Thursday, June 04, 2009

"...When There is Need to Transgress...";
Possible "Applications" b'Zman HaZeh

"At times, when there is need to transgress the way of the Torah, and there is no one in the generation who can show the way, the thing comes about through breaching. Nevertheless, it is better for the world that such a matter come about unintentionally. Only when prophecy rests on Israel is it possible to innovate such a matter as a "temporary measure". Then it is done with express permission. With the damming of the light of prophecy, the innovation comes about through a long-lasting breach, which saddens the heart with its externals, but gladdens it with its inner content."

Rav Kook, Arpelei Tohar 1914 ed; Trans. by Bezalel Naor (see footnote 3

I find several applications of this notion in the modern Jewish crises - most immediately in the many entities reforming, even reformulating from differing and diverging approaches to Jewish law (Conservative and Orthodox and "Independent"), at times seemingly reconstituting long-divided aspects of Torah - in seeking to addressing actual communal participation in religious services - I specifically am not speaking of "women's davening" or "Rosh Chodesh services" - but of Partnership Minyanim and independent "Egal Minyanim", which though there may be sound basis for certain of them, there is vehement opposition to any of them on the part of the mainstream leadership.

In these Orthodox, "Independent" and Conservative spheres where 'ideologies' interpenetrate, overlap and are ignored, there exist settings where parts of the services are led or administrated by women and those where men and women may perform any aspect of the service they are capable of. But the end result, amidst actual observance and transgression - is they are thick with people who seek a fuller engagement with Judaism than their communities (either Orthodox or Conservative, etc), had offered them - either (for ex) as religiously-educated, Orthodox-identifying women, or as Traditionally-oriented Conservative. They are not necessarily intentionally engaging in 'transgression' - some of them for the first time learning about 'transgression' as such - of engaging even the idea of integrated, halachic ways of life - however ultimately faulty numbers of them may be. I see gladness in the fact that many are brought much closer to an inner engagement with Torah and the lifeways of Israel then - as I said - they had been or possibly would ever be - even in Observant circles. In the interaction of ideological externals, ideological bodies - I am convinced there is an internal interaction that even participants may not be immediately aware of - faces of Torah see each other for the first time, in many generations - darchei in Torah that have lived only in books are being reanimated, valid but minority views breathed and spoken in a new conversation - not merely blurted out in the amidst sanctioned discourse, condemnation, or private conversation, isolated from the rabbim.

Among these participants may be those who weather the previously-blogged-on coming tribulations of "rote Orthodox belief/practice" and the dis-integration of the other movements. I see this in that many Observant Conservatives and "Ramah" kids find in potential Observant communities host communities an exclusion of women from participation - where Orthodox settings have dabbled and are even halachically-employing on occasion, actions unthinkable to institutional Traditional Conservatives - based in the nature of the communities themselves. I think "Traditional" Conservative Judaism is indeed as rigid and inflexible as mainline Conservative Judaism claims it is - in good part because it lacks to rubric LWMOs have to work with the acquire the flexibility that has emerged partnership minyanim, women's learning, etc!

For example, Conservative rabbis often act in a broader variety of roles than do Orthodox rabbis - as witnesses, as authors of documents, etc, many functions that traditionally-minded Conservatives congregations do not rule women may engage in. But in Orthodox communities, those functions are easily distributed among an observant laity; as a result, segments of Orthodoxy may now condone women rabbis, because the have this observant laity - where traditional-minded Conservative settings will still oppose it because historically they are "Observant - but abound with non-observance, requiring that a communal rabbi fulfill roles that women, as such, may not.

But something hits me in the language Rav Kook begins with; "At times, when there is need to transgress the way of the Torah.." - juxtaposed with an halachic mechanism for transgression that no longer applies in the Post-Prophetic era. A drive to transgress that indicates a desire to self-define within Jewish practice in general? Elsewhere in his works, Rav Kook describes that certain things must not be based on legislation, they must be based on wider, natural moral considerations, etc. Perhaps here he alludes to historical changes that serve a greater purpose or condition that could not be legislated into reality, due to the lapse of prophecy - but also in expectation, perhaps preparation of its return.

A division between Prophetic, Biblical era Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism is popularly discussed in Conservative circles in justifying their various approaches - but again, with the passage of time, conversations possible 100 years ago are divided among Klal Israel and may in a future time be reacquainted with each other - based on these independent interactions. Pending thinking more about this, I can refer specifically to Elliot Dorff's "The Unfolding Tradition", chapter 2, and Gordon Tucker's "A Principled Defense of the Current Structure and Status of the CJLS", available here. I hope to match them with contrary perspectives and maybe eek something practical out of their particular characterizations of historical Judaism.

But I do see, in the growth of these independent minyanim, grassroots attempts at halachic modalities that aren't in clear continuity from existing ideologies, that make appeals to 'pre-schism' halacha - and just such events may not be portent solely of more shecher to come. "Some questions can only be asked by some people", in a sense, and some solutions may come from conversations not everyone wants to have.


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