Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Tuesday, 15 July 2008

On A Guiding Philosophy

I've been participating in a post over at the Orthodox Freelancers Guild on hashkafah and it led me to this post in which I will try to clarify what I think my core beliefs are and what a proper Jewish attitude should encompass.
The problem I have with the word hashkafah is that it has assumed an importance too close to ideology to allow for much flexibility. Nowadays, one must take one's ideology as a complete package to belong to any particular group. For example, one cannot be a card-carrying Republican and think that abortion should be legal or that gun control has merits. One cannot be a Democrat yet believe that the war in Iraq was justified or that Bush isn't the devil incarnate. The problem is that this is quite limiting and forces people to narrow their beliefs and interests into a narrow focus that often does not define them or allow them to deal with new situations in an innovative fashion.
Haskafah within the Jewish world has taken on a similar pattern. To call oneself Chareidi means accepting as authoritative a whole host of beliefs and values without exception. Similarly, the Mizrachi and Modern Orthodox communities have developed their own ideologies that act as definitions of what they are in totality. In the former case, it's support for the brave Jews who live in Yehudah and Shomron. In the latter, it's the definition of one's religious behaviour in the negative (eg. I don't wear a black hat, I don't avoid movies and television, etc.)
But it is my opinion that none of these competing ideologies reflects the spectrum of values, beliefs and philosophies that encompass true Torah Judaism. Indeed, strict adherence to any of them causes a person to miss out on several values that may appeal to a person's personal sense of self or give one a greater feeling of connection to God and Torah. Imagine the Chareidi who believes in the scientific method and wants to reconcile geological facts with the Torah's truth and is told: No, to be Chareidi, you must reject geology. There is no other option. Image the Modern Orthodox person who insists on separate seating at a social function and the looks such a decision would get.
After much thinking, therefore, I have concluded that a real Jewish ideology allows for such flexibility which enhances one's observance, not detracts from it. As a Jew is a combination of three elements: the physical, the intellectual and the spiritual, this philosophy must account for all three. So, as I posted on the other blog, there are three components to this hashkafah:
a) A person must have the passion of a Chasid. What distinguishes Chasidim from other Torah observant Jews is their absolute enthusiasm for God and His Torah. It isn't just something fascinating to them, or a subject of interest. They are in love with God and Torah, overwhelmed emotionally by immersing in the thought of them and come alive when celebrating them. Such a passion can lead to intimate contact with one's deepest desires for closeness to God and, as such, must be present in any hashkafah to satisfy the spiritual portion of the Jew.
b) A person must have the love for lomdus of a Misnagid. As Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch notes in his commentary to Pirkei Avos, the dissemination of Torah is the main goal of any Jewish community. It is the job of rabbonim to make themselves superfluous. One can only do this through constant learning and this constancy can only be achieved through desire. What the Chasid achieves through emotional ecstasy, the Misnagid does through analysis and understanding of our holy texts. Thus, for the intellectual portion of the Jew, this element is a necessity.
c) The need for a comprehensive understanding of God's creation. There is an old question: Does the Torah contain all knowledge? Is, as the mishnah in Avos assert, everything in it? Well, of course not. The Torah nowhere tells us how to treat heart attacks, how many planets are in the solar system or what the best recipe for chicken soup is. What the Torah does do is provide a complete set of values and laws for a believing Jew to apply in any and all situations he might find himselves in. In that sense, the Torah is complete and perfect. Yet that also means there is much more knowledge out there, much of which can be used to understand Torah better. This in itself is not a radial statement. The gemara in Eiruvin used basic geometrical concepts to example many halachic principles. Geology, archeology, finance, science and medicine are all used by the Torah to explain many concepts and their backgrounds. To reach out into the world of knowledge like science and math is not simply optional or a fanciful idea. For a Jew to more completely understand Torah, it is an imperative. If all of creation is the product of God's handiwork, then the more we understand of it, the more we understand (albeit an infintessimally tiny fraction) of God Himself. So this is the final element of the hashkafah which satisfies the physical nature of the Jew in that it allows him to better understand how his universe works so that he can navigate his way through it more effectively.
In summary, the idea of combining passion, intellectual stimulation and the use of secular knowledge for the enhancement of understanding Torah is what Judaism should ideally be about. Yes, it's a high standard but Torah does not cater to the lowest common denominator. It demands we strive to reach Heaven itself through our activites and observance of mitzvos. In this way, perhaps the enterprise will be even more successful.

4 comments:

SJ said...

if only chasidim can pronounce the word torah correctly. there's no chereik in the word torah. XD

Garnel Ironheart said...

Maybe I should do that contest thing again...

SJ said...

read my blog XD

Garnel Ironheart said...

Get a life! Please!