Ben Avuyah

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Halachah: Crunchy on the outside Chewy on the inside

"Well your transcript speaks for itself…."

The look on his face was serious…and tired; dour, in fact, as he flipped through the pages as if he was weighing some celestial dilemma of yore that drained the very vitality of life from his veins.

I scrutinized every line of his aged pale skin from across the table, that pasty mask spread thin over bone, every furrow and trough a potential tell of his inner thoughts.

Had the interview been too boring? Had too many minutes of bland conjecture and review of particulars left us flat?

Should I reverse the formality now, boldly charging into some delightful anecdote starring yon bastion of charisma…yours truly?

Should I corral the fluttering butterflies in my stomach into a stampeding force and break the silence with a witty and impassioned spark of personality?

Had the time arrived to cobble together my doppelganger; that spare personality, hastily assembled of raw ambition and coffee grinds, that I was accustomed to modeling for public consumption on such occasions of need?

Thought materialized into action as my tongue, as dehydrated as shoe leather from the unique fusion of coffee and nervous adrenaline, peeled off my soft palate, from whence it had nestled so cozily, with an audible, multi-punctate, staccato of well adhered Velcro, echoing in my inner ear with the full force of social faux pas it represented. Only to be deftly outdone by my dry lips, which having been pressed shut for some time, opened now, with a bold and melodic "pop", as if I were about to jump from my chair, wave my hands in agitation and assault my interviewer with a rich and hassled monologue of Swahili, replete with every guttural click and whir of the deep rain forest, capped off with the deliverance of a graceful blow dart to the jugular.

But just before my witty rejoinder could rumble out of my dry throat like so many dusty old nails…he spoke.

"You are one the best candidates we've seen this year", he looked happy now, almost relieved, and his pronouncement echoed through my head.

I felt wonderful.

Muscles unclenched, my shoulders loosened and finally fell to a relaxed position, enough saliva was actually liberated for me to lick my lips. That poisonous bile my stomach was churning melted to butter.

By God it had gone well…very well. Those poor suckers waiting for their turn to interview had best grab Danish from the food cart and head for the hills….this was a wrap.


God, I reveled in the moment.

There he sat, chairman of the department, ostensibly the top of his field, surrounded by his myriad of diplomas, symbols of abundant ego allowed to overflow until they occupied every nook and cranny of conceivable wall and shelf space….and he chose me!

Me, to pass along the torch of medical knowledge. Me, to become his heir, his adopted son, to glean from him the wisdom that takes a lifetime to gain.

It was heady, and a sense of warmth and euphoria spread from my innards like warm milk laced with opoid, soothing the frayed nerves with the dulling salve of success, ending in each appendage with a tingle that made me want to giggle like a little girl.

He was crossing the room now with a hand extended…

I gripped it firmly looking him in the eye, my pleasure undisguised, for this was no longer the meeting of one doctor evaluating a potential hire. This was a meeting of peers, of colleagues, who recognized each others accomplishments and worth.

“I had best get going, I have a busy day tomorrow”, he confided to me, his new resident, save for the ceremonial red tape of the paper work, “and I have a few charts to tweak for medical necessity before tomorrows rhinoplasties, gotta get that insurance to kick in.”

Of course he did…that Jag doesn’t buy itself.

Still standing in the middle of the room, I marveled at how quickly our relationship had gelled. How quickly I had moved from a seeker of admission to a trusted confidant.

Trusted with the inner workings of his practice….the slightly questionable inner workings of his practice.

Well, I conjured; he wouldn’t be the first physician to get cosmetic surgery covered for patients who couldn’t ante up, by attaching some element of medical necessity to it…

He was smiling at me from across the room as he packed his papers into his briefcase….or was he studying me?

How quickly that warm tingly feeling was replaced with ice in my veins.


Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit……

Had my interview really finished….or had it just begun?

“Tweaked for medical necessity”?


The words just crept out.


“Ben, your new at this”, he said as he lifted his briefcase from his desk, “with time you’ll learn how to bend and break rules as you need to…”

He walked across the room and patted me on the shoulder, “Don’t let the insurance company tell you how to practice medicine!”


Damnation!

Foul Damnation!

I had been safe on the shore line, well rescued, well resuscitated, and now….. back into the dark waters?

What was this? What kind of unholy trial was I now participating in?

Didn’t he understand? I knew anatomy, I knew physiology, I filled in multiple choice bubbles with a number two pencil with greater accuracy than the rest of my class. Those were my tests, those were my challenges...

Did he need to know that his new resident would not be a leak to the insurance companies about his questionable practices? Was he prodding me now to get a feel for how at risk he would be with me underfoot?

“Well I agree with you there, we should always put the patient’s health ahead of insurance rulings…”

Or had I misread him? Was he placing a moral conundrum in front of me to see what I was made of?

His eyes were shallow pools of pale blue looking into mine and offering not a clue.

“…but I don’t see how that is related to…uh what you said….before….”

Good will, comradery, fellowship, left the room and took their kindly warmth with them.

There was a clammy cold between us now…

“Excuse me?”

I avoided his gaze and stared at the down turned corners of his mouth; trying to parse it all out.

He could be on the level, honestly discussing the way he “bends” rules with a future resident. It was certainly possible, in which case I had just begun to throw away years of hard work to enter this program.

But did I want to work for someone who was that confident of his shady practices?

On the other hand it could all be a test…

Could I tell truth to power?

Could I challenge the chairman on my own heartfelt moral principles and not waver against the force of his personality?

Some programs wanted yes men, but some wanted strong individual thinkers…

There where no answers to these questions or at least none appeared to me in the uncomfortable silence as he waited for my reply.

“I don’t mean to be rude, or offensive, but just want to point out that adjusting the symptoms or fabricating….”

“You know something”, he said, his voice an octave higher, “I’ve been treating patients for thirty years…I’ve been chairman of this department for ten….where do you get off telling me…
“I’m sorry.”

“…telling me what the right way to take care of patients is.”

“I’m just trying to tell you how I feel about any program that would not be up front about…”

“You know what, Ben….Ben, thank you for interviewing at our institution”, he said his hand motioning me out the open door.

Christ, if it was a test, it was a damned good one; his face was as red as mine.

I walked quickly past his secretary and the assembled interviewees, the shame of failure hastening my pace to a brisk jaunt that took me out of the building into bitter New York cold, then down the steps to the warmth of the subway.

Even all these years later I can still remember the sense of confusion that filled my head as my body swayed to and fro in the unique ballet that the curving tracks of the southbound A compelled every passenger to dance.

Where had I gone wrong?

I ranked the program low on my list, associating it with a sense of personal embarrassment, and matched elsewhere, but over years of meeting with people in my field and rehashing painful memories of residency, I have run into a few who had done their time at that very program.

In fact, I found that it was a somewhat well kept secret among administration and resident alike, that the interview was a moral test, the chairman’s indignant face a well institutionalized act, and the passing answer was unwillingness to capitulate to his will. That was the type of personality he wanted surrounding him.

Indeed.

It makes one think, and when I think… I think of religion.

To those of us still clinging to the left flank of modern orthodoxy, at least outwardly, there exists a series of bizarre responses of the Rabbinate to modernity.

Yes it’s true; they will agree in private, that the modern mind functions via principles of intellectual honesty. That we believe things to degrees, and that degree is determined by the amount of evidence and data available. Yes, they will whisper, in hushed tones, that the level of probability and evidence supporting the particulars of our faith are low, and that one may indeed by more honest to believe very watered down versions of the actuality of our mesorah…

But.

But, you must keep halachah, our system of law must be raised out of objectionable controversies, and quibbling inquiries of its validity. And as long as one believes in Halacha, they may pursue more comfortable beliefs regarding our biblical heritage.


Now, let me be sympathetic, I full well understand that without Halacha modern orthodoxy cannot survive. I grasp the fact that this is a flailing attempt to deflect that final blow to the wind pipe.

But is it honest?

Are the same problems that push us to realize the unlikely nature of our religious traditions also present at the base of our halachic structure?

I think that they are.

After all, Halacha is different from secular legal systems in that at its most base, it believes itself to be a representation of Godly will.

And that’s the problem.

Even the greatest amongst us recognized that although we may perceive God through his actions, we cannot hope to reach an understanding of his motivations, his plans, or the manipulations by which he tests us. (http://www.knowledgeproblems.blogspot.com/)

The difficulty is that halachah is not a self contained legal system. It is an extension of God’s mind, and in that sense it is an outgrowth of theology itself: A murky tar pit with no bottom or sides upon which we insist we have built or rigorously argued a coherent code of law.

Yet the fact remains that upon such an unsteady foundation the only blueprint for construction is doubt.

I highlight but one example above…the idea that a creator being may deliver a code of law to test if its subject can follow it, to test if and when its subjects righteously rebel against it, or any number of reasons in between. Without knowing motivation or plan, there is not much more to say.

With the axiom in hand, the we are not privy to God’s thoughts, it appears equally likely that he would choose to test our ability to follow what he has clearly spelled out, as he would to test our ability to rebel, and “tell truth to power” when we “feel” our rules are not guided by moral dictates acceptable to our human sensibilities. Indeed, I weigh the second option over the first. What can God know about you character other than a willingness to follow rules, in the first scenario; it is the second case that is necessary to evaluate character.

I’m sure my devout brethren will argue, “God would never test us that way”. However, the more certain one is of that assertion, the more useful it is to a creator who really does desire to gauge our traits in terms of self assuredness, moral awareness, and ability to trust our own judgment. In fact, the only way such a creator can evaluate these traits is by artificially manufacturing a situation in which one is reasonably convinced that he challenges the will of the creator, and is strong enough to do so in any case.

I won’t harp on this for too long, as theology is just a merry-go-round of “what if’s” and “maybe’s”. We may all shout at each other until we are blue in the face yet no certainty will present itself.

You may proclaim that the best reshonim with ruach hakodesh said God wouldn’t test us that way, and I may proclaim that it was necessary for him to reliably convince us of this through the rabbinate, so that he could test us that way…let’s leave it there.

Of course, the above scenario is one aspect, one symptom, of a legal system based on unfathomable motivations.

How does one extrapolate, apply, and amend rulings, when we must honestly claim we cannot know what God wished to accomplish with them. In which direction do you make them more stringent? In what way to you provide leniency? Without intent it is just a game.

The point I return to is the integrity of Modern Orthodoxy.

One may admire their retreat from untenable positions of faith with regard to our traditions. We may salute them as they voluntarily back into a corner crying “myth” and “lore” to the tower of babble, and mabul, and avos.

But I believe that the central claim of Modern Orthodoxy: that Halachah can stand untouched by modernity, unsinged by rationality, unscathed by empiricism….is false. It is plauged by all of the external problems of believability that the rest of our religion is exposed to, as well as the inherent internal problems of a legal system derived from that which is, in it's own admission, unfathomable.

