Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Ritual Uber Alles Part 5 - The Hard Solution

A few years ago I was at a social gathering and someone commented that life must have been much easier for religious Jews back in the times of the Talmud and earlier.  After all, with all the chumros and minhagim that have developed in the last 2000 years or so that complicate everyone's practice of halacha it's no wonder people think it's too complicated to be Orthodox today.  Imagine what Shabbos was like before muktzeh and  shvus were invented.  So much easier!
One of the rabbonim at the gathering start laughing out loud.  Harder today?  We have no idea what it was like to be a fully observant Jew back then.  What about tumah and taharah, he asked.  Could you imagine living in a society where non-observant Jews weren't just snickered at quietly but considered untouchable before of the fear of picking up spiritual cooties from them?  Imagine not just caring about how kosher your neighbour keeps but also whether or not her pots are tahor enough for you.  And those poor kohanim with their constant need to keep pure because of terumah?  And that often wasn't enough, especially during those 2 weeks in the Temple and during the big holidays.  If you thought preparing for Pesach was a pain nowadays imagine what they went through to be ready to eat the Pesach korban in a proper ritual state!
I would go a step further.  Imagine a society in which going to beis din wasn't an option but an obligation.  Imagine all the institutions that keep secular society running.  Now consider what they'd look like if they were being run al pi halacha.  Simple banking transactions, your investment portfolio, your paycheque would all be affected.  What a different society it would be.
Now think about this: that's the society we as Orthodox Jews are supposed to be aiming for in Israel.  The ideal modern state of Israel is supposed to be one that is run al pi halacha.  If that is the case many questions arise.  Is the halacha as it is currently constituted capable of running a modern country?  Are current economics, politics and voting systems things that can be run by Torah?  Is contemporary law better suited for contemporary situations?
I'll give an example of the reason for concern in this area.  Years ago a Rav in our community wrote an article for a contemporary Jewish journal.  He posed the following scenario: Reuven sneaks onto Shimon's driveway at night and unplugs the oil pan in Shimon's car.  The oil drains out.  In the morning Shimon goes to start his car (and obviously doesn't see the oil puddle on the driveway).  The engine immediately overheats and breaks down.  What does Reuven owe Shimon?  Well, according to the basic understanding of Torah law Reuven owes Shimon one container of motor oil.  After all, that's the only direct loss he caused Shimon.  The engine break down might have been due to lack of oil but not due to Reuven directly.
Meanwhile over in contemporary law there would be potential financial penalties to cover the cost of the car repair and possible charges of trespassing since Reuven was on Shimon's property without permission.  One could make the argument that since there is a Judge and there is judgement Shimon shouldn't be upset with only get $10.99 for his loss.  If he has faith in God he'll accept this knowing that Reuven will get his.
Somehow I doubt Shimon is on that level.
I could get even more absurd.  A primary school rebbe is physically, or worse, abusing a student.  There are no witnesses and no warnings.  It's the student's word against the rebbe's and since the student is a minor he has no rights under halacha.  The parents can do nothing other than switch schools and if they do that they can be accused of maligning an innocent rebbe.  Of course he's innocent, no beis din has convicted him.
In the last few posts I've written about how ritual and the ritual approach to non-ritual areas still active in Judaism has corrupted our practice of the true faith.  In this post I would like to bring things to their annoying conclusion: if we wish to restore Judaism to its proper functioning state we need to start asking hard questions.  How does Torah law handle video cameras as testimony in court?  How about DNA evidence?  How does the Torah handle mutual funds and debentures?  How could a bank run al pi halacha and be successful without encountering ribis prohibitions?  What has to be done to get Reuven to pay Shimon for the full repairs to his car?
It is encouraging to note that the answers to many of these questions have already been dealt with by the poskim of the last few generations.  Unfortunately these kinds of teshuvos don't get the same press as the ones about how strawberries are all treif because of bugs no one can see.  What's more, we usually shrug in a resigned fashion.  Even if one comes up with a functional Torah-based banking system when will it see the light of day?
The answer is: in Israel it should.  The modern state of Israel presents the Orthodox community with both an opportunity and a challenge.  Neither has been dealt with effectively until now.  The opportunity is to introduce halacha into areas it has not been prominent in until now.
Consider the area of medical halacha.  Unlike other areas of non-ritual Jewish life medical halacha is a thoroughly modern, practical and effective legal and ethical system that is practiced by Orthodox physicians.  Yes, some of the principles are not concordant with secular liberal ones, for example birth control and abortion on demand, but they are developed, take into account the latest technologies and provide the modern practitioner with a ready guide to performing his medical duty while obeying the Torah.  Is there a good reason this can't occur in other fields like economics, finance and {gasp!} law?
It must therefore be the task of the Religious Zionist community to push halacha in this direction.  Over the last generation the former National Religious Party suffered from declining voter support.  Like the Chareidi parties with their narrow "Gimme money!" platforms the Mafdal focused on narrow issues of interest to the Dati Leumi public.  However, unlike Chareidim who have no sense of the bigger picture and will vote for their parties for parochial reasons no matter what, Religious Zionist voters have a broader view of the issues.  The average Chareidi doesn't care about foreign policy, the average religious Zionist does.  Ditto for economic policy, environmental initiatives and the like.  What the Mafdal learned too late was that they had to become a comprehensive full platform party in order to retain their sector.  With the recent electoral success of the HaBayit HaYehudi party this might change.
Naftali Bennett and his party, including their guiding rabbonim, need to see HaBayit HaYehudi as a governing altnerative, not another fringe party.  They need to be able to stand before the Israeli electorate with a full platform, one devised by poskim to be consistent with halachic requirements.  The more Torah gets into the legal area the more it will come to be seen as the comprehensive nation-running system that it is.  And if that happens there will be a return of ritual to its proper place in the grand scheme of things.
Therefore there must be encouragement from the Dati Leumi public to its leaders to begin pushing things in this direction, encouraging the developing of more Religious Zionist dayanim,  bankers and accountants.  In this way Torah Judaism ceases to be a ritualistic rote and becomes a proper way of life moving things forward towards the final redemption.


