Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

Is Choosing Orthodoxy an Abdication of Personal and Intellectual Choice?

Posted on | November 6, 2007 | By DixieYid | 117 Comments

During the first couple of years that I was becoming religious, all three of my local reform rabbis back in Dixie made times to meet with me personally to bring me back to the fold, since I had gone/was going “off the derech,” to the dark side of orthodoxy.

It was a bemusing experience for young, intractable me, and I know it was a frustrating experience for them. (I’m changing names to protect identities.) First was Rabbi Sol Friedman, the head rabbi of our nearly 1000 family Temple. After our discussion, he commented to me that he was disappointed that someone as intelligent as myself would waste my potential in orthodoxy. I later met with the assistant rabbi, Rabbi Barbara Dawson. She couldn’t believe that I was using the sexist Artscroll Siddur and the Ashkenazi pronunciation, which she felt constituted being poreish min haTzibur, separating myself from the majority of the Jewish people who use the Americanized Israeli pronunciation. Last was Rabbi Ralph Feldman, rabbi emeritus. After our conversation, he was convinced that my contention that women and men are equal in orthodoxy was the product of brainwashing.

One claim that all three made, along with many others, however, was that choosing orthodoxy is choosing “the easy way out.” The theory goes something like this: One of a weaker moral and intellectual character needs and wants the structure of a lifestyle that allows an outside authority to dictate every detail of life and every moral decision. These types of people are fearful of the personal responsibility involved in making moral choices and therefore choose orthodoxy to allow the rabbis and the law books make the tough moral choices so they do not have to. In contrast, reform Jews are braver and of a stronger moral character and therefore do not require the moral crutch of the detailed laws of orthodoxy to make their moral choices for them. They are not afraid of individuality and making informed moral choices.

Is this argument valid? I would illustrate the wilful blindness inherent in the above claim with an analogy: Is a person weak-minded if he follows doctors’ and nutritionists’ instructions on how to live a physically lifestyle? An exercise or diet regimen will include, for argument’s sake, a certain maximum calorie count that one is allowed to consume in a given day, and, let’s say, 30 minutes of exercise three times per week. Those are very specific instructions. Although one might claim that letting doctors and nutritionists make one’s health decisions for him is depriving him of his G-d given right to make his own health decisions, this argument would obviously be also false. Why?

Even if one is following the guidance of a nutritionist that he should eat, let’s say, a maximum of 2000 calories on a given day, there is a great level of personal input and creativity in how one meets that standard. He could cook French, Indian, Mexican, Japanese, or Italian style cuisine. He can eat a 100 calorie breakfast, a 100 calorie lunch, and then splurge on an 1800 calorie dinner. There is so much leeway within fulfilling that standard that one cannot say, with a straight face, that one is giving up personal choice by limiting himself to the recommended 2000 calories per day.

In regard to exercise, one can fulfill his weekly exercise regimen by jogging, taking Tae Kwan Do, lifting weights, going to the gym, playing any sport he chooses, or running on the treadmill. The fact that one must exercise does not take away his individual personal choice. There are many ways to carry out the doctors’ advice, and following their guidance is not an abdication of personal choice.

Similarly, there are laws in halacha for every aspect of life but a variety of ways that we carry out those laws, as an expression of individuality. Those aspects of halachic decision-making that individuals are not capable of making on their own because the lack the knowledge and information to do so, are up to the Shulchan Aruch and Poskim to decide, just as the general guidelines for exercise and nutrition are decided by doctors and nutritionists, since they are trained and schooled to be knowledgeable in those areas.

For example, halacha says that one must daven 3 times per day. A man can decide in what Shul to daven, in which paragraphs of Shemoneh Esreh to insert personal tefillos, in what part of the day to be misboded and speak to Hashem in his own words, and in which word, out of the hundreds in Shemoneh Esreh, to place extra kavannah, depending on his own personal nature. And a woman has even more leeway and discretion in when, where, and how she davens.

As another example, people must learn Torah. Aside from learning enough halacha to live a lifestyle in accordance with halacha, the gemara says, l’olam yilmod adam ma shelibo chafeitz , a person should learn that which his his heart desires. Some learn 100% gemara. Others may learn 80% and 10% Mussar. Others might mix it up with Tanach, Halacha, Gemara, and Chassidus.

There is a vast space in halacha that is given to us in which to choose how to serve Hashem . This means that not only does adherence to halacha not take away choice, it actually lends greater meaning to the choices we make. Just as one who makes medical choices without consulting any doctor or expert will end up wasting his efforts on his own ignorant ideas, so too will one who tries to make moral choices without any true authority or expert, will find himself clamoring around in the dark. However, if one allows the light of halacha to illuminate his path, then the choices that he makes within that system will have meaning and direction, rather than a random shot in the dark.

-Dixie Yid

Comments

117 Responses to “Is Choosing Orthodoxy an Abdication of Personal and Intellectual Choice?”

  1. Alice
    November 6th, 2007 @ 8:16 am

    For any argument to be productive, the people involved must agree on a definition of terms. Then you can proceed. Except that you will rarely proceed because agreeing on the definition of one term requires that you agree about the definitions of a bunch of other terms.

    So my point is, that I think people in Orthodoxy, and in any other group, probably disagree more than agree- even when they think they are in near total agreement on an issue. Dig a little and they’ll see that they are defining terms differently. And that’s OK, because somehow things get done anyway. Maybe it’s because Hashem knows exactly what we are thinking and helps make the pieces of the puzzle fit. (I just made that up. I’m sure a rabbi or much more learned individual could explain why things seem to get done anyway.)

    Besides that, I think that my rabbi gives great advice for reasons that go way beyond logic. He’s a person committed to living cleanly and immerses himself in Torah. He’s more in touch with the spiritual side of the universe. I say this because sometimes the advice a rabbi gives seems crazy to a person with heavy influence from the secular world, yet the advice will work incredibly well.

  2. Bob Miller
    November 6th, 2007 @ 9:19 am

    The really “easy way out” is relabeling 20th/21st Century secular liberalism as Judaism. That’s what American Reform is all about. Someone taking this easy way out never has to reflect that following HaShem’s specific commands can push one off general middle-to-upper class society’s comfortable path of least resistance. In this view, there either are no commands, or the commands can become whatever one wants.

  3. Dixie Yid
    November 6th, 2007 @ 10:16 am

    Alice,

    Definitely it’s hard to have a conversation witih someone when the two people are coming from such different places. If there’s little common language, it’s difficult to have a common understanding.

    Bob,

    That wasn’t the point of my post so I didn’t address it, but you’re 100% right. the reform perspective essentially projects its own inadequacies (that of being the easy way out) onto Orhtodoxy, the main “threat” to that “easy life.”

    Reform’s whole raison detre is to justify people’s lazy choices so they don’t have to feel guilt about not doing what they’re supposed to. That’s why it’s the true “easy way out.”

    -Dixie Yid

  4. Jaded Topaz
    November 6th, 2007 @ 11:09 am

    Dixie Yid,
    My question to you is , have you ever tried finding religious gemara gurus that would do lectures and or learning with women ?(other than high school).
    Hard core religious rabbis don’t teach gemara or even hard core mussar to women.And religious women are too busy organzing challa bake offs and mundane halacha mixes. With the occassional special on the niceties of navi review.
    Its not as easy being a religious intellectual female as your post makes it out to be.
    I’m not even sure its possible If your not in school.
    Ünless I do the hillel on the roof thing. But then I can’t ask questions.

  5. Dixie Yid
    November 6th, 2007 @ 12:17 pm

    I hear what you’re saying. And I agree with the general approach that it would not be appropriate to have Gemara classes for women on a communal scale.

    However, for individual women whose nature fits to that type of study, it should be possible on a one-on-one level. I don’t know where you live or what would be the best way for you to go about accomplishing that.

    I don’t think you should be upset about the unavailability of that type of study on a general scale. It’s a matter of “supply and demand.” And although you may not personally appreciate the “challah bake-offs” and “mundane” halacha shiurim, in general things will be offered that there is a demand for.

    If gemara study is indeed the right kind of study that your soul is drawn to, I wish you much hatzlacha in following that path.

    -Dixie Yid

  6. Albany Jew
    November 6th, 2007 @ 12:18 pm

    JT

    Maybe its because we are in a small community, but I often comment to my wife that she has more opportunities to learn than I do. A local Rebbetzin gives a weekly daytime Shiur, every Shabbos my wife organizes a women’s shiur, co-ed learning available at night and she does individual learning by phone. I’m a liitle jealous!

  7. Dave
    November 6th, 2007 @ 12:23 pm

    Dixie Yid–

    I agree with a good deal of what you say. And yet, you raise another interesting problem with your doctor/nutritionist analogy. Yes, I generally follow the doctor’s advice, but, in the end, it’s my decision to follow it (or not).

    Thus, although many poskim would forbid violation of the Sabbath to save the life of a non-Jew, I still maintain that this would not be the correct moral choice. Orthodoxy does offer answers to most moral dilemmas– however, the ultimate moral responsibility still lies with the individual making the choice. Can you conceive of a situation where the Orthodox way would diverge from what you believe to be the morally correct choice?

    If the answer to that is “yes,” then, perhaps your resolution of such a moral problem would be the key to the answer of whether or not Orthodoxy is the “easy way out” for you.

    Just a thought.

  8. LC
    November 6th, 2007 @ 12:39 pm

    I agree with the general approach that it would not be appropriate to have Gemara classes for women on a communal scale.

    Huh? And why not? The (fairly right-wing for a YI, in my limited familiarity with different YI shuls) local YI Rabbi had a weekly “beginners women’s gemara shiur” and an “advanced women’s gemara shiur” (chavrusa style, I believe) until the beg. one didn’t get “renewed” due to scheduling conflicts and low attendance.

    Could be that it’s b/c MO circles are more likely to have women with gemara knowledge already, but it isn’t “my” shul, and no one minded my attending – classes free of charge.

    And a local Orthodox Hillel Rabbi has held a women’s gemara class – or let women sit in on the “gemara class” – when there was interest – and he WON’T learn one-on-one with a woman.

  9. Dixie Yid
    November 6th, 2007 @ 1:09 pm

    Reb Dave,

    As far as tha analogy goes, yes it is not exact. Though to varying degrees, not following the halacha is similar to not following your doctor’s advice in that in both cases, although you are free to “disobey” the advice, it is you who will suffer the consequences by not living in the way that is best for you.

    However, I was not addressing whether or not there is individual choice in whether or not to keep halacha at all. My point was to point out the wide breadth of personal choice *within* the halachic system.

    As to whether or not observing some halachos in Judaism would be tantamount to making an “immoral” choice, I have to disagree with you about that. By *definition*, the halcha is the moral choice.

    Many people who agree with this concept may think that since Hashem knows the world and the nature of humanity better than anyone else since He created it all, He knows best what Halachos are right. And he sees to it that these are known through the Torah and applied by Poskim throughout the generations according to the method layed out in the Oral Torah. However, I believe that this is not a fully true understanding.

    Rather, halacha is *by definition* the morally right thing because the fact that Hashem stated a certain halacha in the Torah *creates the reality* of its moral rightness.

    Therefore, when you or I make moral decisions based on what we think is morally right, like your example about breaking Shabbos for an Eino-Yehudi’s life, it cannot be said to be “more moral than the Torah/halacha.” This is because the Torah/halacha is the original source for what is moral and what isn’t. Whereas merely our own intellect or “moral center” is the source for our own conceptions about what is moral.

    Arguing with halacha, the source of morality, about what is moral, is like arguing with the Constitution, the source of constitutionality, about what is constitutional.

    But going back to my point in the post, within the morality set out by the Torah, there is tremendous room for personal responsibility for their own decions and the way they apply those laws to one’s life.

    I look forward to hearing your follow-up comments. Yasher koach on the thoughtful comment!

    -Dixie Yid

  10. Dixie Yid
    November 6th, 2007 @ 2:52 pm

    LC, I certainly can’t speak to the propriety of the classes those Rabbonim are giving, but for more backgrouind into the halachic and hashkafic issues with women’s Talmud study as a matter of course, you can read this very informative articles:

    Rabbi Moshe Weiberger in the RJJ Journal – “Teaching Torah to Women” – http://www.jofa.org/pdf/Batch%201/0088.pdf

    Even if you do not come away agreeing with my statement in principal, at least I hope that you will be less perplexed as to where I’m coming from.

    May we both merit to study and be drawn close to the Torah!

    -Dixie Yid

  11. Ora
    November 6th, 2007 @ 3:14 pm

    “Thus, although many poskim would forbid violation of the Sabbath to save the life of a non-Jew,”

    Which poskim forbid it?

    Certainly there are many poskim who would allow it, so I don’t think this is a good example of a choice between Torah and personal morality.

  12. Dave
    November 6th, 2007 @ 3:45 pm

    DY–

    If you simply define Torah as the correct morality, then that resolves the issue. Sort of.

    Given that about half of the halachas that we follow are d’rabbanan, those halachas (at least) are, by definition, the products of the human mind. Moreover, every piece of halacha– even d’oraisa– is the product of (eons of) human interpretation. Are you really so confident that it represents perfect morality?

