Vegetarian Theology

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At the office where I used to work, one entrepreneurial colleague cooks a cholent, a stew of beans, barley, potatoes and more, Thursday night to share with his colleagues on Friday.[1] He omits one traditional ingredient, however, failing to add meat so the dish remains pareve. It’s still a cholent, but maybe not as much as the fleishig one my family eats Shabbos afternoon, which raises the deep question of how much you can leave out of the pot and still call it cholent. This is a version of the Sorites Paradox, in which we cannot say how many or which specific grains of wheat form a heap. If we take away one grain at a time, at what point does the pile lose its status as a heap? Vague definitions invite confusion at the margins. I leave the resolution of this and related dilemmas to philosophers and gourmands, but a similar question nagged at me as I read Jewish Theology in Our Time: A New Generation Explores the Foundations & Future of Jewish Belief.

The collection is edited by Elliot Cosgrove, who serves as rabbi of the Park Avenue Synagogue which has long been one of the most prestigious Conservative pulpits in America. Cosgrove asked leading figures from the different Jewish denominations to present their visions of Judaism in brief, accessible language. Cosgrove’s work in bringing theology to the public is laudable. The Jewish community needs more conversation on this subject because if we stop talking about God we risk losing sight of Him.[2] The diversity of views and styles in this collection of essays makes for a fascinating read but raises two fundamental questions: what is theology and how can it be Jewish? The answers provided in the book, both explicitly and implicitly, left this reader feeling a little empty.

In the book’s preface, Carole Balin, Reform professor at Hebrew Union College, defines theology as “the process of piecing together a personally meaningful understanding of God.” William Plevan, a Conservative scholar of Buber, puts it more personally: “Theology is about the relationship between God and God’s creatures.” But is this enough? Doesn’t theology—or at least Jewish theology—require that the pieces in question be drawn from tradition and that the resulting mosaic not be entirely idiosyncratic?

What, then, is Jewish theology? Is it how Jews, either communities or individuals, understand that relationship? Every Jew wants to think that his beliefs and understandings are inherently Jewish but that isn’t so. After all, we have a long history of syncretizing our religion with others, adopting entirely a different faith or rejecting God altogether. “For My people have committed two evils,” accuses Jeremiah (2:13) in the name of God, “they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.” If Jewish theology is defined by the beliefs of individuals then it is a meaningless term because it encompasses every broken cistern that any Jew carves in his thoughts.

If Jewish theology is not whatever Jews are thinking about religion, then what is it? To a traditionalist like me, the definition is fairly easy. Jewish theology is based on Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles as accepted in subsequent history and, for anything not covered by them, the canonical texts of the rabbinic literature and their broadly defined commentary.[3] Remove a belief from that heap and you have unacceptable, heretical beliefs. But are they Jewish even in a cultural sense?[4] Can one truly suggest that Martin Buber’s heretical teachings consist of an entirely non-Jewish theology because they do not adhere to the Thirteen Principles?

We return now to our Sorites Paradox. Take away a grain and it is still a heap, just less so than before. Take away belief in a messianic redemption and, perhaps, it is still Jewish theology in a cultural sense just less Jewish than prior. But even vague definitions have their limits. At what point does a theology stop being even heretically Jewish? How much can be removed before the heap travels so far from its Jewish origin that it turns into a few grains in close proximity?

Marc Shapiro, an Orthodox academic, suggests in his essay that “an authentic Jewish theology can[not] entirely remove God from the world and deny the existence of a revelation to humanity.” If we accept these liberal limitations for even a heretical Jewish theology, and add that it has to emerge from and grapple with Jewish sources,[5] then some of the essays in this book still fail even this basic test.

Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Conservative rabbinical school at the American Jewish University, proposes a Spinozan definition of God that he believes is demanded by evolution, relativity and quantum theory. His view, at least as presented in this essay, neither emerges from nor grapples with Jewish sources, based on not even a single verse or rabbinic precedent. Benjamin Sax, on the other hand, a “self-defined secular Jew,” definitely grapples with Jewish sources. His essay is among the book’s richest in rabbinic treasures. But his agnosticism certainly does not emerge from those sources, nor does it pass the basic theological requirement of belief in God. These are not even small heaps.

Shapiro’s definition is not the only one. In one of the most systematic and impressive contributions to the volume, Reform rabbi Evan Moffic proposes four requirements of authentic Judaism: God, identification with the global Jewish community, emerging from Jewish sources and accepting a multivocal pluralism. Perhaps a little too cleverly, he includes Reform Judaism while excluding Jews for Jesus, who identify with the Baptist church, and intolerant Charedim, who fail the pluralism criterion. Even according to this Reform thinker, Artston’s and Sax’s essays fail the test of Jewish theology.

