Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 10 February 2014

Ritual Uber Alles Part 4 - The Real Problem

In the previous three posts I've tried to work with a simple point: the Jewish obsession with ritual is leading to a plethora of problems and creating a system in which immorality can comfortably co-exist with behavioural perfection.  The trend to see the ritual part of Judaism as the whole thing is a problem that affects the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy from the right where seating arrangements on buses are now ritualistically separated to the left where the entire movement of Open Orthodoxy revolves around egalitarian services and the subtle promotion of homosexual marriage.
If this perception of Judaism is correct, and I assert that it certainly isn't, one has to ask about God must have been  thinking to set up His system in this manner.  Certainly Judaism in such a form is incapable of doing much other than keeping its adherents busying running around doing small tasks all day long.
Here's something else to consider.  The average pulpit Rav is asked questions on various matters, both spiritual and legal.  When it comes to the legal ones they tend to fit into one of four categories: kashrus, taharas mishpachah, ritual and Shabbos.  When's the last time a congregant walked up to his Rav and asked a question about the legality of a financial arrangement he'd made or whether or not his recent transactions at work were in line with halacha?  Once we leave the ritual areas of Judaism it's like we leave the Torah behind.
This is a huge mistake.  As the mishnah in Avos teaches us, everything is in the Torah.  I'm not using the word in the sense of the scroll we pull out to read in shul.  I'm talking about Torah as God's blueprint for the universe, the collective understanding of what He wants from us and how He runs the world, that's the Torah I mean.  But if everything is in Torah then why do we seemingly only apply it in narrow areas?
I would suggest, a la Rav Kook, ztk"l, that this is because of being in golus.  The biggest change to Judaism in the last 2000 years occured about 2000 years ago when Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai altered Judaism from a nationality to a faith.  His innovation saved Judaism from destruction, true, by making it portable.  Until then Judaism was tied to national icons like the monarchy, the Temple and the Sanhedrin.  A Jew living in Cappodicia was a citizen of Judaea.  He might been observant of general Jewish requirements like kashrus and Shabbos but he wasn't living a full Jewish life away from home.
With the destruction of the Temple, may it be speedily rebuilt, and the innovation of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai this all changed.  Much of the Torah went into hibernation.  Think about it.  There are six orders to the Mishnah but with the end of national sovereignty the orders of Kodashim and Taharos became irrelevant to practical life, with the exception of niddah of course.  Other than the dwindling community in Israel most of Zera'im, with the exception of Berachos, was no longer something people needed to be fluent in.  Much of Nezikin similarly became obscure in places where the dominant authorities allowed Jews legal autonomy on a very limited basis.  That really then left parts of Nashim and Mo'ed but really only the ritual parts that could be performed outside the Temple.  In other words, 2/3 of the Talmud no longer mattered except for the purpose of general limud Torah.
What then happened over the next 2000 years is that this hibernation became ossified.  We had nothing but ritual so ritual became everything.  A beis din was likely to encounter issues when it came to deciding on divorces and marriages but not business deals since it had no authority over them.  Judaism became what was available to it.
With the dawn of the 20th century something changed.  World history moved forward and the land of Israel was reopened to us as a nation.  The response from many important authorities to this show of mercy from above was one of rejection.  There were a few reasons for this, certainly, but looking back one sees whose side history was on.  Despite all the crying and shouting of the evils of Zionism today we can clearly see that history's plan was for a national Jewish rebirth in the land God wants us in.
Despite this there is still tremendous opposition to the concept of Israel as the first flowering of our redemption in the Chareidi community.  Some of this is due to Israel's secular nation and I agree this is a great concern.  Our forbears did not pray for 1900 for a country in which pritzus and chilul Shabbos were common occurences and part of the general culture.  However part of this opposition is due to an inertia that has left large swaths of the leadership stuck in the post-destruction model.  This is where ritual has led us astray.  For 1900 years it was a ritual for us to pray for and hope for the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in Israel.  We simply had no way to handle the situation once that actually occured.  This ritual of hoping is our mesorah while actually participating in that restoration is the heresy!
The effect this has had on us as a Torah nationality is frightful.  Is it any wonder that the longer Israel exists the nuttier the right wing of Orthodoxy gets?  As the realization of God's hand in our lives becomes more and more obvious it also becomes a threat to the established understanding that we can only be hopeful for Him to intervene in history.  It also explains the increased efforts in the last few years of the left wing of Orthodoxy to break away from tradition and imitate the Reformatives.  That group is looking for something more than the traditional ritual we've had for 1900 years.  They sense there is a greater purpose for Judaism afoot but like the right, all they know is ritual so that's where they innovate.
What then is the solution?


Unknown said...

I've enjoyed this series of posts. I've been mekhavven a lot of the same ideas.

Hayyim Ovadya

yosef said...

I'm sure many people have thought the same ideas, but yours is the first I see that puts forward a solution. Bravo.

Also, the lack of knowledge of Zeraim means that there are relatively few English-language books on the intricacies of gardening. Not many people I've encountered understand that orlah does apply chutz la'aretz.