Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Drawing the Line

As the extreme left and right edges of Torah observance continue to move in their respective directions, it becomes more and more important to define exactly what Orthodoxy really is. After all, there is no patent on the term, or other leading words. For example, for years the Conservatives called themselves "traditional" even as they were ripping up every Jewish tradition they could vote on. Nowadays, whether it's YCT on the left with female rabbis or the Neturei Karta on the right with that hate-filled dogma, it's important to try and define what puts a person or institution within "the pale" (a favourite expression of Rav Benjy Hecht).
I would suggest that the following mishnah from Avos supplies us with the definition:
Rabbi Elazar for Modi'in says: He who profanes sacred things, degrades the festivals, puts his fellow man to shame, violates the covenant of Avraham Avinu, and who interprets the Torah contrary to the halacha, even though he is leared in Torah and possesses good deeds, he has no share in the World to Come." (Avos 3:11)
The Tiferes Yisrael on this mishnah notes that there are five levels of non-believers referred to:
1) People who deny God's existence. Since there is no good, there is no holiness, everything is profane so sacred things are not different than anything else in their eyes.
2) People who believe in God but deny that He created the universe. As a result, they ignore the Festivals because they were instituted to remind us of how God intervened in the natural course of the world to take us out of Egypt.
3) People who believe God created the world but deny that man was created b'tzelem Elokim. As a result, a human being is nothing special in their eyes. We are the great-grandchildren of apes and therfore concepts of respect and dignity are quite limited.
4) People who believe God created the world and man but deny God's special relationship with Avraham Avinu. For them, we are not am segulah but rather just one more ethnic group amongst the many of the world.
5) People who believe God created the world and man, and that He has a special relationship with us but deny the validity of the Oral Law. For them, it is all an invention of "the rabbis" and is therefore not authoritative. Anyone can read the Written Law and interpret it for himself.
Using these five levels, one can come to a decent definition of Orthodoxy. The first three are, of course, easy. Calling oneself an Orthodox Jew while denying God's existence, or His creation of the world, or that human beings are not just well-dressed apes but are a special creation separate from animals because of the souls we possess, is foolish.
But the 4th and 5th categories are a little trickier. There are people who called themselves Orthodox, and who will admit the first three categories but will then say that in light of Biblical scholarship and archaeological finds that none of the stories in the Torah actually happened but were the product of much later authors. For them we are a tenacious people who have survived the vicissitudes of history but that the special history-changing moment at Sinai 3329 years ago never happened.
Similarly there are those who don't so much deny the existence of the Oral Law but who feel that they are quite capable of playing with it to their heart's content so that they can create a Judaism that meets their personal standards. This kind of abuse of the halachic methodology is not unique to either end of the Orthodox spectrum. Whether it's inventing the concept of the female rabbi or teaching that those who disagree with you are evil and the cause of everything bad in the world, it is unacceptable. There is a mesorah and it cannot be hijacked by people with agendae.
Thus it seems to me the best defintion of Orthodoxy is conforming to the five conditions of Rabbi Elazar without trying to invent rationalizations to get around them.

18 comments:

David said...

"We are the great-grandchildren of apes and therfore concepts of respect and dignity are quite limited."

So, according to this theory, if I accept the evidence for evolution, I'm out of the club?

Also, what's the big deal with definitions? Nobody's telling you whom to marry, so why is it so important to be able to point at so-and-so and say "nyah, nyah, you're not really Orthodox because of Rabbi Elazar's principle #5!"??

E-Man said...

I don't think the focus is on whether we are originally form apes or not, but rather the focus is whether you respect people or not.

Also, it is important to say who is in what group. This is why Islam has a bad rap with the world, everyone lumps them together. If the Jihadists would be clearly wahhabyists whereas the normal people would be sunnis, then the world would see a difference. In the same light, it is important to see who is in what category, just so that the outside world can realize that this is what this group stands for.

David said...

E-man,

Not sure I understand your point. Respecting people is not a trait that is limited to believers.

As to the wahhabis, they're not the only jihadists. Al Qaeda is a Sunni organization. The Iranians, by and large, are Shi'ites. Frankly, I don't give a hoot in hell for what they are or choose to call themselves. It's their actions that concern me, and then only insofar as they hurt other people.

So, in the end, I still don't quite see why we should so desparately need to parse out who is (and who is not) allowed to call himself Orthodox. Maybe that energy would be better spent working on our own middos, than on typing up labels for other people.

E-Man said...

