Three Practical Ways Bad Theology Hurts Us

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Note that this post is a response to a previous post by R. Efrem Goldberg (link). At the end of this post, R. Goldberg responds.

In a recent post in this space, R. Efrem Goldberg noted how rhetoric can quickly heat up over issues such as the divine authorship of the Torah. He argued that, important as the question is, there are other questions on the Jewish agenda, giving useful—indeed, pressing—examples.

As some of the commentators on the piece noted, the importance of theological questions, including but not limited to authorship, goes further than whether that issue will itself directly lead people away from observance. R. Goldberg may be right that few of us would abandon our religious practices because we come to think that Jewish tradition misrepresents important theological questions. I’d like to suggest instead that flawed theology eats away at the religion in more indirect ways, the beginning of a rot best cured at its root.

Actual Mitzvot Dependent Directly on Theology

The first problem with looking to other questions than directly theological ones is that many mitzvoth in the Torah are themselves directly theological. In my experience, even well-educated Jews tend to forget that, I think because they don’t occupy the halachic space to which we are accustomed.

It is easier to define technical Sabbath observance, the avoidance of Sabbath violations, than it is to prescribe how to reach the state of shevittah, of leaving the week behind in the name of discovering the greater reality of the world that will one day come, a world that is “all Shabbat.” It is easier to define kosher food and kosher tefillin and kosher tzitzit than it is to lay out exactly how love and fear of Hashem work, to speak of moral and ethical obligations instead of speaking of trying to understand how Tanach and Chazal describe Hashem’s impact on the world. It is easier to delineate what kinds of speech we should avoid as slander or gossip than it is to lay out where we should trust Hashem to handle our future and where we should take care of it ourselves. It is easier to pick a good lulav than it is to recognize where the events of my life are a call from Hashem to change what I’m doing. We go with what is easy.

That doesn’t change the fact that there are mitzvoth, direct Biblical obligations, to create some kind of positive state of rest on Shabbat, to love and fear Hashem, to imitate Hashem’s ways of impacting the world, to trust Hashem rather than adopting non-Jews’ ways of trying to predict and control the future, and to be aware of where Hashem’s impact on our lives is a message, a call to improve who we are.

Each of those more amorphous mitzvoth becomes harder to fulfill, even to recognize the need to fulfill them, if our theological views go awry. A Jew who doesn’t believe in Hashem, or doesn’t believe in direct Divine revelation of the mitzvoth, will find ways to explain away these obligations, in a way that runs counter to what Jewish tradition has always told us. These are clear mitzvoth, defined in halachic sources (and more so in mussar works), but you can’t engage them unless you accept some of the very theological propositions that are under attack.

Turning Us Into Reconstructionists

Maybe R. Goldberg knows different Jews than I do, but the shying away from theology that I encounter leads to a situation where many Orthodox Jews I know are, in actuality, Reconstructionists. By that I mean that they are dedicated to the practices they know, but more as a matter of retaining membership in the community in which they were raised—or which they joined—than of trying to serve Hashem.

I note that R. Goldberg himself spoke consistently of “Torah and mitzvos” rather than “serving Hashem.” I mention this because I think that even he (whose theological bona fides I do not question at all) has, as a practicing rabbi, learned that people are more comfortable speaking of “Torah and mitzvos,” a defined system of practices. Speaking of the best way to serve or approach Hashem is much trickier, so rabbis learn to avoid it.

Trying to convince such people that Hashem wants us to act differently than what they and their communities have decided is right, isn’t difficult because they don’t believe you, it’s difficult because they don’t care—and they don’t care because Hashem doesn’t sit at the center of their religion. Their religion is to do what everyone around them says they need to do; show them, in black and white, that Hashem actually says otherwise, and it’s not that they disagree, it’s that it’s irrelevant.

Two simple examples from among the many I could relate. Talking in shul has long been a problem; what seems to me to be new, in shuls I have served, shuls I have attended, and shuls I hear about from others, is that the talkers, from well-educated backgrounds, have no interest in whether or not their talking is offensive to Hashem. Jews go to shul on Shabbat morning, so they do as well, but everything after that is their choice. They’ve done what their religion required, and all the rest is up to them. That’s because their theology is lacking or nonexistent.