Thus, as long as Halachah claims theology as its foundation stone, let it build no higher than it can afford to pick up the pieces.

79 Comments:

At 12:33 PM, Blogger David Guttmann said...

>It is an extension of God’s mind, and in that sense it is an outgrowth of theology itself:

The basic halacha is Divine, however as it was given over to the Batei Din which evolved into Sanhedrin, they had the flexibility to change and adapt it to the times. That is the meaning of moshe not understanding R. akiva.

Unfortunately that process has been cut short by the abolition of sanhedrin.

If you want to get a good picture of the flexibility of sanhedrin see Hilchot mamrim.

I guess I am going to have to post about this as it seems to be a point that really bothers many.

Excellent post. Keep up the good work.

 
At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, thanks for the comment, I think a good review of how halachah "views itself" already exists by Moshe Halbertol (I found it a very good read). But I will look forward to your post in any case.

But I hope you see that inherent theological difficulties still exist even when you thoroughly define how the halachah came to us. Even if humans build on a divine core there still exists the difficulty of the "motivation of the creator being".

If he is solely interested in human obedience, then I submit, the purpose of his giving halachah is for us to follow the letter of the law as vigourously as possible.

However, if the creator force is interested in more subtle attributes of humanity, such as self worth, moral instinct, moral certitude, and convictions strong enough to tell truth to power, then the purpose of his law code may be multifactorial and varied.Indeed, there is no way to tell if he is longing for the multitudes observance, the heretics blasphemous denial, niether or both.

Just as a father eventualy wants his son to realize he is no longer bound by the bars of his crib, a creator may eventualy wish us to overide the very rules he has proclaimed to us as divine.

This, I think, is a core theological problem that renders simplistic visions of "just following halachah" as a source of fealty to G-d, somewhat obsolete.


Ben

 
At 4:01 PM, Blogger David Guttmann said...

YOu are referring to "people of the Book".

What you are saying is correct however the way I see the system something akin to the Constitution. The goal is to eventually create a perfect society, not only in interaction between the members, but also in living a life of trying to find the Truth which is synonymous with God. That is the meaning of divinity when we refer to torah. Only a divine plan (whatever that means intrinsically - practically it means immutable)could be set in place 3000 years ago with a vision of eternity and eternal development. There is no test or any other such components and there is no outside reward. The reward is the accomplishment of each individual in his lifetime and how much he has done in furthering that goal. You might do it through healing, others may teach, create, build or do whatever their talent and abilities lead them to. As long as they contribute to that original goal they are doing the work of providence. That to me is hashgacha, reward and punishment.

Halacha is like the lifeline that all those who follow that goal gravitate to, hold on to and are unified through it. By following it they develop in a simbyotic (?) way being part of the team. Halacha needs to adapt itself as society develops to do its job but there has to be a system to the development to make sure it does not go off completely. Right now we are handicapped but eventually Sanhedrin will return and adjustments will occur. If we leave it now though, we will not be there for the good times. We I mean us or our descendants. We leave that team and we are set adrift.

This gives a flavor of where my head is. i will flesh it out with sources eventually and post it.

 
At 5:08 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

David, I look forward to your post. It appears you have, in a sense, a minimalist view of halachah... in that it forms a backbone or general guidline for human action, but not an all encompasing directive.

I like your take on this, but I think it is non-normative to orthodoxy.

My point is only that any legal system stemming from an unfathomable creative force is going to suffer from difficulties of "intent". I'm not aware of a way around this dilema, but as always, I look forward to being educated :-)

 
At 10:54 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

Ben,

Very interesting post. The point is, though, something we can come right to at the start. We don't really know anything about God (meaning ultimate truth, existence, what have you) and therefore we have no means of understanding intent - or even if there is 'intent' as we understand the term.

So in what sense is Halacha the will of God? Standard Orthodoxy is simply that Israel made a deal with God. We follow His rulebook and He gives us Eretz Yisrael, the good life and protection from our enemies (and later on eternal life). But that is as simplistic as it is uninspiring for today's age.

I think an important aspect of religion is exactly the kind of internal conflict resolution you wrote about. Like the famous illustration by Kierkegaard, should Abraham follow the command he thinks is from God and slaughter Isaac or should he "tell truth to power," as you said, and refuse? What indeed is the real test here? Obedience or moral rectitude?

As I see it, Abraham had earlier stood up to God on moral grounds when he actually reproached God of the wrongness of killing the good with the bad at the cities of Sodom and Gemorrah. Yet God there assured Abraham that there really were no righteous men there and therefore the act - and by extension God Himself - was moral.

The assurance then is that God is good and the laws He gives are good laws. Personally, I believe a more correct way of phrasing it is that the laws were made by men with moral intent. They did err in some aspects, but the basic thrust is clear, even if rudimentary.

I do believe you are right on the money where you state that Modern Orthodoxy is backwards in its mechanism of defending Halachic practice through very specific dogmatic theological principles. A better way is to treat Halacha, not as commands by God later on further defined by rabbis, but as a system laid down from antiquity by farsighted men with the intent of promoting, as David opined, an ideal society as understood between men and as the individual while being cognizant of a profound reality.

The intent of Halachic Judaism then is simply to encourage individual progress, societal morality, respect for our heritage and consciousness of the divine. As a human construct, the intent is of human origin and hence comprehensible.

I believe it obvious that we are currently in a transitional age (and have been for some time). What the form Halacha will take in future times is difficult to predict, but I do believe, as David does, that we ought to stick with it through the "tough" times so that our posterity are there for the good times.

 
At 10:34 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Orthoprax, great comment, and as you suggest, there is nothing new in my observations here. I thought of including Abraham's "trials" in the post of an example of how varied and how poorly understood the "tests" of God are even within our own heritage.

I agree with you that we are in a transition period, and I think it is time to remind people that there are serious difficulties in our own theology.

My feeling is that even the straightforward "deal" that God makes with us at Mount Sinai is plagued by problems of intent. And as long as it is indicipherable to us as to what God is "really" looking for, (knowing the path is not the same as walking the path ala the matrix) I think it's time to recognize that a theologicaly based code of law leaves us in the dark.

I, like you and David, wish to preserve the classical Judaism that I am familiar with and pass it on to the next generation. I agree that there is tremendous worth here, but I can't stomach the games played under the guise of intellect that halachah often requires of it's participants...

A reconstucted human based halachah is far more palatable, but I think the average person won't feel as constrained to follow it, especially when many of the laws have little to do with human moral concerns, and the ones that are applicable are dated.

Be that as it may, I would rather see a judaism that claims to be in touch with modernity, take the honest route, rather than the route of greater success.

 
At 6:46 AM, Anonymous neo said...

Great post and writing.

This really is a core issue which modern orthodoxy is no different than other streams of OJ. Because when it comes down to it, halacha is divine and there is no room for independent thought or judgement. The akeida is proof positive to blind obedience.


David Hartman introduced the notion of convenantal dignity, which empowers the individual to have a relationship on somewhat more equal footing, and not a primitive reward/punishment.

On shabbas, if your house alarm is faulty and repeatedly rings in the middle of the night. You can either
1) violate shabbas and turn off the system with the flick of a switch
2) not violate shabbas, piss off all of your neighbors, not sleep all night etc.

My understanding is that god would want you to choose option 1, and not feel guilty about it. I dont know if Hartman would agree.

 
At 7:17 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Interesting thoughts, Neo, (btw neo was choice number two for my screen name)I am interested to know more about hartmann. At surface glance it appears a very reasonable reapproximation of the God human relationship.


However, I must admit, I am interested in pushing a different envelope.

I think there are core unresolved theological problems with a divine law structure. I think Modern Orthodoxy "skips" over them to get to the areas of it's interest: the minute and particular areas of law and decision making.

I would like to introduce a certain element of necessary doubt over being able to make any decision at all on the basis of Godly Law, that derives from the fact that intent is off limits.

In his heart of hearts, we don't know what God really is pinning for us to do, for us to realize, for us to become.

In the abscence of this, I think we should recognize we are in the dark, and the finely tuned halachic structure is in a sense premature and not properly founded in theological realities.

A more thoughtful approach that recognized the unsolved dilemma's within theology would likely choose to base very little on God's communication with us and much more on humanistic concerns.

 
At 3:55 PM, Blogger David Guttmann said...

>and the finely tuned halachic structure is in a sense premature and not properly founded in theological realities.

You read Halacha as theology I do not. I think it is a tool meant to get us to live in peace with each other, improve our character by setting limits on our urges and remind us to think beyond our day to day issues namely the existential ones. Seen as a tool they have no intrinsic value in themselves however without them we are lost. That is why halacha is so jealous and tries to maintain such tight control. Prof leibowitz saw it that way. Rambam sees it one step further. Once a person has perfected him,self to the point he now perceives the greater plan of existence, of course assuming there is one, he acknowledges God as a role model; and tries to emulate Him. At that level mitzvot become theological as they are then seen as God's prescription on how to emulate Him.

Of course without arriving at that level of perfection one accepts the last on faith. The problem with the OJ is that it has skipped the intermediary steps and immediately assumed that the purpose of mitzvot is following in God's ways, emulating Him. It is not if one does not understand Him or know Him or imagine Him to be other than He is. By doing that they miss out on the therapeutic aspect of Torah, focus on the mechanistic only and it loses all its purpose.

I hope I am clear enough.

 
At 4:44 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

David, fascinating as always,


>>>Seen as a tool they have no intrinsic value in themselves however without them we are lost.

I agree with that as one possible way of looking at what halachah might be about, assuming it is divinly mandated.

My goal is to raise some awarness as to other possibilites as to what halachah might be a tool for, and inject doubt into the system. And I sense I have become repetitive about this, but, once again... It is possible, as you say, halachah is a tool used to sharpen our character by following it as closely as possible to achieve a higher state of consciousness and appreciation....possible.

It is also possible it is an opositional tool, to develop our individual sense of morality and self worth in defiance of what we have been taught. It may very well be the template of behavior we have been harnessed with to ferment a deep personal internal discord resulting in it's rejection, and elevation of our "inherent" moral ideals above that which is divinely mandated.

My point is that without any knowldedge of God's desired end result or motivations, even if we were to agree on the instructions we cannot possible know what God hopes for us to realize or become, or by what method.

My point being that celestial instructions from a higher being we cannot fathom, can never be of much use, as they provide little certainty of anything.

If we cannot be certain if God wants the knife to fall on yitzchak's neck in absolute obedience, or for us to stay our hands in absolute rebellion, then we must admit that much of the rest of halachah suffers from the flaw of "testing stratedgy".

 
At 10:04 PM, Blogger dbs said...

Ben,

Nice post - and a very powerful anecdote.