The cynical reader is surely, by now, tired of this pietistic labeling. Why do we need to define a cultural Jewish theology? We know Judaism when we see it. A little common sense, after all, goes a long way. This exercise is not, however, merely a means of writing out of the Jewish community anything that makes me uncomfortable. It is a convenient way of expressing what is missing from nearly all of these essays by up-and-coming theologians. The contributors to this volume are skilled writers and trained thinkers. They are passionate about their Judaism and express their views with an almost missionary zeal. Yet despite their erudition and eloquence, they generally, with isolated exceptions, omit two crucial Jewish concepts from their essays.

The first is that of tradition and continuity. There is always room for new approaches and ideas. No study hall, the Talmud says, is bereft of a new idea (Chagigah 3a). Yet we must still follow the general paths of our teachers throughout the ages, accepting the accumulated wisdom of the generations and innovating within them.[6] Yes, the challenges of modernity are formidable but they do not render tradition useless, a value so ineffectual we need not even keep it in our toolbox. What dwarf would choose to jump off a giant’s shoulders? The task of Jewish theologians is to clarify and formulate the Jewish traditions in today’s language and perspective, to give voice to the implicit and often elusive theology of the ages. It is not to invent a new theology. A theology missing the fundamental concepts accepted and taught by our teachers is lacking Tevye the milkman’s sole definition of Judaism—tradition.

Consider the contribution of Shai Held, a Conservative rabbi and educator. Held begins traditionally by noting the debt of gratitude people owe God for creating them, although failing to locate the obligation for this gratitude which others attribute to Natural Law.[7] R. Sa’adia Ga’on and R. Bachya Ibn Pakuda see obedience as the proper display of gratitude to one’s Creator.[8] Held moves in a different direction, asserting that imitation of God flows directly from one’s gratitude. This required imitatio Dei is in addition to observing the law, a prophetic mandate that complements the Mosaic commandments. “Let me be clear,” Held dramatically declares, “Halakhah is not enough.” Deviating from every halakhic code with which I am familiar, Held states that clothing the naked, visiting the sick, burying the dead and comforting the bereaved are beyond legally required behavior.[9] Distinguishing between law and theology, he says that “Judaism means piety and social action, love of God and love of neighbor.” No prophet, the Talmud states, may innovate a teaching (Megillah 2b-3a). The prophet inspires and rebukes, adding poetry to the prose of law. The rabbinic tradition teaches that social action is part and parcel of piety. Jews may require inspiration and encouragement but Jewish law already requires love of both God and neighbor. In his laudable zeal to promote a theology of social action, Held simply ignores what past Jewish scholars have written about it.
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The second missing element is the basis of all theological inquiry, what the Bible tells us is the first step toward enlightenment: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalms 111:10). Fear of God, awe and reverence of the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, is the cornerstone of human relations with God. Fear of punishment, of loss of His sustenance or love, is the first step toward acquiring a healthy relationship with God, one fully aware of the dependencies in the relationship.[10] Of all the twenty-four contributors to this volume, only Daniel Nevins, dean of the Conservative rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary, mentions reverence of God as an element of Jewish theology. He writes that “a person must be reverent in order to subjugate the individual will and follow a path set by God.” The declaration is accurate but woefully understated.

“If there is no fear of God, there is no wisdom,” says the Mishnah (Avos 3:17), echoing biblical precedents (Psalms 11:10, Proverbs 1:7). Theology without awe is a reckless study of the meaning of life without adequate concern for its implications. You must tremble over the results of your investigations. They have to tug at your very being because your findings affect your understanding of your existential purpose. Theologians throughout the ages have approached their subject with a fearful hesitation, cognizant of the profound implications of their work.

Theology is about your relationship with God. That relationship must start with an acknowledgment of who is in charge, who is the master and who the servant, who is the provider and who the beneficiary. That is the beginning of the religious bond, the foundation on which to build a mutual love. Without that powerful awe, the questions of theology are all academic. You can easily accept or reject a premise based on your intellectual predilection. A reverential servant may agonize over principles of faith but will not reject them. He will not dismiss Divine revelation nor relegate God to nature. This fear is sorely missing from the volume, both in content and in spirit.

Despite these reservations, I see in this volume potential for great change in non-Orthodox Jewish theology. The many sensitive and creative writers are seeking increased connection to Jewish texts. They show a willingness to rethink their relationships to the past and to find inspiration in history. The growing centrality of traditional texts to young Jewish theologians may lead to a reinvigoration of past approaches, to a bridge that establishes continuity with past traditions, to uncovering an old recipe for a rich, meaty cholent.