    Do you have any moral qualms about whether or not it is correct for a woman whose husband chooses not to grant her a divorce to remain an agunah? How about whether it is morally right to allow a gentile to die, rather than violate the Sabbath? Is it acceptable to have a different set of ethical standards for dealing with gentiles? Halacha says it is.

    Again– you can simply say halacha=morality, in which case choking the life out of a Canaanite child is just as moral as donating money to help the poor. Honestly, my comfort level with that is pretty low.

    That said, I would (at least tentatively) argue that a thoughtful acceptance of halacha after serious consideration of the sort of ethical issue that I’ve set forth above (as well as many others) is not taking “the easy way out.” I think it can be a healthy thing to have a moral code from which one does not feel authorized to make discretionary exceptions.

    However, if one’s belief is reduced to the sort of bumper-sticker theology of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” then I’d be inclined to say that this really is taking the easy way out.

    As to whether you (or I, or anyone else) became Orthodox as a means of finding the “easy way,” well, I reckon that’s something we can only answer for ourselves as individuals.

  13. DK
    November 6th, 2007 @ 3:50 pm

    “Last was Rabbi Ralph Feldman, rabbi emeritus. After our conversation, he was convinced that my contention that women and men are equal in orthodoxy was the product of brainwashing.”

    I wouldn’t say brainwashing. Let’s say a highly selective explanation meticulously approved by a rather…bold…PR department.

  14. Bob Miller
    November 6th, 2007 @ 4:05 pm

    Dave, how exactly are you Orthodox as claimed?

  15. Squarepeg613
    November 6th, 2007 @ 4:08 pm

    I would extend Dave’s argument a bit. DY, you gave examples of fairly general Halachot that do allow some room for individuality. However, there are times when a person might ask a Rav a question about their specific circumstance. In such cases, the Jew asking the question is required to follow the Psak. And if they have any doubt about the question in the first place, they were required to ask it too. For example, suppose someone asked if they could go to a brother’s wedding at a Conservative shul, or a neice’s mixed Bat Mitzvah party at an Orthodox shul. If they weren’t sure if they were “allowed”, then they have to ask. And if they get the answer that they shouldn’t go, then they can’t go, at least not within the Halachic system. Here, they have very little leeway. Rather than making a decision themselves based on their own moral compass, they substitute the Rav’s understanding of Halachic morality. They have essentially abdicated the responsibility for moral decision making.

    The examples you offered were in areas that would not generally present moral dilemmas (davening and learning). Therefore, they don’t really provide a counterargument to the claim of your Reform rabbis that the Orthodox take the easy way out by having other people decide complex moral issues for them. To provide an effective counterargument, you would have to give examples that involve issues of morality.

  16. eli
    November 6th, 2007 @ 4:14 pm
  17. Squarepeg613
    November 6th, 2007 @ 4:17 pm

    I was surprised to read that you believe women and men are equal in Orthodoxy. Perhaps it depends what you mean by “equal”? If you mean “of equal value” or “equally loved by God”, then it’s true. A 5yo child is also equal to his parents in that sense.

    But when I talk about equality, I mean equality of opportunity. There are things that women just don’t have the opportunity to do in Orthodoxy, that men can do. OTOH, it seems that men *can* do many of the “women’s Mitzvot”. If they bake a large enough quantity, they must take Challah. A single man can (should?) light his own Shabbat candles.

    You might argue that men and women have equal opportunity to get close to Hashem. True, but they don’t have equal opportunity about *how*. And getting close to Hashem is a pretty vague concept to base equality on. It seems very presumptuous to claim to know how a person (even ourselves) can get close to Hashem.

  18. Dave
    November 6th, 2007 @ 5:13 pm

    “Dave, how exactly are you Orthodox as claimed?”

    Bob–

    What are you, the Torquemada of Beyond BT?

  19. Ora
    November 6th, 2007 @ 5:15 pm

    Dave:

    “Again– you can simply say halacha=morality, in which case choking the life out of a Canaanite child is just as moral as donating money to help the poor.”

    Where on earth are you getting this? Who told you that was halacha? Do you not wonder even a little why, if that is halacha, there aren’t a lot more newspaper stories about dead non-Jewish children in religious neighborhoods?

  20. Ora
    November 6th, 2007 @ 5:17 pm

    Dave:

    When you say you’re orthodox, to most people that means believing in both the written and oral Torah as we receive them through centuries of tradition. When you say things like “Moreover, every piece of halacha– even d’oraisa– is the product of (eons of) human interpretation,” it sounds like you’re saying that Torah as we know it today is not actually Torah, but rather a (possibly quite poor) interpretation of Torah. That attitude is generally not consistent with orthodox belief.

  21. Dave
    November 6th, 2007 @ 5:18 pm

    “Which poskim forbid it?”

    Ora–

    My rabbi informed me of this halacha, and that’s how he paskens. He knows halacha better than I do, so I wouldn’t necessarily argue the halachic point with him. I would, however, disregard his psak if I had to, because that’s my moral choice.

    As to the fact that many poskim permit this, this is true, but (in many cases) they use some very fishy logic to get there, including claiming that the gentile’s life could only be saved to prevent a chillul Hashem. This still leads to the same moral conclusions about the relative value of a Jew’s life v. that of a gentile, and it is this calculus (enshrined in various places in halacha) that I find morally unacceptable.

  22. Ora
    November 6th, 2007 @ 5:21 pm

    squarepeg613:

    “It seems very presumptuous to claim to know how a person (even ourselves) can get close to Hashem. ”

    That’s why Hashem gave us a set of instructions telling us how to live a moral life and how to get close to Hashem, or at least how to make ourselves open to the possibility of a close relationship with Hashem. These rules aren’t something that you, I, or “the rabbis” made up last week. I don’t think it’s presumtuous to claim that if Hashem gave men and women slightly different instructions, they must not need to do the same things in order to create a relationship with their Creator.

  23. DK
    November 6th, 2007 @ 5:22 pm

    “Bob–

    What are you, the Torquemada of Beyond BT?”

    Yes.

  24. Bob Miller
    November 6th, 2007 @ 5:29 pm

    Dave asked,

    Bob–
    What are you, the Torquemada of Beyond BT?

    No, but maybe El Exigente.
    http://www.tvacres.com/admascots_savarin.htm

  25. Bob Miller
    November 6th, 2007 @ 5:41 pm

    Anyway, what we need here is a little truth in advertising. If someone writes that the Halacha is inferior to his own value system, he should not also pretend to be Orthodox. He can do all sorts of wonderful things that Orthodox Jews do, but one key element is missing.

  26. DK
    November 6th, 2007 @ 5:46 pm

    “Anyway, what we need here is a little truth in advertising”

    I have been saying that for over two years now. This might be the first time we agree on anything.

  27. Bob Miller
    November 6th, 2007 @ 6:00 pm

    What’s sauce for the goose…

  28. chabakuk elisha
    November 6th, 2007 @ 6:35 pm

    DY,

    I got here via the link at A Simple Jew, and I haven’t read through the comments, but this is a very thought provoking post. Honestly, I must admit that I laughed out loud when I read the line about Orthodoxy being the easy way out, but in all seriousness this gets very complicated very fast. I’m sure that with all such things we get emotionally invested and it can be hard to see through all the (sometimes quite subtle) multiple motives, etc. The truth is that there’s just too much to say about the topic for me to write about it at length right now.

    You reminded me, though, of R’Avi Shafran’s piece about Conservative Judaism, you might like it:
    http://www.jewishamerica.com/ja/features/ConLie.cfm

  29. Dixie Yid
    November 6th, 2007 @ 7:29 pm

    Chabakuk Elisha,

    I know it sounds funny from our perspective. But people honestly argue that doing whatever you want is the “braver” and “harder” choice than trying to live up to the high set of expectations in halacha.

    Rabbi Shaffran’s piece is nice and it’s certainly true. Thanks for popping over to check this post out!

    -Dixie Yid

  30. David Linn
    November 6th, 2007 @ 8:12 pm

    Very interesting post and some interesting points in the comments. Not sure where the Torquemada thing came from but, then again, “nobody expects the Inquisition.”

  31. Dixie Yid
    November 6th, 2007 @ 9:03 pm

    David Linn,

    “Bring out… the COMFY CHAIR!!!”

    -Dixie Yid

  32. David Linn
    November 6th, 2007 @ 10:19 pm

    OK, DY, now we’ve both proven our BT credentials!

  33. Sorah
    November 6th, 2007 @ 11:20 pm

    “The easy way out”? Since when has keeping Shabbos, kashrus, and the other 611 mitzvos been easy? Not to mention the difficulties this causes with friends, family, and the secular world at general. Yes, choosing orthodoxy does imply that you are going to give up some personal choice in favor of a more halachic way of life. But the process of that choice is very intellectual and very personal. Not everyone who wants to learn more about Judaism is going to become a BT.

  34. Neil Harris
    November 6th, 2007 @ 11:20 pm

    DY,
    A beautifully written post. Thanks.

  35. Dixie Yid
    November 6th, 2007 @ 11:22 pm

    David Linn,

    :-D

    Neil,

    No. Thank you.

    -Dixie Yid

  36. Steve Brizel
    November 6th, 2007 @ 11:34 pm

    I agree with Bob Miller, albeit not for the same rationale. Anyone who presumes to find Halacha “inferior” to his or her set of values simply has an intellectually and spiritually simplistic understanding of Torah, especially TSBP. Long before RJ tried to use High German Protestantism as a replacment for Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim, the Torah and Chazal in TSBP presented and developed how mankind should spend its quality time, how the genders should relate to each other , how an employer should treat an employee and an entire system of liability, damages and procedural rules that the common law system took thousands of years to essentually borrow from the Halacha. When one compares the halachos of Nezikin and what lawyers call strict products liability, it is striking how the Torah and Chazal set forth a system that took Western society a long time to even imitate, let alone approximate in profundity.

  37. Ora
    November 7th, 2007 @ 4:42 am

    Dave–
    The halacha doesn’t say that you save a Jewish life on shabbat because Jews are inherently superior. It says you save a Jewish life so that the Jew can go on to observe Shabbat in the future. We need an “excuse” for every activity that violates Shabbat.

    Sorry, but “my rabbi says this” isn’t enough for me. Which major poskim have ruled this way? What makes you say that “many poskim” agree with your rabbi?

    Also, you still haven’t answered me about the murder of Canaanite children = tzedaka thing.

  38. Ora
    November 7th, 2007 @ 8:57 am

    IMO following halacha is no more an abdication of personal choice than is following American (or any other) law. Do reform Jews feel like they’re taking the easy way out by letting the IRS decide what the proper way to file taxes is?

    Everyone has limits. Reform might accept your personal choice to marry someone of the same sex, or a non-Jew, but try telling your reform rabbi that you want to take a second wife, or that your fiance is 14 years old. They have limits that they see as beyond the realm of personal choice–they just aren’t the limits imposed by halacha.

    I don’t really understand the idea of moral choice in general. If something is immoral, it’s immoral, and my personal decision won’t change that. If I decide that I think it’s OK to steal, that doesn’t make stealing a moral thing to do, it just makes me wrong.

    I do think there’s still a lot of choice within the observant world: where to live, what profession to choose, which hashkafa to live by. These choices are very significant. There’s a big difference between the life you would live as a hassid in New York City and the life you would live as a dati farmer on a moshav in Israel. So the observant still have plenty of choices to make.

  39. Bob Miller
    November 7th, 2007 @ 9:05 am

    Steve Brizel said on November 6th, 2007 23:34, “I agree with Bob Miller, albeit not for the same rationale.”

    Steve’s rationale is pretty good, too!

  40. tffb
    November 7th, 2007 @ 9:32 am

    jaded topaz,
    is there something in particular you would most like to learn now? I.e. if you could have a chavrusa or shiur, what topic/type of learning would you choose first?

  41. Dave
    November 7th, 2007 @ 10:14 am

    Ora:

    “Where on earth are you getting this?”

    The Torah. Devarim, chap. 7.

    “Who told you that was halacha?”

    Better, who told you it wasn’t?

    “Do you not wonder even a little why, if that is halacha, there aren’t a lot more newspaper stories about dead non-Jewish children in religious neighborhoods?”

    Nope. There are no more Canaanites, just like there is no identifiable Amalekite nation (we’d have to kill them, too, according to halacha). Your argument is like claiming that the korbanos are not halacha because we are not currently able to perform them.

  42. Dixie Yid
    November 7th, 2007 @ 10:31 am

    Ora (8:57),

    Great points. There are so many problems with the argument, it’s almost funny.

    But the real reason for that is, like Chabakuk Elisha pointed out, is that it’s a red herring. The real reason reform believes in choice in whether or not to follow halacha is that it allows people to not feel guilty about not keeping halacha anyway. They whole religion is just built around whatever way they can best rationalize their present lifestyle.

    -Dixie Yid

  43. Dave
    November 7th, 2007 @ 10:48 am

    Ora:

    “Sorry, but ‘my rabbi says this’ isn’t enough for me.”

    Gee, so sorry, but he’s my posek, so his opinion is more or less authoritative for me, isn’t it? But, OK, he’s not your posek. Is Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg good enough for you? How about Rabbi Shalom Carmy? How about the Shulchan Aruch? The Talmud (try Yoma 85a)? In fact, where poskim allow the Sabbath to be violated in order to save a gentile’s life, it’s often for darchei shalom.