The whole 'test' idea doesn't really make much sense to me - whether the test is to accept halacha or to reject it. Does God really want to punish all of his creations who fail his test? Life isn't a job interview, and God (if He exists) isn't a clever weed-out artist.

Of course, I was never very good at tests...

 
At 5:23 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>Of course, I was never very good at tests...

Me neither, but in my stories I like to pretend that I am....part of the beauty of fictionalizing one's life.

But I agree with you, the whole idea of a testing God.... stinks.


But my interest here is to point out inherent flaws in orthodox dogma. And I think the idea of a testing God is very well entrenched in orthodox philosophy. And although I appreciate the efforts of the reformers who would like to take the power from God's hands and place it into human ones. I think at the base they are still following a divine mandate.

My point is simply, there are many possible reasons why a creator might give a series of rules.

Is it possible the rule structure is given so that we come to realize our own inability to accept a superimposed moral system and trust our own instincts hence becoming more "God like"....possible. Just about anything is possible with an unfathomable God. If you believe he asked abraham to kill his son, If you believe he felt we needed so many years of slavery to appreciate the torah and freedom, maybe we need so many years of halacha to appreciate the next step of our evolution.

Of course, I don't buy the whole ball of wax, but I think an honest orthodoxy would be troubled by this.

 
At 7:32 AM, Blogger Moshe said...

Ben-
great narrative prose as usual. I also liked you attempt to intergate your stories with yoour theoloigcal speculation. (who said I was your harshest critic? :)

I think one thing to keep in mind is that most people, including highly educated people engaged in sophisticated professions, are not terribly philosophicaly reflective or sophisticated. Philosophy is not necessary for most peoples day to day functioning and it may be detrimental. I too spend alot of time banging my head against the wall complaining about the intellectual dishonesty of Orthodoxy, but ultimately it comes down to a question of whether or not we can come up with a theory of Judaism that we as individuals can live with. If we are lucky we will find a small group of fellow travelers.

As for your contention that "I believe that the central claim of Modern Orthodoxy: that Halachah can stand untouched by modernity, unsinged by rationality, unscathed by empiricism….is false. "

I dont think this is necessarily the central claim of modern orthodoxy. There are perfecly orthodox veiws of halacha that see it as being in constant dialogue with our own inner moral feelings, rationality and modernity. This does not mean that in any given circumstances these values will prevail.

I would refer you to theorists of halacha on the margins of orthodoxy such as Joel Roth, Tamar Ross and Louis Jacobs, but for you the problem seems not to be halacha, but theology itself. Sophsitcated religious people know that from the point of view of the rational empiricist, religion in any form makes very little sense. There is nothing anyone can say to you that will make you believe any more than I can convince you to fall in love.
However, this much I can say. For the rationalist, the question is not "why put on Tefillin when getting up in the morning?" but "why get up at all?"

Moshe Shoshan

 
At 7:43 AM, Anonymous She'eino Yodea Lishol said...

I have a couple of questions,

Firstly, to David, I can't tell from what you're saying how much, in your opinion, of Halacha is intrinsically Divine or at the very least, Divinely inspired?

Also, Ben, I'm trying to see what the future would hold by instituting a new Halchic system by planting it in the past.
If in the Dark Ages the Rabbinate decided to institute this process, what would Judaism look like today?
And if that is what they did to a degree and began interpreting it with their own understanding of realities, and it's worked until now, why do we need change?

Is all of this necessity to change our systems based on the fact that it's far more difficult to have faith in G-d, let alone a Divine code?

 
At 8:20 AM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

It's true that we cannot know what God thinks, EXCEPT WHEN HE HAS TOLD US. To suggest that when God said "Don't murder" He really meant "Do murder" is absurd.

 
At 8:42 AM, Blogger David Guttmann said...

>Firstly, to David, I can't tell from what you're saying how much, in your opinion, of Halacha is intrinsically Divine or at the very least, Divinely inspired?

I have accomplished what I set out to. Confuse you! ;-)

Seriously I think I explained that the basic Torah and the system that was established is Divine. that includes Torah Shebiktav and Sheba'al peh.

The gemara tells a story that Moshe visited R. Akiva and could not understand what he was saying. It seemed so different than what he had prosed. As he heard R. Akivah say alacha lemoshe misinai, he calmed down (realizing that it was the evolution to be expected from the system). In that sense you can say all halacha is divine.

 
At 9:27 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Moshe, good to hear from you again,

>>>I would refer you to theorists of halacha on the margins of orthodoxy such as Joel Roth, Tamar Ross and Louis Jacobs,

I've read some of Tamar Ross, but I will have to check out the rest.

>>>but for you the problem seems not to be halacha, but theology itself. Sophsitcated religious people know that from the point of view of the rational empiricist, religion in any form makes very little sense. There is nothing anyone can say to you that will make you believe any more than I can convince you to fall in love.


Your probably right, but people who are in love rarely feel that everyone should marry their wife or feel the way that they do about her. I think you may be oversimplifying the way religious people really experience it. There is something far more institutionalized going on here.

>>>However, this much I can say. For the rationalist, the question is not "why put on Tefillin when getting up in the morning?" but "why get up at all?"


Fair question. for me, it is becuase I enjoy my life, and I have obligations to those who depend on me, and i don't wan't to see them hurt.

 
At 9:32 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

SYL, in answer to your questions..


>>>If in the Dark Ages the Rabbinate decided to institute this process, what would Judaism look like today?

I'm not sure which process you refer to, but they were not afraid to insert their opinions of what was important into the text.


>>>And if that is what they did to a degree and began interpreting it with their own understanding of realities, and it's worked until now, why do we need change?

In that sense we don't, we need to continue to reinterper the laws with our understanding of reality. The problem is this interpertation invalidates the binding nature of the law, at least by divine mandate...we may continue to choose to follow them as a society that values them.

>>Is all of this necessity to change our systems based on the fact that it's far more difficult to have faith in G-d, let alone a Divine code?

Yes.

 
At 9:44 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

JP,


>>>It's true that we cannot know what God thinks, EXCEPT WHEN HE HAS TOLD US. To suggest that when God said "Don't murder" He really meant "Do murder" is absurd.

Well,God, told us that loaned money must return to the lender on Yovel, but as far as hillel was concerned what he really meant was that loaned money really "doesn't" return to the lender, just you need to fill out this here pruzbal form.

God, allowed us to have many wives, but what he really meant was only understood until rabbeini gershom said, one woman only.

there are many instances where what God said has been modified and a few in which it is reversed by later "understandings".

There are even obscure mipharshim which insist that abraham failed his test at the akaidah, that his mission was to defy God on the basis of his inherent human moral objection.


In any case, the point is even if we were to agree that these are mandates from God, we don't know what he is using them to acheive.

It is wholly possible that the entire law structure was created for the purpose, not of creating saints, but of creating balsphemeres. People who only after being mired in divine rulings began to realize that nothing rang more true than their own moral traditions.

Who are we to say what God really wants ?? All we can claim to know (if that) is what instructions he has left.

 
At 10:04 AM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

"God, allowed us to have many wives"

Just try that Ben. And make sure I am invited to your funeral.

 
At 1:13 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>Just try that Ben. And make sure I am invited to your funeral.

Sounds like you feel I would be deserving of punishment for a moral wrong, no contained in the bible...where do you think that sensation comes from ??

BTW, my mistake above, pruzbal keeps the money returning to the lender, not vice versa.

 
At 3:27 PM, Blogger Miri said...

"In that sense we don't, we need to continue to reinterper the laws with our understanding of reality. The problem is this interpertation invalidates the binding nature of the law, at least by divine mandate...we may continue to choose to follow them as a society that values them."

this bit confuses me. how are we no longer allowed to reinterpret halacha? as of a generation or two ago, ppl were still making adjustments relative to things like electricity; and if science continues to be progressive, it's gonna have to continue to adjust with regard to things like cloning. (there are better examples of both my points here but I'm way too tired to be clear right now. maybe tomorrow.) I'm just saying that I'm not entirely sure halacha has completely quit its process of evolution. just give it time.

"There are even obscure mipharshim which insist that abraham failed his test at the akaidah, that his mission was to defy God on the basis of his inherent human moral objection."

this is a new idea to me. I kinda like the thought that G-d kept waiting for Avraham to throw down the knife and say "Dammit, I'm not killing my son!" and when he didn't, G-d had to throw up his hands and say "ok, ok, I was bluffing, don't kill him." especially bc I do get the general sense in G-d/Avraham transactions that G-d kinda liked it when Avraham spoke up.

"But I agree with you, the whole idea of a testing God.... stinks."

I'd have to disagree with you. I kinda like it. It gives G-d a lot more personality, in my humble opinion. It's more difficult certainly but also a hell of a lot more interesting.

 
At 5:35 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Hi miri,


>>>this bit confuses me. how are we no longer allowed to reinterpret halacha? as of a generation or two ago, ppl were still making adjustments relative to things like electricity; and if science continues to be progressive, it's gonna have to continue to adjust with regard to things like cloning. (there are better examples of both my points here but I'm way too tired to be clear right now. maybe tomorrow.) I'm just saying that I'm not entirely sure halacha has completely quit its process of evolution. just give it time


Oh, i certainly agree with you, halachah is still changing, and it does respond, even ever so slowly to at least some of the demands of it's time.

The question I am trying to raise is : how does halachah respond to the needs of modernity. How to adjust to the realization that there are no good reasons to believe in a divinity that is at the base of halachah ? How to respond to the realiztion that there is no way to ultimately know what an unfathomable God really wants.

These "developments" require much more from halachah than the amendation of a new rule regarding electricity. The require it to look at itself anew and qeustion it's very validity in a modern world.


>>>>this is a new idea to me. I kinda like the thought that G-d kept waiting for Avraham to throw down the knife and say "Dammit, I'm not killing my son!" and when he didn't, G-d had to throw up his hands and say "ok, ok, I was bluffing, don't kill him." especially bc I do get the general sense in G-d/Avraham transactions that G-d kinda liked it when Avraham spoke up.

Indeed. you are not the first person to feel this way. I feel the same. But my point is, this may not just be an isolated incident of the akedah, where God tests abraham...wanting abraham to deny his will. In fact, it is possible that halacha is a broad tool that God is using for the same purpose, it is possible that halachah is a method of binding us tightly until we germanate the kernal of rebellion and identity that makes us shout, "no....that is wrong".

Since, we cannot in fact rule out the possibility that halachah is God's oppositional tool, it weakens the authority of halachah as a purely authoritative tool.

It occurs to me, that in much of orthodox philosophy, we are thought to be emulating God's unreachable attributes by meticulous attention to halachah.