[1] Cholent is a traditional Shabbos dish because it cooks slowly overnight, allowing for a hot lunch despite the prohibition of cooking on Shabbos. Nearly a thousand years ago, R. Zerachiah HaLevi of Provence wrote that, according to some, the Sages enacted an obligation to eat cholent joyously on Shabbos (Sefer HaMaor on Rif, Shabbos 16b).
[2] See Rema’s gloss to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 1:1 and Malbim’s Artzos HaChaim, Eretz Yehudah 1:2 for the Maimonidean background.
[3] See Maimonides, Commentary to the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 10:1. On the significance of acceptance and consensus in these areas, see Responsa Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah 356; R. J. David Bleich, With Perfect Faith (Ktav: 1983), p. 4; and my “Crossroads: Where Theology Meets Halacha” in Modern Judaism 24:3 (October 2004).
[4] I will use the term “heretically Jewish” because it is a convenient, if imprecise, phrase. Maimonides defines the term Israelite in the Mishnah’s statement (Sanhedrin 10:1) “All Israelites have a place in the world to come” as someone who accepts the thirteen fundamental principles of faith. A heretically Jewish belief is an oxymoron because if it is heretical, it is by definition not Jewish. This is in contrast to a Jewish heretic, who is subject to the biological definition of Jewish ancestry. I use the term “heretically Jewish” here in a sociological sense to demonstrate the distance these theologians have traveled from authentic Judaism.
[5] In a communication dated August 3, 2010, Prof. Shapiro agreed with this additional requirement.
[6] R. Joseph B. Soloveitchiks decried deviation (shinuy) while applauding innovation (chiddush). See And From There You Shall Seek (Ktav: 2008), p. 108 and R. Soloveitchik’s 1975 lecture to RIETS Rabbinic Alumni.
[7] See R. Chaim Shmuelevitz, Sichos Mussar (Beha’alosecha 5732) and the sources in the following note.
[8] Emunos VeDei’os 3:1; Chovos HaLevavos, Shaar Avodas Hashem, introduction.
[9] See e.g. Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Matenos Aniyim 7:1, Hilkhos Avel 14:1; Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 151:12, 247:1, 335:1, 343:1; Kitzur Shulchan Arukh 34:1, 193:1, 198:8, 207:1. See also this post: link
[10] I include here three types of fear – yiras ha’onesh, yiras haromemus and yirah me’ahavah, fear of punishment, fear of awe and fear out of love. On these, see Orechos Tzadikim, ch. 28, ch. 5 (end).

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

57 comments

  1. “Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Conservative rabbinical school at the American Jewish University, proposes a Spinozan definition of God that he believes is demanded by evolution, relativity and quantum theory.”

    Did this guy study science at *any* point in his life? Does he have the background to understand quantum theory or relativity on anything other than a superficial level? Or, if he’s lacking the background, was he pounding away at partial differential equations, and then moving through the relevant scientific material, in his spare time? Somehow that seems unlikely. The same could be said of evolution, though the literature there is less obscure and more amenable to self-study. Which makes me question why this guy thinks he’s in a position to make any sort of judgment about what is or isn’t required by either of those fields.

  2. Curious if anyone would compare the theology from the 1966 Commentary “State of Jewish Belief” with that of “Jewish theology of our time”

    BTW-the State of Jewish Belief had Orthodox and not just MO writers-would today an editor of an Gudah publication write an essay where non Orthodox theologians wrote also.

  3. That’s not a good comparison. The writers for the State of Jewish Belief were most certainly MO.

  4. >BTW-the State of Jewish Belief had Orthodox and not just MO writers-would today an editor of an Gudah publication write an essay where non Orthodox theologians wrote also.

    There was no editor of an Agudah publication writing in the Commentary symposium. The “frummest” Orthodox rabbi there was R. Moshe Tendler and R. Aharon Lichtenstein. No one to the right of YU. Not to denigrate by any means, but the other Orthodox rabbis were R. Eliezer Berkovitz, R. Rackman, R. Wurzburger, Marvin Fox and the like.

  5. Thanks, Gil. More of it seems to be previewable in Google Books than on Amazon, including the Introduction. And the subsection “Who Are the New Voices in Jewish Theology?” explains who and what is included in the book: http://tinyurl.com/3zptt6f.

    Incidentally, in addition to Prof. Shapiro, I noticed one other contributor I recognize as MO — R. Asher Lopatin.