Obviously, the real important thing is working on middos. However, as you state here you see no difference between the shiites, sunnis and wahabis. I just read about this sheik in Italy that is pro-Israel. He talks about how the wahhabists have taken control of a vast majority of Islam in the middle east and how they misrepresent Islam. So, really the Jihadists that you refer to are supposedly all wahhabists. This is why titles are, in some manner, important. It allows the outside world to see the truth about the culture.

Another example that might be clearer is this. If the outside world looks at the Neturei Karta and says, oh that is orthodox Judaism, is that a fair representation of orthodox Judaism or an unfair one? In order for people to see the true essence of Judaism they should look at people like Rav Moshe Feinstein and others that really stand for Judaism and not the people who have "hijacked" the religion.

E-Man said...

Check out this article http://www.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=7298

Off the Derech said...

>In order for people to see the true essence of Judaism they should look at people like Rav Moshe Feinstein and others that really stand for Judaism

Which of his beliefs are so impressive? That the world is less than 6000 years old? That every word of the Torah is literally true? What exactly is so impressive about him?

E-Man said...

I am talking about his personality and how he treated people. Also, how do you know what he held in those areas?

Garnel Ironheart said...

David, believing in evolution doesn't throw you out of the "the club". Believing that it's a random process that just happened to result in humanity instead of seeing it as being guided and predetermined by God does.
What's the difference? There's nothing holy about humans according to Darwin. We serve no greater purpose than to please ourselves and anything or anyone who gets in the way of that is simply an obstacle to be overcome.
According to God, we are here for a special purpose, to do good to one another and build a world of chesed.

David said...

E-man,

You really need to brush up on your knowledge of Islam before making pronouncements on the subject. Claiming that the Wahhabis, a subset of the Sunnis, have single-handedly radicalized Islam pretty much ignores the whole concept of Shia extremism (and disregards the influence of Sayyid Qutb, who founded the Muslim brotherhood). For the record, Hezbollah is not a Sunni (and thus not a Wahhabi) organization, but they're certainly extreme enough for my taste.
I really have no interest in trying to decide who is or isn't a mainstream Muslim, or what Islam really requires with regard to terrorism, etc. I'm not qualified to make that call (and you're not either). I just want to make sure that the guys with the bombs-- whatever they call themselves-- don't have a chance to get me.

As to your point about Neturei Karta, you're making my case. You can't stop the idiots at NK from calling themselves OJ. So, live your life in such a way as to provide a better example, and save your breath arguing over labels-- nobody has, or will have, a registered trademark on the term "Orthodox Jew."

David said...

"There's nothing holy about humans according to Darwin."

Darwin was a scientist. Wouldn't he have been a bit silly to attempt to analyze the holiness quotient in a species?

"We serve no greater purpose than to please ourselves and anything or anyone who gets in the way of that is simply an obstacle to be overcome."

Where in Darwin do you find this conclusion as to our purposelessness? And why is the question of a higher purpose a fit one for scientific investigation? If a paleographer looks at a Torah scroll and tells me about the script and the parchment, should I dismiss his conclusions because he failed to tell me how holy it is? Or should I recognize that he's confining his opinions to the area of his expertise? When one fails to confine one's pronouncements to the field of one's expertise, one sounds like the idiot rabbis who insist on wading into scientific matters, armed only with their own closed minds.

"According to God, we are here for a special purpose, to do good to one another and build a world of chesed."

Who appointed you God's spokesman? Frankly, I prefer Darwin, who at least tried to back up his theories with observable facts, rather than ipse dixit.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Survival of the fittest. Basic population genetics. The male that successfully impregnates the most females, eats the most food and dies the happiest wins. In Darwinian theory, this drive is no different in a slug than a human. By removing God from the equation of human existence, he removes the dividing line between us and animals.

David said...

That's not an answer, Garnel, it's more sloganeering.

Darwin's focus was scientific, and you're taking him to task for failing to do something that would have completely undermined his credibility as a scientist.

Your position is analogous to that of a person who claims that the medical profession is wicked, because it prescribes pharmacological and surgical remedies for various illnesses, but never attempts to offer moral and spiritual guidance.

E-Man said...

David,
I was not claiming to be an expert I was quoting a muslim Sheikh from Italy that made these statements. I provided the website for you to check it out if you want.

Here it is again http://www.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=7298

The point about the NK was as follows. I was saying how disappointing it is to be seen by the outside world as in the same class as NK.

True anyone can call themselves orthodox Jews, however, that is misleading. If a stranger saw me and NK and knew we were both OJ then whatever he sees the NK do then he assumes that I do the same. If the NK will use a demeaning word like the N word, then the stranger would assume that I act the same way.

