning – but ritual nonetheless. And don’t quote וכי מה איכפת לו – way out of context. That Midrash says the details of the korbanot don’t matter, but it doesn’t say the Korbanot themselves aren’t important. Besides the fact that the Ramban has a totally different interpretation there.
(5) And furthermore, according to you Judaism is the following unclear definition: “The actualization of the characteristics of the Jewish people”. Care to explain what that means? I have no idea what you’re on about, and would like to believe that you do – but highly doubt it. It’s just words, taken from a deeply rooted Post-Modernist view, where everything is about our personal achievements and self-actualization, and nothing has to do with something which is outside me and beyond me. It’s self-worship, and it’s the worst kind, because it comes under the guise of spirituality and humanism. Anyone can say “Human beings are what’s important – not God”, and that’s all very nice, but what are you giving those human beings? How are you helping them? How are you guiding them? And why the heck do you need religion to do it? Your path leads to a very clear conclusion: We don’t need Judaism. Not at all. It’s one path out of many, and good luck to all those who take a different path. They may reach greater enlightenment and become closer to God. It’s totally possible. So why do I need to keep the Mitzvot?
(6) You say I am a motheist and you are a panentheist. These two concepts do not contradict. What you mean to say is that you think I am a transcendentalist, which I am not. There is nothing in my words which suggests Hashem to be divorced from life. I think Halacha reflects life completely and absolutely. I demand fealty to Halacha. What about that implies that God is not involved in the world?
(7) You say the choice is legitimate. Of course it is. Where did I say it wasn’t? Anyone can choose what they want. But according to your example of the doctor you also agree that if they choose certain choices – they’ll be sick and die, or in the case of religion – burn in a fiery chasm for the rest of their eternal bondage (for example). I’m not saying they can’t choose – I’m just claiming they’re not choosing Judaism in its proper and legitimate way. Where’s the problem here?
(8) No one needs me to give legitimacy to their Jewishness. I agree. But they definitely need Halacha to give legitimacy to their Judaism. They are Jews even if they sin, I agree. But they are still sinners. It’s not about defining them as “wrong” so that I can call myself “right”. It’s that if we hold a post-modernist view that there is no right or wrong, than nothing will have any meaning whatsoever – not religion, not society, not ethics. Nothing. An extreme post-modernist view reduces society to nothing but rubble. What’s funny is that you wouldn’t be willing to use ethics as a guinny pig for Post-Modernism, but you’re more than happy to sacrifice religion on the altar of your lack of clarity.
(9) Not sure what the example at the end is about. I already wrote in the previous email I’m happy for every Mitzvah done. I don’t keep full Halacha either. We’re all in a process. Doesn’t mean I’m not a sinner. It doesn’t mean I don’t stand every Rosh Hashana shaking in my boots, and every Yom Kippur atoning for my sins. According to you those days shouldn’t be a big deal at all – after all, we are doing our best, aren’t we? Your system focuses on making you feel good, not making you work hard. People are tired of working hard, so instead they give in, and hope someone will come along and offer them something they can live with happily ever after. This is where Rav Soloveitchik comes in and tells us that Judaism is hard. Welcome to the club – where religion is a challenge, and it’s not meant to be easy. But you want to throw that all away, just pat people on the back all the time for how great they’re doing, and never reveal to them there might be more to life. You don’t want to push people, because you’re tired of it. But just don’t call that Judaism. Call it whatever you want, but it’s certainly not what we’ve been practicing for thousands of years.
I wrote:
2. You wrote – “I don’t have a specific picture of how Judaism needs to look”. Yes you do and so do all Poskim. I don’t think there is a “Pure Halacha”, at least not since the Sanhedrin. Do you prescribe to Rambam’s perspective that any מחלוקת in Halacha means that (at least) one side in “wrong”? I don’t and from what i can tell, his opinion is not the dominant one in Masoret Yisrael.