  6. Jon — R. Bradley Shavit Artson’s 8 page essay is previewable there too.

  7. A Little Sanity

    “Jewish theology is based on Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles as accepted in subsequent history and, for anything not covered by them, the canonical texts of the rabbinic literature and their broadly defined commentary.[3] Remove a belief from that heap and you have unacceptable, heretical beliefs.”

    Prof. Shapiro has demonstrated in his book “The Limits of Orthodox Theology” that many of our greatest Rabbis have deviated from one or another of the 13 ikkarim. Were they all heretics?

    P.S. Do you say “Machnisei Rachamim” in Selichos?

  8. And here I though we were going to have a discussion about the merits of various chulent recipes. Ah well.

  9. S-
    The original Commentary Symposium had an article from Yakov Jacobs, editor of the Jewish Observer, page 104 in my copy.

  10. I question the very premise of your post. It is a davar poshut that one who is mudar hanaah from chulent cant eat vegetarian chulent either.

  11. “S. on August 18, 2011 at 11:08 pm
    >BTW-the State of Jewish Belief had Orthodox and not just MO writers-would today an editor of an Gudah publication write an essay where non Orthodox theologians wrote also.

    There was no editor of an Agudah publication writing in the Commentary symposium. The “frummest” Orthodox rabbi there was R. Moshe Tendler and R. Aharon Lichtenstein. No one to the right of YU. Not to denigrate by any means, but the other Orthodox rabbis were R. Eliezer Berkovitz, R. Rackman, R. Wurzburger, Marvin Fox and the like.”

    Responded to by

    “Mas on August 19, 2011 at 1:46 am
    S-
    The original Commentary Symposium had an article from Yakov Jacobs, editor of the Jewish Observer, page 104 in my copy”

    Unless one beleves that the JO and Agudah were MO-my point stands. Today would an editor of a Agudah publication write in such a place?

  12. One had 2 YU RYs writing in the Commentary SYmposium, an editor of the Agudah publication.

  13. A Little Sanity

    “See my review of Prof. Shapiro’s book”

    I can’t seem to access it. Could you possibly summarize your conclusions briefly? Do you hold, e.g., that no rishon or acharon ever asserted any view at variance with any of Rambam’s 13 ikkarim? If so, what of the quotations in Shapiro’s book that seemingly contradict such an assertion. If not, were all such rabbis heretics?

  14. I argue that Prof. Shapiro is right even if he grossly overstates his case but that it is irrelevant. Just because someone once said something does not make it acceptable.

  15. I argue that Prof. Shapiro is right even if he grossly overstates his case but that it is irrelevant. Just because someone once said something does not make it acceptable.

  16. I thought you argued that he is wrong because there are halachos about heresy and poskim have to pasken about them.

  17. Reb Gil, if you read last week Mishpacha Magazine, supposedly there is a chassidishe owner of a service station in Monsey, “Getty on the Hill”, who serves a parve cholent on Thursday night that tastes better than a fleishig cholent!

  18. A Little Sanity

    “Just because someone once said something does not make it acceptable.”

    So if R. “X” said something contravening the ikkarim before Rambam formulated them, he was not a heretic, but if R. “Y” says something now contravening them, he is? Seems illogical.

    Also, what about present practices that seem to contradict the ikkarim [my “Machnisei rachamim” example, for instance].

  19. Heresy hunters need something to hang their (modern European) black hat on and the 13 Ikkarim are it. Any attempts to demonstrate the inconsistences (e.g. Prof. Shapiro or Prof. Kellner) are dismissed with rationalizations or, worse, claims of a “halachic process” that is applied inconsistently (see e.g. Forbidden Reading).

    The funny thing is that Rambam would probably think most of the people quoting him are themselves heretics.

  20. Anonymous: Correct. Just because someone once said something does not mean that a posek cannot rule that the view is outside the bounds of Orthodox belief.

    A Little Sanity: Like in most areas, this topic of halakhah went throughout a process of crystallization. The Rambam certainly was not the final word, which is why I wrote: “Jewish theology is based on Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles as accepted in subsequent history” Note the qualifying phrase.

    IH: I suspect that you would not accept any definition of acceptable belief, unlike Prof. Shapiro. Frankly, the 13 Ikkarim are rarely relevant because today’s heretics go beyond anything any rishon every said.

