Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Possible Kosher "Weak" Pluralism?

I mean 'weak' in the philosophical meaning of proofs and arguments - where "weak" suggests an argument relying strongly on a presupposition shared in a dispute. Shaiya Rothberg on the efforts and trials of individuals according to the Rambam Moreh Nevukhim III:34;

“Among the things that you likewise ought to know is the fact that the Law [that is, the Torah] does not pay attention to the isolated. The Law was not given with a view to things that are rare…it is directed only towards the…majority of cases and pays no attention to…the damage occurring the unique human being because of this…[the nature of the Law’s government is such that] the purpose of the Law is not perfectly achieved in each individual…[and none the less] the Law ought to be absolute and universal…for if it were made to fit [each] individual(s), the whole would be corrupted…[as it is said]: "As for the congregation, there is one Law for you” (Bemidbar, 15:15).

Now this is a pretty harsh formulation of the problem. But it well expresses the fact that the Torah is a collective project. Its not only about the lives of individuals but about the life and redemption of People of Israel.

Torah requires the individual to accept the yoke of working out the binding meaning of the commandments, the halacha, together with other Jews, even when one feels that Truth with a capital T lies somewhere else. And this in turn means that the individual Jew must constantly relate to a common agenda - what the community is doing and what community is thinking about - even if that common agenda isn’t on the mark personally.

In the Shulchan Aruch even ha-ezer siman aleph it states:...Each man must marry a woman in order to be fruitful and multiply. (and this is of course a mitzvah deoraita). Whoever doesn’t do the mitzvah, is like one who spills blood, and decreases the image of God in the world, and causes the Shchinah to depart from Israel.

Now, the idea that not having children is akin both to murder and to decreasing the image of God in the world was suggested by a Tanna named Shimon Ben Azzai. Interesting, Ben Azzai himself had no children and probably was never married. When accused of not practicing what he preached, Ben Azzai responded:

Said to them Ben Azzai: “what can I do? My soul desires Torah, and the world will exist through others [ie the reproduction of others].

I think some important points are to be learned from Ben Azzai. First, Ben Azzai justifies his failure to fulfill a mitsvat aseh deoraita (positive Biblical Commandment) by saying “what can I do?”, that is, he sort of claims that he is anoos or forced not to fulfill the mitzvah. But what is he forced by?...he’s forced by his love of Torah. In other words, Ben Azzai knows that fulfilling this mitzvah would compromise his individual way of dvekut (attachment) to God and Torah [this is not a compromise of observance for sake of "lifestyle"; it is one mitzvah for the sake of all other applicable mitzvot], and since this dvekut is the meaning and purpose of a Jew’s life, he is, as it were, forced not to fulfill it.

However, Ben Azzai not only accepts that this mitzvah exists and binds him, he’s one of the machmerim (strict ones). It is Ben Azzai who suggested that one who does not have children both murders and reduces the image of God in the world.

So how can he both accept the mitzvah {with a hiddur!} and not perform it? Ben Azzai says...that he is part of the people of Israel and...all Jews are responsible one for the other. There may be Jews that cannot fulfill Talmud Torah like Ben Azzai can, but they can fulfill (the commandment of reproduction) while he cannot. Together, with their individual strengths and weaknesses, the People Israel fulfill the whole Torah.

So I conclude that the community does bind and limit the individual as the Rambam made clear, but at the same time the aravut, the joint responsibility of all Israel, also liberates the individual by making room for his or her particular character.

But would this interpretation actually establish space within halacha (not sanction per se), for what appears as overwhelming non-observance on the part of others, in absence of dvekut to HKBH and Torah? Or enough room for the increasingly-willful non-observance and conscious abstention from systematic dvekut through mitzvot on the part of those who leave Torah lifestyles? Ben Azzai's abstention from an observance is 'balanced' by belief that it binds him still, and by the fact that he is 'freed' to focus on adherence to other observances.