What is the Halachik weight of כח היתרא עדיף, at some point becomes a difference of methodology. Rav Aviner’s approach of Kula in matters of Taharat Hamishpacha is seen by some rabbis – from our own camp – as methodologically illegitimate.
3. “You think this is the way to a proper form of religion?”. Absolutely. Fortunately, עשה לך רב is not Halacha. There is no requirement of Halachik consistency.
Like I said – whether you like it or not – it IS a supermarket. you have to close your eyes to claim otherwise. Millions of Jews around the world are part of the Jewish collective and choose to express it in a variety of ways. I don’t claim that all those methods are Halachik and consistent with the methodology of Halacha as it’s developed over 1800 years. I’m saying – I don’t think it’s a big deal that they aren’t. You say – they’re not Halachik and therefore not Jewish, even if they aren’t void of spirituality. I say – It is Jews being spiritual about their tradition and therefore is Judaism even if not Halachik. ד’ אמות של הלכה is not a compliment in my eyes. It’s a curse (that’s why it’s a product of Galut). Seeing reality – and Jewish reality AND PRACTICE included – exclusively through the sight of Halacha is insufficient in today’s world of a national identity in the land once again. Jewish growth and creativity are on the rise, in spite of Halacha, not because of it (regretfully).
4. I think we may have different understandings of the term religion. My understanding is that though Mitzvot and Halachot may be revealed to us through external methods – texts, teachings, etc… in practice they are calls to authenticity, to נאמנות לעצמיות of who we are as a Jewish collective and human beings. (see next point for more on this)
5. I’m not taking it from post-modern thought what so ever. I’m taking it from Rav Kook. For example:
תורה שבעל פה מונחת בעצם אופיה של האומה, שמצאה את ברכתה ע”י הגילוי השמימי של תורה שבכתב. בהתגלותה נמוכה היא תורה שבעל פה מתורה שבכתב. כי הרי הגורם הראשי למצא את נתיבתה היא התורה שבכתב. היחש העליון של האומה עם האלהות העליונה, עם המגמה של המגמות, עם הנצח וההוד שבעולמים ומלמעלה של כל כללותם. אבל בצורה הפנימית הלא התורה ניתנה לישראל בשביל סגולתם הפנימית העליונה, הרי גרמה סגולה אלהית גנוזה זו להופעת תורה מן השמים עליהם, ונמצאת עליונה תורה שבעל פה בשרשה משורש תורה שבכתב, “חביבין דברי סופרים יותר מדברי תורה”.
Judaism is not a religion. It’s a nationality. All nations have an identity, core characteristics that make them unique. Call it שר האומה, or רוח האומה or whatever. Our זהות לאומית is called Torah. I don’t “need” or not “need” Judaism. I belong to Am Yisrael – we ARE Judaism.
6. You still seem to refer and think about God as The Ultimate Other. I don’t. I view all of Judaism through the lens of ideas such as this from the Kuzari: האלוה הלא הוא רוח העולם, נפשו, ושכלו וחייו, שעל-כן הוא נקרא חי-העולמים (forth part Piska 3)
I understand all readings of God and Mitzvot that seem “external”, as falling under the category of “כביכול”
Furthermore I find your understanding of Judaism as a religion a product of a time when Am Yisrael was forced to experience the relationship with God as a heteronomous morality and code vs. autonomous ones. For example
באין מקום להשפעתה של האידיאה האלהית על הלאומית, אחרי הטמא מרבית הכחות של האחרונה ויהפכו ל”סורי הגפן נכריה” ואחר כך גם נהרסו עד היסוד, התכנסה האידיאה האלהית בכל ימי הגלות בקן הקטן והדל, במקדש מעט שבבתי כנסיות ובתי מדרשות, בחיי הבית והמשפחה הטהורים, ברשמי- שמירת דת ותורה. ערכם של אלה הוא בתור ציונים בגולה, שרידים מדבר שהיה חי ושלם ושעתיד לחיות בשלמות בשוב ד’ את שבות עמו. (מהלך האידיאות)
 7. We obviously have very different understandings of שכר ועונש to the extent that makes this point mute. I’ll leave it for another time.
