From the Archives of Tradition

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tradition-cabinetby R. Yitzchak Blau

Some rabbis respond to tragedy by identifying the sinful behavior that brought about divine punishment. While no one can deny this theme in our tradition, other rabbinic voices articulate why contemporary rabbis should avoid this approach. Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, community Rav in Atlanta for many years and one-time editor of Tradition, writes (Spring 2007) that humility should prevent us from trying to decipher the precise workings of God. He notes how even the prophets often felt inadequate in this regard. Would it not be more effective to comfort the bereaved than to blame them for their suffering? In a subsequent issue (Winter 2007), Rabbi Shalom Carmy, professor at YU and current editor of Tradition, calls for responding to travail with a repentance that does not claim to know the reason for misfortune. Usage of gimatriyot and other methods for linking certain sins with particular punishments may have entertainment value but they distract us from the more important task of spiritual striving. Moreover, those who practice the art of explaining divine governance usually discuss the sins of others rather than their own transgressions.

R. Feldman link (PDF)

R. Carmy link (PDF)

About Yitzchak Blau

Rabbi Yitzchak Blau is Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivat Orayta and also teaches at Midreshet Lindenbaum. He is the author of Fresh Fruit and Vintage Wine: The Ethics and Wisdom of the Aggada and an Associate Editor of Tradition.

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