I think one obvious exception is subservience to halachah itself, as subservience is clearly not a Godly characteristic. It is actually interesting that if God purpose was to make us more like himself, at some point we would become autonomous decision making entities....and have to leave obedience and subservience behind as they are non-emulatory forms of worship.


In any case, the point I make is that our halachah system is theologicaly weak, and flawed for the above reasons.



>>>>I'd have to disagree with you. I kinda like it. It gives G-d a lot more personality, in my humble opinion.

Yes, but it gives him the personality of an irate kindergardner, always smiting people and turning them to salt...

>>>It's more difficult certainly but also a hell of a lot more interesting.

A God that didn't give you a straighforward test might be even more difficult to please !

 
At 4:48 AM, Blogger Miri said...

"The question I am trying to raise is : how does halachah respond to the needs of modernity. How to adjust to the realization that "there are no good reasons to believe in a divinity that is at the base of halachah ?"

first you say that there are no good reasons to believe that G-d is at the base of halacha

"In fact, it is possible that halacha is a broad tool that God is using for the same purpose, it is possible that halachah is a method of binding us tightly until we germanate the kernal of rebellion and identity that makes us shout, "no....that is wrong".

but if halacha is one of G-d's tools, does that not imply that He is in fact at the base of it?

"Since, we cannot in fact rule out the possibility that halachah is God's oppositional tool, it weakens the authority of halachah as a purely authoritative tool."

I don't see how this is so. The fact that we may not be interpreting halacha the way we're supposed to doesn't neccessarily mean that it loses any of the authority which demands our attention to it. After all, questioning something requires as much attention to detail as it would if we were meticulously following it.

"In any case, the point I make is that our halachah system is theologicaly weak, and flawed for the above reasons."

Again, I'm not sure why. you propose an alternate perspective which shifts the focus and possibly the outcome, without necessarily affecting the authority of the system; after all, we're still required to learn it and know it. We would be in your scenario too, if only to have enough information to be able to make a properly informed decision.

"Yes, but it gives him the personality of an irate kindergardner, always smiting people and turning them to salt..."

I don't know exactly how many people He's smitten, and I only know of one person who's been turned into salt. And there is room for argument that He smites those that do things which everyone would agree are immoral - murder, stealing, etc. As far as that stuff goes, I think He's pretty clear...

"A God that didn't give you a straighforward test might be even more difficult to please !"

Maybe, but I tend to think not. I think it means He individualizes His tests according to the one being tested. Some people, He expects nothing more from than simple adherence; others are supposed to have a little more creativity and independent thought. I still maintain that independent thought is not for everyone, and that those who choose to avoid it should be allowed to do so. Anyway....I guess we can't know, at least not for awhile...

 
At 5:53 AM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

"Sounds like you feel I would be deserving of punishment for a moral wrong"

With all due respect Ben, it sounds like you’re a little short on life experience. Given today’s social climate, at least one wife would kill you.

You see, the thing is, that conditions change and different halochos and rituals, stringencies and leniencies are appropriate for different eras and different communities. That is why we have rabbinical decrees and local customs.

Without that flexibility, we would be like the Samaritans or Karaites – the dustbin of history, you know.

 
At 6:49 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>but if halacha is one of G-d's tools, does that not imply that He is in fact at the base of it?


Excellent point Miri...allow me to elaborate. I am attacking halachah from two different vantage points. The first is the point of "why believe any of this at all". In essence if the core documents are not believable (mabul, migdal bavel) why should we not suspend belief for the rest.

the second angle is that of devil's advocate, a capitulation to the "other side", and goes something like this : "assuming we *are* right to believe all of this is from God...xyz problems still exist !"

You are right that one argument accepts God as the base, and one doesn't. I believe teh first argument to be true, I believe the second argument to be useful to help people who de believe in God understand that a halachic structure based on him has flaws.



>>>I don't see how this is so. The fact that we may not be interpreting halacha the way we're supposed to doesn't neccessarily mean that it loses any of the authority which demands our attention to it. After all, questioning something requires as much attention to detail as it would if we were meticulously following it.


No, Miri, here I think you might miss my point. My point is *not* that there might be human error in halachah...that is another concern.

My point is far more basic. My point is that we have no idea *why* God gave us these laws in the sense that we don't know his *motivations*.

Let me illucidate this with a parable in which I am, audaciously enough, the hero...

In this story, God is a powerful creative being who gives his laws to a primitive humanity, in no way mature enough to govern itself, God hopes and dreams of a mature humanity that governs itself by developing moral standards based on sympathy, empathy, and sensitivity. slowly humanity grows and reaches his goals, but a segment of the population cannot let go of the primitive guidlines he perscbribed and instead elevate this bronze age morality, against God's hopes and dreams, above the inherent morality that God has been nurturing all these long generations. Only a tiny segment of "heretics" realize this and follow god's will in moving away from his laws and designing their own.

In the Rabbinic version there are heroes as well, and not surprisingly, they are the rabbinate. And although we proclaim in our philosophy that we cannot know God's motivations, we do in fact pretend to know God's motivation, and that it is that we continuesly follow halachah, for the goal of....(insert favorite mussar shmooz here) !!


The point is that motivation is everything. Without knowing God's motivation for giving us guidelines, we are in the dark.

 
At 7:01 AM, Anonymous SYL said...

>>>Just try that Ben. And make sure I am invited to your funeral.

>>Sounds like you feel I would be deserving of punishment for a moral wrong, no contained in the bible...where do you think that sensation comes from ??

I'm pretty sure JP was attempting a joke.

I think I understand the difference between my understanding of Halacha and yours to be here:
"Even if humans build on a divine core there still exists the difficulty of the 'motivation of the creator being'."

You believe that the Halacha that developed over the centuries may be G-d's actual will, as it was (or wasn't) given at Sinai, but there is not necessarily any reason to believe we're actually creating Halacha to mold to G-d's will b/c how could we possibly know what is or isn't G-d's will. ?

Again, the difference being that we (traditional/orthodox Jews) have a belief that those guiding us and our decidors of Halacha are in tune with G-d's will, and able to discern where and how to apply it.

I think that seems perhaps like it may be the issue with finding a Rebbe and sect to follow, is that everyone has to choose who they think is the most in tune with G-d's plan, who is actively pursuing G-d's Truth . . .

 
At 7:04 AM, Anonymous SYL said...

for what it's worth, I began typing way before your elucidation . . .

 
At 7:23 AM, Blogger Miri said...

JP-
"Without that flexibility, we would be like the Samaritans or Karaites – the dustbin of history, you know."
The Samaritans, I believe, were simply another nation, without a particular religous designation that makes them relevant here. and there are still Karaites around today, though they be minimal in number.
and for the last time - Rabbeinu Gershom made the wife takannah in response to his own personal frustration based on his own personal experiences; the whole one of his wives tried to poison him thing.

Ben-
"in essence if the core documents are not believable (mabul, migdal bavel) why should we not suspend belief for the rest."

last I checked, these were simply stories within a larger document, not documents themselves. why these should be cited as core, I am not at all sure. they are simply stories used as explanantions. that they be parables or myths I find perfectly acceptable without a challenge to the inegrity of the document in which they are found. personally.

"the second angle is that of devil's advocate, a capitulation to the "other side", and goes something like this : "assuming we *are* right to believe all of this is from God...xyz problems still exist !"

xyz problems being that we can't know G-d's motivations? but see, I don't see that as a problem, merely a challenge in the ever devoloping evolution of Torah, halacha, and the OJ perspective. I like the idea that the OJ conception of G-d can be wide enough and complex enough to allow for us to question our preconceptions of G-d's purpose in the halacha system tool...in other words, I don't see your concept as a challenge to the validity of halacha as a medium through which G-d tries to communicate with man, only as a challenge to our perspective on it which, by definition, is supposed to be ever-evolutionary.
I'm not sure how clear I was, I hope my point was understood...

 
At 7:24 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

interesting points, syl, I think you should read this (www.knowledgeproblems.com). We can know god's commandments and will....but not his motive, hopes, dreams, aspirations etc...

I hope this became more clear from my parable.

 
At 8:40 AM, Blogger Tobie said...

I'm afraid I don't have time at the moment to read all of the comments, so I apologize for potential redundancy. Also, I have a phantom nagging sensation that I posted a similar comment in the past, perhaps on this very blog. If so, I apologize.


It seems odd that G-d would give a code whose sole purpose is to test people- a bit of mean trick to play on the hundreds of generations that were so naive as to take Him literally, before modernity and cynacism were quite in fashion.

You offer no reason to support your claim that G-d is really secretly testing us to see if we 'speak truth to power', other than your personal preference. Your model of Judaism seems heavily biased towards the intelligent, the philosophical, leaving out those masses of people who simply need some firm guidelines to lead good lives. Your theory seems to fail to take into account that overwhelming majority of cases in which Halacha accords with our morality, nor does it even question the idea that our perceptions of morality are objective or even valuable.

However, I'm not sure I agree with your basic point. I am not entirely sure how one ought to react in the case of a genuine conflict between halacha and conscience, particularly because there is no reason to assume that conscience is not Divine. But a few points:

1)Such conflicts are really quite rare. There are few cases, particularly in daily life, when halacha genuinely conflicts with morality. Plenty of things may seem pointless, but that's hardly the same question.

2)When doing these moral cost-benefit analyses of obedience versus conscience, one ought to take into account the falliablity of his own conscience, the value of the system as a whole and the damage that will be done to that system.

3)Even if you don't think that halacha is divine, it has the benefit of being the combined effort of some of the most brilliant legal, philosophical, and moral minds for some 2000+ years. That's got to weigh for something, against your personal beliefs.

4)One of the beauties of halacha is that it is wide enough and flexible enough to accomodate changes standards of morality and changing practical considerations. Your own examples of pruzdal and cherem d'rabbeinu gershon prove this. Thus, it might be wise to work within the boundaries of the system before throwing the baby out with the bathwater and declaring halacha problematic.

 
At 9:08 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>last I checked, these were simply stories within a larger document, not documents themselves. why these should be cited as core, I am not at all sure. they are simply stories used as explanantions. that they be parables or myths I find perfectly acceptable without a challenge to the inegrity of the document in which they are found. personally.

MIri, I don't want to rehash the last two years of XGH's blog, so let's leave it there. In any case the point of the is post is that even if you assume these things to be true, there are problems...


>>>xyz problems being that we can't know G-d's motivations? but see, I don't see that as a problem, merely a challenge in the ever devoloping evolution of Torah, halacha, and the OJ perspective.


Indeed, but what happens when the challenge causes us to face the validity of halachah itself as a legal system? You may call an orthodoxy that is reasonably doubtful of it's own legal system an "evolving orthodoxy", if you wish. I have no problem with it. I doubt many orthodox people would join you though, and I don't think this is the current attitude of orthodoxy towards it's legal system.