8. This might sound strange, after all I’ve written so far, but I actually don’t think of myself as a post modernist. I do believe in absolute truths, I do believe that God is the source of that absolute truth and that Am Yisrael (more accurately – Knesset Yisrael) are the “mirror” of that truth in this world and that Torah is the verbalization of that truth. I do not believe, though, that Halacha as it has developed over the last 1800 years comes even close to encompassing that truth and the difficulty of the world of Halacha to deal with modernity and a Jewish state are living proof of that. As I mentioned – the ones that come the closest to synthesizing find themselves on the fringes of Halacha. Rav Kook being the exception. I don’t know enough rav Soloveichik to say that about him but even if we do – how many Talmidim does he have? how many real ממשיכי דרך?
9. People are happy to work hard. They do it all the time – for their wives and families, for their livelihood, for their way of life, for their health and even for their physical figures. As long as it’s something that is “them” they’ll work plenty hard. They know that it isn’t they who decided their metabolism will work a certain way or that humans will be drawn to couple-hood. They know these things are hardwired in. They just want it to be authentic to who and what they are. People are aware of an internal drive and search for the divine –  צימאון לאל חי, דרישת אלוהים – Most Jews with this inclination also feel part of the collective of the Jewish people and are interested in partaking in it. I feel that Halacha is not able to exclusively supply it any more and that searches and attempts of widening the Jewish experience and expression are good. The human spirit and more importantly – the תחייה הלאומית are miles and miles ahead of the realities and truths Halacha talk about and therefore – we should welcome new, creative searches for authentic Jewish experience. The interesting thing is that these calls are not coming – as in the past – from religious people looking for a more moderate version, one that will allow them to feel comfortable as belonging to 2 worlds, etc… they are coming from people from the “outside” searching for a way in that will fit the new realities I mentioned. As I said – I do not think we should be tearing down Halacha. That’s all we have and it’s great. Without it, there wouldn’t be anything left but I welcome new expressions of Judaism that better fit the realities I cannot deal with.
Rav Rosenzweig wrote:
The biggest problem is that it’s not only ridiculous – it’s demagogic. Or as they say in hebrew:מגמתי. You choose your sources so carefully because you have no other choice – you know most sources don’t support you, including an explicit one in the Torah itself: על פי הדבר אשר יורוך. This whole new idea you and your buddies have of not following Halacha because it’s not the complete and absolute expression of God’s will – something which, by the way, I agree with 100 percent – is completely new, unprecedented, and is a betrayal of everything Judaism has stood for during its entire existence. Until today, of course. That’s why it’s just another, well-camouflaged, version of Reform. This will be the gist of my comments, and I will now go one by one.
(1) I don’t have a specific picture of how Judaism looks. I can live happily ever after knowing that in Tzfat they follow Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, in Yitzhar they follow Rav Ginzberg, in Me’a She’arim they follow Rav Elyashiv, and in Petach Tikva they follow Rav Sherlo. No problem whatsoever. I have nopractical vision of how Judaism is supposed to look, which is why I wrote I have no problem with ten women making a minyan. I have no issue with that picture. This is all Step 2 stuff – my concern is with Step 1, which you continue to either ignore or simply jumble it up. Halacha is both a theoretical and a practical discipline, and demands one to be able to bridge that gap between the two stages. But the stages must exist in roder for the methodology to be sound.
(2) I believe in אלו ואלו דברי אלוקים חיים, and last I checked so does the Rambam. I don’t know why you think the prevalent opinion is that the opinion of Beit Shammai is not considered Torah anymore because it wasn’t paskened Halacha Lemayseh. I have many sources that say otherwise, and would like to see even one source that says different – that learning Beit Shammai’s opinion is not considered Limmud Torah because he’s not applied practically.
