Monday, June 01, 2009

More on Having Cakes

From R. Yoel Finkelman's review of Tamar Ross' "Expanding the Palace of Torah"; [my emph]

Ross's notion of "cumulative revelation"—which claims that novel ideas rooted outside of the Jewish tradition are gradually incorporated into Jewish revelation, [similar to what I've suggested at many points in this blog regarding Tradition and compatible cognates found outside of it - though not by a "Ross-ian" mechanism nor regarding the Canon after the lapse of Revelation] even at the expense of older revelations [which I specifically do not countenance; BTW, this is the only way she can countenance Biblical Criticism - which she does; one does wonder about the potential of HKBH Cultivating an historical, communal interpretive framework from which contesting views, as with combatants who agree on rules of war, would emerge as a historical-systematic Judaism post-Yavneh]—opens the door for feminist consciousness to slowly penetrate the inner sanctum of Jewish tradition. This can lead to wide-ranging changes not only in the legal status of women, but in the very language and categories in which the halakhah speaks to and about women.
But this approach could open the door equally wide for any change in Orthodox belief, practice, or language that anybody at all could find compelling. While I, for one, find feminist concerns to be morally more convincing, Ross's arguments could be used equally effectively to alter Judaism in the most fundamental ways to make it more compatible with, say, racism, fascism, or sexism (and echoes of these dangerous ideas can be heard in at least some Orthodox circles). Other than my own conscience, what tools do I have to determine which new ideas are revelations to be embraced and which are heresies to be fought? A theology that is incapable of saying "no!" to anything is equally incapable of saying "yes!"to anything. If everything is potentially revelation, than nothing at all is really revelation.

Furthermore, Ross's notion of the authority of the community [the Proletariat?...] leads to a reductio ad absurdum. There is a phenomenon which has allowed outside influences to mix with aspects of Jewish tradition, thereby altering the social structure, philosophy, hermeneutics, laws, and very sense of self of a large portion of Orthodoxy's "interpretive community." That phenomenon is not feminism, but fundamentalism. Secularization and modernity brought about movements in numerous religions which call for dogmatic stringency, intellectual and social isolationism, radical traditionalism, vigorous opposition to outsiders, world-transformative political radicalism, and activist messianism. These trends, in various different versions, have had vast influence on halakhic Jews, altering the very texture of Orthodox religious life. Certainly, these trends have been much more successful than feminist philosophy and post-modern hermeneutics in capturing the collective attention of observant Jews. It would seem that we should conclude, particularly if these trends continue, that fundamentalism is God's new revelation [a new evolutionary 'interpretive framework' from which Judaism emerges", some Charedi Orthoprax intellectuals might contend]. Jewish sources that might counter fundamentalism could be understood as appropriate for a previous era. We should thank God for providing us with this new, closed-minded revelation.

It should be obvious that accepting fundamentalism on these grounds is self contradictory and absurd. After all, one of basic tenets of fundamentalism is that revelation is permanent and unchanging. Still, are we to accept both feminism and fundamentalism as divine revelation, even though they are mutually exclusive? [no, since one will clearly be the "Judaism of the Ages", supported by "The" Gedolim, the other will be nambypamby Partnership Minyanim and "Open Conservadoxy"...] If fundamentalism becomes the exclusive narrative by which Orthodoxy defines itself, would we be forced to declare that communal consensus has sided with a position that we find morally and religiously objectionable? If yes, are we willing to sacrifice our moral and religious conscience on the altar of communal consensus? If not, what force is there to the claims that the communal narrative forms binding revelation? If post-modernism has taught us anything of value, it is that modernistic confidence in the morality of consensual human values is unfounded, to say the least [to which I would question confidence in many spheres which moderns feel 'certain' about]. If the prophets have anything to teach us, it is that communal religious consensus may not be revelation but idolatry.


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