    But, don’t take my word for it– go talk to your posek. I don’t know how he’ll rule for you, but he’ll certainly acknowledge that the halachic tradition has been that the life of a gentile, per se, is insufficient cause to violate the Sabbath.

    Whether that’s a problem for you is your issue.

  44. Jaded Topaz
    November 7th, 2007 @ 11:15 am

    Tffb, is that a trick question ?
    For starters in depth arguing ànd analysis on the kesuba/kedushin/sotah gemara sects.with an emphasis on the why’s of terminology ànd ideology.Änd R Wolbes
    Alei shure chapters for variety.

  45. Bob Miller
    November 7th, 2007 @ 11:23 am

    “…the life of a gentile, per se…”

    That “per se” is important to consider. As we and you know, other relevant halachic considerations determine our actual course of action in these situations.

  46. Dave
    November 7th, 2007 @ 12:29 pm

    Yes, Bob, I believe I mentioned some other considerations (darchei shalom). In fact, although the Chofetz Chaim paskened that even a doctor could not violate the Sabbath to save the life of a non-Jew, R. Moshe Feinstein permitted it on the grounds that the failure to do so would result in animosity against Jews (i.e., not for the benefit of the gentile).

  47. Charnie
    November 7th, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

    Is there any personal reason, Dave, why this halacha is so vital to you in painting the picture of halacha and/or morality?

    DY, I really liked your analogy of Ravs and doctors, and wish I would have thought of it myself that last time my oldest (non-frum) friend said “how come you have to ask a Rabbi everything? Can’t you think for yourself”. Nebich, they just don’t get it, because to them, the Rabbi is someone who stands up at “services” and makes a speech. Then everyone goes home.

  48. chabakuk elisha
    November 7th, 2007 @ 2:37 pm

    Re: Gentile vs Jew

    IIRC it’s a machlokes between the RambaN (killing a gentile violates “Thou shalt not murder,” and the same goes for stealing, etc) and the RamabaM (who distinguishes between Jew/Non-Jew). But let’s remember that the terminology needs to be understood (like so many debates, we end up running in circles if we don’t agree on the understanding of the terms): And for starters, who are we talking about?
    There are many terms (I may have missed some, but this should be most of them):

    Ben Noach (Human)
    AKU”M (Pagan)
    Goy (Gentile)
    Kenani (inhabitants of Ancient Israel)
    Nochri (Alien)
    Ger Toshav (Resident non-Jew)

    The implications are significant (and probably obvious). Not all these individual groups are necessarily treated the same, and not all time periods are equal either. Also, within the Halachic process there are many opinions, and there is really no “single” Halacha. Often, a once commonly held halacha is later a minority opinion. There’s nothing wrong with that when done properly. The sad thing is that people pull out these “Hot Button” issues, but they throw them out superficially and without any respect. Yes, Torah and Chazal aren’t PC. Idolatry is categorically defined as immoral. In Biblical times an idolater would be put to death (by the court), and his life was essentially forfeit through that choice – this applied to Jews as well as non-Jews living under Jewish rule. If you wanted to be polytheistic you had to do it elsewhere. But under normal circumstances, murder was quite forbidden across the board; the arguments only start when we discuss punishment. We could take each Jew vs Non-Jew issue apart, one by one, and it would take some time (and a lot of type), and there are many links you can follow for that (some are below), but it is useful to keep in mind that the changing variables (what kind of non-Jew, the circumstances, place in history, etc) also change the halacha…

    I would recommend R’ Dovid Sears’s ‘Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition”
    http://www.amazon.com/Compassion-Humanity-Jewish-Tradition-David/dp/0765799871

    Also, a Google search provided some other links:

    Judaic sources on the attitude towards gentiles: By Leon Zilberstein
    ()

    Gentiles, Rabbis and Texts:
    Review of Gil Student, The Real Truth About the Talmud; also accessible
    at http://talmud.faithweb.com/* :
    By Sasson Lerner
    ()

    A Lonely Champion of Tolerance: R. Menachem ha-Meiri’s Attitude Towards
    Non-Jews
    By David Goldstein
    ()

    A Halakhic View of the Non-Jew Author: Nahum Eliezer Rabinovitch Publisher
    (Tradition, 8:3 1966 & Le’ela 1:5 (18-23) 1979):
    ()

    A Modern Blood Libel: Rabbi Immanuel Jakobavits (Tradition, 8:2 1966)
    ()

    Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim IV: 79)
    ()

    Sources regarding Non Jews
    (http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/faxes/mmOnNachriim.pdf>)

  49. Dixie Yid
    November 7th, 2007 @ 2:53 pm

    Charnie, glad you liked the moshel. It is funny how people accept the greater knowledge and authority of others when it’s not too threatening to their more comfortable lifestyle living in the “Matrix,” but when it starts to get difficult, the defensive anti-cognative-dissonance radar kicks in and claims of personal autonomy are raised.

    -Dixie Yid

  50. chabakuk elisha
    November 7th, 2007 @ 2:55 pm

    Re: Gentile vs Jew

    IIRC it’s a machlokes between the RambaN (killing a gentile violates “Thou shalt not murder,” and the same goes for stealing, etc) and the RamabaM (who distinguishes between Jew/Non-Jew). But let’s remember that the terminology needs to be understood (like so many debates, we end up running in circles if we don’t agree on the understanding of the terms) – and for starters, who are we talking about? There are many terms (I may have missed some, but this should be most of them):

    Ben Noach (Human)
    AKU”M (Pagan)
    Goy (Gentile)
    Kenani (inhabitants of Ancient Israel)
    Nochri (Alien)
    Ger Toshav (Resident non-Jew)

    The implications are significant (and probably obvious). Not all these individual groups are necessarily treated the same, and not all time periods are equal either. Also, within the Halachic process there are many opinions, and there is really no “single” Halacha. Often, a once commonly held halacha is later a minority opinion. There’s nothing wrong with that when done properly. The sad thing is that people pull out these “Hot Button” issues, but they throw them out superficially and without any respect. Yes, Torah and Chazal aren’t PC. Idolatry is categorically defined as immoral. In Biblical times an idolater would be put to death (by the court), and his life was essentially forfeit through that choice – this applied to Jews as well as non-Jews living under Jewish rule. If you wanted to be polytheistic you had to do it elsewhere. But under normal circumstances, murder was quite forbidden across the board; the arguments only start when we discuss punishment. We could take each Jew vs Non-Jew issue apart, one by one, and it would take some time (and a lot of type), and there are many links you can follow for that (some are below), but it is useful to keep in mind that the changing variables (what kind of non-Jew, the circumstances, place in history, etc) also change the halacha…

    I would recommend R’ Dovid Sears’s ‘Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition”
    http://www.amazon.com/Compassion-Humanity-Jewish-Tradition-David/dp/0765799871

    Also, a Google search provided some other links:

    Judaic sources on the attitude towards gentiles: By Leon Zilberstein
    ()

    Gentiles, Rabbis and Texts:
    Review of Gil Student, The Real Truth About the Talmud; also accessible
    at http://talmud.faithweb.com/* :
    By Sasson Lerner
    ()

    A Lonely Champion of Tolerance: R. Menachem ha-Meiri’s Attitude Towards
    Non-Jews
    By David Goldstein
    ()

    A Halakhic View of the Non-Jew Author: Nahum Eliezer Rabinovitch Publisher
    (Tradition, 8:3 1966 & Le’ela 1:5 (18-23) 1979):
    ()

    A Modern Blood Libel: Rabbi Immanuel Jakobavits (Tradition, 8:2 1966)
    ()

    Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim IV: 79)
    ()

    Sources regarding Non Jews
    (http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/faxes/mmOnNachriim.pdf>)

  51. chabakuk elisha
    November 7th, 2007 @ 3:10 pm

    Dave,

    Did you ever see R’ Norman Lamm’s response to Noah Feldman’s NY Times magazine essay? In case you didn’t, you might find it interesting:
    http://www.forward.com/articles/11308/

    Specifically:
    “Let me clarify my stand, as an Orthodox rabbi, on the issue you raised: It is strictly forbidden by Halacha to deny a non-Jew whatever is necessary to save his or her life. There must be no discrimination whatsoever. Every human being is created in the Image of God and has a right to life and health. “The Lord is good to all and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145).”

  52. chabakuk elisha
    November 7th, 2007 @ 3:12 pm

    Re: Gentile vs Jew

    IIRC it’s a machlokes between the RambaN (killing a gentile violates “Thou shalt not murder,” and the same goes for stealing, etc) and the RamabaM (who distinguishes between Jew/Non-Jew). But let’s remember that the terminology needs to be understood (like so many debates, we end up running in circles if we don’t agree on the understanding of the terms) – and for starters, who are we talking about? There are many terms (I may have missed some, but this should be most of them):

    Ben Noach (Human)
    AKU”M (Pagan)
    Goy (Gentile)
    Kenani (inhabitants of Ancient Israel)
    Nochri (Alien)
    Ger Toshav (Resident non-Jew)

    The implications are significant (and probably obvious). Not all these individual groups are necessarily treated the same, and not all time periods are equal either. Also, within the Halachic process there are many opinions, and there is really no “single” Halacha. Often, a once commonly held halacha is later a minority opinion. There’s nothing wrong with that when done properly. The sad thing is that people pull out these “Hot Button” issues, but they throw them out superficially and without any respect. Yes, Torah and Chazal aren’t PC. Idolatry is categorically defined as immoral. In Biblical times an idolater would be put to death (by the court), and his life was essentially forfeit through that choice – this applied to Jews as well as non-Jews living under Jewish rule. If you wanted to be polytheistic you had to do it elsewhere. But under normal circumstances, murder was quite forbidden across the board; the arguments only start when we discuss punishment. We could take each Jew vs Non-Jew issue apart, one by one, and it would take some time (and a lot of type), and there are many sites online that you can follow that do just that, but it is useful to keep in mind that the changing variables (what kind of non-Jew, the circumstances, place in history, etc) also change the halacha…

  53. chabakuk elisha
    November 7th, 2007 @ 3:13 pm

    I would recommend R’ Dovid Sears’s ‘Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition”
    http://www.amazon.com/Compassion-Humanity-Jewish-Tradition-David/dp/0765799871

    Also, a Google search provided some other links:

    Judaic sources on the attitude towards gentiles: By Leon Zilberstein
    ()

    Gentiles, Rabbis and Texts:
    Review of Gil Student, The Real Truth About the Talmud; also accessible
    at http://talmud.faithweb.com/* :
    By Sasson Lerner
    ()

    A Lonely Champion of Tolerance: R. Menachem ha-Meiri’s Attitude Towards
    Non-Jews
    By David Goldstein
    ()

    A Halakhic View of the Non-Jew Author: Nahum Eliezer Rabinovitch Publisher
    (Tradition, 8:3 1966 & Le’ela 1:5 (18-23) 1979):
    ()

    A Modern Blood Libel: Rabbi Immanuel Jakobavits (Tradition, 8:2 1966)
    ()

    Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim IV: 79)
    ()

    Sources regarding Non Jews
    (http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/faxes/mmOnNachriim.pdf>)

  54. Jacob Haller
    November 7th, 2007 @ 3:31 pm

    Charnie wrote

    “the Rabbi is someone who stands up at “services” and makes a speech. Then everyone goes home.”

    To expand on that, it’s sounds like a macro generalization but a case can be made that the functionaries of heterodoxy don’t hold any system to be truly sacrosanct. Therefore, if anything is abdicated it’s the concept of responsibility.

    Seemingly it would be of little use to attempt to explain the concept of the tension between the dueling Yetzers and how overcoming the Yetzer HaRah is anything but the “easy way out”.

  55. Bob Miller
    November 7th, 2007 @ 4:16 pm

    The way many of the charlatan clergy wrestle with spiritual problems is very creative. They emerge from their formal religious education more than willing to be called “Rabbi” and to run a “Temple” and to talk about “Judaism” without actually being theists at all. Their principles that actually outweigh all others are “seeking honor” and “cashing in”.

    We have a temple in town (affiliated as both Reconstructionist and Conservative—go figure!) whose husband-and-wife clergy couple often surfaces in the op-ed page of our daily paper to tell us all about Judaism. This Judaism always comes out sounding like suburban liberalism. They don’t struggle with Jewish ideas and texts; they mangle them into a form that suits their chosen arguments.

  56. Dave
    November 7th, 2007 @ 4:21 pm

    Chabakuk Elisha –

    Yes, I did see R. Lamm’s piece, thanks. While I completely agree with R. Lamm’s view on this issue, I was (a bit) troubled at the fact that he seemed a bit dismissive of a rather large number of authorities to the contrary.

    Charnie–

    Sorry; I don’t understand your question.

  57. Dave
    November 7th, 2007 @ 4:27 pm

    Bob–

    Hope you’re sitting down, but I completely agree with your last post. Sadly, the liberal branches of Judaism (particularly Reform) are gradually becoming the Howard Dean wing of the Democratic party served on a bagel.

    It’s actually one of the things that helped nudge me towards Orthodoxy.

  58. Bob Miller
    November 7th, 2007 @ 4:38 pm

    Good point, Dave (see, I too can be nice). It’s ironic but true that the phoniness out there can be a great motivator in the opposite direction. Yisro’s spiritual ascent was exactly that way.