And I have no idea what you’re talking about Halachic weight issues becoming methodology issues. An example would be nice, from a real Teshuva.
(3) You say ד’ אמות של הלכה is a curse. Not sure what that means. Do you think Chazal saw it that way? Can you give me one source that says it was a curse? Rav Kook is not against Halacha – just what it became, and things it caused. I agree with him about that. But we both know he never stepped foot outside the straight and narrow Halachic process, and I challenge you to bring one source to the contrary.
And saying עשה לך רב is not a requirement is, once again, choosing to read into our sources what you want to read into them. I find this whole method so dishonest towards most – if not of all – of the Jewish sources. You’re basically saying: I am willing to be dishonest towards most of the Jewish sources in order to be honest with myself and who I am. And I’m telling you that is a terrible thing to say. You should be brave enough to say: I don’t feel connected to Judaism and Halacha. I feel it’s a failed system, and one that doesn’t serve our needs at the present time. So I will be something else, something which I will call by some other name, something which will make me feel like I am living who I really am instead of being stuck in this rut that Halacha has pushed me into.
You’re afraid of stepping outside your society and your religion in search of yourself, because you don’t want to lose your supportive social structure. You preach to me about being true to yourself, yet I find you to be not even close to reaching that goal. I speak to many people who have issues with religion, and I many times encourage them to step outside of Halacha in search of themselves – but I make it very clear that they are stepping outside of Judaism, and that I hope they can find their way back. You’re just too scared to do that, so instead you’re living some weird half-life. Of course Halacha demands consistency, and it has always been that way. You blame me for closing my eyes??? I assure you I deal with this sort of thing every day in my community – I know exactly what people are thinking and how they think about Halacha. Of course they have similar feelings to you. Doesn’t mean the reality is also what’s supposed to be. Doesn’t mean it’s right. Doesn’t mean it’s good. And the worst is – doesn’t mean it leads to anything genuine. I try to help people find themselves genuinely within Judaism, but that includes Halacha as well. This I do, instead of playing games by calling something “Judaism” when it’s not.
(4) You point 4 is just a bunch of words, sorry, “Call to authenticity” – but what is authenticity? How does one recognize it within him? Your definition is unhelpful practically, though of course I agree with it theoretically. Your point 5- First of all, quoting one paragraph from Rav Kook is low, and you know it. Not only can his words be interpreted in many different ways, but even were I to agree with your interpretation (which I do not – because I think you conveniently skipped some very important phrases there) we both know there are many other paragraphs which can be quoted. Shall I quote some about the importance of not breaking Halacha? But it’s pointless to do so. There are many lines one can bring – the question is whether you can bring me even one source from a prominent Jewish Religious source that says keeping Halacha is not a requirement, or “it’s not so bad” if Jews don’t keep Halacha, as long as they’re spiritual because “they ARE Judaism”. You can’t bring such a source, because it doesn’t exist. Your call to authenticity on the back of the Halachic process is unwarranted and unsupported by any major religious source. It’s made up, top to bottom, and hence is the product of Post Modernism. I think it’s an affront to Rav Kook to hinge this philosophy on his words, when we both know he would never have condoned such a thing. If someone asked him if such a thing were okay lekatchila, we both know what the answer would be, as is clear from all his writings.
(5) I have no idea what you mean by point 6. What it sounds like to me, is that you took one line from the Kuzari, pulled it out of context, and inferred that he says keeping Halacha is external and unimportant. Do you really believe that? Have you read the rest of the Kuzari? Is there anywhere that he says such a thing, or hints at the fact that Mitzvot are not so important? You want to see things so bad, you imagine them where they don’t exist. I really don’t understand why you insist on doing this. Why can’t you stand in front of the mirror, and admit to yourself your opinions are not in line with classical Judaism, and are ont he verge of Reform or secular Post-Modernism? Why are you so determined to drag Judaism along with you for the ride? Go, search for yourself, be authentic, be genuine – I welcome that. But I don’t welcome an approach which takes individual lines or paragraphs out of their greater context and reads them like they are the sole reflection of Judaism.