  21. There are, of course, limits otherwise Judaism doesn’t mean anything. The fundamental belief required, in my view, is that the Jewish people is bound by an eternal covenant to The One God. Beyond that we should be as open as we can under the broadest definition of Ahavat Yisrael. וכל נתיבותיה שלום

  22. A Little Sanity

    ““Jewish theology is based on Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles as accepted in subsequent history”

    As I think Prof. Shapiro points out in his book, can it be that, say, whether God has a body, can change from one generation to the next because of different piskei din? Halacha, similar to any legal system, is what an authorized judicial decisor says it is, be it the Sanhedrin in times past (and in the future, bimheyrah b’yomeinu), or a recognized poseik today. Different authorities can reach different conclusions. Lo bashmayim hi. In contrast, emes is emes.

  23. Truth doesn’t change. However, someone can be wrong without being an apikorus. What changes are the boundary lines, not what is or is not true. View X was always wrong but when a rishon said it it was just wrong while nowadays it is considered apikorsus.

  24. “Reform rabbi Evan Moffic proposes four requirements of authentic Judaism: God, identification with the global Jewish community, emerging from Jewish sources and accepting a multivocal pluralism. Perhaps a little too cleverly, he includes Reform Judaism while excluding Jews for Jesus, who identify with the Baptist church, and intolerant Charedim, who fail the pluralism criterion. ”

    I don’t accept that intolerant Chareidim don’t identify with general Jewish community but assuming arguendo that they don’t the writer would be correct.
    amech ami is fundamental to Yahdus even possibly before elokayich elokai both are necessary.

  25. ,”. Hirhurim on August 19, 2011 at 4:43 pm
    Anonymous: Correct. Just because someone once said something does not mean that a posek cannot rule that the view is outside the bounds of Orthodox belief.”

    In general we don’t pasken matters of belief-the only reason the Gemarrah paskens what is in Tanach is for what is metameh et hayadayim-of course certain things are clearly beyond Orthodox belief-I believe that belief in torah Misinai,sechar vaonesh are fundamental to all rishonim for example- I don’t believe that if R Albo, or a baalei tosfos or the Abarbanel believed in something we could call it apikorsus.

    .

    “IH: I suspect that you would not accept any definition of acceptable belief, unlike Prof. Shapiro. Frankly, the 13 Ikkarim are rarely relevant because today’s heretics go beyond anything any rishon every said.”
    Probably agree with Gil-If I recalll correctly one ofthe first TUM had a difference between Rav Parness and RAv Carmy if one hasto accept the 13 Maimonidean principles as binding halacha-I’ve probably oversimplified by memeory but if I recall they are both worth reading.

  26. Truth doesn’t change. However, someone can be wrong without being an apikorus. What changes are the boundary lines, not what is or is not true. View X was always wrong but when a rishon said it it was just wrong while nowadays it is considered apikorsus.

    To illustrate, someone who believes 1 + 1 = 3 is mistaken, he may even be a fool, but is not a heretic.

    The Brisker Rov makes this very point about the parsha where Miriam and Aharon complained about Moshe. Their mistake was assuming that Moshe was like any other novi, which is apikorsus. Does that mean that Miriam was an apikours? No, because the halakha that such is an ikkar in emunah was not given until that point. Miriam was merely mistaken. After the parsha was given, then someone else who believed that would be an apikorus.

    (BTW, her punishment was in speaking loshon horah about Moshe. The “loshon hora” consisted of implying that he was on the same level of nevuah as other neviim! Even that can be loshon hora!)

  27. Mycroft: I think the exclusion of Charedim is in the part about “a multivocal pluralism.” Why he thinks that is only Charedim is beyond me.

  28. In general we don’t pasken matters of belief

    Not directly, but many times indirectly. Whether one’s shechita is kosher and whether one’t touch on a glass on non-mevushal wine prohibits it very much turns on one’s beliefs or lack thereof.

  29. Some comments:

    1) All very interesting, but what about the problem of the significance of those beliefs? Aren’t some of them ikarim akarim (sterile principles)?

    For instance, many of the discussions I’ve seen on the Holocaust effectively neutralize the idea of sachar ve’onesh into something incomprehensible.

    2) I find it interesting how Dr. Shapiro’s book has become the Orthopraxy (“we can believe in anything”) Bible, even though it was not intended as such.

  30. “Moshe Shoshan on August 19, 2011 at 3:57 am
    I question the very premise of your post. It is a davar poshut that one who is mudar hanaah from chulent cant eat vegetarian chulent either.”
    Of courseprobably wouldapply to any food that Jews eat to have a warm dish on Shabbos-awhile back that was a feature of Natural History magazine.