Along these same lines, one of the worst uproars I ever caused in my time as a rabbi was when I invited those who were speaking throughout the reading of the Torah (and I did it from the pulpit, not singling anyone out, lest, God forbid, we embarrass a public sinner) to take their conversations outside. I proposed it sincerely, as a win-win—they weren’t interested in the Torah reading, as evidenced by their not pausing in their conversations; by leaving, they could stop bothering those around them. They were hugely insulted, infuriated that I thought I could tell them where they should and shouldn’t conduct their Shabbat morning socializing.

Someone recently told me of hearing another Jew say proudly that he had been at shul the previous Shabbat and had been so busy with his various involvements, he had literally not said a word of prayer. It’s not that it happened that I pin on poor theology, it’s that he tells the story about himself proudly; in his Orthodox Jewish world, there is nothing wrong in his conduct.

The second example is one R. Goldberg puts on his list of pressing issues, the question of how we bridge the disconnect between the values of “Torah and mitzvos” and those of the modern Western world. One of the reasons that conversation can become so difficult is that many Orthodox Jews don’t really believe their system of mitzvoth is of Divine origin. If Hashem tells you action or belief x is wrong, for all people, for all time, the fact that the modern world comes to believe it is acceptable or even good should not present a faith challenge. It presents a practical challenge—how do we interact with other intelligent, sophisticated people who have come to accept a belief or practice Hashem has told us is deeply wrong?—but not a problem for our relationship to our religion, to the system Hashem taught Moshe Rabbenu.

That it presents that kind of a problem for so many Jews—in any of the areas where it arises—is because they don’t believe our system is divine; they sort of, deep down, believe it’s a great system that very smart men put together over time, like the Constitution, but which needs to adjust, like the Constitution, to the “new truths” being discovered by those around us. With more space, I could demonstrate the theological underpinnings to several others of the issues R. Goldberg correctly identifies as central to an Orthodox agenda at the current time.

Losing Faith in Our Rabbis

The loss of—and disengagement from– our bedrock theology also leads directly, in my experience and understanding, to much of the Orthodox public’s reaction to their rabbis. My late teacher, Prof. Yitzchak Twersky, a”h, was fond of a story Joseph ibn Kaspi relates in a letter to his son. He mentions that his son should spend some time studying halachah before he moves on to the more important (in his view) discipline of philosophy; his recommendation stems from an embarrassing encounter he had one Friday night, when he dipped a milchig spoon or ladle into a meat stew.

Forgetting how to handle that situation, he went to the local halachist, who made ibn Kaspi wait until he had finished his meal to respond (there is reason to think the halachist was reacting to pre-existing tension between them). He writes bitterly of how this man made him stand there holding his spoon, waiting to be told what to do.

Ibn Kaspi was neither the first nor the last to assume that those who know halachah are technicians. The idea of rabbis as people who happen to have studied Jewish law instead of American law or finance, is both widespread and (I believe) subconsciously deliberate. It’s less threatening if your rabbi is fundamentally the same as you—he’s just a guy who happens to have chosen this career path rather than accounting, dentistry, or comedy. He’s a good pastor, and that’s comforting or helpful, and he knows how to make your kitchen kosher, but that’s as far as the need to follow him goes.

The idea that the rabbi has a better grasp, by virtue of his career path, of what Hashem wants from each of us, that he would be a good person to consult on general life and morality questions, would be anathema to many Orthodox Jews. They prefer the Western idea that we each know how to run our own lives—an idea that lives on despite millions of Westerners demonstrably messing up those very lives, often beyond repair. Rambam’s assertion that a Torah scholar is a doctor of the soul, who can prescribe the best ways to improve the state of those souls, would be offensive to many prominent Orthodox Jews, masses and lay leaders alike.

And, to be fair, this is a somewhat self-fulfilling prophecy, since some rabbis today—perhaps shaped by their communities—are, in fact, no better at understanding what Hashem wants of us than anyone else. Indeed, more than one communal rabbi is so morally flawed—in ways well-known to their communities and to the broader public—that they make a mockery of the rabbinate when they try to weigh in on moral questions.

Yet they stay in their jobs, for years and decades, when the corporate world would never tolerate that! Part of the reason, I strongly suspect, goes back to theology—if you really think of your rabbi as someone who’s supposed to be leading you on the path to better service of Hashem, it’s intolerable that he not meet at least the minimal moral standards of general society; but if he’s a technician who does legal, pastoral, entertaining public speaking, and perhaps some programming work, there’s less reason to get into the messy business of removing him from a position his past acts disqualify him from holding.