(6) I have already written I don’t have a view of Hashem a transcendental to the world, so I don’t see how you can say I do. Once again, here you write that Halacha is some sort of by-product that should never have existed, and bring a quote from Rav Kook which doesn’t say that. Once again – do you want me to quote numerous paragraphs where Rav Kook connects fully with Halacha? But I don’t think you need me to, because you know your half quotes are hardly sufficient to place Rav Kook on your side. Those quotes may assist you in your personal quest, but they are not reflective of that quest’s conclusions. Not in the slightest. Rav Kook was a Halachic Jew through and through, and there is no way in the world he would have gone your way.
(7) I don’t know what you mean about reward and punishment. I have no specific view. I am aware of many views of this, and have never subscribed to one or the other.
(8) Words. Empty words. We live in a Jewish state, and we function Halachically within it. We have books on Halacha and the army, hospitals that function according to Halachic guidelines, and I’m sure if we needed to we could work out business issues (just as we did with Heter Iska and the like) as well. Where do you see that Halacha has a problem with dealing with the reality of living in a state. You say these things like they’re obvious to anyone with half a brain, but I think reading through Techumin can make you understand there are more answers than you think within Halacha. Where do you see unsolvable Halachic issues? But you obviously mean broader issues. You want to transform the whole structure of everything within Judaism, so that we can live more comfortably and more pluralistically. That’s what really bothers you, and that’s where you want to get to. You say you believe in absolute truths. Name one. Is “Thou shalt not Kill” an absolute truth to you? And what if someone told you he “didn’t find it within himself”, or “It’s not part of his authentic being” – what would you say to him? That it’s legitimate to feel the way he does? Or that he’s a sick fellow who needs help? I would hope the latter… And if the former – then you are a true Post-Modernist, through and through.
Oh, and Rav Soloveitchik has plenty of followers. I assure you.
(9) I’m sorry, but your last paragraph really hit a nerve, and I’m going to have to be a little harsh. You simply haven’t read enough. All you’ve read is Rav Kook trashing the Chareidim for being too narrow-minded as a result of Halacha, and from there you inferred that Halacha itself is the problem. The problem with Persiko and you and all this trend is that they haven’t read half as much as they should have of proper Halachic writings to be able to really appreciate the beauty, the intricacy and the all-encompassing nature of Halacha. Too narrow??? Are you serious??? Only someone who hasn’t experienced it seriously could say something like that.
Halacha has a lot to supply, and in fact it did supply spiritual food for our nation from its inception until this very day. And it continues to do so. I agree 100 percent that it’s not enough, that we need something more, something beyond Halacha. But more doesn’t mean to cancel the old, which is what you want to do. It means to add over that. I agree Halacha cannot fulfill the spiritual needs of our generation. But it can do a great amount for those needs, nonetheless. And anyone who say different has only experienced Halacha in the flimsiest manner, has only experienced it as the shadow of what it really is.
Oh, and your line about not tearing down Halacha – I view that as the saddest line of this whole email, because the whole email is going one way, and then you turn around and refuse to take on in your own personal life that which you believe in. I don’t understand that.
I wrote:
I disagree that it goes against everything that Judaism has stood for for it’s entire existence. It’s funny that you should quote that Passuk, since it is stated in the context of Beit Din Hagadol in Lishkat Hagazit which is how the Rambam Paskins it. Although there are those who were Makish it to local Batei Din there were others, such as the Rambam, who disagreed.