It is impossible to keep people from calling themselves OJ, but it would be helpful for outsiders to see that even though some people claim to be OJ, they do not share the same ideals and attitudes as other people that call themselves OJ.

David said...

"It is impossible to keep people from calling themselves OJ, but it would be helpful for outsiders to see that even though some people claim to be OJ, they do not share the same ideals and attitudes as other people that call themselves OJ."

Meaning that OJ is not monolithic. Which is to say that you're going to have a very difficult time coming up with a mathematically precise definition of who qualifies and who doesn't. Which is to say that you're wasting your time coming up with labels.

David said...

OTD--

Are you seriously suggesting that Garnel spends his time lying to kids and killing people? Don't you think that might be just a teeny bit over-the-top?

As I'm sure Garnel (and anyone else) would admit, I'm not carrying any brief for the Orthodox, but toning down the invective might go a long way towards taking the level of dialogue up a peg or two.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

David, OJ is not monolithic but there are certain baseline criteria that apply across the board.
For example, accepting the Shulchan Aruch and its commentators as the authoritative source of Jewish law.
Accepting Torah MiSinai as a historical and religious event.
There's lots of room for pluralism within the Orthodox label but for any label to be worth something, I'm sure you'll agree there have to be some distinctive standards.
As for Darwin and sloganeering, I'm simply drawing logical conclusions from his observations.
He observed that the more genetically fit animals survive. This is a key part of the theory of evolution. The Nazis, y"sh, took it one step further and made it obligatory through their death camps.
Yes Darwin's position was scientific - he was not trying to create a moral position but rather to report his observations of nature. Real science is like that: amoral because it simply seeks to quantify facts. It is the job of religion and philosophy to decide the good or bad nature of these facts.
But people who reject religion still need to define good and bad. So now we have scientism in which scientist go beyond their jobs and ascribe moral values to their findings.

David said...

"David, OJ is not monolithic but there are certain baseline criteria that apply across the board. For example, accepting the Shulchan Aruch and its commentators as the authoritative source of Jewish law.
Accepting Torah MiSinai as a historical and religious event."

By and large. And yet, I could come up with a few people in my own (rather black hat/yeshivish) shul who, if pressed, have more than a few doubts about TMS as an historical event. And there's lots of stuff in Shulchan Aruch that isn't observed all that much.

"There's lots of room for pluralism within the Orthodox label but for any label to be worth something, I'm sure you'll agree there have to be some distinctive standards."

Sure. The problem is, nobody has any right to control the lable, so, in the end, it's not worth all that much. I tend to say that Orthodoxy generally implies a bare minimum of kashrus, shabbos, and taharas ha-mishpacha. But I'm not sure I can defend that perfectly.

"As for Darwin and sloganeering, I'm simply drawing logical conclusions from his observations."

No, you're implying moral conclusions for scientific observations, which, in essence, is drawing apple conclusions from a big basket of oranges. Your response aggravated this intellectual offense by dragging (as opponents of Darwin are wont to do) the nazis into it. Please, can we keep this at a rational level?


Then, you accuse the scientists of doing what you just did! You say "science is like that: amoral because it simply seeks to quantify facts. It is the job of religion and philosophy to decide the good or bad nature of these facts." Great. So, why did you grab poor Charles Darwin by the hair, and drag him, kicking and screaming, into this argument?

"But people who reject religion still need to define good and bad. So now we have scientism in which scientist go beyond their jobs and ascribe moral values to their findings."

Yes, people who reject organized religion still need to define good and bad. And, since there are more religious people than atheists in prisons, there's no reason to assume that they're not managing to do this fairly well. As to scientists ascribing moral values to their findings, I'm happy to join with you in condeming them as every bit as foolish as the rabbis who ascribe historical/scientific importance to their conclusions.

E-Man said...

David, I am just trying to figure out, if there is no G-D and everything is done through evolution and stuff, like darwin wanted to say, why should we put people in jail? What gives anyone the right to put someone else in jail? Why should we have laws? Why care about morals? Just because a person that does not believe in G-D decides not to kill, does that mean he never will? If so, why doesn't he kill when it suits him? What is holding him back?

Also, your idea of more people who believe in a G-D in jail than not is comical. Since there are people in a religion that violate the laws it must be flawed? Is that the idea you are trying to bring across? If so that is a little foolish don't you think? Just because someone says they believe in G-D does not mean they are constantly able to view their world as if G_D is watching them, otherwise everyone would be saintly and be unable to have free choice.