A House Built on Poor Foundations Cannot Stand

There are many reasons we have arrived where we are, and I don’t pretend to know them all. In the realm of our loss of an attachment to theology, it seems to me true that we have become accustomed to avoid confronting our failings, to find ways to make positive steps without taking on the harder challenge. If we can stimulate Shabbat observance by speaking of its positive familial, social, and personal effects (all true), why go the further step of speaking of Hashem and risk alienating people?

True each step along the way, it can and does lull us into thinking that we don’t need to take on those theological questions, don’t need to ensure that the members of our communities understand that our religion isn’t about Shabbat, kashrut, and acts of kindness, it’s about those, and more, as part of striving to become more like the God Who gave us the Torah at Har Sinai.

I have no idea of what the “most pressing” issue facing Orthodox Jewry is today. But I can confidently say that our theological problems are not minor, and they contribute not only to a shaky relationship with Hashem, as individuals and as a people, but more directly to religious failings that R. Goldberg himself would include among those most pressing problems.


Response by R. Efrem Goldberg

Rabbi Gidon Rothstein has written a thoughtful response to my recent post. I am gratified that on the essential issue, namely the recognition that many contemporary Orthodox Jews struggle in connecting to and finding meaning in Torah, mitzvos and observance, we both agree. Rabbi Rothstein believes that a critical part of the solution is our compellingly establishing the divine authorship of the Torah. While I agree that a discussion on this subject is a worthy exercise and will contribute meaningfully to the conversation, I don’t believe it will satisfy the underlying causes and reasons people struggle. In my experience, addressing and working to improve on the other issues I raised will contribute more towards enriching the experience of Orthodox Jews such that they are open to greater observance, inspiration and a higher experience of avodas Hashem. Whatever the solution, my goal was—and remains—to generate the kind of conversations I believe we should be having and I am thankful to Rabbi Rothstein for adding to that discussion.

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

About Gidon Rothstein

20 comments

  1. Rabbi Rothstein,

    You are constantly a breath of fresh air. I enjoy reading everything you write and generally agree with you. Why is there such a dearth of people like you — thoughtful but not reflexively liberal on everything?

  2. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to both Rabbis Rothstein and Goldberg and have enjoyed reading both of them-R Goldberg’s and R Rothstein’s occasional writings on line and a few of Rothstein’s books including some of te rare fiction that I’ve read.
    Certainly theological basis of religion is crucial-if one would believe that the Torah is made up by Rabbis who lied about Mesorah not believing that the Torah is essentially from Sinai one would have to be a fool to restrict ones life in such a way. On the other hand it is to my mind a fair question what percentage of any population including Orthodox Jews truly believe that they would be called to account for their actions before God-for the ultimate din vcheshbon-if people truly believed it rather than treating religion as a sociological membership and here I do not limit myself to many LWMO, RWMO, Chareidi Orthodox etc one would sadly not see the toleration/acceptance of various behavior by all groups be it financial crimes, inappropriate behavior accepted etc
    If people believed that they would have to give an account of themselves they would not act in ways they do. To a great extent similar to the late Fr Greeley who commented that Catholics belong to the Church despite the overwhelming percentage rejecting basic Catholic viewpoints- many people belong to various religious groups for sociological community reasons.

  3. “MeirB on July 31, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Rabbi Rothstein,

    You are constantly a breath of fresh air. I enjoy reading everything you write and generally agree with you. Why is there such a dearth of people like you”
    I wish there were more people like both Rabbi Rothstein and Rabbi Goldberg

  4. shachar haamim

    These last few posts have been great!

    I think that an important element has been missing from the discussion – that of the fact that Jews are also (if not primamrily) a nation – not just a religion.
    In Israel one sees a great Jewish re-awakening which allows all sorts of types of Jewish belief to be fully (or even only partially) engaged as ‘Jews” in terms of religious practice and yet still be full fledged members of the Jewish nation. Sadly this is lacking in chu”l. when your average charedi – or even modern orthodx – Jew leaves religion in the US, they – sadly – just become “American” (like an Arieh Younger but without the kippah…). In Israel one sees charedi and national religious and traditional Jews leaving the path of their upbringing but still remaining engaged as Jews (even if they “hate” religion).
    Food for thought.