I will say again and this has to do with what you repeat again and again – I am not calling for the cancellation of Halacha, I am not calling for extreme leniency of Halacha to make it fit peoples ideologies and/or weaknesses. If I believed that I’d have no problem saying it. I am not afraid of name calling even the most horrible word in Halachik politics – REFORM.
You may remember that I said the exact opposite – that I find some of these attempts a stretch of Halacha and sometimes much more than just a stretch.
As we’re discussing this back and forth I see that it really boils down to this – you believe that Halacha (including all the variety, richness and dynamic it holds within it) is the only correct way to live Judaism. I disagree. I think that a lot of Halacha as it has developed is a phenomenon of Galut. For the time being it is the only way I know how, and want to, live Judaism but I am enthusiastic of the efforts of people coming from the outside trying to create something which I believe to be more complete. I’m sure Halacha will continue to exist but I think there will be a lot more.
1. What exactly do you want me to find for you – a place where one posek says about another one that he’s using Halacha or a Halachik term incorrectly? that he is using a Halachik concept in a way which is inconsistent with the way in which it was used previously? if so, I will look around to find some juicy quotes but in the meantime one concept that jumps to mind is – חדש אסור מן התורה
2. You must not have received my correction – I said that that approach (of the Rambam) doesn’t seem to be the prevalent one, rather, a recognition that the different opinions in a Machaloket are equally “legitimate”, but only one can be applied to any one specific situation. The Rambam specifically states that the un-Paskened opinion is mentioned for negative reasons – to make sure it isn’t followed in the future, so people won’t think it wasn’t considered and refuted, etc…
3. Well, in this case you’ve made it easy for me. Please show me a Psak that requires a person to have a rabbi, a Halachik authority who he will follow consistently. I’m not saying a person doesn’t need to be consistent with his life, I’m saying there is no issur to treat Halacha like a supermarket. I can go with any Posek I want. Worse case scenario I do Hatarat Nedarim and then change my psak. I’m not saying I recommend doing this, but – it’s permissible.
I say again – I love Halacha. I love following it. I do many things I don’t feel like doing. You know what? I even tell people who ask me שאלות – NO. A lot. I believe that Halacha is the realization of Drishat Hashem in the minutia of every day life, which is wonderful. Even so, I find it to be a remnant of something much greater which I hope to see emerge soon and I don’t believe the Halachik methodology has the tools and capability to להכיל them.
4. I too do not call to “break Halacha”. Rather that there is Jewish living which far surpasses what Halacha can supply, that we are waiting for and that has to do with the rebirth of Jewish nationality.
5. The quote from Kuzari had less to do with חיוב מצוות and more to do with viewing God – and Torah – as external vs. a revelation of something internal. By no means did I say that anything I’m saying is the “sole reflection of Judaism”.
6. Quotes from Rav Kook about the significance of Knesset Yisrael, that it precedes Torah, that it is the main revelation of God in the world and so on and so forth, are what I am referring to. Other important examples in Rav Kook – unedited- that talk about authenticity – also of the individual- as a way to Hashem, truth etc… are : Orot Hatshuva 15:10 and Orot Hatorah 11:2.
And in case you jump in again – no, of course he doesn’t mean instead of Halacha (and as I’m trying to express – neither am I) but he also isn’t talking about Halacha as the way to God, rather as the result of a relationship with God (as so beautifully in Midot Hare’aya, Emunah 21). And when the content of peoples life grows (modernity) and the content of communal life grows (Jewish nationality) all Halacha has to say is – שלא יעלו כחומה is over, that it’s a Mitzvah to serve in the army and that you can use a Grama system to work the urn in hospitals?
7. You keep on referring to the fiery pits of hell so I thought you were serious.
9. I’m happy to admit I should learn more Halacha. No argument there. But, our “main supply of spiritual food” since our inception was not Halacha, it was Prophesy. Halacha became the central Jewish “food” once prophesy was lost. The difference between them – for the sake of our discussion – being, that Halacha is reactive. It follows life, comes after it. A question arises – Halacha can respond. A difficulty presents itself – Halacha can solve it so we can continue living. Prophesy, on the other hand, is active. It leads life, elevates it, shows it the horizon – not the border.