  59. Ora
    November 7th, 2007 @ 4:54 pm

    Dave–

    Thank you for giving your sources regarding saving non-Jewish lives on Shabbat.

    As for killing a Canaani child, I know what Devarim says. IMO, you are presenting the halacha in a very misleading way. Hashem did not order us to kill every Canaani child, he said kill all Canaanim who insist on staying in the land of Israel and fighting the Jewish people. It was a mitzvah at that time to conquer the land of Israel in that way, not to kill all non-Jews in the area. IMO, allowing hostile nations to remain in the land would only have led to a constant state of warfare.

  60. Dixie Yid
    November 7th, 2007 @ 5:04 pm

    (In a strage turn of events, Dixie Yid argues with Bob *and* Dave, who have finally found common ground!)

    Bob, while I’m sure you’re right that many reform clergy (and some orthodox Synagogue rabbis I’m sure as well) are primarily self-agrandizing honor-hogs, I can’t agree with you about most of them.

    How is it possible to say that reform clergy are merely there to seek honor and “cash in?” Most of them that I’ve known are well meaning, sincere individuals that have good feelings for Judaism and the Jewish people and want to be part of it. While they may be extremely ignorant and merely define Judaism as whatever “subhurban liberalism” says, that does not make them honor seeking phonies. They are merely well-meaning Tinokos she’nishb’u, individuals who don’t know any better. I wouldn’t ascribe nefarious motivies to most of them.

    -Dixie Yid

  61. Dixie Yid
    November 7th, 2007 @ 5:06 pm

    Ora,

    To support what you’re saying, when the Girgashi nation (I think) fled Eretz Yisroel from before the Jewish people, there was no mitzva to destroy them.

    Though the mitzva to destroy Amaleikim does apply everywhere, if it were possible to know who was a member of that nation (which is isn’t since, as mentioned before, Sancheirev mixed up all of the nations 2500 years ago).

    -Dixie Yid

  62. Fishel Schwartz
    November 7th, 2007 @ 5:11 pm

    From Shmais.com-
    SNS ED. A student sent the following letter to his Rabbi at home after his weekend in Crown Heights for the Chabad on Campus Shabbaton. We left it exactly as he wrote without making any corrections to any misunderstanding he may have had of certain “Inyonim”.

    Hey Rabbi!

    It’s ——. I don’t know if my father told you, but this weekend I went with the Chabad of OSU to Crown Heights for the weekend. It was because there was this big conference of Chabads from colleges all around the country. Rabbi Zalman and Sarah (SNS Ed. Deitsch) asked me, and I basically said yes without hesitation.

    While in Crown Heights, I noticed something. Because it was my first time in there, I didn’t really know what to expect, although I did imagine a lot of Jews doing nothing but being Jewish and talking about nothing else. I don’t know, but it did seem as if the weekend would be like a trip to any museum; seeing boring exhibits of ‘old school’ Judaism.

    I mean, you know what I’m talking about, right? I guess I just had the whole popular conception of today that Reform and Conservative Judaism are the more rational and modern interpretations that just make more sense. Well, either way, even though I signed up pretty quick, I still felt that I would be going to someplace that was geriatric and just depressing. Well, the thing that I noticed was pretty simple; I was so wrong.

    The first speaker of that weekend started his speech off by saying that once the Rebbe was told by a conservative Jew that “I see our synagogues and they are so artistic and nice looking, and yours look like every other building, even your houses,” The speaker said that the Rebbe responded by saying, “Our shuls look like our homes because that’s what they are. We live in our shuls just like we live in our homes.” The speaker then went on to say that Crown Heights is the boiler room of the Jewish world. The boiler room is probably the least decorative room of the house, yet it is what heats up the whole house. Thus, Crown Heights heats up the Jewish world.

    I’ve been to Jerusalem, and I’ve been to the Kotel. Those were nice places, but they represent the Judaism of the past. Jerusalem is a spiritual and holy place, no questions, but it’s also depressing because it’s not truly what it should be, being that it’s basically all an archeological dig just waiting to happen. But Crown Heights is all about the Judaism of the modern era; putting Jewish observances first and then reconciling modern things and not the other way around. But the thing that really got me was that this was done by the efforts of one man: the Rebbe.

    It’s an amazing thing, to hear about someone for years, and not really believe or understand what was truly going on. I went there with my preconceived notions of how those who talked about him so much were just ‘hero worshiping’ him. However, when you actually go there and see the HQ of his work, it just gives you a whole new understanding of what he really did, and what Chabad, through him, continues to do.

    What does one say when they hear he spent every Shabbos pouring wine for thousands of people for hours and hours, never sitting down, never going to the bathroom, and giving each passerby a blessing? How do we relate to such a true situation of mind completely over matter? How can we relate to something so strange and bizarre as a person being truly selfless that for forty years he never takes a single day off?

    And then of course, there is the issue of his humility. The man was the leader, the king of his people. He was the jefe, the boss, and whatever he said people would follow. That kind of power is SUPPOSED to do things to people. But it didn’t corrupt him. For forty years he never went farther then a couple of hours from his father-in-law’s grave, in case he had a spiritual issue. But wait, why would he, the Rebbe, need the help of anyone? That’s just it, he was so humble that he sought help. How many other religious leaders seek the same help. Who does the Pope ask when he has a ruminative disenchantment with existence?

    I saw all of this, heard all of this, and it just hits me where it counts. I really started to think about this. The sheer costs this man went through in order to accomplish his master plan of bringing HaMoshiach. It boggles the mind and shakes the soul. Even when everyone screamed at him and told he was wrong to think that we need men on the street to get Jews to put on Tefillin and other such initiatives, he still kept to his mission. And now, years after the fact, we know he was right because the nay-sayers who fought him so hard on this are in fact trying to do the same things he succeeded at.

    This was the weekend that I think I got it, or, I got it more than I did before. Before, Judaism was a religion, something to celebrate on the holidays and special occasions. This, of course isn’t true. Judaism isn’t really a religion. It’s just life. That’s the only way to describe it.

    Religions are something we can pick and choose for ourselves. Billions of Muslims and Christians all over the world CHOOSE to believe in their respective religions. We, however, live as Jews with no alternative offered nor desired. The Rebbe taught that, a Jew who doesn’t believe is still Jewish, no matter what he believes.

    So in the very beginning of “Chaia Sarah”, we’re told that Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, and thus the most asked question about this portion is “Why call it ‘Life of Sarah’ if she dies in the very first part of it?” It is, however about her life, firstly, because it is about the continuation of the next generation of the Jewish people through Isaac, but it is also about her life because her voice carried on. Because the Jews continued onwards, so to did their mission to elevate the mundane, something that Sarah was the epitome of.

    At the Ohel, I saw the Rebbe buried next to his Father-in-Law. But how can he be buried when his mission, the Jewish Mission, lives on so strongly? Is he truly dead if he inspired all of us, even me, to not only observe, but nurture, love, and celebrate Judaism? The Torah told us Sarah died, but at the same time it says something quite different.

    Therefore, I submit to you, the main theme of my trip to Crown Heights: For centuries, sailors have used lighthouses to guide them safely through treacherous parts. Every lighthouse had an operator, who knew what they were doing because the previous operator taught them how. That’s Judaism. The world is the treacherous ocean, the safe shore is the World to Come, the Torah is our lighthouse, and the operator was the Rebbe. But in this case, the lighthouse is still shining, maybe even brighter than before. And as each seafaring Jew follows the light back to his home, the light gets even brighter. Eventually, not even the darkest corners of the diaspora will be able to hide from the light.

    Oh, and chassidim also know how to party…but that’s neither here nor there.

  63. Bob Miller
    November 7th, 2007 @ 5:21 pm

    Here’s a program scheduled at the temple I described (from their website):

    “THREE FAITHS/ONE VOICE
    Wednesday, November 7, 2007

    7:30 p.m.

    at Beth-El Zedeck

    featuring Maria Krupoves & Gerard Edery

    In an ecumenical program that honors Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, world renowned musicians Maria Krupoves and Gerard Edery express the faith of these cultures through songs, chants and prayers. Attendees will experience an inspiring musical performance which highlights how these three religious traditions shared and developed their individual voices while influencing one another. Maria and Gerard show that the human need for the spiritual dimension defies all boundaries of time and place. They expose us to the blending of cultures that grew out of common experiences as people struggled together to build community. This musical performance is an example of how we can help each other to live generously and harmoniously in our diverse city. Join them as their voices blend in works of praise, devotion and celebration.

    Co-sponsored by Beth-El Zedeck, Christ Church Cathedral, and St. Luke’s United Methodist Church as part of Spirit and Place Festival. No charge”

  64. Dixie Yid
    November 7th, 2007 @ 5:36 pm

    Bob, as to the program whose advertisement you shared:

    Uch.

    -Dixie Yid

  65. Dave
    November 7th, 2007 @ 5:38 pm

    Ora–

    “As for killing a Canaani child, I know what Devarim says. IMO, you are presenting the halacha in a very misleading way. Hashem did not order us to kill every Canaani child, he said kill all Canaanim who insist on staying in the land of Israel…”

    [Chuckle] OK, I stand corrected. We were only obliged to kill all the Canaanites who were disinclined to be driven from their homeland. Didn’t Moses get angry because the Israelites failed to kill all the Midianite children as instructed (Bamidbar, 31)?

    Ora, this is not an argument that you’re likely to win. The fact is that the Torah includes a number of injunctions to engage in fairly large-scale massacres. You can rationalize them, but you can’t deny them.

  66. Bob Miller
    November 7th, 2007 @ 5:42 pm

    We don’t need to find any justification. A direct order from G-d is sufficient.

  67. Charnie
    November 7th, 2007 @ 5:56 pm

    Earlier this afternoon, I made a comment about Rabbis in the conservative and reform movements. My intent was to show how the congregants view their Rabbis, not how said Rabbis do or don’t “interpret” Torah. Point being, in asking a Rav a question, we are talking about someone with whom we’ve developed a relationship that goes far beyond the confines of a synagogue building (or yeshiva). This just doesn’t happen outside of Orthodoxy, which is what my aforementioned friend could never grasp.

  68. Bob Miller
    November 7th, 2007 @ 6:08 pm

    It’s because they are so inauthentic that their congregants develop such a weak bond with them.

  69. A Wandering BT
    November 8th, 2007 @ 2:39 am

    Great discussion and great article by dixie yid. I thank you all very much for the insights. One thing I wanted to add to this discussion regarding the amalek massacres. This may be particularly addressed to Dave but anyone feel free to chime in.

    What exactly makes murder so inherently wrong under any circumstance compared to any other moral issue? If not for the Torah’s instructions, what sets this act apart as universally unacceptable? Simply because Western values have adopted the principal as universal in today’s law-abiding society? If so, where did they get the idea from originally? Perhaps that should be considered (my implication, in case I’m being too vague, is that the Torah established that framework and it spread throughout ‘advanced’ cultures). Murder it seems has always been a rather widespread human endeavor, and I don’t think evidence suggests to us that this principal that it has an inherent moral quality was necessarily set in stone (no pun intended) in ancient cultures of ancient man.
    Secondly, if the answer to the first question above is yes, why should the fact that many cultures today have adopted the principle in a ‘universal’ ethic necessarily establish the deed’s moral stature as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ inherently? What does that say about what we might consider other ‘less savory’ endeavors that were once highly regarded in many societies but now have been largely discarded? Chalk it up to human progress towards the ideal or authentic morality? Seems a bit of a stretch to me. Moreover, what does it say about those cultures today who haven’t yet experienced the liberating embrace of that principle (that murder is wrong)? I’ll refrain from naming names.

    Outside of these sort of logical discussions lies the emotional aspect of this issue. A personal aversion to a particular act does not necessarily classify it as immoral. Likewise, a particular inclination towards something does not always necessitate it having a “kosher” status. This we learn rather simply from the topic of the yetzers. One general concept that I have learned, and please if I am wrong in any of this by all means correct and object away, is that there are usually two avenues for any given act. Channeled negatively, the act can be carried out in sinful fashion. And often times that very same act, when channeled appropriately and conducted along the path G-d has given us in Torah and halacha, results in an act deemed “holy” (for instance, eating: option 1, a ham sandwich followed by a nap, option 2 a kosher chicken cutlet followed by benching). Can this same principle not extend also to the realm of murder? Could there possibly be a “kosher” way to commit the act or a scenario that deems it necessary and proper and kosher to proceed? (That question immediately leads me to thought of the ‘active pursuer’ who we are obligated to take out)
    My understanding is that the command to destroy the nation of Amalek began with the tormenting of the Jews on their way out of Egypt. When G-d led us out, the nation of Amalek picked off the weak and elderly at the fringes of the pack and murdered them mercilessly. The act by G-d to lead us out of Egypt being one of the “signature” acts/miracles of G-d revealed to the world and one of the strongest expressions of His love for the Jewish people, it is all the more deplorable that the Amalekites would trample all over this event and purposely seek out the people G-d loves so dearly in order to sabotage (in the very heat of G-d’s expression) both His people and His will in the world – a rather direct affront. G-d created the Amalek nation in such a way that they are beyond rehabilitation, unique from all other nations. And, in fact, they stand as a challenge for the Jewish people throughout the generations (since we failed to exterminate them) with all their attempts to classify our relationship with the Creator as mere “chance occurrances.” Perhaps they in their hearts are the perpetual active pursuer nation. Is it possible that the way in which to channel an inclination toward violence (if one has such an inclination) is to direct it toward the Amalek nation if we knew who they were? That the defeat of a calculated, unswerving, and committed enemy is a justified cause according to the Torah in this case?
    Perhaps justice in the divine sense involves more than simply the emotional binding of love for humankind and life, which many of us naturally embrace (and understandably so). No better case to exemplify this than the beis din and its responsibility to punish a murderer with death. On a simple reading it might seem contradictory. But we also know that a system of justice (a model for society that is prototyped by our religious convictions – ie God’s justice system in Torah governing our lives, carves the pattern of a human court system to govern society) is a necessary and crucial element of society. Afterall, of all the abhorrent acts prevalent in the world of Noah before the flood, the one thing that absolutely necessitated the flood was the utter lawlessness of society. There has to be justice in this world. Apparently, murder of the Amalek nation by Shaul’s men was a necessary component of G-d’s justice, whether we understand it (and/or like it) or not.
    Thank you all for your time, and I hope if I am wrong in any of my assertions or suggestions that I have not misled anyone else to adopt my own faulty views.

