Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

False Freedom

The Mishnah in Avos famously tells us that there is no real freedom other than through observance of Torah.  Although the non-religious like to scoff at this describing our observance as an unending and myriad collection of rituals and minutiae, from the philosophical Jewish point of view this is absolutely true.  In a reality in which a person is either guided by his yetzer hara, his animalistic and primitive passions, or rises above them it is only the person who says no to his primal passions and leads a life of free choice based on the Torah's ethics that really lives up to his potential.
Sadly this message is lost on many of our brethren, such as Uri Misgav:
The self-importance this man radiates is palpable yet beneath the veneer of his indignation against religion and especially, of course, Judaism lie some important contradictions.
I do not fast on Yom Kippur for the same reason that I do not adhere to any religious mitzvah: I do not believe in God. I am not “secular,” because this is a narrow definition referring to lifestyle alone, and I’m not infidel either. I’m an atheist.

I do not believe in any form of higher or divine intervention. I only believe in human beings and in systems of values that are worthy of following while living life in this world. I also believe in progress and science. After thousands of years of human existence in the company of “God,” it appears reasonable to demand a single, minimalistic empirical evidence to his existence.
At this stage, many of you will dismiss me with being “simplistic” – after all, generations of theologians convinced us that faith involves endless intellectual depth. Yet the truth is that there is no such science, theology. One cannot base a whole science on something that was never reinforced by evidence of actually existing.
Meanwhile, genuine, broad and well-argued atheism may be simple, but not simplistic. In fact, this kind of atheism is sorely lacking in Israel.
I can still address the existence or non-existence of God as an open question somehow. Yet in the face of religion I’m speechless.
Am I Jewish? Certainly. I was born to a Jewish mother and I feel belonging to the Jewish people, its past and heritage. However, I am an atheist Jew. Nice to meet you. And let’s not stop with Yom Kippur. I did not circumcise my son. I object to the cutting of genitals for children of both sexes, with or without anesthesia.
I know you are infuriated with me right now. This is what I wanted. I want all of you, but mostly the “seculars” among you, to seriously confront your choices. The principle of “to each his own” is acceptable to me, as long as it means that a person may choose not to believe anything.
Don’t decide for me what to eat, when to fast and on what day of the week to travel by bus. I was born and I shall die a free man

Consider his demand to be left alone by the requirements membership in the Jewish nation foists upon him.  He is quite happy to identify with the cultural aspects Judaism offers.  After all, there are no obligations associated with latkes and humantaschen.  It is also quite possible that he is a passionate Zionist.  Again, no obligations.  In fact, like so many like him it's all about the obligations. 
Imagine a teenager or someone in their early 20's still living at home, demanding meals, laundy and to have his room cleaned but snorting arrogantly when told that he has to shovel the driveway, mow the law and wash the dishes.  Could anyone have respect for such self-indulgence?  Yet with God our Father watching over us, providing us with our entire existence and running the universe for our benefit there are still folks out there playing the "Nah! Nah! Nah! I can't see you!" game.
In truth, Misgav isn't as benign as he likes to sound.  Despite insisting that everyone has a right to make a choice of his own, he has already made an important decision for his son.  By refusing to circumcize him he has decided that his son will be lacking full membership in the nation he himself feels a cultural attachment to.  If the son, when he grows up, wants to return to observance of Torah he will only be able to do so properly after undergoing a painful operation under anaesthetic.  Thanks dad!
Then there is his final line, that he will live and die a free man.  As Chazal have so annoyingly reminded us, real freedom is not deciding that one wants the pizza instead of the wings for dinner tonight or to wear non-matching socks despite the wife's nagging.  Real freedom is rising above one's instincts, passions and desires and making a choice based on reason and logic instead of "I want this!"  Misgav is not a free man.  He is a slave to his yetzer hara who, like God, he refuses to see even though it is right in front of him.  He ate on Yom Kippur, chalilah, not because he chose to but to "show God He can't tell me what to do!"  Some freedom.
Now, Misgav may otherwise be a fine gentlemen.  He may be possessed of good manners, a kind disposition and a generous spirit.  Certainly by living in Israel he is already on a high level despite his refusal to acknowledge such spiritual things.  But he is not free and his refusal to see that only deepens his servitude.


Bob Miller said...

This guy should realize the world doesn't revolve around him.

SJ said...

By your definition of freedom then the muslim fundamentalists are the ultimate free people on earth because they aren't allowed to do anything except fight the infidel as commanded by Allah.

No personal desires there just fight infidels for Allah.

SJ said...

The thing is Buddhism makes the argument that you minimze desire to relieve suffering. However when you say just minimze desire because dun dun duuuuuuuuuuuuuun just because, without giving the whole line that buddhists give, to relieve suffering, then it looks like being strict just for the sake of being strict. In other words, it looks like being a freaken asshole for no reason. XD

Since, as we know, some desire is a good thing.

JRKmommy said...

I think your criticism sort of misses the point.

I don't know anything about the author, but there is no indication that he wants to shirk ALL obligations. As an Israeli, he's presumably serving in the army, which is a far bigger commitment than skipping breakfast and lunch once a year. There's no indication that he's refusing to pay taxes, not visiting his mother, etc.

His point seems to be that he doesn't do Yom Kippur because he doesn't believe in G-d, not because he doesn't feel like fasting. If that's his sincere belief (or lack thereof), his position is logical. The bottom line is that in Judaism, we aren't supposed to fast just because we feel bloated or because we want to fit in with everyone else who's kvetching about being hungry - we fast because we believe that we are COMMANDED to do so, as a way of afflicting our souls while asking for Divine forgiveness.

JRKmommy said...

I just read your previous post.

I'm wondering if there is a contradiction here. On one hand, you criticize those that DO engage in actions, but don't do so out of Orthodox belief. OTOH, you seem to be criticizing someone who openly admits his lack of belief for his lack of action.

Garnel Ironheart said...

I don't see the contradiction. Is there such a difference between refusing to do something and doing the wrong thing on purpose but claiming it's right? In both cases the primary goal, doing the right thing for the right reason is thwarted.