by R. Yitzchak Blau
The tension between heteronomy (being ruled from the outside) and autonomy is a perennial question of religious thought. Does traditional Judaism, with its powerful emphasis on halakhic obedience and subservience to God, grant value to autonomous thinking? In an early issue of Tradition (Fall 1963), Rabbi Alexander Carlebach, rav of Belfast, addresses this question. He strives to maintain a balance between extreme heteronomy and extreme autonomy. R. Carlebach finds much support for our tradition valuing human reason and ethical intuitions. Offering reasons for the commandments, the universally binding quality of the Noahide Laws, the Torah referring to its mizvot as “righteous laws and statutes” (Devarim 4:8), and the entre edifice of the oral law apparently acknowledge the validity of human reason. The article also addresses rabbinic sources that seem to nullify the force of human reason.