Another matter is the different views on whether intent is necessary for a mitvah to 'count'. Rav Soloveitchik does not believe it to be mandatory, for Rambam it's a central and complex factor. The great number of Jews do not consciously keep mitzvot or consciously regard Torah beliefs. Are the few who consciously participate in ritual Mitzvot and ethical obligations (and the even fewer who manage to keep Rambam's shita), capable of being concrete enough to compensate for the great number who are not even aware of actions or beliefs as mitzvot? R. Nathan Lopes Cardozo (my emph);

For Jews to bring their fellowmen back to Judaism there is a need to celebrate the mitzvoth which the secular Jew has been observing all or part of his/her life. Not his failure to observe some others. Only through the notion of sharing in mitzvoth will an authentic way to be found to bring Jews back home.
... There is little doubt that secular Jews, consciously or unconsciously, keep a great amount of commandments. Many of them may not be in the field of rituals, but there is massive evidence that inter-human mitzvoth enjoy a major commitment among secular Jews. Beneath the divisiveness of traditional commitment lie underpinnings of religion such as compassion, humility, awe and even faith. Different are the pledges, but equal are the devotions. It may quite well be that the minds of the religious and not religious Jew do not fully meet, but their spirits touch. Who will deny that secular Jews have no sense of mystery, of forgiveness, beauty and gentleness? How many of them do not have inner faith that God cares or show great contempt for fraud or double standards? Each of them are the deepest of religious values.

This does not only call for a celebration but may well become an inspiration for religious Jews. This is not just done by honoring secular Jews for keeping these mitzvoth but in restoring ourselves in their mitzvoth and good deeds. There is a need to make the so called irreligious Jew aware of the fact that he is much more religious than he may realize. It is the realization that Gods light often shines on his/her face just as much, if not more, than on the face of the religious Jew.

A Jew is a Jew, a mitzvah a mitzvah - and all count to some degree. The more Jews are aware that whatever mitzvot they already do have dimensions and connections beyond imagination, the more integrated their observances will be, and the more room made for accumulating them naturally. Imagine if it were more widely known that eternity itself may be earned through one mitzvah. R. Menachem Gordon on Rambam Perush ha-Mishnah, Makkot 3:17;

...eternity may be earned through the performance of “any single mitzvah” of the taryag executed with perfect motive. Since for Maimonides olam ha-ba is a function of Divine knowledge—metaphysical contemplation of the Divine Unity, etc. (“davar gadol”)—and mitzvot ma’assiyot (“davar katan”) serve to foster precisely that end (Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah 4:13), the performance of any one precept promoting philosophic activity could be credited with boosting a man to immortality. The practical mitzvot encourage intellectuality, according to Maimonides, by creating an atmosphere [shared collectively by Jews - though deficient if one "microscopes" down to the individual level] conducive to reflection—namely, by disciplining the emotions and fostering a stable society...

To think how many mitzvot are done! And none are wasted! And how uniquely in Eretz Israel, where the Jewish population are so often "traditional" to one degree or another, are engaged in living in the Land and embrace many mitzvot that consciously identify them with the entirety of the historic Jewish nation and the yearnings of millenia of prayers and dreams;

The 58 agricultural mitzvot hatluyot baAretz, speaking Hebrew, counting the days of the week around Shabbat (yom rishon, yom sheni...) and not by the names of pagan gods, milchemet mitzvah (serving in the Israeli army), not to mention the fact that the many (and fundamentally important) mitzvot bein adam laChaveru (between fellow Jews) can and must be applied to [almost...] each and every person on the street. Even my all-too-high income and sales tax in Israel fulfill the mitzvah of tzedakah.

R. Wolpoe on Ben Ish Hai;

...the 248 [R'MaCh] positive commandments may be fulfilled WHEN the individual commits to "ahavah bein yisroel" [Ahavah being the Hebrew cognate of the Aramaic Racheim]. Thus the 248 are fulfilled by each individual by means of their mutual love.

Also R. Gordon here adds to the sources presented that encourage counting the mitzvot and positive, constructive acts of the non-Observant among those of the 'systematically' Observant, over attempting a justified place for pluralism as such, based on Rambam. Mitzvot and ethics can't be denied those who are not consistent in abiding all of them - including the self-identifying Orthodox.


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