  31. Aiwac: I consider denial of sechar ve-onesh in any form (meaning there is none whatsoever) problematic.

  32. R. STudent,

    You misunderstand me – I’m not talking about denial of an ikar, I’m talking about the ikar being functionally meaningless.

  33. A Little Sanity

    “Truth doesn’t change”.

    Agreed. So if X has a proof that Rambam was incorrect in his conclusions as to one or more of the ikkarim, and the proof is more compelling than that proffered by Ramabam, can we say that X is a heretic. Do we bury the truth for the sake of…what exactly?

    (I note in this connection that Rambam himself wrote, respecting ikkar #4 (creatio ex nihilo), that he would have to change his view if Aristotle’s theory as to the eternity of matter was conclusively proved.)

    “View X was always wrong but when a rishon said it it was just wrong while nowadays it is considered apikorsus.”

    Some of the authorities cited by Prof. Shapiro were post Rambam, in some cases by many centuries. Should they should be regarded as apikorsim????

    Also, doesn’t an apikorus lose olam haba? Seems unfair that same should turn on when one was born, given that the conduct (belief?) involved was identical.

  34. A Little Sanity: So if X has a proof that Rambam was incorrect in his conclusions as to one or more of the ikkarim, and the proof is more compelling than that proffered by Ramabam, can we say that X is a heretic.

    Compelling to whom? Some would say that the proofs for atheism are compelling. Does that mean an atheist isn’t a heretic? This is for skim do decide how we act in certain contexts — whose shechitah is kosher, etc.

    Some of the authorities cited by Prof. Shapiro were post Rambam, in some cases by many centuries. Should they should be regarded as apikorsim????

    I’m sure that at the time, some considered them apikorsim and some didn’t. Certainly the Rambam would have. But we only have to address people today so halakhah is not frozen in time. We need to know whose shechitah is kosher, etc. and poskim may disagree on the details.

    Also, doesn’t an apikorus lose olam haba? Seems unfair that same should turn on when one was born, given that the conduct (belief?) involved was identical.

    I’m not so sure the beis din shel ma’alah paskens like the beis din shel matah. Maybe it does and maybe not. That is not what we are deciding. We are deciding how to act based on the information available to us. As I see it, poskim over the ages have generally followed the Rambam’s approach.

    Is it fair? If we lived 200 years ago, we may have been able to carry umbrellas on Shabbos. But halakhah evolved and that has become accepted as forbidden.

  35. A Little Sanity

    “Compelling to whom? ”

    That’s a different issue. Surely you do not hold that truth in all cases cannot be established rationally. For if one did, than all our truths would be mere absurdities. Surely you believe that the Supreme Intelligence endowed us with rational faculties that we may use those faculties to discern truth from falsity. Certainly Rambam did. One can talk about standards of proof, but there are certain propositions (e.g., the sun rises in the east, the earth is round)that no reasonable person can disagree with.

    Which brings us back to my original hypothetical, which I will recast a little: So if X has a proof, that cannot be reasonably refuted, that Rambam was incorrect in his conclusions as to one or more of the ikkarim, can we say that X is a heretic?

    “If we lived 200 years ago, we may have been able to carry umbrellas on Shabbos. But halakhah evolved and that has become accepted as forbidden.”

    Again, halacha may change, truth does not. BTW, I could give you a few examples of halakhah that my rebeiim taught me a lot less than 200 years ago that are no longer mainstream in the frum community. I am curious, in your view, am I justified in relying on the instruction of the rebeiim of my youth, or should I change my practice (generally, but not always, l’chumrah) to reflect contemporary standards? And either way, why? Moreover, how should I instruct my children?

    Thank you very much for taking the time to address my concerns in this thread.

  36. I did not mean “compelling to whom?” as a rhetorical question but rather one that I answered: poskim. They will and do disagree, and some consult with “experts” more than others.

    It depends on the circumstance because you do not want to publicly appear to be rejecting your local rabbi’s authority but usually most people will tell you that you can follow what you were taught unless the circumstances have changed and the previous rulings are inapplicable.

  37. A Little Sanity

    “poskim”

    If I understand you, you are saying that truth, in this instance, is what the poskim say it is. Correct?

    Or, is it that one must believe something to be true, if one’s poseik says that it is, even if pne’s rational faculties tell one beyond any reasonable doubt that the truth is otherwise?

  38. “Hirhurim on August 21, 2011 at 9:06 am
    Aiwac: I consider denial of sechar ve-onesh in any form (meaning there is none whatsoever) problematic.”

    But certainly one could believe that in this world it is evident that sechar vonesh doesn’t make sense thus one who accepts a just God from sevara must accept the idea of an olam haemet because justice in this world clearly doesn’t exist-zadil vra lo and rash vtov lo.