 
At 9:15 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Tobie, yes, we have had this conversation before.

>>>It seems odd that G-d would give a code whose sole purpose is to test people-

Many people believe this is exactly what halachah is, just that the test is one's obedience to the law.



>>>a bit of mean trick

Akedah, not a mean trick ?????


>>>to play on the hundreds of generations that were so naive as to take Him literally, before modernity and cynacism were quite in fashion.


Good point. but without knowing God's motivation there are many possibilities. It is possible God meant halachah as a guide for primitives (nonmodern) but his heartfelt wish was to create beings more like himself, capable fo moral values and independant moral judgments. It is possible that he meant for us to fall away from his artificially imposed system as we began to grasp the key elements of morality, empathy, fairness, on our own. It is possible that God's greatest desire is for us to stand up and say, "thanks for getting us on the right track...we'll take it from here."

If halachah is a tool, then without knowing God's motivation we are somewhat in the dark about when and how to use it.

 
At 9:23 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>Such conflicts are really quite rare. There are few cases, particularly in daily life, when halacha genuinely conflicts with morality


Ask your closeted gay freind if he feels the same about this...

Also, read the book "rapoh yirapeh" a summary of how we formulate our end of life legalities based on ancient texts. It is horrifying/amazing/stupifying.



>>>When doing these moral cost-benefit analyses of obedience versus conscience, one ought to take into account the falliablity of his own conscience, the value of the system as a whole and the damage that will be done to that system.

Agreed !



>>>Even if you don't think that halacha is divine, it has the benefit of being the combined effort of some of the most brilliant legal, philosophical, and moral minds for some 2000+ years. That's got to weigh for something, against your personal beliefs.

yes true, but in this post I am playing devils advocate, assuming halachah is divine.

>>>>One of the beauties of halacha is that it is wide enough and flexible enough to accomodate changes standards of morality and changing practical considerations. Your own examples of pruzdal and cherem d'rabbeinu gershon prove this. Thus, it might be wise to work within the boundaries of the system before throwing the baby out with the bathwater and declaring halacha problematic


Good advice, to be sure, but what is the baby and what is the bathwater ??? that is the topic of discussion here !!! If halachah is god's oppositional tool to get us to realize our own moral self worth, then our moral self worth is the baby, and halachah the artifical system useful until we reach such a goal (bathwater).

Modern orthodoxy, at least, seems not to be interested in any conversations that approach this subject and add any doubt at all to the status quo. As I wrote on Orthoprax's blog (www.orthoprax.blogspot.com)...this is troubling !!!

 
At 9:26 AM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

To the best of my knowledge, the total population of actual devout, practicing Karaites and Samaritans could hold a convention in my living room. That's not where God wants Judaism to go.

 
At 9:31 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

tobie, thisis my comment from Orthoprax's blog, to help explain a little more...


Just to refine the point I was trying to make.

Althought I don't believe in OJ, in this instance I am attempting to use their system of rules/philosophy/theology and point out some aspects that don't fit.

To me, even within the rules of orthodoxy, theological certainty regarding halachah is difficult to attain for the pondering theologian.

Just last Shabbos I heard my Rabbi complaining about the difficulty about paskening some minutia in the details of treatment of an HIV pateint.

Let us not forget some people *do* make end of life decisions based on this legal system. It's not just weather or not the tea bag goes in before the water or not.

Critical decisions in the hands of mature sensitive individuals mandate a degree of soul searching, "am I doing the right thing, am I making the right decision?"

I think this is completely absent in MO despite it's familiarity with modernity. MO functions by averting it's gaze from problems with believability and theology within it's legal structure, and blunders on, focusing only on the well adhered and apperently logicaly coherent "upper crust" of halachah.


To me there is something deeply devious and dishonest, or at least lacking in this process.

I am trying to call attention to it.

 
At 11:46 AM, Anonymous She'eino Yodea Lishol said...

Maybe you could bring in some examples of when a change in society's morality and/or basic principles brought about a change in Halachic understanding, a change that undermined the entire system.

Unclear if my question is clear (other than the fact that it doesn't have a ?) but my question is why should orthodoxy, even the modern orthodox, have to deny Halchic divinity now more than any other time in history?

 
At 1:01 PM, Blogger Miri said...

Ben Avuyah-
"In any case the point of the is post is that even if you assume these things to be true, there are problems..."

Fine. I'm assuming these texts aren't true,or, at least, very possibly not literal. I happen to feel that the integrity of the system isn't necessarily threatened by this concept. I think I must be missing something, or maybe I didn't make my point clearly enough.


"Indeed, but what happens when the challenge causes us to face the validity of halachah itself as a legal system?"

How? Where? What? It's probably my lack of experience, but what situation has come up that challenged the validity of halacha as a legal system any more than the Constitution of the United States, or the legal system of the Muslims as developed from the Koran?

"It is possible that he meant for us to fall away from his artificially imposed system as we began to grasp the key elements of morality, empathy, fairness, on our own."

Again, I think I'm missing something. What exactly do you mean by "artificially imposed?" Either He did or He didn't. How do you figure on Him faking it?

JP-
"To the best of my knowledge, the total population of actual devout, practicing Karaites and Samaritans could hold a convention in my living room. That's not where God wants Judaism to go."

a) I never said there were still Samaritans around. There may be, I have no idea. My point was that I didn't think they were particularly relevant to the discussion, as they were a national as opposed to a religous group.
b)I never said they were many. as a matter of fact, I believe my exact wording involved "minimal."
c) Is G-d talking to you now? Has He divulged to you the exact game plan for the end of days? Bc honestly, I'm not entirely sure that it doesn't involve nuclear warfare and the extinction of all mankind, including Jews. In fact, I've heard much that accords very well with that theory...

 
At 9:54 AM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

It's interesting to note that communities which have tried to observe the Torah not according to the Talmudic interpertation have been very unsucessful. Perhaps that tells us something.

 
At 9:28 AM, Blogger Miri said...

Except for the Reform and Conservative movements, which are still around and going strong. Also, it may be interesting, but I'm not entirely sure how relevant to the discussion that is.

 
At 12:43 AM, Blogger Moshe said...

>>>I think you may be oversimplifying the way religious people really experience it. There is something far more institutionalized going on here.


Of course institutionalized religion is inherently social and political. Much of my academic work is based on this assumption. What i am arguing, if I may so bold, is that they key question for you is one of personal faith or lack there of. What ever other factors involved, this is ultimately an existential issue. I just think it is important to clarify the issues and not confuse them, even as we realize that they are interconnected.

>>>Fair question. for me, it is becuase I enjoy my life, and I have obligations to those who depend on me, and i don't wan't to see them hurt.

Are these factors truly rational? pursuit of pleasure, desire to protect those you care about and to discharge your duties as they have been definied by society. Ultimately they dont stand up to the test of rationality either. None of us are truly rational creatures.
This does not justify religion in any way. But the mere fact that relgion is not purely rational or empirical is no a reason to reject it out of hand.

 
At 4:16 AM, Blogger Tobie said...

As you say, Ben, we have no way of assessing G-d's motivations. It is possible that He intended halacha as only a temporary fix, until we could make stuff up for ourselves. It is possible that He actually meant it when He asked us to do things. It is also possible that He planned the whole thing with an eye to the asthetics of the Talmud page and He couldn't care less about the content, or that it's all a phenomenally complicated plan so that at one point, all of humanity will unwittingly spell out the word "Goodyear". We have absolutely no idea.

What we do have, however, is a few concrete facts: Halacha itself, which, by assumption, was given by G-d to us. Similarly, we assume that G-d is in some sense "moral" by our definitions of that term- otherwise, there is no reason to assume that He would want us to act morally. Therefore, it seems to me that we have a case of a moral being who gave a set of laws, complete with penalties- including capital punishment- and injunctions along the lines of "This whole thing is eternal, you know. I really mean it." To me, the most logical conclusion is that He actually meant it . Is it the only possible solution? No. But Occam's Razor demands that we follow the simplest explanation, particularly in realms in which we have no other real way of functioning.

You continually mock the value of obedience as a virtue in and of itself- a halacha that demands only obedience seems primitive and inferior to following one's own moral compass. I disagree. Obedience, particularly to halacha, demands devotion, effort, and a whole lot of humility, while following personal morals is not that far from 'doing whatever seems like the best idea at the time'. It seems to me odd that G-d would establish a complicated, detailed set of morals, but secretly want everyone to just make everything up as they go along, without so much as dropping a hint that that was His intention.

 
At 7:48 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Sorry
I have been without internet for a few days (talk about withdrawal symptoms...jeez!!!)

Thank you Tobie for keeping this discussion going.


>>>As you say, Ben, we have no way of assessing G-d's motivations. It is possible that He intended halacha as only a temporary fix, until we could make stuff up for ourselves. It is possible that He actually meant it when He asked us to do things. It is also possible that He planned the whole thing with an eye to the asthetics of the Talmud page and He couldn't care less about the content, or that it's all a phenomenally complicated plan so that at one point, all of humanity will unwittingly spell out the word "Goodyear". We have absolutely no idea.


yes! Could not have said it better my self !But it doesn't have to be a bad thing or a trivial thing. It could be humanities pinacle moment.


>>>What we do have, however, is a few concrete facts: Halacha itself, which, by assumption, was given by G-d to us. Similarly, we assume that G-d is in some sense "moral" by our definitions of that term- otherwise, there is no reason to assume that He would want us to act morally.


Not necesarily, we have no idea why God created us to want to be moral, nor do we know what a higher morality would be like or if it would be "moral" to our sensabilities. Presumably, Godly morality has placed high value on giving children bone cancer for some ultimate good....wether or not the reasoning behind this can ever be viewed and understood in a ""moral" light through human sense organs and brain processing unit is debatable even within our own orthodox tradition.

>>>Therefore, it seems to me that we have a case of a moral( tobie, I won't keep harping on the word moral, but let's agree..this moral being test fathers by asking them to kill their sons, this moral being is inclined to war and punishment and threats, let's remember who we are dealing with here. Our own traditions paint the picture of someone who asks humans to perform horribly difficult tests, do you find a God who expects humanity to realize when they no longer need the letter of the law more devious that a god that asks abraham to kill isaac ???) being who gave a set of laws, complete with penalties- including capital punishment- and injunctions along the lines of "This whole thing is eternal, you know. I really mean it." To me, the most logical conclusion is that He actually meant it . Is it the only possible solution? No. But Occam's Razor demands that we follow the simplest explanation, particularly in realms in which we have no other real way of functioning.




Interesting point!! Occam's razor mandates that all things being equal the simplest explanation for an observed occurence is likely the correct one. But I think it is a stretch to apply it to theology. I am not aware of theologians being fond of applying Occams Razor to their diety, a simple explanation of the universe does not require an involved diety, and he disappears. A simple explanation of theodicy requires an evil or moody god, or two conflicting powers. Our own religions "it's so complex you cannot fathom it" is not very much in line with Occams razor.