  70. Jacob Haller
    November 8th, 2007 @ 11:24 am

    Wandering,

    Regarding your statement

    “A personal aversion to a particular act does not necessarily classify it as immoral.”

    It sounds reasonable but someone would likely defend their position by stating that it’s not “personal” but rather ingrained in some time-honored system.

    Some would object to a simple dichotomy but if the time-honored system is not the Torah than it’s a different one and it’s external and extraneous to Judaism and thererfore any consistency with the Torah is only incidental.

  71. eli
    November 8th, 2007 @ 12:34 pm

    FYI, Gil Student has a well written essay about chilul Shabbos to save non-Jews: http://www.aishdas.org/student/shabbat.htm

  72. Dave
    November 8th, 2007 @ 1:02 pm

    Eli,

    I think Student’s essay is much more of an apologia than a serious analysis. Nevertheless, Student is compelled to acknowledge that the largely (but not completely) accepted psak allowing a Sabbath violation to save a gentile’s life is for “ancillary” reasons. Which is to say, in order to benefit Jews, rather than from a recognition that a gentile’s life, per se, merits a violation of the Sabbath. I note that Student does not appear to accept– or even seriously consider– R. Lamm’s view that the gentile is created b’tzelem Elokim, and for this reason alone, must be saved at the cost of a Sabbath violation just as any Jew.

    Halacha or not, my personal view is that Student’s view is morally unsatisfactory. I recognize that Student would denounce my moral views as “whatever artificial values are currently popular.” That, however, is not much of an answer to a moral challenge and, at least for me, this is where our rabbinic mesorah fails a big test.

  73. Bob Miller
    November 8th, 2007 @ 2:33 pm

    Dave, you can restate it however you like, but you’re not at liberty to reject our Mesorah/Halacha based on your personal views—unless you want to be part of a movement of the type you say you’ve rejected.

  74. chabakuk elisha
    November 8th, 2007 @ 2:41 pm

    Dave, I don’t think you’re being fair.

    For starters, in Judaism everything is debated; you name it, there are opposing views. Here too, there are different positions. R’ Kook, for example, will give you a humanistic view (ala the R’ Lamm quote), but it seems that you would only be happy if everyone took that view.

    I think we need to clarify the issue: Is Judaism “anti-goyim”? I think the answer is a resounding NO. There are hundreds of positive quotes – from all periods of Jewish thought – about non-Jews. See, for example, Rabbi Sears’s “Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition”
    http://www.amazon.com/Compassion-Humanity-Jewish-Tradition-David/dp/0765799871 Shocking as that is, considering the persecution of the Jewish people and considering the type of Non-Jew that often the norm. Is it normal to show great love for people killing your families and seeking your destruction as was so often the case?

    So, what does Rabbinic Judaism think? Well, it’s a religion that makes absolute claims, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t demand that everyone join. Rather, it requires that everyone follow the 7 Mitzvos, while only Jews must follow the 613 Mitzvos. As such, it has a higher standard for Jews, and views Jews as serving a specific (and yes, it could be said that Yiddishkeit considers itself a higher) role. Is that a problem?

    So, within that context we have rules. Let’s say Hilchos Shabbos: It is forbidden to transgress “XYZ”. In the case of saving a life, we say that the rules are suspended so that the individual should keep more Shabbosos (which is beneficial – from a Jewish point of view – to the entire cosmos). Should the individual be a heretic, we would not suspend the laws of Shabbos for him. Should he be a believer, then we would… Jew or NonJew (at least according to those opinions).

    You say that this is immoral. I don’t know why – unless we want to superimpose modern thinking on ancient times. You call that apologetics? I don’t really know why. Anyway, over time, the situation has changed. Jewish rule is so far in the past that it’s even disputed. Jew/Non-Jew relationships have changed, and along the way the psak changes as the situation changes. Today, saving the life of a Gentile is considered important. You don’t like some of the technical/legalistic reasoning? I don’t think your fair about that at all. It happens in courtrooms all the time – it’s not the primary point! The government only got Al Capone on a tax evasion charge, but was that the reason? Obviously not. So too, the reason for saving the life of a Non-Jew on Shabbos is clearly out of respect for human life – even if the stated legal logic used by some isn’t exactly what you’d like it to be…

  75. Jacob Haller
    November 8th, 2007 @ 3:46 pm

    Dave,

    I’m attempting to understand your POV based on your posts.

    You identify yourself as Orthodox and that your rabbi has an authoritative word. However, one particular issue (Chillul Shabbos vis-a-vis the non-Jew and maybe other issues too) is the source of a crisis of faith and therefore you’re compelled to follow a system that is in line with your personal approach to morality, even should it run contrary to the ways of Halacha should you find yourself in such a situation.

    One remark was even more telling, how the “Rabbis failed a big test”. In your view, the fact that all are created “B’Tzelem Elokim”, and putting your own interpretation of this idea into practice, it’s therefore for you inconceivable that the Torah revealed and given by Hashem the Creator to Am Yisrael at Har Sinai (an article of faith for all those who define themselves) could ever sanction a so-called amoral or immoral concept of discerning between Jew and non-Jew when one’s life is stake no matter what day of the week it is? Does this mean to say, that in your view, Chazal did not properly transmit the correct spirit of the Torah?

    Therefore, you want to follow the Torah in letter and in spirit but your own concepts of morality and of right and wrong are more in line with the spirit of the Torah than what Chazal and subsequent Rabbonim taught?

    You remarked that half of what we practice is D’Rabbonon are therefore subject to the human mind. Are you saying that since both you and Chazal are human, one’s approach is not per se superior to the other?

    But then again apparently it’s not just D’Rabonon issues that are factors for this crisis. The Mitzvos regarding conquering Eretz Yisrael from the 7 Nations also presented problems. Is there a D’Oraisa source for this ostensible crisis of faith as well?

    So, if this issue with the 7 Nations, a D’Oraisa teaching, presents a so-called immoral situation does that mean that following the spirit of the Torah may not be a motivating factor either?

    If so, what exactly is your source that determines right and wrong? If the source is external to the Torah, and if one willingly forgoes a general principle such as “Emunas Chachamim” can one define oneself as Orthodox within the confines of intellectual honesty?

    This was an attempt to understand a POV and not judge. My disclaimer is that if it appears otherwise it’s due to substandard writing or organization.

  76. Ron Coleman
    November 8th, 2007 @ 4:22 pm

    Is every voice from within us the product of social or intellectual conditioning? In Aish HaTorah’s kiruv seminars, they try to get people to recognize that they have a soul by virtue of the fact that there is this inner voice of right and wrong, love and revulsion, etc. Is it enough that you acknowledge its existence, though, and then say that its sensibilities are themselves learned, and we will now look only to the Torah to re-learn them (or try)? Or do we say there is an inherent “truth,” a moral compass, that will not be denied, and that “moral” challenges to what appear to be halachic outcomes must be stayed by use of the intellect at worst, and conditioned out of existence — if that is truly possible — at best?

    This is a profound “moral” challenge if the latter is the case, and a true demonstration of commitment to the ethos of the Torah… a commitment arrived at… how?

  77. Bob Miller
    November 8th, 2007 @ 4:49 pm

    Avraham Avinu could have refused to attempt the Akeidah, basing his refusal on a host of arguments that would appeal today to some “Orthodox” commenters.

    We celebrate that he did not flunk that test. We recall that event repeatedly in our prayers. Absolute deference to HaShem’s authority is not some recent frummie innovation.

  78. Dave
    November 8th, 2007 @ 5:58 pm

    Pile-on!!

    Bob– your insistence on arguing with who (you think) I am rather than what I say is duly noted. Your fierce determination to place a “non-Orthodox” label on me is amusing, but, again, your cognitive dissonance is a matter for you to explore with your therapist, not me. As to Avraham Avinu, well, let’s just say that I remain thoroughly unimpressed by the behavior of the major characters in that story.

    chabakuk elisha– as to whether Judaism is “anti-goyim,” that simply depends on how you define your terms; you consider gentiles to be inferior and subject to less strict laws, so, for you, it’s ok to treat them differently. I don’t agree. In any case, there is a very notable anti-gentile bigotry (halachic or otherwise) present in much of Orthodox Judaism– you’ve either seen it or wilfully disregarded it. As to halacha, there is ample evidence of gentiles being treated as a rather inferior species– in business dealings, in court, and even in cases of homicide, the rules for Jews are different. As to superimposing modern thinking on ancient times, why not? If the Torah is intended to be timeless and transcendent, there’s no reason that it can’t be subject to any scrutiny from any day and age. As to your analogy between the government nabbing Capone on a tax charge and the underlying respect for all life which (presumably) motivated the psak allowing a gentile’s life to be saved at the cost of a Sabbath violation, sorry, this is not apt. You’re comparing what purports to be divine law to the Federal Tax Code. Apples and oranges, my friend. And how am I not being fair? If we need to construct elaborate dodges to recognize a basic moral fact that seems to have been omitted from our Torah, then we must have a problem with the Torah.

    Jacob– nothing wrong with your writing. Like Bob, you’re interested in quibbling about whether or not I am entitled to be called “Orthodox.” If it makes you more comfortable, you can call me “Dave” instead.

    If you’re seriously interested in knowing what my views are on any given topic, I do not have “emunas chachomim.” I do not believe that previous generations were wiser than the current one (arguably, this was not a tenet of Judaism until the last few centuries– I saw an intriguing little book on the subject, the title of which escapes me). And I do not assume that something is morally right because it’s in the Torah or the Shulchan Aruch.

    So, what’s my source for right and wrong? Hmmm… good question. Perhaps it’s that divine spark in all of us. But there are things in the Torah that I do not believe are right or just.

    Again, if you can no longer maintain your particular view of the world without labeling me (a Jew who keeps the Sabbath, kashruth and taharas ha-mishpocha) as non-Orthodox, feel free to do as you please. Sometimes people who don’t like to think too much can be emotionally traumatized by things they can’t easily pigeon-hole.

    What’s fascinating to me is how Judaism, for all its intellectual tradition, manages to produce so many people who refuse to think outside the box or challenge any of their basic assumptions.

  79. A Wandering BT
    November 8th, 2007 @ 6:09 pm

    Dear Jacob Haller,

    “It sounds reasonable but someone would likely defend their position by stating that it’s not “personal” but rather ingrained in some time-honored system. ”

    I thought I had addressed this in a number of ways in my post, but maybe I wasn’t too clear. I will try to explain myself. In regards to a ‘time-honored system’ what empirical evidence is there that this has existed in the past universally as an accepted system – ie that murder is inherently “wrong” ? Something along the lines of “because I feel it, everyone feels it and all the ancients must also have felt it” is simply not sufficient.
    Regarding the system’s universality, is there not evidence to the contrary? Such evidence to me are 1. the fact that this is not even a universal principle throughout society today across the entire globe, again refraining from naming various cultures and groups that glorify it or embrace murder’s utility. 2. If we examine societies today that DO uphold this general principle, ie the so-called “western” societies, how far back can we really go in that culture’s history as having that principle still exist? The time before it came to be accepted also counts in history. There is an additional problem with how true it really is to say that it is a universal principle even for those societies, looking at the big picture. Even today there are massive wars conducted by such cultures as the United States of America, in which many people are killed for a particular reason. World War II was really not that long ago on the scale of human existence.
    In addition, even if we suppose ‘the time honored system’ does exist in present-day western societies, it still reflects the Torah system that killing under certain circumstances is necessary and is no longer wrong. At least looking at the general scheme of how the world plays out, since not necessarily all citizens of the US believe that way. But that’s how it has played out.

    “if the time-honored system is not the Torah than it’s a different one and it’s external and extraneous to Judaism and thererfore any consistency with the Torah is only incidental. ”

    This is assuming that the value originating from Torah hasn’t in any way permeated and influenced various cultures. We can assume this even though realistically we can understand that Jewish values have generally been spread to a degree to the other nations. Nonetheless, assuming no influence from Torah, then your point is exactly one that I tried to make. As you say, it would have to be extraneous and external to Torah and therefore any similarity is incidental. Yes, but how do Jewish people define what is right and what is wrong? By only those Torah values that have incidentally made appearances into the supposed time-honored systems of the other nations, or by all Torah values? I think we know the answer is that the Torah supercedes any invented value system, personal, national or otherwise.