I suggest sealing with this quote from חכם עדיף מנביא which I think we both agree to (even if you think I don’t, but that hasn’t seemed to be working for me…):
במשך הזמן הרב נתגבר עסק החכמים על עסק הנביאים והנבואה נסתלקה, ארכו הימים והכללים החלו להתרופף, נבלעו בהפרטים ולא יראו החוצה. על כן באחרית הימים שצמיחת מהלך שיבת אור הנבואה תתחיל להופיע, “אשפוך את רוחי על כל בשר”, אז שנאת הפרטים תתגבר, “חכמת סופרים תסרח, ואנשי הגבול, אלו תלמידי חכמים שמשימים גבול לדבריהם, ילכו מעיר לעיר ולא יחוננו”, עד אשר לא כפרי־בוסר כי אם כבכורים מלאים טל וחיים יצאו הניצוצות של התחלת אור הנבואה מנרתיקם, וזו תכיר בכללה את גדל פעולת החכמה ובענות צדק תקרא: “חכם עדיף מנביא”, “חסד ואמת נפגשו צדק ושלום נשקו, אמת מארץ תצמח וצדק משמים נשקף, גם ד’ יתן הטוב וארצנו תתן יבולה”. ונשמתו של משה תשוב להופיע בעולם.
Rav Rosenzweig wrote:
Okay, I think we understand each other. I wasn’t trying to use names to scare you, by the way, but I was trying to make a point, and that is that it’s the same idea, just a little bit different. And indeed Persiko rightfully characterizes himself as non-Orthodox, and that’s correct on his part. I have no complaints towards him, because he doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not. And I understand now that you aren’t either (though haven’t fully understood how that could be if you agree with Persiko). I, too, am very happy for any new line of thinking which might help Judaism flourish, but I insist that people put their cards on the table and admit what they are saying, and that it is not part of Orthodox Judaism.
I guess if your characterization of our disagreement is correct, then we disagree on what Halacha is. You see it as coming after life, rather than it being a part of life. I view it as an extremely significant part of life, and don’t see spiritual processes as developing despite it rather than because of it. I think that’s a major misunderstanding of Halacha which comes, במחילה, from not being involved enough in Halacha and paskening. And I think Rav Kook sees it like that as well, as I show in the next few paragraphs.
So I guess it would be fitting for me to end this conversation with a few Rav Kook quotes – you know, food for thought… I am quoting from Shmona Kvatzim, just the first Kovetz (I have more than enough in there to make my point):
עבודה רוחנית גדולה היא לאדם, שיפתח כל כך את עצמו עד שיכיר את קרבת אלוקים אליו בפנימיותו. כל סדרי החיים הם מתיישרים, כשנטייה זו הכוללת היא מתעוררת יפה. לשם צורך זה, אין הפרש באיזה אופן יבואו לידו ההרגשות על דבר קרבת אלוקים, אם יבואו בדרך שכל והכרה הגיונית, או בדרך הרגשה פנימית, ובלבד שיכיר בתוכיותו את עצמה ואמיתתה. המצוות כולן והתפילות, הינן המכשירים היותר טובים להרחיב את הנטייה של קרבת אלוקים, ולהרחיב את צעדיה במעמקי הנפש. על כן גדול ורם הוא מאוד ערך כל תפילה בכוונה, כל ברכה ותהילה, כל מצווה וכל מנהג טוב, שהם הם הינם האמצעים ליסד את הרגשת קרבת אלוקים בליבו של אדם בדרך יסוד מוסד. אומללים הם האנשים אשר לא ידעו את ה’, אשר לא יתפללו ולא יעשו את המצוות עם כל קהל עדת ישראל… ואף אם ירטיבו מעשים טובים, למלאות את צימאון המוסר הטבעי שבתכונתם, לא יוכל צורך זה להספיק את החסר מצד הצורך של תביעת קרבת אלוקים, שאיננה מתמלאת כי אם במעשים אלוקיים, מיוחדים לשם ה’, בשיחת קודש, ומעשה מצווה ופקודי ה’. מתוך החמלה שעלינו לחמול על כללות האדם, וביחוד על בנינו הקרובים לנו בגזע ורוח, הננו מתעוררים לישר לפניהם את הדרך הישרה של קרבת אלוקים, שהיא נקנית על ידי התורה בתלמודה וקיומה (אות כ’).