  39. A Little Sanity on August 21, 2011 at 1:17 pm
    “poskim”

    “If I understand you, you are saying that truth, in this instance, is what the poskim say it is. Correct?

    Or, is it that one must believe something to be true, if one’s poseik says that it is, even if pne’s rational faculties tell one beyond any reasonable doubt that the truth is otherwise?”

    A hashkafic debate in “lo tasur” to see the 3 basic opinions go to Torah Temimah on the verse lo tasur min hadavar asher yagidu lecha yamin usmol.

  40. “Tal Benschar on August 20, 2011 at 10:36 pm
    In general we don’t pasken matters of belief

    Not directly, but many times indirectly. Whether one’s shechita is kosher and whether one’t touch on a glass on non-mevushal wine prohibits it very much turns on one’s beliefs or lack thereof”

    Agreed as in metaemeh et hayadayim. Of course there are fundamental beliefsthat all believe in -Torah misinai-some sort of sechar vonesh etc-the debate is whether one must follow the formulation of the Rambam-clearly many later Riahonim didn’t.

  41. There is no such thing as deciding what is true. Truth is. Poskim decide how to define boundaries and act according to halakhah. People believe whatever they believe. For those who cannot believe what is accepted, see the post on a mitzvah for non-believers.

  42. Ok, so let’s say a posek paskens “1+1=3 or you’re a heretic”. That’s where the problem cases lie.

  43. Then that posek’s followers will consider us heretics. He isn’t someone I’d want to follow but that’s neither here nor there.

  44. A Little Sanity

    “Poskim decide how to define boundaries and act according to halakhah. People believe whatever they believe. ”

    If Poskim decide whom to exclude from various communal functions b/c of incorrect beliefs, then I see little difference l’maaseh between that and deciding what is true (on the assumption that a poseik would not exclude someone for holding a view that the poseik believes is true). What’s the nafka mina?

    “For those who cannot believe what is accepted, see the post on a mitzvah for non-believers.”

    That post concerns the mitzvah of belief in God, which is mid’oraisa, and, even if it weren’t, is the main reason we have a religion. Even Prof. Shapiro is modeh that “kulei alma lo pligi” on that one. Orthopraxy is not an option.

    The more difficult case concerns a person who sincerely believes in God, is shomer mitzvos and a yireh shamayim, but for reasons of intellectual integrity cannot bring himself to accept one or more of the other 12 ikkarim. What then? Do we adopt a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy? Do we exclude such a one from getting an aliya, serving as shatz, etc? Would such a policy be just, particularly if such a person merely expresses an opinion similar to one expressed by a universally recognized gadol of the past? And in particular when the community itself seemingly is not machmir about some of the ikkarim (referring , e.g., to my machnisei rachamim example earlier)?

  45. If Poskim decide whom to exclude from various communal functions b/c of incorrect beliefs, then I see little difference l’maaseh between that and deciding what is true (on the assumption that a poseik would not exclude someone for holding a view that the poseik believes is true). What’s the nafka mina?

    A nafka mina is a practical difference, and that is precisely the point. Poskim decide how to act, not what is the ultimate Truth. They can disagree with each other because they are using their best judgment based on their vast learning, wisdom and experience. If they were each reaching absolute Truth, then they could not disagree.

    That post concerns the mitzvah of belief in God, which is mid’oraisa, and, even if it weren’t, is the main reason we have a religion.

    It applies equally to all other required beliefs, many of without which we would not have a religion.

    And in particular when the community itself seemingly is not machmir about some of the ikkarim

    Machnisei rachamim contravenes the Rambam’s ikkarim but not the ikkarim based on the Rambam that have been accepted throughout the centuries. The Rambam is not the final word on the subject.

  46. A Little Sanity

    “Machnisei rachamim contravenes the Rambam’s ikkarim but not the ikkarim based on the Rambam that have been accepted throughout the centuries. ”

    How does one know what the present state of the ikkarim is? In the siddur, only the Rambam’s version is printed. And should you say that one must ask his poseik, then we are in a situation where Reuvain can told he must be believe “X” to be true, while Shimon, who has a different poseik, is told that if he believes “X”, he is an apikoreis and will not be getting an aliya any time soon. I mean no disrespect,but if I speak frankly, to me that seems strange–because, however you characterize it, the poseik is still, de facto, ruling as to truth–unless you say he’s telling us that we must believe something that isn’t true–which would be even more strange. Ma she-ain kayn with practical halachos involving actions, not beliefs.