  80. Ron Coleman
    November 8th, 2007 @ 7:01 pm

    Okay, Bob, but Avraham had the benefit of prophecy, and none of the fog of either (a) mitzvos d’rabbonan, (b) mitzvos halacha Moshe m’sinai or (c) minhagim or communal standards. These, and not whether or not to eat shrimp, are what people are wrestling with here. I think hard core emunas chachomim is the hardest test we face, and when their guidance conflicts with what our guts tell us, it’s a little challenge of the Akeidah for each of us.

  81. Jacob Haller
    November 9th, 2007 @ 10:44 am

    ‘If it makes you more comfortable, you can call me “Dave” instead.’

    OK Dave. The informality is appreciated. Actually I’m obliged to call you “Dr. Dave” since…

    “who don’t like to think too much can be emotionally traumatized ”

    it’s your calling to dole out psychoanalyses, and free of charge!

    “so many people who refuse to think outside the box”

    Maybe, but here’s an extraTorah proverb “You get what you pay for” ;-D

    Peace and Hatzlacha in your theodicy

    Shabbat Shalom

  82. Albany Jew
    November 9th, 2007 @ 10:46 am

    Dave,

    “As to Avraham Avinu, well, let’s just say that I remain thoroughly unimpressed by the behavior of the major characters in that story.”

    Critizing Avraham’s actions in the Akeidah is a clear indication of how you feel about Torah values. It’s Torah 101! How can you go any further from that stance?

  83. chabakuk elisha
    November 9th, 2007 @ 11:37 am

    Reb Dave,

    First of all, I never used the word inferior, but I don’t want to get into a semantic debate. So, please correct me of I’m wrong. I think that we each have our own opinions (everyone’s entitled), but I think we agree more than we disagree. Tell me if this is correct:

    CE: Judaism is not essentially anti-gentile

    DK: The reality in the Orthodox world is something different.

    So far so good?

    Based on that understanding of our conversation, I would say: I almost agree…but I would disagree with any blanket statement about Chazal or “Rabbinic Judaism (or Torah for that matter). I also think it’s a pretty simplistic statement, because there is PLENTY of information that points to the contrary (if someone is only interested). Torah is timeless, sure, but that is also a simplistic statement… Halacha clearly changes. More specifically, there is a significant difference between Torah Sh’Bksav and Torah Sh’Baal Peh, and the later evolves through time.

    So, yes, there are people with anti-Goyim attitudes, sure. Yes, they can find basis for that claim, just as there is basis for the opposite claim. I would say that Yiddishkeit isn’t anti-Goyim any more than astronauts are anti-businessmen, and in contrast with our neighbors I must say it is less so.

    But we can also agree to disagree.

    Have a great Shabbos!

  84. Dave
    November 9th, 2007 @ 12:06 pm

    Albany Jew:

    Avraham did a number of things which I find somewhat reprehensible, including passing Sarah off as his sister so she could be ravaged by various people.

    As long as we’re labeling each other, however, could you tell me whether you believe that the world is over 6,000 years old and whether chazal ever erred in matters of science?

  85. Albany Jew
    November 9th, 2007 @ 1:13 pm

    Dave,

    Some points:

    1) I’m not sure what label I’ve given you, just pointing out that you seem to have basic difficulties with the most straightforward tenents of the Torah. There is no way to understand the morality brought down from the Torah if have problems with the source itself.

    2) 6000 years – that is something debated by people much smarter than I, and I can actually see multiple explanations that may be valid. And anyway, that is a more advanced debate (grad level) than simply saying that you find our Avos reprehensible. Once again, if you don’t believe in Physics 101 than debating Quantum Physics is an exercise in futility.

  86. Ron Coleman
    November 9th, 2007 @ 1:24 pm

    Dave, the label you seem to be angling for is heretic. Your remarks are in fact heretical, and hey, it’s America, no one’s going to run you out of town on a rail or put you in the stocks — but you can’t expect your comments to be taken seriously in a discussion among orthodox Jews of religious topics.

    There are other places, other blogs, to share heterodox opinions about the founders of our religion and our people and about the Sages of blessed memory, and you should probably find them if you want to continue to write in this vein.

    I won’t insult you by suggesting that best of all you should learn some Torah from someone who can handle your “issues,” if there is such a person, because you don’t really appear open to that.

  87. Bob Miller
    November 9th, 2007 @ 1:58 pm

    Dave,

    Evidently, you want the best of both worlds, the one you’re in and the one you want us to think you’re in.

  88. Dave
    November 9th, 2007 @ 2:51 pm

    AJ–
    Lots of things are debated by lots of people who are “much smarter than” you. But, here we go again– you can’t answer a question; you seem only able to categorize the person who asked it. Moreover, your contention that it’s impossible “to understand the morality brought down from the Torah if have [sic] problems with the source itself” is utterly ridiculous on its face. One has to agree with something before one can understand it? Upon reflection, that may explain your difficulty dealing with questions about dogma and doctrine.

    Ron–
    So glad you don’t want to insult me! But everybody’s somebody’s heretic. According to Rabbis Eisenstein and Elyashiv, someone who thinks the world is more than 6,000 years old is a heretic. In all probability, that includes most of the people on this site, so I’m in good company– indeed, you’re probably one of my fellow heretics. In which case we can both thank God that the sages of blessed memory aren’t running things around here.

    Bob–
    It’s absurd to suggest that I want you to “think” I’m in a particular world– you asked me a question, and I responded based on my level of practice. What you “think” about me is of very little consequence to me or anybody. That said, I would be interested to see some indication that you actually “think” at all; you seem unable or unwilling to do anything but parrot what you believe to be a party line.

    Call me what you like, but, remember, if you deny that the world is less than 6,000 years old or that chazal were correct on all matters of science and medicine, then there are folks out there who will say that you’re not Orthodox, either.

  89. Ora
    November 10th, 2007 @ 4:38 pm

    Dave–

    “[Chuckle] OK, I stand corrected.”

    Are you actually amused, or just patronizing?

    “Ora, this is not an argument that you’re likely to win. The fact is that the Torah includes a number of injunctions to engage in fairly large-scale massacres. You can rationalize them, but you can’t deny them.”

    I think you’re assuming too much about the argument I’m trying to make here. I’m not denying that the people of Israel were told to drive away or kill other nations in order to conquer the land, or in earlier wars. All I’m asking is for you to properly describe the mitzvah. Maybe you see no difference between being told to hunt down and kill people no matter where they are and what they’re doing and being told to kill hostile nations in your midst. I do.

    Of course, knowing that tribes are being killed because they wanted to keep living in the land they had been living on is not necessarily comforting. I never said it was.

    As for the preference for Jews in Jewish law:

    You should remember that you’re talking to BTs, many if not most of whom have non-Jewish close friends, cousins, and even immediate family members. You are not the only person on this board who sees non-Jews as having divine importance. If others feel differently than you on this issue, it’s not necessarily apologetics for some sort of disrespect for non-Jewish life.

    I believe that Jewish law is perfectly fair. Of course it prefers Jews in some issues (loans, tzedaka, etc). Jews are family, non-Jews are not. I love my family more than I love others, if my family needs help I’ll do more for them than I would do for others, I will give them special consideration in business matters, etc. That’s not racist, it’s just being human. Similarly, I will help a fellow Jew before I will help a non-Jew, and I will give a fellow Jew certain things (ex interest-free loans) that I couldn’t necessarily afford to give to everyone.

    As for saving a non-Jew’s life on Shabbat, I would absolutely violate Shabbat to save a life. Although as someone said, you need to differentiate between different kinds of non-Jews (akum vs. goy, etc)–I believe there are many rabbis who would support saving non-Jews, not so many who would say the same for idol worshippers.

    Ultimately, Hashem decides what will be, and if someone suffers and accident or illness on Shabbat, it is from Him. There are religions which would do avoid certain procedures meant to help the ill person on any day of the week, becuase they see it as interfering with divine will. Jewish law allows interference, but only in accordance with Hashem’s commands.

    “Sometimes people who don’t like to think too much can be emotionally traumatized by things they can’t easily pigeon-hole.”

    And then they dismiss those things as “apologetics”?

  90. r' Yaacov
    November 11th, 2007 @ 8:26 am

    may I jump into the fun? Just one thought I’ve expressed before, commenting on someone’s article of this nature: The issue of evalauting the morality of Jewish tradition in terms of who’s life the halacha prioritizes, has confused the business.It’s not about KILLING anyone, but when to intervene. When are we allowed to “play G-d?” We take it for granted that easing the pain in each other’s lives means being moral. Rather it’s an act of tremendous chessed, which has a definate role in the system of morality, but by far is not the bottom line. The bottom line is to truly give back to the One who gave us life. So much more to say on this, of course. But perhaps in the meantime it can help some of you look at this whole thing with more sober eyes. We’re not forfeiting the gentile’s life because of Shabbos, rather we learn that violating Shabbos under normal circumstances is giving back to the Creator much more than trying to be his medical messenger. But when the issue of darkei shalom enters, the issue shifts…

  91. Ron Coleman
    November 11th, 2007 @ 12:41 pm

    Dave, your gross characterizations of what great chachomim say about complex issues are not fooling anyone who has been at this for any amount of time.

    The selection of particular piskei din on controversial issues as supposed proof that “everyone is someone’s heretic” is something I expect to see on the many anti-Torah websites of former, would-be and never-observant Jews. It is an excellent tactic for distracting from the central fact that on issues such as the “morality” of the Torah and of the Avos, you, Dave, are everyone’s heretic.
    One thing I can promise you is that there are no chachomim who would count you for a minyan or even drink wine that was open in the same room you were present in.

    I have no problem insulting you. It’s a mitzvah. Your mocking involvement in a discussion among believing Jews who struggle with their intellectual doubts about hard issues is no more than harassment from what I can see.

    Get lost.

  92. M
    November 11th, 2007 @ 7:11 pm

    Dave,

    When you commented on the prayer post, I understood your comment as coming from a sincere individual striving to follow a Torah path, and struggling with Minyan issues. We all have our struggles in actualizing our potential as Torah observant, believing Jews, and I emphathized with you.

    I am a bit confused as to your stance on Torah now. Are you struggling with the basics of Judaism, and are just having a difficult time wording your challenges respectfully? Did you feel you would gain a more receptive audience if you demonstrated “Orthodox knowledge”, of the type picked up on hundreds of blogs out there?

  93. A Wandering BT
    November 11th, 2007 @ 10:08 pm

    Dave,
    In regards to the saving a nonJew’s life on Shabbat issue, and Rabbi Student’s essay, I would like to present the following possibility. Let’s say G-d gave you a set of laws. And in those laws one of the most important was keeping the Sabbath and all the rules associated with that. And that job was assigned as your nation’s and no one else’s. No other people in the world served that purpose to keep Shabbos except you, and at the same time, it is a necessity for a positive, functioning world. Now in your belief system, suppose you also believed that whenever someone got an illness or died it was a decree from the same Creator that assigned you your laws regarding the keeping of Shabbat. And suppose that to save a fellow Jew’s life on Shabbos was about the only reasonable way to break those laws of Shabbos while having a justification from that One who decreed the laws (ie, that Jew will go on to keep many shabboses, you are saving your fellow Jewish brother/sister so the Jewish nation will continue and as a whole be able to keep shabbosim) etc etc. Now without letting our own notions of what is moral and what we find to be correct about how people should act, and basing solely on the rules system we have been given, how do we consider the case of a nonJew whose life may need saving on Shabbos, the same nonJew who received whatever decree that puts them in this situation. What is our justification for saving their life? Is there one? Well, our rabbis found one because if we don’t break the Holy Sabbath, which is a law from G-d and that you can’t just decide to break whenever YOU feel the situation deems it necessary, the word will get around that the Jews are selfish about their own people’s lives vs. others, and then it will cause hatred against Jews and eventually violence against them from other nations. Which of course would inhibit our ability from keeping the sabbath, should other nations arm and attack us or make laws against it, etc. It is not in the interest of “I feel that human life is so important that I can break Shabbat to save my fellow Jew,” but “I only break Shabbat to save a fellow Jew because G-d has allowed the breaking of His law for only this very specific reason.” It is really the Sabbath and G-d’s law that is at the forefront here, not our sensibilities about life/death. That may cause problems for your thinking, but ultimately our religion is about what value G-d tells us is on those things, not what value we feel in our hearts and emotions about them.

    And if you find fault with the morality of the patriarchs, then I’m even more troubled that you believe your own concocted system of morality based on your emotional preconceptions and conditionings is somehow superior to G-d’s…. If you’re looking for a religion of humanism, that’s pretty much the Reform movement’s expertise, but I don’t think it is really Judaism. But again, I’m not sure how well you’d even fit in with that system of humanism if your moral values are contrary to the patriarchs’. They celebrate Avraham, Isaac, and Jacob along with Sarah, Rachel, Leah, Rebecca. They didn’t throw the men out, they just included the women in their prayer.