But that is really not important. I won't argue with you about which possibility is more likely. We have no yard stick by which to measure this with. Any presumption of what "god really must mean, or really must be about" is not possible. Suggesting that we can be pretty sure he would do xyz based on human intuition can only be done while one wilfuly puts out of their mind the idea that god's motivations are outside of our ability to know.



>>>You continually mock the value of obedience as a virtue in and of itself- a halacha that demands only obedience seems primitive and inferior to following one's own moral compass. I disagree. Obedience, particularly to halacha, demands devotion, effort, and a whole lot of humility, while following personal morals is not that far from 'doing whatever seems like the best idea at the time'. It seems to me odd that G-d would establish a complicated, detailed set of morals, but secretly want everyone to just make everything up as they go along, without so much as dropping a hint that that was His intention.


Tobie, I actually appreciate the attribute of obedience...to a degree. But I think there are many other worthy attributes. In my expereince, these other attributes are often the ones worth knowing about in another human being. But we don't have to agree on this. My point is just this: There is certainly theological room to assert that we have no earthly idea, based on the axioms of our own mesorah, as to why God ultimatly provided this structure of rules. In that vacuum of knowledge the only way one may build a rigorous legal structure, is by having a blind spot as to any area of uncertainty regarding God's motivation, and continuing on as if we *do* know God's motivation. Remember, that problem I highlighted above, of halachah as a support scaffold to be abandoned upon completion, is only one problem that arises from a creator with impercievable motives. There are many others in an amotivational system, for without knowing the intent of the law, it is difficult to say if we are really being lenient or strict, hurting or helping.

It is by necessity that the rabbinate have a blind spot to very real issues in theology. Even when their own heartfelt philosophy forces them to sing the praises of an unknowable God, beyond our puny minds, their desire for a practicle and malleable legal system pushes them to act as if there are certainties about what we know about God's motives.

>>>It seems to me odd that G-d would establish a complicated, detailed set of morals, but secretly want everyone to just make everything up as they go along, without so much as dropping a hint that that was His intention.



No No, not make everything up as they go along!! But to learn from the original and apply it. The reason why I think this idea is so much fun is not just becuase I like to take a good dig at OJ, but becuase in a sense it is already happening and accepted in our mesorah. In other words we do build off the scaffold of halachah, based on our own sensibilities...already.


Look at hillel, he saw that poor starving families could not get a loan around yovel becuase the lender would not be able to get it back, so he subverted a rule in the torah, and found a way that the lender could get his money back despite biblical prohibition. he is barely concerned with God's motive, but senses human need and adjusts.


Assume for a moment that what God really wants, is a mature, functional humanity, that can morally police it's population and create fair rulings. He has to start with a primitive audience but he *hopes* for the evolution of his code !! he even makes room for ammendmants and adjustments. Why is it such a stretch to believe that he would be happy when humanity reaches a point where they don't need his crutch.

You see, when you recognize this possibility in theology, and at the same time you are agnozing over halachic decisions which seem morally wrong to every ounce of your human intuition, an honest theologian would have to wonder, "what can I really know about what to do in this situation".


but we don't observe this. We observe a legal structure that pretends it has theological certainty when that is not really possible.
4:16 AM

 
At 9:11 AM, Blogger Miri said...

Ben-
"It could be humanities pinacle moment."
Humanities pinnacle moment is being complexly arranged so as to form the word "Goodyear?" not that I don't think G-d has a sense of humor and all, but you don't think it's a little too much trouble to go to for that simple a pinnacle moment?

"Assume for a moment that what God really wants, is a mature, functional humanity, that can morally police it's population and create fair rulings. He has to start with a primitive audience but he *hopes* for the evolution of his code !! he even makes room for ammendmants and adjustments. Why is it such a stretch to believe that he would be happy when humanity reaches a point where they don't need his crutch."

I'm confused. See, most OJ perspective holds that what you describe above - man's evolving off the basics to form a more modern sensibility of self-government- is exactly what the system of halacha is. Remember, He only gave us the frist five bookds or so...the rest all came of human hand. so, what exactly is the difference between what you describe and what we've actually got?

 
At 11:20 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>It could be humanities pinacle moment."
>>>Humanities pinnacle moment is being complexly arranged so as to form the word "Goodyear?" not that I don't think G-d has a sense of humor and all, but you don't think it's a little too much trouble to go to for that simple a pinnacle moment



MIri, stay on target,what I am describing as possibly a pinnacle moment for humanity is a moment in which they reach a level capable of morally governing themselves, not spelling the word "goodyear". (although I imagine that would be quite impressive in any case)


>>>I'm confused. See, most OJ perspective holds that what you describe above - man's evolving off the basics to form a more modern sensibility of self-government- is exactly what the system of halacha is. Remember, He only gave us the frist five bookds or so...the rest all came of human hand. so, what exactly is the difference between what you describe and what we've actually got?



Excellent question. but I think you know the answer ! Take for a moment a modern theologian, let's say a modern orthodox Rabbi, who is making an end of life decision about a pateint.

Now, if halachah is divine and meant to practiced forever as a tool to help humanity make moral decisions, then it is up to the Rabbi to use traditional methods of "learning" what to do in this end of life case based on case law, extra letters, gizarah shavah, lo zu af zu kitani, all the methods that we have of pulling legal "truths" out of our books.

Now this Rabbi may have a moment where he feels the legal truth he has reach does not coincide with his "feeling" about what should be done, but becuase the RAbbi beleives that this feeling is a minor human distraction, rather than anything that represents "truth" he will ignore it and remind himself that the larger issue is what God wants.

However, if a theologian were to view the halachah as a tool that God gave us to develop *our own internal sense of right and wrong*, then it's utility diminishes as we gain this power, and at the fruition of our ability to make our own moral decisions, "what we feel" is more important than whatever answer will be shown by technical legal reasoning. And in a case where the two conflicted the Rabbi would be correct to follow his conscience, rather that the legal codex ruling.

You see, we don't know why God gave us the laws...we can't know that, it is of limits to us.

My point is, in the absence of this knowledge many theological possibilies exist, making it difficult for an honest theologian who appreciates the unlimited degree of uncertainty involved, to make clear and important decisions with anything resembling the confidence we currently see our Rabbinate enjoying.

 
At 11:25 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>This does not justify religion in any way. But the mere fact that relgion is not purely rational or empirical is no a reason to reject it out of hand

Moshe, agreed, I only reject religion as a rational exercise. If someone feels they appease the Gods by throwing berries in the air, or wards of evil spirits with garlic and gains comfort from this, I have no problems and rank them on the same level as orthodox jews.

It is only when people want to articulate that this makes rational sense on some level that I think it is deserving of debate !

 
At 12:20 PM, Blogger Moshe said...

Ben-
the are lots of Orthodox Jews who will give you no argument with that. However, some religions are still more or less in line with reason than others.
I think you have a somewhat skewed veiw of modern orthodox intellectual life. Though what you describe is accurate, it is quite incomplete. The result is that you set up strawmen to be devoured by paper tigers. This does no service to your very powerful arguments, especially your narrative ones.

 
At 1:17 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Moshe, I don't know if there really are many modern orthodox jews that would agree with me. If significant numbers of intellectualy enlightened modern orthodox leaders really sensed that a legal structure built on theology is as weak as I feel it is, then I believe we would have a very different tone about our laws and practices.

 
At 1:41 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

I just thought of an interesting parallel for Tobie, as she pointed out how unlikely it would be for a creator being to give us a codex of rules but then expect us to grow out of them without explicitly telling us...

Although I think the point is moot with regards to an unfathomable deity there is at least one area of human experience that functions in much the same way. And that is surgery.

As a resident, no one ever tells you that it is time to stop watching the attending and to perform the surgery yourself. Indeed, someone who waited for such a time would graduate with no experience, never having been handed a scalpel.

The standing "rule" may be that one is only to assist, but every resident knows they must break this rule and convince the attending physician that they are so overwhelmingly confindent in their skills that it is time to let them into the game.

You don't wait for the rules to change...you change them when you are sure the time has come.

I imagine that there are many powerful positions that are innacesible by just doing what you are told. some initiative, either in or outside of the rules must be undertaken once one feels confident of the underlying system.


It might not be likely. but the point is our entire legal system in orthodoxy functions from unreasolvable doubts at it's very base, and functions best by turning a blind eye to them...

 
At 2:36 PM, Blogger Miri said...

"However, if a theologian were to view the halachah as a tool that God gave us to develop *our own internal sense of right and wrong*, then it's utility diminishes as we gain this power, and at the fruition of our ability to make our own moral decisions, "what we feel" is more important than whatever answer will be shown by technical legal reasoning. And in a case where the two conflicted the Rabbi would be correct to follow his conscience, rather that the legal codex ruling."

*sigh* you had me up until you started using phrases like "our own internal sense of right and wrong" and "what we feel." It's sweet that you have so much faith in humanity's moral compass; forgive me if I fear the stupidity of mortal man over the wisdom or at least experience of those more educated than I.
Btw, exactly which end-of-life scenarios are you referring to? Not signing a DNR? Refusing to take someone off life-support? It would help if I knew precisely which areas of medicine the rabbis are not letting their "concience" decide on.

"My point is, in the absence of this knowledge many theological possibilies exist, making it difficult for an honest theologian who appreciates the unlimited degree of uncertainty involved, to make clear and important decisions with anything resembling the confidence we currently see our Rabbinate enjoying."

I don't know how many Rabbis you see on a daily basis arrogantly making public proclamations with the utmost decision and confidence over what one ought to do in certain medical situations. Every Rabbi with whom I have ever personally discussed such issues has only ever regarded it with the utmost caution, trepidation, uncertainty, and humility for the very reasons you describe - that they can have no certainty that they decide rightly. That they make a decision at all I can hardly hold to their concience, bc in all such situations, a decision is inevitably made by someone; and if one's family members choose to leave this decision in the hands of a Rabbi, that is within their rights.

"You don't wait for the rules to change...you change them when you are sure the time has come."

In the situation you describe, while no one is directly told when to break in on their own, it is still implied that every surgical intern knows that it is their initiative to take. If you will, an unwritten rule; something no one's read, but everyone knows. I would hardly call that a just parallel to our situation, in which said realization is a complete stab in the dark as opposed to a well-known, albeit unwritten, fact.

 
At 2:46 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>*sigh* you had me up until you started using phrases like "our own internal sense of right and wrong" and "what we feel." It's sweet that you have so much faith in humanity's moral compass; forgive me if I fear the stupidity of mortal man over the wisdom or at least experience of those more educated than I.