    Also I’m not sure how “western” the ideas that R. Rothstein suggested as being “western” are really such. If you read the Torah – and the prophets – Judaism doesn’t really address the individual to seek “moral” guidance from a spiritual leader. It seems an individual – and the nation – to act morally.

  5. I am not sure you are using the word “theology” correctly. You are talking about belief in God and that He gave the Torah. You are correct that this can be an issue, but I think you are clearly wrong in suggesting that it is a new issue; a glance at any of the books of the Prophets will tell you this has been a problem since the earliest days our history as a people. But theology is really the study of the nature of God. Frankly, I think that is a study most of us would do well to treat cautiously. In the first place, by our nature we are incapable of really grasping it. Second,once you get much beyond the basics of God’s existence, unity and Mattan Torah, our classical sources are not in agreement. The theology of Rashi, R. Yehudah Halevi, the Rambam and the Kabbalists are all quite different.

  6. Harav Rothstein seems to have a point that engaging in a philosophical and theological “offensive” might aid some in constructing an intellectually satisfying foundation to a Torah life. I am reading an article by Yoram Hazony that describes how Christian theologians and scholars have successfully carved out a territory in universities, staking their claim to intellectual rigor in opposition to the atheistic propagandists who have become so popular. Hazony mourns the fact that Jewish scholars have not taken up this gauge.

    But how much this will really influence the Jew in the street – or the talking Jew in the synagogue in unclear. I agree with Harav Rothstein that a consciousness of serving Hashem (as individuals and as a community) is foundation of society we want to create, but is serving Hashem done by halacha, or through halacha. If serving Hashem is defined as following halacha, then Haraz Rothstein is right in saying that the theological framework is a necessary precondition to serving Hashem. If serving Hashem is creating a community and individuals that we and others can say, how great is Hashem and how true the Torah that its followers are people of such middot, then abstract theology is less important than learning how halacha helps us to see serving Hashem through His tzelem – v’ahavta lre-echa komocha. This is, I think, the essence of R. Goldberg’s point. For instance, in the example of talking in shul: there is an undeniable and inexcusable disdain being shown to the Torah. But I would also be concerned about the disdain and contempt being shown to those who are trying to listen, and the idea of the holy community that is being trampled underfoot. Hashem will always be an abstract transcendence to most of the “believers,” even. The community, the shul, the person standing next to you is not.
    בכל מקום שאתה מוצא את גדולתו של הקב”ה שם אתה מוצא את ענותנותו
    and the reverse is probably also true.

  7. Rabbi Rothstein writes a compelling article on the issue of technical observance vs. true observance. I agree with almost everything he says except that this is about theology. Theology is the study of systematic and rational concepts about god. What is lacking here is not such study, it is rather the study of the heart. Belief in God does not require knowledge of epistemology or ontology or even that someone knows what those words mean. Rather it requires an emotional connection with hashem. Rabbi Weinberger put out a great article in Klal on this subject. See below.

    http://klalperspectives.org/rabbi-moshe-weinberger/

  8. Maybe R. Goldberg knows different Jews than I do, but the shying away from theology that I encounter leads to a situation where many Orthodox Jews I know are, in actuality, Reconstructionists. By that I mean that they are dedicated to the practices they know, but more as a matter of retaining membership in the community in which they were raised—or which they joined—than of trying to serve Hashem.

    Practicing Orthodox Jews are not Reconstructionists even if they do Mitzvos for the “wrong reasons”.

    What is Chazal’s formula to get people to do Mitzvos for the “right reasons” (Lishma)? It is to do Miztvos for the “wrong reasons” (Lo Lishma).

  9. Beautiful essay, Rabbi. Thank you.

  10. A quibble: I agree that someone seeking to follow God’s will should seek counsel with someone wiser than herself and schooled in Torah. I disagree, however, that it follows that everyone called “rabbi” meets or should meet that criterion.

