Thursday, December 30, 2010

REPOST; Sept. 9, 2009
Morality, Torah & "How Now Shall We Live?"

I've had that passage from Yehezkel (33:10) lodged in my gray matter for years, it has come to fore this Ellul in my own life and in the greater setting of the Observant community I've been in, and how they've reacted to ongoing problems, intrinsic and incidental (Rubashkin, the abuse scandals, the NJ/Deal money laundering/organ-trafficking, Charedim in Israel, the current Non-Jewish worlds, Torah and the various sciences, historical consciousness, etc). I've added to my blog/link roll R. Aryeh Klapper and the Center for Modern Torah Leadership, as well as a link to lectures from R. Adam Mintz.

R. Aryeh Klapper raised some compelling questions for me during recent Yomei Iyun on whether Halacha needs some coordination with empirical reality. He elsewhere goes on to ask questions I couldn't have asked better myself - because I don't have smicha and can only blog in ignorance and silence, rather than have the requisite knowledge and skill to both ask questions and begin to answer them;

What should I do when my best and most honest reading of halakhic texts contradicts my deepest sense of right and wrong? Can I relate with reverence to talmudic rhetoric that, if used by a contemporary, would fill me with disgust or outrage? [and would probably garner ridicule from an inattentive Gemara rebbe] What should I think when I am intellectually convinced by historical or philosophic positions that seem to contradict significant elements of Jewish tradition?

Torah is the standard by which values must be judged, yet a person without values cannot properly interpret Torah. If Torah cannot anchor us against the winds and tides of moral fads, what use is Torah? And yet—how can we know that “Do not murder” is the norm, and “Erase the memory of Amalek” the problematic exception, unless we approach Torah with a prior unshakable commitment to the value of all human life?

I have struggled with these questions since high school and emerged with an enhanced but clear-eyed commitment to and appreciation for halakha and rabbinic tradition. In that process nothing challenged my faith more than finding teachers who were afraid of difficult religious questions or whose character made it hard to believe that Torah improved the world. Nothing strengthened my faith more than friends and teachers who faced religious challenges without flinching, and whose character embodied Torah at its best—but they were all too rare.

...And for those very highlighted portions that give me chizzuk, I have issues. I lack peers and friends to even share on these issues. Many of them also kowtow to the very same Torah ideologies and ideologues responsible for such crises of faith and reason that have claimed some of their children. I know many Modern Orthodox rabbis and baalei batim who are also losing their children and communities to these very same morally problematic ideologies and figures and institutions they disagree with - secular and religious - and the dominant response is the making of appeals to 'tolerance', in the very face of the fact that the centrist Orthodox...are in the minority and are themselves the ones being tolerated - at best. They now, through the deep hack of Charedi ideology, are the ones now "dissenting" from this NEW "historical" 'normative' Torah Judaism.


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