No no !!! Miri, don't miss the point, it's not that I have faith in humanities moral compass...what I am doing is postulating...suggesting different possible Godly motives. One such motive is that God *wishes* to nurture human morality via the vehicle of halachah untill it reaches a point where moral decisions can be made with out the guiding backbone of halachah...this is not what I believe...it is a hypothetical...a what if. My point is we have no way of knowing *why* God gave us laws, if it is along the lines of what I have elucidated above or a similiar situation then the importance of halachah could very well be diminishing over time. The point is not that I think human morality is so great. .The point is that we have no way of knowing what God's goal is...and it could be fine tuning human morality to the best it can be to create independant decision makers.....

If this is God's idea, and you are critical of it becuase you think humans are crappy moral machines...that's fine. The point is we have no way of knowing if it is God's idea or not, and it makes a practical difference.

 
At 2:54 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>In the situation you describe, while no one is directly told when to break in on their own, it is still implied that every surgical intern knows that it is their initiative to take. If you will, an unwritten rule; something no one's read, but everyone knows. I would hardly call that a just parallel to our situation, in which said realization is a complete stab in the dark as opposed to a well-known, albeit unwritten, fact.


True, it's not a good approximation, perhaps other proffesions have better one's, but this is the only one I know.

but I don't know if it's a complete stab in teh dark. Think pruzbal, think rabeinu gershom, think reform Judaism, think christianity. There is out there, at least the idea, even in orthodoxy, that it is up to humans to change and refine the law, I am just taking the theological possibility one step further, that at some point rather than refining, god wants us to have the confidence to say..."this is just the way it should be"...

Assuming an unfathomable God, neither you nor I are in a postion to say it ain't so...

 
At 2:59 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>Rabbi with whom I have ever personally discussed such issues has only ever regarded it with the utmost caution, trepidation, uncertainty, and humility for the very reasons you describe - that they can have no certainty that they decide rightly

mmmm, yes, I should if Gone easier on the Rabbi's, although many of hte rulings, if you read them, are written in very confident and definitive language.

And while I am sure you are right that the Rabbi's are cautious about these weighty decisions I believe that is becuase of the dire consequences of life and death. Not becuase they are acknowledging in their hesitations the fact that the legal system is built on uncertainty about what God wants.


I think if these core uncertainties were really recognized and acted upon we would have a very different looking religion.

 
At 3:03 PM, Blogger Tobie said...

Perhaps I misunderstood your claim. If your only point is that halacha can, should, and does evolve to fit with our changing understanding of morality, improving upon itself over time, then I withdraw any objections. On the contrary, evolving halacha is a personal rant of my own.

If, on the other hand, you posit that halacha itself is meant to be discarded, then I must disagree, for the very simple reason that G-d seemed to be pretty clear about the fact that it oughtn't to be. Legal systems simply are not meant to be discarded and replaced with moral ones. It would be like saying that we're all so darn moral that we should drop the Constitution and start doing whatever we feel is right.

Secondly, with regards to G-d's morality, several points. First, I think it's reasonable to assume that our morality more or less conforms to that of G-d, inasmuch as we are Divine and inasmuch as there isn't really any other reasonable source from which our morality can be derived. But that is a personal philosophy and not one that I'm entirely sure I can logically defend to the death, so let it rest. Second, if we don't believe that G-d is moral by our standards, why on earth are you positing that G-d wants to create moral people, or wants us to be moral, or thinks that morality is better than obedience? I mean, we have to assume that He is, at least, in favor of our standards of morality. Thridly, I honestly think the Akeidah is a question of its own. There are so very many interpretations and so many facets and it has the added complication of being in the groundwork stages of the whole thing that I think interpreting it as G-d being sneaky and nasty and so forth is reductionalist.

I know that you say that G-d is entirely incomprehensible, thus destroying any attempt to fathom His intentions, but such a declaration is as practically useless as it is theologically accurate. My point with the Goodyear and so forth is that we have no clue as to anything that G-d could want, but that justifies every course of action equally, and at the same time makes them all so doubtful that we can only throw our hands up and sit about moaning about our own finitude. Look, I know that I don't understand G-d. But I also know that to accomplish anything on this earth, we have to suspend that knowledge and attempt to pretend that we do understand Him. And any attempt to employ logic seems to demand the conclusion that He wants us to do so, having given us only our human intellect. Of course, this conclusion itself is only based on my incomprehension of His intentions, but what else can I do? In other words, just saying that we don't get G-d is a useless truism- we must use all the data we have available as best we can to guess at Him.

 
At 3:24 PM, Blogger David Guttmann said...

Ben, Tobie and Miri,

You are all postulating and accepting that we can or cannot know God's will as an argument. I would posit that as far we Jews are concerned there is only one time in history that a man that we had reason to believe in (take it as you wish a faith construct, a myth, a real experience) and therefore accept as a communicator (again understand that as you wish) of what God wants from us. That happened during Moshe's reign and he was that vehicle for communication. He set down basic rules and a system that will allow us to grow and adapt. He also told us to look at existence and try to find God, His ways and emulate Him. We lived with that system during the time of the Sanhedrin, thereafter in Galut we adapt somehow though much less efficiently and rationally as we are hamstrung.

I don't think that any person after Moshe has the riight or the audacity to say I know God's will. The rabbis are not saying we know God's will either nor did the prophet. All they do is try to interpret Moshe's Toarh. the one time communication, to the best of their ability within the system that was set by him.

The beauty of this syatem is that it should not allow for an independent charlatan to come and tell us lo and behold God said XYZ and that is His will. Anyone that says that is automatically a charlatan by definition. Velo kam od navi kemoshe....

In a nutshell that is the halachik system and that is the ONLY reason it has to be followed. It is not because of some mystical or other reward and punishment reason.

that is the meaning of Ol Mitzvot.

 
At 3:20 AM, Blogger Miri said...

"One such motive is that God *wishes* to nurture human morality via the vehicle of halachah untill it reaches a point where moral decisions can be made with out the guiding backbone of halachah...this is not what I believe...it is a hypothetical...a what if."

granted, it's only a theory. but I have to say I find it highly unlikely to be accurate; if only for the fact that, positing G-d's existence and that it is He who created man, I think certaintly at this point in history, he'll have given up on the idea of personal moral development. you'll have to excuse my lack of faith in humanity in general, and my assumption that G-d knows us a little better than that.

"but I don't know if it's a complete stab in teh dark. Think pruzbal, think rabeinu gershom, think reform Judaism, think christianity. There is out there, at least the idea, even in orthodoxy, that it is up to humans to change and refine the law, I am just taking the theological possibility one step further, that at some point rather than refining, god wants us to have the confidence to say..."this is just the way it should be"..."

But these people who changed these laws were all people steeped in the study of the laws and the theology and the philosophy. If you spend ever spare second of your life immersed in the study of all the facets and laws of a religion, such as you know it well enough to work within and around it, then yes, you as an individual may have the right to bend those rules you know so well. I, on the other hand, not being steeped or immersed in such study nor having a fraction of such knowledge in my possession, feel myself neither capapble nor justified in making such judgements. my point being, I do think G-d wanted individuals to be able to take that initiative; but I think the individuals who do so ought to be people who know something, not lay people who happen to think that if something popped into their heads it must be moral and true.

"And while I am sure you are right that the Rabbi's are cautious about these weighty decisions I believe that is becuase of the dire consequences of life and death. Not becuase they are acknowledging in their hesitations the fact that the legal system is built on uncertainty about what God wants."

Caution is caution, my friend. the fear of death and responsibility are as good reasons for it as any other. after all, if these questions were not of life and death would it bother you so much that these Rabbis base their decisions on a system which you suspect of moral validity?

David-

"Ben, Tobie and Miri,
You are all postulating and accepting that we can or cannot know God's will as an argument."

Actually, I'm really more focused on the picking at the details thing. It's a specialty of mine. :)

 
At 3:22 AM, Blogger Moshe said...

>>>Moshe, I don't know if there really are many modern orthodox jews that would agree with me.

I never suggested that your opinions were in line with any segment of modern orthodoxy. if they were your name wouldnt be Ben Avuya. What i said is that your portrayal of Modern Orthodox positions is inaccurate, that there are more sophisticated options than you give credit for. There is a huge literature out there about the relationship between halacha, pluralism, ethics and "truth" what ever that may be. I am just asking you to give the Jewish philosophic tradition, with which you have little familiarity, the benefit of the doubt.

 
At 7:14 AM, Anonymous SYL said...

Hi Ben, How's it going?

My issue with your theory is that if G-d gave us Halacha, and all derivatives there of are considered to be equally ultimately divine. And none of these divine sources lead us to what you're suggesting, then your theory is not divine nor is it what G-d wants, or we would know it as G-d's will.

 
At 1:58 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>My issue with your theory is that if G-d gave us Halacha, and all derivatives there of are considered to be equally ultimately divine. And none of these divine sources lead us to what you're suggesting, then your theory is not divine nor is it what G-d wants, or we would know it as G-d's will.


depends on what God is testing !!! I'm not sure you got the point of the essay...

 
At 2:18 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>granted, it's only a theory. but I have to say I find it highly unlikely to be accurate; if only for the fact that, positing G-d's existence and that it is He who created man, I think certaintly at this point in history, he'll have given up on the idea of personal moral development. you'll have to excuse my lack of faith in humanity in general, and my assumption that G-d knows us a little better than that.


What makes you so sure of God's mind?

MIri, I think people keep missing the point. It is not a question of how likely the scenario I proposed is...the point is that we have no idea what God's motive in giving us halachah *is*, and this makes the whole system a little shaky.

I will make it easier for you by offering several other options aside from the option of God testing us to tell "truth to power" as in the essay.

Let's say, God is interested in creating a system that has two Goals...two endpoints. One endpoint is to keep the masses in line with a basic set of rules. The second end point is to create individuals in the mold of Ben Avuyah's (me). People who through critical thinking reject the entire structure. God feels a small number of these type of people are useful for society for solving problems relating to empirical concerns or what have you.

Now it is not easy to create a Ben Avuyah, to be appropriately skeptical one most grow up under the sway of an all encompassing legal spiritual system and then reject it !! You can't just ask someone to be a skeptic, and God understands he needs to *make us*. God takes great care in creating these individuals and is proud and thrilled with their fruition as bible loathing skeptics who can analyze the natural world and free of biblical bias and make decisions that benefit humanity in other ways.


Does it strike you as hubris that in my made up Godly *motive* I have placed myself as the cenral hero??? it should.

But our Rabbi's have really done something similar, assuming a Godly motive and assuming their position as the goal of God.

Remember, I am not arguing that one of these scenarios is more or less likely, I will concede to you yours is more likely. My point is that there are endless scenarios as long as motive is unknown. And with each scenario a different outcome may be what God is interested in.