    This is not about absolute “moral failings” of rabbis nor is it about lack of faith. Rather, it’s about empirical observations. At this point in my life a lot of my peers – classmates from high school or friends from my early 20s – are employed as rabbis. Some of them are wise or on their way to becoming so. And, frankly, some are much better versed in Torah than I am, and some are not. Further, I know people who are Torah scholars worthy of giving advice who are not “rabbis” by profession or, sometimes, title. So, my point is that lack of trust in the established rabbinate reflects not only, or even primarily, a lack of desire for torah-based guidance, but also, perhaps, the response of an increasingly educated laiety that has become more discerning in its choice of personal guides.

  11. question-is the percentage of “reconstructionists” much different now than it was historically? Does it vary greatly between lwmo to nturei karka? (I’m guessing there’s no hard data:-))

    KT

  12. also, i agree that “theology” is being used loosely here. Actually, actual “theology” plays into this all very little. Everyone has to believe that God gave the Torah to Moshe. What “God” actually means? Well, there are a lot of mutually inconsistent traditional positions that are apparently all acceptable. It’s at least a little ironic, no?

  13. Not a joke:

    Q: At what point can one say that a ba’al teshuva has made the transition to being a regular Orthodox Jew?

    A:When he stops thinking about G-d.

    (Heard decades ago, in the name of the Rosh Yeshiva of a Ba’al Teshuva yeshiva).

  14. Gidon Rothstein

    Thank you to all who registered positive comments, I appreciate them. I agree with Mike S., logician 999, and emma that we’re probably not talking about theology in its technical sense, but I think we are talking about it in the sense that traditional Jews have used the term for generations– ever since the Rambam, other than Kabbalists, we don’t really talk directly about God, we talk about God’s impact on the world, and what we can understand of it.

    And I don’t think that’s as removed from our experience of the world of halachah as some see it as– I think the split between dry, technical philosophy and how we serve Hashem is a false dichotomy foisted on us by those who don’t operate within religious circles. Rambam’s philosophical world, if you read him carefully and with the eyes that take into account all that he wrote, was not some dry, intellectual experience of God (see his remarks on being lovesick at the end of Hilchot Teshuvah). I think it has always been true that the purpose and point of learning about Hashem and how Hashem interacts with us has been to strengthen our pursuit of proper yirah and ahavah, fear and love.

    David Ohsie, I didn’t call them Reconstructionists for doing it for the wrong reasons, I called them that for doing it only as a matter of cultural belonging. I agree that that might also qualify as “shelo lishma,” except that there are versions of “shelo lishma” that are unacceptable as well (such as “lekanter,” to taunt or argue with those who are observing “lishmah”). If their motives for doing it lead to a rejection of well-accepted aspects of the religion, that’s a “shelo lishma” that runs the danger of becoming for bad reasons, about which the Gemara seems to say it’s better not to have been born.

    Emma, I agree, more than you can know, that not every rabbi is worth consulting, and that we have to choose our advisors (male or female– today, there are certainly women out there with the Torah knowledge and understanding to dispense valuable advice to those who seek it) with great caution.

    Shachar haamim, I’m glad you’ve been enjoying the posts; allow me to quibble with your claim that Tanach doesn’t care about rabbinic leadership– the mitzvah of “lo tasur” is understood to refer to Rabbinic law, but in the original context in Parashat Shoftim, it was about consulting on any issues that weren’t clear to you– matters of impurity, of civil law, criminal law, whatever came up. The marker of Yehoshua’s readiness for leadership was his having served so faithfully with Moshe Rabbenu. Shmuel created a system where people would even ask him to find their lost donkeys, as part of re-training them to consult with those who know God well. Prophets wandered the land trying to find people ready to listen to what Hashem really wanted from them, despite their instinctively and stubbornly gravitating to what felt good to them.

    Emma, by the way, on the mutually inconsistent positions about Hashem, my book “We’re Missing the Point” aimed to show that there’s a lot more that’s universally agreed upon than many people choose to realize; I’d be happy to discuss further if you’d like.

    Dovid Shlomo, a sad and true “not a joke.” Let me offer two of my own: Years ago, one person told me I was too honest to serve as a communal rabbi (not saying it was true, about me or about rabbis, but it’s sad that someone would think that way). Second, a visitor to the shul I did serve for a few years said to me, “You know, you talk about God a lot for a rabbi.”

