Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Keeping One's Focus

What's does the Torah-observant, but non-Chareidi, Jew stand for?

It's a good question, one that had consumed much trees and ink, including the landmark article available through this blog. Unfortunately, it's also one that results in unsatisfactory answers. This post will try to provide an answer, one that may help to focus the beliefs of a large, heterogenous group of people who, until now, have been defined by their lack of unity.

The first thing a Jew like this believes is that there is one God who is eternal. He created the universe and everything in it, and remains actively involved in its day-to-day existence. All of Creation exists because of His input and even things we take for granted as being normal or part of the laws of nature only continue because of His will (cf. Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch and Rav E.E. Dessler on the subject).

This one, eternal God presented us with His Torah at Mount Sinai as detailed in that selfsame Torah. Our Law is not a man-made invention, a composite of different books or philosophies, or a divinely inspired writ. It is God's blueprint for the universe. Torah is not just what's in the scroll in the shul, no more than Medicine is defined by the Merck Manual. Torah is what God has planned for us and all parts of His Creation and it is our duty as his servants to learn what that Will is and carry it out to the best of our ability.

The Torah is not a simple or superficial book that can be read and understood easily. It is a deep text with many layers of interpretation that can only be fully appreciated by understanding the original text and all its subtleties. To say that Creation lasted 144 hours because the Torah uses the word "day" six times is to deny this depth. This is a graet injustice to God who expects much more sophistication from us. The reason the Torah was given with a huge oral component was to emphasize this. The text is just the beginning. Our Sages and their inheritors through the ages are our guides to understanding the text. There is no one correct way to understand a verse or concept although there are many wrong ways. How can we know which is which? Emunas chachamim, a critical eye and an open mind.

We must remember that halachah is more complex than any comparable field of knowledge. There are few absolutes and many options that have developed through the centuries of rabbis who have endeavoured to elucidate God's Will for our daily lives. The answer "it's not allowed" is only valid when it can survive a challenge. An argument like "it's just that way" is meaningless, as is "you have to do this because my Rabbi said so". Daas Torah is knowing the vastness of halachic literature and reaching conclusions based on that knowledge. It is not a trump card to end a dicussion when you don't really have good support for your position and your opponent knows it.

All we believe must be based on Torah and halachah. If we support Zionism, it must be because, having learned the relevant sources, we see that the conditions for supporting our people's return to Israel is legitimate and supported by the evidence. It's not enough to say that "the Satmar rebbe doesn't know what he's talking about". He very much does know what he's talking about which means that countering his rejection of Zionism must involve understanding why he feels that way and why we can disagree, using the same sources. Having said that, there is ample support in Torah literature for the return of our people to Israel and this juncture in history. May we witness the final redemption speedily.

One must never define oneself as being against something. We must be for something. We are for God and his Torah; for the intelligent practice of His Law; for the belief that He revealed His Will to us at Sinai to give us the opportunity to create a society that would fulfill His vision for humanity. By being the best Jews we can be, in the most intelligent way we can be, we serve God in a positive fashion whether it be through sitting and learning or working and earning.

Above all, we must remember we are all children of the Lord our God whose ways are perfect and who brooks no error. If a person exists in this world, he has a purpose that was ordained from on high. We cannot second guess our Creator's judgement, nor despise it by showing disrespect to his Creation. Only through respect for our fellows can we advance Torah properly in this world.

Respect, however, does not equal tolerance. One can disagree without being dismissive and we must remember, therefore, that our beliefs cannot be compromised. We must be firm and resolute in our practice and form without being patronizing and dismissive of those who are different, either to the left or the right. This is rarely easy for the reaction from either extreme is often vicious but just as Avraham withstood the Ten Trials, so we must see these challenges as tests of our faith and belief. The more we withstand, the closer we come to understanding what God wants of us.

Which is the reason we merit having been created.


SJ said...

The satmars are very one track people. They might me quite educated in religious texts, but it is a self imposed dark age to not know anything else.

Anonymous said...

What does that have to do with this post?

SJ said...

I just looked at what you wrote about satmar and ranted.

and me should be - be. :|

What I am saying is that to arrive at truth, a broad background in several fields is necessary. That includes religion/philosophy, math, history, physical sciences, etc. That I believe is an argument that modern orthodx peeps can use in support of their position.

Anonymous said...

Abosultely. As the article notes, a Chareidi scholar will use only "approved" scources to conclude something while a Modern Orthodox scholar can use secular knowledge to buttress his arguments. The end result for both, however, should be the same: to confirm the truth of Torah.