    One more thing. If poskim are to control what we must believe, notwithstanding what the Rambam wrote, them I take it that there is no problem with a given poseik ruling that we must no longer believe in a particular ikkar because, say, we have more information on a given subject now than Rambam did, and in light of that new information, his position is no longer tenable? This would be similar, would it not, to those poskim who now assur, say, strawberries, which were commonly eaten in past generations, because they have new information about insect infestation?

    Of course, other poskim may disagree. But each Jew is bound to follow his Poseik’s ruling in such a matter, correct?

  47. >In the siddur, only the Rambam’s version is printed.

    On the contrary, in the siddur the Rambam’s version is not printed. In the siddur you have Yigdal and the Ani Maamin list by an unknown author.

  48. A Little Sanity

    “On the contrary, in the siddur the Rambam’s version is not printed.”

    Thank you for reminding me. My question remains, however, though it should have been phrased “How does one know what the present state of the ikkarim is? How does one know when to modify one’s belief from what the Rambam wrote?”

    My other questions also remain.

  49. How does one know what the present state of the ikkarim is?

    That’s a fair question but the reality is that there is no unanimity on many issues. Some poskim consider Zionism to be heretical while most do not. Some consider the rejection of the Zohar to be heretical.

    How do you know what to believe? That is why we have teachers.

    Can a posek rule that there is no obligation to believe in revelation? Presumably, but all other poskim will disagree and his followers who reject revelation will be considered heretics by most of the observant community.

  50. Jewish theology must be based on the three traditional realities of Judaism–God, Torah, and Israel. But theology is aggada and not halacha. Jewish texts clearly distinguish between the two. Halacha is obligatory. (All the movements have a theory of halacha, but whatever it is they include within that category, it IS obligatory.) Aggada is not. According to Rav Shmuel in the Mevo l’Talmud, when it comes to aggada, ‘one is free to believe that which makes sense.’ Even Maimonides 13 principles, which deems to defy this guideline, were turned into a musical ditty (Yigdal), as Eugene Borowitz has shown. Jews simply will not be told how to think or what to believe. And so, to the three traditional pillars of Jewish religious thought, Borowitz adds a fourth, modern, one–autonomy. The conscience. Any modern Jewish theology must not only grapple with who God is, and what constitutes torah, and what is the mission and significance of the people Israel; it must also explain how to integrate the individual conscience into one’s existential identity as a Jew-a person who stands with feet in two worlds–one foot in the stream of tradition and the other in the vortex of modernity. There is no one true “theology” of Judaism because Judaism does not accept a “science of God” and that’s what theology means. To adhere to an orthodoxy is to deny this truth about Judaism.

  51. A Little Sanity

    “Presumably, but all other poskim will disagree and his followers … will be considered heretics by most of the observant community.”

    Interesting. Have you ever posted on, or would you consider writing a post on “can one switch poskim”?

    For example, if my poseik issues a psak rejected by virtually all other poskim, can/should I switch poskim?

    Suppose only 90% of poskim disagree?

    Suppose my poseik is convicted of money laundering or other criminal activity ? Would that be grounds for switching?

    How can I rely on my own judgment in making the decision? It is an halachic issue, and would I not be ipso facto setting myself up as my own poseik by the very fact of making such a decision? OTOH, if I cannot decide for myself, then how could I ever contravene the psak of my own poseik to listen to him?

  52. “Suppose my poseik is convicted of money laundering or other criminal activity ? Would that be grounds for switching?”

    Can one have as a posek one who engages in money laundering? One who even is not engaged in money laundering his Yeshiva engaged in it?
    Is it reasonable to believe that a posek who is assumed to know everything does not know what goes on in his own Yeshiva.

  53. R Gerard correctly poses a distinction between Halacha and Aggadah. However, IMO, R Gerard does not acknowledge that there are Ikarei Emunah such as Yetzias Mitzrayim, Maamad Har Sinai and TSBP, as well as the concepts expressed in Malchiyos, Zicronos and Shofaros, that one cannot dismiss as purely Aggadic in nature,or view Judaism incorrectly, IMO, solely from a universalistic prism and discard the particularistic elements therein.

  54. “Not every rabbi is a Posek”
    Everyone is a posek -see eg a schul member asking a kasrus , taharas mishpacha etc

  55. WADR to R Held, one can find much in RYBS’s shiurim and drashos as to the centrality of Halacha and our obedience thereto as the defining point of a Jew’s committment to HaShem. In that regard, there is very little difference between the views of RYBS and the CI in Emunah UBitachon.

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