  15. There are many theologies in the world of Torah Judaism and each of them have aspects which hurt (some of) us.

    ‘Bad Theology’ as used in this essay is explicitly generic, and presumably refers to recent controversial views. However, the arguments of this essay could have been easily written from a different, more rationalist, perspective with ‘Bad Theology’ referring to something in line with other segments of the Orthodox world:

    Actual Mitzvot Dependent on Theology

    Caution against emulating the avoda zarah of our neighbors is one of the major overriding themes of the Torah. A theology of non-rational mysticism has created an explosion of ‘mystical’ practices which are basically classical avodah zarah (and have often been borrowed from non-Jewish pagan folk practices). A Jew that has a ‘hey, you never know’ attitude towards mystical forces cannot be properly engaged with the many mitzvot dealing with avodah zarah (including the saying of Shema).

    The Torah clearly outlines the obligation to create a functioning self-supporting Jewish society. Halachot of inheritance, agriculture, commerce, etc. clearly point to a world driven by hishtadlut, where significant effort is required to achieve personal and societal goals. A theology which leaves outcomes more or less purely to the will of an interventionist God regardless of effort is creating a society of poverty, misery and reliance that is moving away from the ideal society as outlined by the Torah.

    Turning Us Into Reconstructionists

    Many non-halachic Jewish practices (ranging from cultural things like costume to quasi-halachic adoption of halachic chumrot) have become increasingly important to large segments of Torah-observant society. People have ascribed increasing importance to these issues for social pressure (and resulting shidduch) reasons, at a severe cost to actual halachic practice (due to diverted time and dollar resources) and a massive breakdown in mitzvot bein adam lechvaro (increased judgmentalism and lashon harah and decreased ahavat yisrael). A Judaism based on the primacy of adherence to following ever-stifling communal norms is overpowering a Judaism based on following a personal thoughtful meaningful path through word of God.

    Someone recently told me of hearing another Jew say proudly that he had given up the opportunity to daven in a tzibur because some the members of the community probably had unfiltered internet and cannot be counted in a minyan. It’s not that it happened that I pin on poor theology, it’s that he tells the story about himself proudly; in his Orthodox Jewish world, there is nothing wrong in his conduct.

    Losing Faith in Our Rabbis

    Traditionally rabbic leaders were respected as normal human beings with intelligence, dedication and a connection to the messorah and to the people. Halachic decision were made by local communal rabbis based on tightly reasoned arguments, appeal to authoritative sources, and intimate knowledge of specific case details. There was a wide range of variation in communal norms and only a subset of questions was passed on to senior experts who replied with their reasoned answers.

    A portion of the Jewish world has (relatively) recently extended the traditional concept of emunat chahamim to ascribe mystical and quasi-prophetic powers to a small subset of rabbinic leadership. All sorts of miraculous abilities have been attributed to them and they are considered infallible. General pronouncements attributed to these rabbis are viewed as binding as ‘daas torah’ even without documented explanation.

    The average Jew hears of these wondrous leaders and yet interacts with their own rabbi and sees a normal flawed human being only slightly different from themselves. At best they well skip over their local rabbi and look to the inaccessible quasi-prophetic leaders for guidance they cannot possibly receive with personal care and attention. Respect for the wisdom and dedication of the average rabbi has deteriorated and the bounds between rabbi and community have been severed.

    A House Built on Poor Foundations Cannot Stand

    There are many reasons we have arrived where we are, and I don’t pretend to know them all. In the realm of our loss of an attachment to theology, it seems to me true that we have become accustomed to avoid confronting our failings, to find ways to make positive steps without taking on the harder challenge. If we can stimulate personal effort by speaking of its positive familial, social, and personal effects (all true), why go the further step of speaking of avoiding all forms of superstition and risk alienating people?

  16. shaul shapira

    Yannai-

    “A theology of non-rational mysticism has created an explosion of ‘mystical’ practices which are basically classical avodah zarah (and have often been borrowed from non-Jewish pagan folk practices).”

    Can you be more specific?

    “A Jew that has a ‘hey, you never know’ attitude towards mystical forces cannot be properly engaged with the many mitzvot dealing with avodah zarah (including the saying of Shema).”

    What does that mean?

    ” A portion of the Jewish world has (relatively) recently extended the traditional concept of emunat chahamim to ascribe mystical and quasi-prophetic powers to a small subset of rabbinic leadership.”

    It’s irritating but nisht ge’ferlach. I likely do the same thing with Ku’pat Ha’ir miracle pamphlets that you do.