ההגנה על היהדות ההיסתורית, היהדות המעשית, היא אחת מהחובות היותר גדולים לכל בעל נפש, אשר יש לו איזה כוח לעשות ברוחו. העזיבה המעשית, מרפיון רוח, העדר השיתוף באורחות החיים עם כללות האומה לדורותיה, בשמירת השבתות ומועדים וקדושתם, במאכלות אסורות ופרטיהם, בויעוד בתי כנסיות ובתי מדרשות, פוחת הוא מעט מעט את צורת האומה, ומדלדל את כוח חיבורה… (אות מ”א).

כשאדם הולך על פי תומת חינוכו, עומד במצב הפשטות של אמונה וסדר מוסרי, מחובר ביראת העונש ואהבת שכר בתור דבר העיקרי הגורם לכל סיבוב החיים הרוחניים שלו, כל המעשים הטובים והמידות הטובות יונקים אז משורש קטן ושפל זה. כיוון שהוא מתעלה, הרי הוא מתחיל לפקח את עיניו להכיר את הטוב והאור באמיתת עצמם. שוכח הוא את עצמו, את פרטיותו, והריהו מכניס את עצמו יותר בחיי הכלל, הטוב הכללי מחל הוא לקחת את לבבו. ומתוך הדליגה הרוחנית הזאת שהוא דולג, מתול החוג המוגבל באהבת עצמו הצרה אל אהבת הכלל הרחבה, הוא עלול לאבד קניינים, שהם אומנם לכאורה קטנים, אבל באמת נכבדים הם מאוד. סדרי חיים טובים, שהם מושרשים יפה בהליכותיו בדרי האמונה, מתאימים הם כולם דווקא אל העליוניות שבמטרה של אהבת הכלל, אבל לא קל הוא הדבר להכיר את כל התוים המדויקים בתוך ההתרוממות הרוחנית הכללית.
אבל כמה שקשה היא עבודה זו בהתחלתה, מוכרחת היא, כי אם יהיה האדם מאבד את הרשמים המעשיים כפי דייקנותם, מטשטש הוא בזה את הסגנון היותר חזק שבחיי המעשה, שהוא הבסיס לחיי הרוח היותר רוממים. ומפני שפוגם הוא בעבריינות מעשית את האידיאלים הנישאים, שהם המגמות האחרונות של מעשה התורה והמצווה, אף על פי שהוא איננו מרגיש בייחוסן של המחשבות העדינות ברוממות עוזן עם המעשים הללו, מכל מקום כך היא המידה שהנשמה נפגמת, האידיאלים מתרחקים בהוייתם המציאותית מההכרה הנפשית הפנימית, כלומר ממהות החיים של הנפש, שהיא כבר שברה את הבסיס המעשי שלהם, ובזה כבר מתקצצות הכנפיים, והמעוף הנשמתי לגודל ושיגוב עליון מתחלש הוא בתוכיותו. יכול להיות שיהגה, שיחשוב, יצייר וידמה שהוא עדיין שט בעולמות אציליים, שהוא שואף לאידיאלים רמים, אבל הכוח הפנימי מסולק הוא ומטומטם על ידי הטמטום המעשי (אות קל”ח).

 

One response to “The Debate

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