Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 13 April 2009

Guest Post by Rav Benjy Hecht

Thank you to Rav Benjy Hecht of Nishma (he also has his own blog) for this post:

The Two Loci of Orthodoxy

Subsequent to Garnel’s posts about YCT, I was speaking with him and asked him how his critiques of YCT are different than the Charedi world’s critiques of Modern Orthodoxy. Of course, the substance of the critiques are different, as what bothers Garnel about the views of YCT are different than what bothers the Charedi world about the views of Modern Orthodoxy, yet my question focused on form and theory. It just seems that the yardsticks that he applied in challenging the Orthodoxy of YCT were very similar to the yardsticks used by the Charedi world in attacking the view of Modern Orthodoxy. Garnel saw my point. The result, though, was my agreement to write a guest post on the subject.
Of course, since our discussion and prior to my presentation of this post, Garnel already attempted to address this issue in his post Defining Orthodoxy. His conclusion -- although he himself admitted to the difficulty of the question and the challenges within his presented solution -- was that while even as segments of the non-Orthodox may develop technically acceptable halachic arguments for their positions, the answer basically still precedes the analysis. In other words, they know the conclusion they want and with which they will conclude before doing the analysis, in fact framing the arguments to defend the already desired conclusion. Yet, Garnel still admits that, from his perspective, the Charedi world often does the same although their desired conclusion is to be stringent and limiting. What is really strange, though, is that in the presentation from Rabbi Student with which Garnel began his post. Rabbi Student seems to argue that Orthodoxy is defined by this very process of maintaining the desired conclusion even in the face of appropriate, technical, opposing arguments – the desired conclusion being to maintain the tradition. So what is the force of the halachic process?
The fact is, though, that investigating a halachic question with a desired purpose in mind is actually also part of the halachic process. Responsa literature is filled with such cases, both with the objective to find a heter and with the objective to maintain a customary stringency. Approaching a case with a desired, wished outcome is not, in itself, outside the pale of Orthodoxy Of course, Garnel is correct that if one, if unable to find a halachic argument for a desired position, then chooses to disregard the halacha, that is clearly outside the pale. Yet Rabbi Student’s argument is that the advocates of YCT are still open to critique even when they have technical halachic arguments to support their position. So what is the problem? It can’t be just their application of their desired outcome.
The answer is found in the actual dialectic that, I believe, is at the very root of Orthodoxy. I cannot in this post even fully present this perspective let alone defend it, yet just from a brief introduction I hope I can shed light on the answer to this challenge of defining Orthodoxy. Most people perceive Orthodoxy as having only one point at its centre – the directives of God commanded at Sinai. What is lost, though, is that there are really two loci at the centre of Orthodoxy. In addition to the directives at Sinai, there is also the nature of the recipients of these directives – which has additional significance because the very directives of God are in themselves not totally clear. (On this point, see the Introduction to Iggrot Moshe by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.) The result is that Halacha is not the result of the simple presentation of directives from God but rather the understanding of these directives – which are also presented in a complex and cloudy manner -- through the analysis undertaken by the recipients of these directives. Practical Torah is a mixture of the human and Divine – and this was the intentional objective and purpose of God. The challenge of Orthodoxy is thus to maintain and honestly apply these two loci.
The real challenge of Orthodoxy is to find the truth – what one, through the intense study of Torah, truly believes is what God wants – but that is not so easy to determine. Some would like to define this in an almost fundamental way – just read the statement simplistically, but that is problematic for that was not God’s intent when He presented these statements. He intended them to be read critically, with the human intellect. We do not read “an eye for an eye” literally but, perhaps more importantly, if one studies the gemara’s argument for why this is so, one finds that it is the intellect that demands a further explanation beyond its problematic fundamentalist meaning. The way that Torah is structured is that to correctly define the Will of God, God demanded the use of the human will.
The result is that, if Torah is read literally without human involvement, the reality is that one will often get it wrong. Yet if read with the human will, there is also the possibility of an incorrect conclusion for one may over apply one’s human perspective and then, subsequently, also get it wrong albeit in a different way. The dilemma of Torah is thus to correctly apply one’s human will in concert with the correct approach to the Divine Will. This is ultimately the challenge that is at the basis of Orthodoxy. To be Orthodox means to apply this dialectic in a most serious manner. This means to be concerned that one may be reading into the Divine command that which one wants the law to be yet to also be concerned that one is reading the presumed statement of the Divine law too fundamentally and rejecting the need for human analysis to open up its true meaning. It means to wear both hats. This is, perhaps, another reason for why it is so important within Orthodoxy to know opposing opinions and value them. (Remember that Beit Hillel is praised not simply for quoting Beit Shammai but for quoting them first.) It is a way of making us face the dialectic.
Within this framework, we can now better understand a framework for critiquing variant views aside from a simple dislike of their conclusions – which really is not an acceptable method within the Torah parameter of eilu v’eilu. The Charedi world is ultimately concerned about the over representation of the human will in determination of the final understanding of the Will of God. As such, its solution is to solely entrust this process of applying human intellect and perspective to the gadol or gedolim for only they can be presumed to balance to two loci correctly. Everyone else is then called upon to treat the decisions of these gedolim as the one centre of true Torah reflecting the Will of God. This perspective is then reinforced by trying to hide the reality of the actual Torah decision making process, even to simply declaring that the gadol simply has ru’ach hakodesh and thus is directly simply presenting the correct and only Will of God. The critique against this approach is that while, no doubt, gedolim have to be respected as having greater knowledge and wisdom in the process of analysis and individuals should recognize their limitations in attempting to balance the two loci, this reality that calls upon the development of the human intellect and perspective in the Torah process also cannot be ignored and, not only not embraced but rejected.
This would be the basis of what I believe to be Garnel’s critique of the Charedi world. Of course, this may also be the critiqued leveled by those to the left against the positions that Garnel maintains. Garnel, in turn, would declare that these individuals are allowing the human perspective to have too much sway – evidenced by the fact that the non-Orthodox would override the Halacha, in any event, if they cannot find a justification for the position they desire. Yet, even within those who maintain that they are within the parameters of Halacha – or, as Rabbi Student would maintain, can find technical halachic arguments although missing perhaps a greater imperative – the problem still lies in the motivation and the decision making process as the two loci collide. Torah truth demands that one set as the goal what one believes to be the true directive of God not what one wants or even what one feels is morally correct. It was in regard to this point that I described my difficulty with what occurred at the YCT dinner when someone was asked about the ordination of women. The person answered ‘nothing’ and received a loud applause. Were they applauding the person’s analysis of Torah and the determination of the correct understanding of the material or were they applauding the conclusion that they desired, even as they believe that conclusion to be morally correct? When the person answered ‘nothing’, he was also presenting the answer to that question. Where are the other sources? Where are the intellectual Torah argument and the appreciation for the sevarah and not the conclusion? Garnel’s cry is to accept Torah study and analysis, the Torah process. This is done by quoting the other side. This is something the right and the left both don’t do, at least, with respect. The result is the loss of the two loci that Torah demands. This is really, I believe, Garnel’s problem.

1 comment:

Rabbi R Wolpoe said...

My editorial comment:
The Left is tuning out the right because the right pontificate their opinions as facts.

The Right is tuning out the left because they are perceived by the right as having a cynical agenda to make RW rabbis look foolish

Gutn Mo'ed