    “All sorts of miraculous abilities have been attributed to them and they are considered infallible.”

    I think that when pressed to the wall, they’ll agree that moshe rabbeinu was fallible.

    “General pronouncements attributed to these rabbis are viewed as binding as ‘daas torah’ even without documented explanation.”

    Again it’s a problem but if they bother checking their own sources, they’ll find that e.g. R Elyashiv zatzal writes about about the story with Rav Pappa and the mayyim shelanu mix-up that it reflects a positive emunas chachamim that could *never* happen today. I don’t think *he* realized how seriously some people take his words.

    “The average Jew hears of these wondrous leaders …. At best they well skip over their local rabbi and look to the inaccessible quasi-prophetic leaders for guidance”

    Speak for yourself. I find that plenty of people are quite happy to look to on-site mortal beings for guidace.

    “Respect for the wisdom and dedication of the average rabbi has deteriorated and the bounds between rabbi and community have been severed.”

    Depends on the Rabbi; depends on the community. (IMHO)

  17. Two last points:

    “Someone recently told me of hearing another Jew say proudly that he had given up the opportunity to daven in a tzibur because some the members of the community probably had unfiltered internet and cannot be counted in a minyan. It’s not that it happened that I pin on poor theology, it’s that he tells the story about himself proudly; in his Orthodox Jewish world, there is nothing wrong in his conduct.”

    I know you’re parodying, but it’s unfair to compare R Rothstein real life actual example with a person that likely doesn’t exist.

    2) I linked to this before, but I think it’s relevant to your comments versus R Rothstein’s:
    http://u.cs.biu.ac.il/~koppel/ideology.pdf

    “You should recognize the rhetoric of ideology since it is all around you, insidiously trying to pry you from your own tradition. One type is peddled by those people who will tell you that
    there is only one true derech. Whatever that derech turns out to be, it won’t be yours. Any claim that the Jews have always had it all wrong is simply incoherent by definition. If your rebbe tells you that a centuries-old minhag is wrong because the Mishnah Berurah says so, he is not only clueless but also dangerous. If he tries to teach you some strange new topic called “emunah” or “hashkafa”, he’s probably proselytizing to some questionable ideology of recent vintage, usually radical Zionism or radical anti-Zionism. Steer clear. If you feel an urge to learn machshava, take out a Sfas Emes on Friday night. Remember that gemara wasn’t
    invented in Brisk, Eretz Yisrael wasn’t discovered by Rav Kook, and chassidus isn’t the private property of Chabad.

    Another type of dangerous ideological rhetoric is peddled by those who will remind you that “there are many true paths in Judaism”. They are probably not on any of them. Their apparent
    open-mindedness is usually a cover for the doctrinaire and arrogant conviction that Yiddishkeit as we know it is primitive, unenlightened, and provincial and desperately in need
    of the civilizing influence of whatever intellectual fashion is sweeping college campuses (which, they will try to persuade you, is what Yiddishkeit really was supposed to be all along). Given the choice between those who understand Yiddishkeit but have drifted, or even bolted, away and those who bastardize Yiddishkeit, always choose the company of the former. Ultimately, it’s the location of the anchor that matters.”

    (I loved the whole article, but my cut-N-paste is long enough as it is.)

  18. Can you be more specific?

    Magic power of wine used by the rebbe, melting lead to measure impurities of the soul, baking keys into bread…

    What does that mean?
    Rabbi Rothstein argues that [there are] “clear mitzvoth, defined in halachic sources (and more so in mussar works), but you can’t engage them unless you accept some of the very theological propositions that are under attack.”

    I would argue that large segments of Jewry have a major problem with superstition and that the many clear anti-avodah zarah and pro-avodat hashem mitzvot, defined in halachik sources, cannot be engaged unless you accept some of the very theological propositions that are under attack (by superstition).

    It’s irritating but nisht ge’ferlach. I likely do the same thing with Ku’pat Ha’ir miracle pamphlets that you do.

    To some of is it is not just irritating, it IS terrible. It’s a total corruption of the core of Judaism. I feel literally sick when I see Ku’pat Ha’ir miracle pamphlets, for reasons of theology and for the inevitable suffering of the preyed-upon most desperately miserable and gullible segments of society.