  94. Ora
    November 12th, 2007 @ 2:58 am

    Ron–
    “I have no problem insulting you. It’s a mitzvah. Your mocking involvement in a discussion among believing Jews who struggle with their intellectual doubts about hard issues is no more than harassment from what I can see.

    Get lost.”

    I would agree that Dave’s statements on oral tradition seem to contradict some basic Torah principles, but I don’t think he deserves such a harsh response. Seeing certain Torah laws as immoral may not be an acceptable part of orthodox belief, but it is completely normal for someone raised in a non-Torah society. (Even within Torah society it’s good to question, IMO, as that’s how we reach a deeper faith.) Why do you call his responses “mocking” or “harassment”?

    Dave–
    I realize that you are more than capable of fighting your own fights, just so you know. I just think it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure those honestly looking for guidance/feedback on BT issues feel comfortable posting here. I’m not 100%
    convinced that you’re open to hearing views that support Torah law as always moral, though–are you?

  95. tffb
    November 12th, 2007 @ 6:04 am

    “Tffb, is that a trick question ?
    For starters in depth arguing ànd analysis on the kesuba/kedushin/sotah gemara sects.with an emphasis on the why’s of terminology ànd ideology.Änd R Wolbes
    Alei shure chapters for variety.”

    No it wasn’t intended that way. I was trying to get a handle on why you were having trouble finding someone to learn w. and see if it sparked any ideas. I apologize if the question was intrusive or offbase.

  96. Bob Miller
    November 12th, 2007 @ 9:11 am

    Connie Francis said “Everybody’s somebody’s fool”. We might be called fools or worse, but we should proudly stand up for the Torah and the Avos when some mocker steps onto our turf to trash them (and us).

  97. Albany Jew
    November 12th, 2007 @ 12:00 pm

    Dave,

    OK, I sort of misspoke, I didn’t mean understand it, I meant BELIEVE IT as emes (see my second example). Also: I did answer your question but I will now spell it out for you; I DON”T KNOW.

  98. Albany Jew
    November 12th, 2007 @ 12:02 pm

    Also Dave: what category are you talking about? I have not mentioned any category.

  99. Dave
    November 13th, 2007 @ 12:41 pm

    Ora:
    “Maybe you see no difference between being told to hunt down and kill people no matter where they are and what they’re doing and being told to kill hostile nations in your midst. I do.”

    Slippery slope. And they weren’t “in our midst.” We showed up in their midst, remember? Also, there are examples of requirement to kill children (and keep women as booty, you should pardon the expression). I think the text speaks for itself, and the distinction you are trying to make is not a completely reasonable one. I think we can agree that rules about Amelekites and Canaanites (and the killing thereof) have no particular place in today’s world– nevertheless, if you accept the Torah as flawlessly moral, you must still deal with them.

    Your argument as to the preference for Jews in Jewish law is reasonably persuasive, and I agree with much of what you wrote there. But the halacha still goes farther than I’m willing to go– it is not (I believe) reasonable to say that a gentile should be subject to execution for killing a Jew while the reverse is not true (yet this is the halacha). Moreover, claiming that whatever happens is from God strikes me as a cop-out when you’re failing to save a life because of your own rules.

    I’m glad you’d violate the Sabbath to save a gentile’s life– this seems to me the correct thing to do. However, it is by no means the standard halachic response.

  100. Dave
    November 13th, 2007 @ 1:08 pm

    Ron,

    “your gross characterizations of what great chachomim say about complex issues are not fooling anyone who has been at this for any amount of time.”

    Since they’re not gross MIScharacterizations, they really don’t have to “fool” anybody. They just require answers. Got any?

    “It is an excellent tactic for distracting from the central fact that on issues such as the “morality” of the Torah and of the Avos, you, Dave, are everyone’s heretic.
    … there are no chachomim who would count you for a minyan or even drink wine that was open in the same room you were present in.”

    You’re absolutely foaming! Can you get your head to do a 360 like that chick in The Exorcist?! Btw, you’d be surprised at the number of Orthodox rabbis who drink wine in my presence.

    “I have no problem insulting you. It’s a mitzvah. Your mocking involvement in a discussion among believing Jews who struggle with their intellectual doubts about hard issues is no more than harassment from what I can see.”

    A mitzvah, huh? Better check on that. As to your “struggle,” for you, the “struggle” never seems to get past “the Chachomim are right so I need to understand why, regardless of the intellectual gymnastics and contortions it requires.” Of course, anybody who disagrees with you must either be ignorant or out to destroy your beliefs– no middle ground is available. Strange– have you already forgotten a time when you didn’t believe? Whom might you be trying to fool? Yourself?

    “Get lost.”

    I already am; it’s one of the reasons I showed up here. I was curious as to how learned fellows like you would deal with doubts and problems with emunah and bitachon. Thanks for the two-word answer!!

  101. Dave
    November 13th, 2007 @ 1:15 pm

    Ora–

    “I’m not 100% convinced that you’re open to hearing views that support Torah law as always moral, though–are you?”

    I can’t blame you for not being convinced. Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt anyway! I’ll chalk that up to a good example of someone following the mitzvah to judge people favorably. :-)

    Morality is a tough issue; the general consistency of the Torah on that issue (and others) is part of what originally drew me to Orthodoxy. Having lived it for several years now, I would acknowledge a fair amount of (what I’d call) disillusionment. That said, I claim no special wisdom on this or any topic, and stand ready to adjust any view of mine (on just about any topic) if I can be persuaded that I’m wrong.

  102. Dave
    November 13th, 2007 @ 1:43 pm

    Wandering BT–

    I understand your hypothetical. However, it contains a number of “supposes.” In the end, I still have to come down on a different side of the equation– I see nothing in the text of the Torah which would necessitate my keeping the Sabbath at the cost of someone else’s life.

    In other words, if I look at what the Torah says– it obviously makes it clear that the Sabbath is a big deal, but it also makes it clear that a human life is a big deal– Cain’s snide “Am I my brother’s keeper?” seems to be answered with a resounding “Yes!” We are obliged both to treasure life and to treasure the Sabbath.

    So I might argue that my problem is not with the Torah here, but with what I consider to be a poor interpretation thereof (here I go, dumping on the Chachomim). Perhaps Sabbath and our respect for human life might run into conflict. Perhaps the conclusion that the former must take precedence is an error of interpretation. Indeed, there are now a number of authorities (R. Lamm was cited above) who seem to hold that way (although they delicately avoid saying that the earlier view was “wrong”).

    And, yes, there are many instances where I find fault with the morality of the patriarchs. However, I find even more fault with your labeling my system of morality as “concocted” (as if yours weren’t).

    Were you born frum? If not, was there a time when you considered becoming frum and evaluated Torah morality? With what tools did you evaluate it? Did you just say– “Well, I’m totally amoral right now and have no means of judging this system except by accepting it hook, line and sinker, and then evaluating it– and everything else– exclusively from its perspective?” Again, I suspect not. So I think it’s pretty clear that your argument about my “concocted morality” with which I’m unable to fairly evaluate anything is pretty much wholly without merit.

  103. A Wandering BT
    November 13th, 2007 @ 1:49 pm

    Hey Dave,

    Just was reading you response to Ora (although I never received one myself, but I won’t hold it against you :) ), and I have a question you might consider. You say that:

    “they weren’t “in our midst.” We showed up in their midst, remember? Also, there are examples of requirement to kill children (and keep women as booty, you should pardon the expression). I think the text speaks for itself, and the distinction you are trying to make is not a completely reasonable one. I think we can agree that rules about Amelekites and Canaanites (and the killing thereof) have no particular place in today’s world– nevertheless,”

    I would ask 1. Is there a difference in the nature of the Amalekite nation and the Canaanite nation/nations and the ways in which we are supposed to deal with each? There were more than just those two groups (hittites, jebusites, girgashites, etc), and the proper course of action was not simply to Kill them first without asking questions. The exception here is the Amalek nation. Speaking of which,

    2. Are you assuming something incorrect by classifying the Amalek nation as not “in our midst” ? They indeed tried to penetrate into our midst and destroy us. And our first encounter with them was in the desert where they attacked our old and children stragglers on our way out of Egypt. Their particular treatment vs all other nations seems to me to have been earned by their actions, but that’s just me.

    3. If the Nazis were the nation of Amalek, set on destroying us, do you change your tune a bit? Even those nazis who went into hiding after the fact largely didnt recant their beliefs. They just hid from the authorities. Luckily the German govt took some responsibility and the following generations seems remorseful and not intent on destroying us or taking vengeance. The govt looks to help Israel.

    4. Because our sages have told us it is impossible today to know who is of the nation of Amalek (aside from the Vilna Gaon’s insinuations about the Germany that would unite, and aside from our hindsight analyses of past events like the holocaust), wouldn’t you say that indeed it is a valid position to hold that in a Torah basis this obligation is a thing of the past, but in the past it was actually justified when we knew quite clearly who our enemies were and that they were set on destroying us? If we are going by Torah, it was moral then to kill Amalek, and it’s not moral now because we don’t know who is Amalek and who isn’t. Is this overall objectionable?

  104. A Wandering BT
    November 13th, 2007 @ 1:50 pm

    Sorry, you did respond as I was writing… I’ll give that look too.

  105. Dave
    November 13th, 2007 @ 1:51 pm

    AJ–

    As to my concern with the “label” issue, you (and a number of others) seem more absorbed in trying to figure out whether I can legitimately be a member of the Orthodox community than you are in answering the questions I’ve raised.

    Moreover, I disagree with your physics analogy. Yes, there are lots of difficult and highly theoretical discussions of Creation in Judaism and, were it up to me, I’d certainly take a rather broad view of the thrust of the Book of B’reishis.

    That said, I was not arguing what the “correct” answer ought to be from a Torah perspective. I merely pointed out (and now reiterate) that there are highly regarded Torah authorities who claim that: a) the world is less than 6,000 years old; and b) failure to believe this is kefira.

    The conclusion that I would like to impress up on you is that, regardless of your opinions of my level of belief, your own level of belief may, from certain perspectives, seem closer to mine than you might wish to think. Sorry about that.

  106. A Wandering BT
    November 13th, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

    The only thing I meant by the word ‘concocted’ is that that is any system of morality not derived from an outside source. Yes, my morality that I don’t take from Torah (although my goal here is to incorporate the Torah’s morality as my own, since I believe the Torah is from G-d), would be concocted. Any person not using an outside source as a guide for their morality is essentially using a concocted morality, concocted internally, ie by themself. That doesn’t equate with amoral, despite your insinuation.

    “I see nothing in the text of the Torah which would necessitate my keeping the Sabbath at the cost of someone else’s life.”
    Obviously, others did. But as in my other post about Amalek and the context (ie the period we live in), we have to consider the same here. We weren’t always treated the way we are now by many non Jews. Coincidentally (in my mind, not so coincidentally), most if not all reasonable poskim today hold that Jewish doctors are obligated to break Shabbat to save a nonJew’s life, regardless of what reason we give to justify it. The fact is still the fact.

    “In other words, if I look at what the Torah says– it obviously makes it clear that the Sabbath is a big deal, but it also makes it clear that a human life is a big deal–”
    “We are obliged both to treasure life and to treasure the Sabbath.”

    It seems as though you take our consideration on whether we treat or don’t treat a nonJew in a breaking-shabbos manner, on shabbos, as constituting actual Murder. There is nowhere an advocation of murdering a non Jew on shabbos. And again, context is important. One might say that a terrorist Hamas leader injured fatally, should be treated on Shabbos for the sake of “treasuring human life” regardless, even if that guy is set on murdering you and your family once he is cured. I would disagree with those people, but I’d sure be afraid of wrongfully assuming someone to be that Hamas guy if he really isn’t. But if the halacha is talking about nonJews in a time when they were attacking us and had similar intentions, how can you as a rabbi responsible for the continuation of your people, realistically rule otherwise? Most of your people would probably object to it. It doesn’t quite matter if future generations do. That’s what they have their rabbis for. And later generations’ rabbis have ruled accordingly.

    Your other questions deserve a much more detailed response and some deeper thought in my consideration of responses, so I will get back to you on that when I have more time to write up a post, and I appreciate you taking an interest in those personal matters of my belief. Talking about any of these matters helps me to get clarity and progress in my development as a person.

  107. Mark
    November 13th, 2007 @ 4:20 pm

    Dave, I’m trying to understand you’re basic argument. Does it go like this:

    “I know I’m a pretty smart and moral guy. So if something that G-d transmitted in the Torah (and is brought down in the halacha) goes against my sense of morality it can’t be the truth, because I wouldn’t have written it.”

  108. Bob Miller
    November 13th, 2007 @ 4:25 pm

    Check out the “Korah Tape” of Rav Soloveitchik ZT”L, downloadable from here:

    http://www.613.org/rav.html

    Scroll down to the download links for Korah Tape (the common sense rebellion)(120).

    Also see the chapter on this topic in this book:
    Reflections of the Rav: Lessons in Jewish Thought Adapted from the Lectures of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Vol. 1
    by Abraham R. Besdin, Joseph B. Soloveitchik
    Publisher: KTAV Publishing House, Inc.
    Pub. Date: October 1993
    ISBN-13: 9780881253306
    244pp

  109. Dave
    November 13th, 2007 @ 5:16 pm

    WBT:

    “We weren’t always treated the way we are now by many non Jews.”