Without knowing what he had in mind, we are in the dark, and our legal system should reflect these theological problems but it does not.

 
At 2:22 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>>such as you know it well enough to work within and around it, then yes, you as an individual may have the right to bend those rules you know so well.


It is often those who are least enamored with the current system of rule, who are most effective in making changes :-)

 
At 2:24 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>There is a huge literature out there about the relationship between halacha, pluralism, ethics and "truth" what ever that may be.


I can't deny that I am stil learning Moshe...point me in the right direction and i will read !!!

 
At 3:08 PM, Anonymous SYL said...

>But our Rabbi's have really done something similar, assuming a Godly motive and assuming their position as the goal of God.

I did get your point, and I do understand your thought train.

I just think that once you're working within a framework that G-d delivered the Torah, and Halacha and the rabbis were working within that framework. Then they are giving over G-d's word, not their own thoughts as to what G-d's motives are and therefore this may be what he expects of us, but they are actually giving over, to a degree, G-d's word.
They are not "assuming" anything.
That is my point.

 
At 5:39 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>of what God wants from us. That happened during Moshe's reign and he was that vehicle for communication


Hmmm...David, we are going in circles. Sure, Moshe could be the one persone who experienced a revelation and recieved instructions from God. The point is without knowing God's motive for giving us the instructions there are considerable unknowns....

 
At 6:17 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Tobie, very good debating skills, let me address them point by point.



>>>Perhaps I misunderstood your claim. If your only point is that halacha can, should, and does evolve to fit with our changing understanding of morality, improving upon itself over time, then I withdraw any objections. On the contrary, evolving halacha is a personal rant of my own.


>This is true, but it is not part of my claim.





>>>>If, on the other hand, you posit that halacha itself is meant to be discarded, then I must disagree, for the very simple reason that G-d seemed to be pretty clear about the fact that it oughtn't to be. Legal systems simply are not meant to be discarded and replaced with moral ones. It would be like saying that we're all so darn moral that we should drop the Constitution and start doing whatever we feel is right.


>Right you are, I am not saying that we should discard a legal system all together,Heaven forbid, I am merely suggesting that a halachic legal system is flawed. And could be discarded in favor of a different legal system or modified to remove the theological flaws.



>>>Secondly, with regards to G-d's morality, several points. First, I think it's reasonable to assume that our morality more or less conforms to that of G-d, inasmuch as we are Divine and inasmuch as there isn't really any other reasonable source from which our morality can be derived. But that is a personal philosophy and not one that I'm entirely sure I can logically defend to the death, so let it rest.

>OK, I don't agree on many levels, and I think the fact that we have moral intuitions which are opposite what we find to be perscribed by God is critical to this discussion, but if you insist, I will let it rest.



>>> Second, if we don't believe that G-d is moral by our standards, why on earth are you positing that G-d wants to create moral people, or wants us to be moral, or thinks that morality is better than obedience? I mean, we have to assume that He is, at least, in favor of our standards of morality.


>My point is not that God doesn't want us to be moral, my point was that we cannot understand or comprehend the moral code by which
God functions.



Thridly, I honestly think the >>>Akeidah is a question of its own. There are so very many interpretations and so many facets and it has the added complication of being in the groundwork stages of the whole thing that I think interpreting it as G-d being sneaky and nasty and so forth is reductionalist.


>I think it is very important !! After all we don't learn halachah from it. If you believe in a creator who gave this story, then you believe he felt it was very important that you know this about him !



>>>>I know that you say that G-d is entirely incomprehensible, thus destroying any attempt to fathom His intentions, but such a declaration is as practically useless as it is theologically accurate.

>Well as far as theological accuracy I will let you take that up with the Rambam...


"Now everything that can be ascribed to God, may He be exalted, differs in every respect from our attributes, so that no definition can comprehend the one thing and the other. (I:35)"



"... it behooves those who believe that there are essential attributes that may be predicated of the Creator—namely that He is existent, living, possessing power, knowing, and willing—to understand that these notions are not ascribed to Him and to us in the same sense... clear it is to all those who understand the meaning of being alike that the term "existent" is predicated of Him, may He be exalted, and of everything that is other than He, in a purely equivocal sense. Similarly, the terms "knowledge," "power," "will," and "life," as applied to Him, may He be exalted, and to all those possessing knowledge, power, will, and life, are purely equivocal, so that their meaning when they are predicated of Him is in no way like their meaning in other applications. (I:56)"


>As far as practicality, you are right, the halachah structure does become less practical when you introduce doubt into it...but that is my point, not yours !!!


>>>>My point with the Goodyear and so forth is that we have no clue as to anything that G-d could want, but that justifies every course of action equally, and at the same time makes them all so doubtful that we can only throw our hands up and sit about moaning about our own finitude. Look, I know that I don't understand G-d. But I also know that to accomplish anything on this earth, we have to suspend that knowledge and attempt to pretend that we do understand Him.


>Possible. But maybe, if it is our honest conclusion that we cannot do so, perhaps he wants us to admit this, rather than pretending otherwise ???

>>>And any attempt to employ logic seems to demand the conclusion that He wants us to do so, having given us only our human intellect.


>I don't know Tobie, why does logic lead us to believe that God wants us to pretend we understand him. We do have legal structures that don't pretend to understand God (secular law), It's not as if this realization would leave us lawless brigands. My point is we don't really know how God wants us to deal with this realization...

>>>Of course, this conclusion itself is only based on my incomprehension of His intentions, but what else can I do? In other words, just saying that we don't get G-d is a useless truism- we must use all the data we have available as best we can to guess at Him


> Well put, and although I agree with you regarding the truism, I don't agree with you regarding the fact that it is useless.

If you believe in the autonomy of halachic rule than it is not useless, it is troublesome, and as you suggested above, and I agree, one would have to pretend they knew what God wanted to continue with a clear conscience. In fact, this is what bothers me about our theology...it does seem to pretend about things.

 
At 6:28 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>>I just think that once you're working within a framework that G-d delivered the Torah, and Halacha and the rabbis were working within that framework. Then they are giving over G-d's word, not their own thoughts as to what G-d's motives are and therefore this may be what he expects of us, but they are actually giving over, to a degree, G-d's word.
They are not "assuming" anything.
That is my point.



SYL, I understand your point, and agree that your scenario makes more sense than mine does !! I am merely pointing out possibility, not likelyhood.

But any action taken on the basis of God given law *does* function on the basis of inherent assumptions of godly intent, even the rabbinates !!!!

 
At 4:12 AM, Blogger Miri said...

"But our Rabbi's have really done something similar, assuming a Godly motive and assuming their position as the goal of God."

I was always taught that the Jewish people were G-d's messengers, and not the be-all, end-all of existence. It feels innaccurate to say that Jews think of themselves as G-d's goal.

"Remember, I am not arguing that one of these scenarios is more or less likely, I will concede to you yours is more likely. My point is that there are endless scenarios as long as motive is unknown. And with each scenario a different outcome may be what God is interested in."

Granted; anything is possible. i just feel like likelihood might be an important factor in figuring some of this stuff out....

"It is often those who are least enamored with the current system of rule, who are most effective in making changes :-)"

you don't have to be enamored of the system. you simply have to know it. there are a variety of ways this might occur; someone who was an intense learner all his life only becomes skeptical in his mid-twenties, for example. however, I do also think you're wrong...it is possible for people to change the system davka because they are enamored of it, and are trying desperately to save it from being strangled by fellow Jews.

"Right you are, I am not saying that we should discard a legal system all together,Heaven forbid, I am merely suggesting that a halachic legal system is flawed."

To quote Tobie, "As opposed to, say, the American tax code."

"And could be discarded in favor of a different legal system or modified to remove the theological flaws."

I think cracks and flaws are inherent in almost any and every theology, not to mention legal system; as such I dispute your claim to their removability.

"I think it is very important !! After all we don't learn halachah from it. If you believe in a creator who gave this story, then you believe he felt it was very important that you know this about him !"

No one's denying the importance of the akeida. I think Tobie meant to say she feels you were minimizing it's complexity and depth.

"Possible. But maybe, if it is our honest conclusion that we cannot do so, perhaps he wants us to admit this, rather than pretending otherwise ???"

As far as I can tell, most Jews don't go around proclaiming themselves as being listed in G-d's personal rolodex. they claim that they think the Torah is the most likely blueprint of G-d's intentions, and thus that it makes sense to follow the rules found therein.

 
At 4:12 AM, Blogger Tobie said...

Ben, I feel as if we may be going in circles, and I'm afraid that I have not made my point at all clear and that I am not capable of doing so better. So this is probably going to be my last attempt.

Here goes: Saying that G-d is incomprehensible supports all courses of action equally- both blind obedience to halacha, the formation of a new legal code, and anything else that pops into our heads. Therefore, I feel that it is pointless to bring it as evidence to argue in favor of any practical decision. It is equally useless to claim "We don't understand G-d, so there is no reason to assume that He meant us to follow halacha" as it is to say "We don't understand Him, so there is no reason to assume otherwise." The acknowledgment of our ignorance is useless because it cannot be used to determine the proper course of action. Thus, if one's goal is to conform with G-d's will, one must necessarily make assumptions about G-d and His will. That was all that point that I was making. If one does not care about G-d's will, then of course the point is moot.

Now, the tactics by which we make these assumptions can legitimately vary. You, for example, are employing logic and personal moral sense. Others opt to follow written codes. The question of whether to follow halacha when it conflicts with our feelings of morality is a legitimate question; I just don't feel that it has anything to do with G-d's incomprehensibilty.

 
At 9:58 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Well spoken, Miri and Tobie, and I think we will have to leave this as our "closing arguments"


I think we may have gotten sidetracked into many different side discussion about halachah and legal systems. I don't disagree with the fact that all legal systems have flaws, or that the akeidah is a mysterious story that requires it's own discussion.

My observation is simply this:

By the mandate of our own theology we follow a system of instructions who's motives are unknown to us, and indeed unknowable. Ultimately we don't know to what purpose or to what end we follow them.

Despite this, we have a legal code that pretends that we can and do know, and makes authoritative decisions regarding life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as if nothing is amiss.

I'm beggining to see that people whou are very thouroughly in the hold of OJ do not see this as a problem, which to me, is even more disturbing. Although it is not the first time that people have been selective about difficulties with their core beliefs. It becomes apparent to me that I have to elucidate this difficulty, by divorcing it from Orthodox Judaism and portraying it in a different scenario, through a different means...narrative.

Stay tuned :-)

 
At 5:16 PM, Blogger Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Very impressive writing and powerful expression. I am moved by your intellectual honesty and the depth of your thought. You are genuinely grappling with the "big questions".

 
At 9:11 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Thanks RJM !

 
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