YS said...

Many of the issues you raised, such as evidentiary issues and grama b'nezikin, can definitely be covered by the Melech concept that appears in the Gemara.

What I never understood was how you could have a Shomer Shabbat police force. How do you prevent theft if your police can't be mechallel Shabbat just to prevent theft of and harm to property?

Anonymous said...

“We have no idea what it was like to be a fully observant Jew back then.”

Precisely. And neither do 'the rabbonim'---whose understanding of history & science & how they are learned is roughly equivalent to my knowledge of Greek mythology.

Just because we have a mesorah---plus a lot of conjecture--about the rules, mores & principles that are to be derived from the Torah, this in no way indicates, let alone proves, that Klal Yisroel as a whole lived a frum/yeshivish/halacha-obsessed/glatt-kosher -&-cholov-yisroel-observant life…….until the onset of decadent modernity, of course.

SJ said...

Judaism does not separate morality and law the way we do in secular society. It really does cause the orthodox to be quite litigious in daily life.

by the way I overheard a religious divorce lawyer talk business. now I know all divorces are nasty and the added layer of get refusal or get stalling makes it even nastier yet this one was off the charts and the father may be a pedophile also roflmao with his own daughter she said her father gave her a bruise on her tuchas and pointed to her vagina. roflmao

story like this makes me glad I jumped ship.

Temujin said...

More halakha is the default position religious Jews are obliged to take on. But more is more," as a friend used to say to people who came up with all sorts of trite adages on the topic of "more." The proverbial reality on the ground is that Israel is a modern nation state surrounded by savage enemies, tied into a system of international laws and conventions, dependent on complex alliances and international commerce, and settled by a very diverse Jewish citizenry. More of anything in any direction will inevitably result in more ruffling-up things. This may be inevitable, but if there is anything governments and religious leaders can do which is of use, it's to create time and space for moderated, decently paced and conducted thinking and discussion. Less can be good.

Temujin gets the impression that the current situation of two dual systems of secular and halachic laws in Israel works rather well and perhaps shouldn't be dismissed too quickly. The division between these systems protects common law from religious impositions on the secular and protects halacha from rushed or unwanted changes out of a practical need to deal with modern necessities. One understand that the civil code in Israel is yet to be ratified, so plenty of wiggle room there, one imagines.

A status quo does not always require an urgent overhaul. It shouldn't be an invitation for all sorts revolutionaries to start screaming and pounding tables, urging us all "forward," whatever that is. Curiously enough, both halacha and the English common law system value such an approach, which perhaps why the play well together in Israel. Sometimes just a little tinkering here and there, such as the introduction of more halakha into the system, suggested by Sir Ironheart, could be the optimal situation.

Too much zeal and reform out there for this man's appetite. Too many fire-brands, too much panic and anger, too much rushing and bin-fulls of narrish ideas at a dollar a dozen. Let's all appreciate the way things are, at least once a yer, Temujin says...let's have an International Status Quo Day!

DF said...

The reality is non one wants a halachic state, and no one wants a return to the Beis Hamikdash.

Anything we REALLY wanted, we got. Jews always wanted a return to Zion, and so, in 1948, we finally got it. Actually we never really lost it in toto, just sovereignty. The point is, because we always had an attachment to the land, we never left it behind, and we eventually got it back.

The same cant be said about tummah or tahara. That was only observed by a small fraction of the people anyway. Not even all the perushim {the orthodox Jews) kept it. Only the Chaverim, the Nekeii Haddas, etc. Same with half of Zeraim. That's why we have Demai, because most people didn't observe the laws. Thus, we're never going back there, because it was never really adopted in the first place.

Same thing with the Temple. Believe me, if we really wanted it, we would have it. But animal sacrifice is passé. Its had its day. Same thing with the idea of a "priestly class", that basically does nothing except for two weeks a year and holidays, and gets supported by everybody else the rest of the time. We're not into that. And so it's never coming back. Unless there's a complete and total revolution of society, ie, like a nuclear war God forbid, in which we regress like they did after the Roman Empire collapse. Barring that, there's really no way.