    You can’t base a supposedly eternal morality on how you were treated 2,000 years ago by a non-specific group of people. That’s ludicrous on its face.

    “Coincidentally (in my mind, not so coincidentally), most if not all reasonable poskim today hold that Jewish doctors are obligated to break Shabbat to save a nonJew’s life, regardless of what reason we give to justify it. The fact is still the fact.”

    Sophistry. You’re talking about what doctors can and can’t do. It’s totally irrelevant to me; I’m not a doctor.

    “It seems as though you take our consideration on whether we treat or don’t treat a nonJew in a breaking-shabbos manner, on shabbos, as constituting actual Murder.”

    Then it seems wrong. I consider it immoral to stand idly by the blood of my (Jewish or gentile) neighbor on Shabbat or any other day, but wanton indifference and murder are not the same thing. They are both immoral, but they are not idenitical.

    “But if the halacha is talking about nonJews in a time when they were attacking us and had similar intentions, how can you as a rabbi responsible for the continuation of your people, realistically rule otherwise? Most of your people would probably object to it.”

    By far your worst argument yet. First, the halacha is not talking about a specific time– we still use it to pasken today. Further, when a person is trapped under stones in a collapsed building, only a moral degenerate would try to ascertain the trapped person’s religious beliefs and political views before taking action.

  110. Dave
    November 13th, 2007 @ 5:40 pm

    Mark:

    “Dave, I’m trying to understand you’re [sic] basic argument.”

    Are you really? With all due respect, my impression is that you’re actually just looking to reduce it to something it’s not, and then deny it without having considered it.

    “Does it go like this:

    ‘I know I’m a pretty smart and moral guy. So if something that G-d transmitted… goes against my sense of morality it can’t be the truth, because I wouldn’t have written it.’”

    No, that’s not it at all. It goes more like this:

    When presented with a set of rules and moral principles for study and evaluation, we do not approach them in a vacuum, nor are we obliged to play moral relativist, and evaluate any given set of moral principles only in light of itself. Were this the case, we could not reasonably compare two separate moral systems except from the perspective of one of the two or, perhaps, from a third; nor could we ever hope to rationally adopt any moral system for ourselves (since, under this theory, we could only actively evaluate a morality after we’ve chosen it, in which case we’re bound to find it utterly flawless, regardless of which one we pick).

    So, we have to look at some more fundamental notions common to most human morality, such as justice, or mercy, or the intrinsic value of human life. In theory, at least, if those notions are common to human morality, then the closer any given moral system comes to achieving those ideals, the more perfect it is.

    If I look at a given moral system (say, Islamic fundamentalism) and find that it does not treat people justly, or that it trivializes human life, I might reasonably say that it is, to that extent, inferior to a system that seems to excel in these matters (such as Judaism, in most cases).

    In the end, what you appear to be arguing, is that as a mere non-rabbi human, I would be engaging in an act of presumption were I to attempt to evaluate the moral system of Judaism, since you believe that it was handed down perfectly from God Himself (query: what if that’s not true?).

    Moreover, implicit in that argument is the notion that there can be no greater– indeed, no other– defense of your moral system besides its divine origin, since there is no legitimate way for finite and imperfect beings to evaluate the laws of an infinite and perfect being. However, if this is the case, then I no longer have any way of distinguishing you and your morality from the Islamic fundamentalists and theirs, since (for the record) they believe exactly the same thing.

  111. Mark
    November 13th, 2007 @ 5:58 pm

    Dave

    I really did want to see where you’re coming from.

    I don’t see the Torah as a set of rules or moral principles to be evaluated. In addition, the moral viewpoints of the non-Torah world do not take into consideration the spiritual dimension. For the sake of this post, I’ll define spiritual as the non-physical entities such as the soul and the non physical world-to-come.

    I also don’t think that the non-Torah world has ever had a good grip or the last world on morality even from a purely physical existence perspective. The case of when it’s correct to take a life and when not is one of many examples of the world’s moral confusions and failings. This is clearly evidenced by the tremendous world support for the enemies of Israel, by the academics no less, and its indifference to mass murder in many others.

    You need to prove to yourself that G-d exists and he gave us the Torah.

    For me the combination of learning Torah in depth and experiencing the beyond-the-physical aspects of Judaism did it.

  112. Dave
    November 13th, 2007 @ 7:08 pm

    Mark:

    If you were genuinely interested in my views, I apologize for my brusqueness.

    If you don’t see the Torah as a set of rules or moral principles to be evaluated, then it’s almost impossible for us to have a meaningful discussion, isn’t it? I can’t refute or negate your spiritual experiences, since they’re personal. For the same reason, however, I can’t share them or experience them myself.

    And yet, you still maintain that it’s up to me to convince myself of something that I doubt is true.

    So, I’m confused. If we can’t evaluate these things reasonably together, and you don’t believe that it’s possible for you to discuss this issue in terms that could mean anything to me, how can we make progress? After all, you’re asking me to believe something, not the other way around.

  113. Mark
    November 13th, 2007 @ 7:21 pm

    Dave

    The evidence is there, but there are no absolute proofs. Is it clear to you why there can’t be absolute proofs?

    Once you look at the evidence, only you can evaluate your biases honestly, I can’t do that for you. According to Torah hashkafa, everybody has biases but by working on ourselves through Torah we can reduce them.

    If we want a discussion, we have to start at the beginning. Do you believe in G-d?

    If you believe in G-d, then we can ask the next question, do you believe G-d gave the Torah?

    If you want to continue this, you can email me at beyondbt@gmail.com.

  114. A Wandering BT
    November 13th, 2007 @ 7:59 pm

    Dave:
    “You can’t base a supposedly eternal morality on how you were treated 2,000 years ago by a non-specific group of people. That’s ludicrous on its face.”

    Yes you can when there is an element of rabbinical participation in halacha as an interwoven component of that eternal morality. The fact that context is to be considered, including the context of different time periods and generations, makes the system MORE realistic in my mind, rather than less.

    “Sophistry. You’re talking about what doctors can and can’t do. It’s totally irrelevant to me; I’m not a doctor.”

    I may have misspoke. What a doctor can do also applies to the common everyday Jew. The halachic rulings I was speaking of were in regards to all Jews. I just was thinking about doctors. Now instead of dismissing my point as “sophistry” it still stands, and perhaps you will consider it.

    “By far your worst argument yet. First, the halacha is not talking about a specific time– we still use it to pasken today.”

    Um, wrong. Like I have shown in my posts, a different ruling may be appropriate to different contexts and different time periods. Today, the majority opinion still stands and it says: that a jew should break shabbos to save a life, even a nonJew’s. Do you dispute this, or do you just not like it?

    ‘Further, when a person is trapped under stones in a collapsed building, only a moral degenerate would try to ascertain the trapped person’s religious beliefs and political views before taking action.’

    Never said I would do this, did I? Nice condemnation of the hypothetical ‘degenerate,’ though.

  115. Dave
    November 14th, 2007 @ 10:41 am

    WBT,

    You’re making no sense. Rabbinical participation should keep things up to date, and not leave us stuck with notions conceived based on how we were treated 2,000 years ago. Morover, whether the system is more or less realistic in your mind is of no consequence to me or this discussion.

    As to the equivalence between doctor and everyday Jew, R. Feinstein’s psak on the subject was specifically directed to a doctor. To which psak are you referring?

    As to your “majority opinion,” assuming this to be the case, it is certainly not the only opinion (my rabbi held otherwise). Moreover, to the extent that it is a majority opinion, it appears to be predicated not on the inherent value of a gentile’s life, but on the potential ramifications to Jews of a Jew’s failure to assist a gentile. This strikes me as morally problematic, to say the least.

    As to my condemnation of the “hypothetical degenerate,” I was merely borrowing the hypothetical used in the Talmud, which makes a clear distinction between the lives of Jews and gentiles.

  116. A Wandering BT
    November 16th, 2007 @ 3:03 pm

    “You’re making no sense. Rabbinical participation should keep things up to date, and not leave us stuck with notions conceived based on how we were treated 2,000 years ago.”

    I think you’ve missed my point again. Consider the history. At one point, the Amalek commandment was a relevant, active, carried out mitzvah. At this point in history, for any given reason (one reason they quote is that ‘we don’t know who Amalek is anymore’), we do NOT carry out this commandment. Therefore, looking at the big picture, things have changed, and part of it has to do with our rabbinical guidance and active participation in Torah.

    “Morover, whether the system is more or less realistic in your mind is of no consequence to me or this discussion.”

    Well, that strikes me as a bit overdramatic because I could have said the same thing to you at the beginning, and this discussion would have ended a long time ago. How about: whether the system (of murdering Amalek) is realistic or ‘morally justified’ in your mind is of no consequence to me in this discussion. Is that how we discuss an issue? I thought we were advanced beyond the point of assuming that how the other person in the discussion thinks (especially in logical fashion) or feels about the topic is indeed relevant.

    Before you were talking a lot about the value of rational western thought. Here I approached the issue in a very rational way, yet you deem it not appropriate. We received the Torah at a specific instant in the whole period of human history (disclaimer: this is working off the premise that we did indeed receive the Torah from G-d. Not saying you have to believe that, but suppose it’s true for a moment and let’s see what sense we can make of the resulting possibilities). Over the course of this history, people, the environment, and our own awareness has changed. In the religious perspective, the change in G-d’s role in the world (He has largely hidden Himself) has fueled much of this evolution in our human awareness and perspective. I’m not going to cite the locations where the importance of a Sanhedrin and rabbinical guidance is stated. On the simple level I think we’re all aware of these. But speaking rationally, it could make “sense” that what is good for one community in one specific period in time, may have to be slightly altered or may not be perfect for another. Right? It also ‘makes sense’ that we would have an active participation in these events of shaping halacha over the ages since it is giving us additional meaning and challenge in life. [Of course, that is supposing that the story was true that we got the Torah and from G-d, and I'm not saying you have to believe it, but I am saying that given that precedent certain things can make more or less sense to us.] A document set in stone exactly as is from generation to generation without any flexibility or participation necessary from us other than to be the same monolith group from day 1 year 1 until Moschiach comes would kind of defeat the purpose of being a “nation of priests” wouldn’t it? And considering the changing world around us, for instance the technological advancements, suggest the need to apply the old laws to new situations we encounter. I’m just throwing out ideas.

    “As to your “majority opinion,” assuming this to be the case, it is certainly not the only opinion (my rabbi held otherwise). ”

    Well, don’t we go by the majority as a general rule of thumb? I mean, I’m sure I could find a Christian priest out there somewhere who does something random like wear a kippah, but that doesn’t mean wearing a kippah is Christian policy does it?

    “it appears to be predicated not on the inherent value of a gentile’s life, but on the potential ramifications to Jews of a Jew’s failure to assist a gentile.”

    Seems you like to convolute the issue. One step at a time there, champ. Like I said before, no matter what reasons and analytical devices we cite, the fact is the fact. We save the gentile. My earlier examination on this point of saving a nonJew on Shabbos wasn’t a discussion about the reasoning we use for why we are allowed, but simply The Very Fact that we are allowed and commanded to.

    Actually, my first original post (not the past few) went into the logic behind why this (the Jew-gentile ramifications) *could be a legitimate explanation for why we save the gentile, but I guess the talking point of “it isn’t about the gentile’s life” will continue to be stated in matter-of-fact style. And again, that logic I proposed in it hinged on the fact that we did indeed get the Torah from G-d – I presented a number of hypothetical situations stemming from the basic idea. You may or may not believe this, and I’m not saying to assume it, but those involved in structuring these laws definitely did believe that, and so it is reasonable to analyze their intentions and deductions based on that premise. If the sages were atheists, then none of the laws make any sense and are completely troubling. But they were not. So we should probably consider how they can, with yirat shamayim, approach these delicate issues knowing the fate of the Jewish people is in their hands according to their beliefs from the Torah.

    One point you mentioned was that you read the ‘created in G-d’s image’ part as no less important than the command to keep shabbos, in the general picture of Tanakh or Torah. I suggested that Others (namely, the sages) didn’t learn it that way. I pose the question now, how many times does the commandment to keep Shabbos appear? And in how many instances are the positive and negative consequences associated with that commandment elaborated on? Answers to these, which I don’t know, may help us to elucidate what basis the importance of Shabbos was really founded on.

    As to your earlier questions which I promised to answer, I will hopefully have time next week if you are interested. Have a good shabbos!

  117. Zelig
    January 12th, 2008 @ 11:27 pm

    When I became a BT I stayed very far away from the Reform Rabbis I grew up with. I viewed interacting with them the same as when you see an article about Israel on CNN…..it’s going to be negative.

    Reform Rabbis are very negative and any meetings with them will NOT lead to anything productive or pro Torah for that matter. Besides even if the “meeting” or “dialogue” went well…all these people will do is take your words and twist it around for a sermon that will make you look like a criminal/pig and them like men and women of justice.

    While I am not blaming this poster for anything I will say this to all new BT’s….STAY FAR FAR AWAY from the Reform Rabbis you grow up…THEY ONLY KNOW HOW TO PREACH HATE AGAINST YOU

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