Wednesday, December 30, 2009

About Asking The Big Questions
"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion [to have a closed canon, for example, or a written Oral Tradition...], but allow very lively debate within that spectrum - even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by [the participants presumption of] the limits put on the range of the debate."
The Common Good, Noam Chomsky.

[STILL editing this, sorry] I couldn't agree more in applying this to learning in contemporary Orthodoxy, as I wrestle with my own self-definition. Granted, everyone presumes accepted perspectives to play "the game", whatever the game - and plenty of the small number of secular, committed Jewish intellectuals (who "lern" - so as to be Jewish intellectuals), and Orthoprax do precisely that - but "presuming-to-play" is actually how most of us who are not legal scholars, philosophers, scientists, engineers, etc, etc, navigate our lives.

We could be fideistic and wax all "Yiddishe Kop" over the fact of how limited what-passes-for-Jewish learning can be - chewing on ever-more tiny details of every more "subtle" arguments, grasping at perceived subtlety after perceived subtlety, and be totally removed from reality of what was described in Gemara or Torah (Given in history, to -lashon bnei Adom- speaking humans, in lashon bnei would seem to matter what terms actually meant) - but the canon is indeed very closed. If we turn our backs on the breadth and depth offered by Mesorah-compatible scholarship on Talmud, Tanach, we presume in accord with certain Charedi scholars for whom interpretations lain down long ago cannot be discarded or dethroned by "mere" scholarship that suggest they were based on long-sanctioned typographical errors or ideological expurgations...they cannot be revoked "simply" because we find Rambam's corrections on Rambam! A Torah found that was written by Ezra ha Sofer would, by certain halacha, based on Torah, be considered passul because it has been hidden away - and not part from the 'living' tradition of transmitted Sifre Torah (texts themselves only exactingly-'uniform' due to the mass publication of comparison editions of the Mesoretic text with the haskamah of the Hatam Sofer - itself reprinted in revised editions after he died). Moderate Orthodox centrists who esteem currently-regnant models that eschew scholarship and history can wax "progresssive" about how much power is put in mankinds hands, but what waxs wains in seconds; reveling in an un-self-critical, limited view of our limited mesorah, how long can we take such a "strictly" - and politically - ever-"limited" tradition seriously?

We assume without real questioning a whole host of maxims and ordinances of life, to live whatever kind of life. We seldom ask the big questions - no one does. Sure, they may ask questions that are actually some other groups questions, but seldom do they thoroughly question the status of their own maxims. Does the scientific method prove the scientific method? It's worth is proven from, not to. The various maxim beliefs of philosophy and religion are likewise bound to presume certain things and not others and to simply let stand certain of those Certain Things. We believe our maxims are God Given. The more we empower limiting forces within observant Jewries (by apathy, by resignation, by neglect of darchei in learning that maintain an eye on the depth and breadth of what have been halachically-valid voices in the exchange on Judaism), the more we expand human power to limit God-Given Torah.


At 1/01/2010 3:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 4/12/2010 3:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When your possible solutions are limited by the number of included factors, you will have a reductionist frame of mind; you cannot have a solution outside what is given. You can in a sense evolve science in such a setting, true, but also an inclination to reduce, to solve by boiling down - what is the least necessary solution given the limited options - over what other possible ways could there be an answer - since other ways are excluded by default and definition.


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