    I think that when pressed to the wall, they’ll agree that moshe rabbeinu was fallible.

    Again it’s a problem but if they bother checking their own sources, they’ll find that e.g. R Elyashiv zatzal writes about about the story with Rav Pappa and the mayyim shelanu mix-up that it reflects a positive emunas chachamim that could *never* happen today. I don’t think *he* realized how seriously some people take his words.

    The issue isn’t necessarily (hopefully) how the leaders see themselves, it is how the people view the leaders. The fact that R. Elyashiv ztl was not aware of how things have developed is an argument for, not against, my claim.

    Speak for yourself. I find that plenty of people are quite happy to look to on-site mortal beings for guidace.

    Depends on the Rabbi; depends on the community. (IMHO)

    Obviously, it depends on the individual, the Rabbi and the community. In my community I know that the (very experienced and respected) Rav gets extremely frustrated when those who otherwise hang on his every word [the ones with a full collection of gedolim biographies)ignore his targeted advice when he tells them they should ease up on their Torah study to focus on parnassah or parenting, that they should not adopt certain chumrot, or that they should make certain concessions to broad communal practices.

  19. shaul shapira

    Yannai-

    I disagree that “Magic power of wine used by the rebbe, melting lead to measure impurities of the soul, baking keys into bread…” are such terrible things. The question is how they’re viewed by their users. Are they offering them to the god of challah or something?

    http://divreichaim.blogspot.com/2012/01/parshas-hamon-and-segulah-scrooges.html

    http://slifkin-opinions.blogspot.com/2011/06/fair-is-fair.html?showComment=1308806001756#c6892334938068019089

    “The issue isn’t necessarily (hopefully) how the leaders see themselves, it is how the people view the leaders. The fact that R. Elyashiv ztl was not aware of how things have developed is an argument for, not against, my claim.”

    1) The first quote was exactly about the flock. The maximalist maximalist da’as torahnik will admit that his leaders make mistakes, just they’re not ones we’d pick up on with our puny minds. (A postion I admit to a certain amount of identification with)

    2) “In my community I know that the … Rav gets extremely frustrated when those who otherwise hang on his every word … ignore his targeted advice … that they should not adopt certain chumrot, or that they should make certain concessions to broad communal practices.”, actually supports my claim that it’s the ba’alebattim who are the most maximalist- likely because they don’t even check chareidi sources beyond Gedolim Bio’s.
    e.g. If they ever listened to a Q&A with R S Kamenetsky, they’d hear how many questions he deflects with ‘ask your LOR’.

  20. ruvie on August 4, 2013 at 9:21 am
    An interesting article on this topic: http://thetorah.com/bible-scholarship-in-orthodoxy/

    A few points:
    “The contemporary religious world has shifted its focus to other areas of conflict between Judaism and modernity: the place of women in halacha, homosexuality, agunot, and other challenges such as disaffection of youth, technology and “half-shabbos,” not to mention various forms of abuse. These newer topics also have the aura of pressing social urgency, whereas the decidedly cerebral nature of ancient authorship and its theological implications seems to belong to a bygone and more ideological age. Raising this scholarly issue at all feels at best quaint, and at worst indulgent.”

    “but rather to address the growing number of Orthodox scholars and students who find it persuasive. As a community, I believe we are compelled to address the phenomenon itself and its philosophical, sociological, and pedagogical implications.”

    “Many Orthodox Jews, rabbis, and educators fear engaging in Bible Criticism because it will lead to attrition, out of Orthodoxy and out of halachic observance. I do not wish to gainsay this fear, except to state anecdotally that this has not been my experience. On the other hand, not enough time has passed to fairly judge what effect Bible scholarship will have on the fabric of Orthodoxy, so we should certainly proceed with caution.

    We must realize, too, that there is serious halachic objection as to whether we are permitted to confront this issue. Also, since the belief in the unity and divinity of the written Torah has become such an integral part of Orthodox ideology, we must decide how we will define and distinguish ourselves as Orthodox Jews if we abandon or reinterpret this principle.

    These are all serious issues that we must face. Is the Orthodox world ready for this difficult encounter with all the other problems it faces? I am not sure. But I am certain that more and more Orthodox Jews will continue to accept this new approach to the Bible. The question is whether Orthodoxy will be a place where they can do so. “

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