(Rabbis with a knife between their teeth). Now that the chess players in Israeli politics have been drastically moved, and for the first time a mainly secular government is leading the country, it is high time the religious parties, religious institutions and their leadership ask themselves some hard and uncomfortable questions.
In an extraordinary statement in the Talmud, we get a glimpse of the frame of mind of the sages of Israel just after the destruction of the Temple when millions of Jews had been murdered and the complete breakdown of Jewish life in the ancient land of Israel had taken place:
“By right we should issue a degree that Jews should not marry and have children so that the seed of Avraham comes to an end on its own accord.”(Baba Batra 60b)
As we know everything is anticipated in the Torah. Nothing in the world happens which is not first recorded in the Bible. So where do we find the source for preliminary remarks introducing a Chief?
Religious Coercion or Gentle Persuasion
Commentators have struggled with and argued about the incident of the “Me-Meriba”, the waters of strife for a long time. After the children of Israel complained about the absence of water in the desert, Moshe was ordered by God to speak to the rock, but he hit it instead. (Bamidbar chapter 20.)
Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, author of Meshech Chochma draws our attention to one of the most powerful messages Jewish education has to offer. When discussing the failure of Adam and Chava to abstain from the tree of knowledge, this commentary points out one of the most common mistakes made in Jewish education.
Chumroth: Self-imposed severities have become part and parcel of the religious Jewish community of today. Many people feel the need to express their religious devotion to God through the acceptance of stringencies which conventional Jewish Law does not require. They observe Shabbath more strictly; they make sure that they only eat “glatt” kosher, use the largest measurements for their kiddush cup or, in the case of some married women, cover their hair not once but twice.
Last week we mentioned the danger to use chumroth (stringencies) to hide shortcomings and other discrepancies. In a different sense we are also confronted with similar problems when we consider how some people observe some well-established minhagim (customs) or even mitzvoth.
The need to engage in sport is self-understood. To exercise and to make sure that one keeps one’s body in good condition is considered a mitzva of the highest priority.
“We must believe in freedom of will, we have no choice.” This observation made by Isaac Bashevis Singer introduces one of the greatest problems in Jewish and general philosophy, freedom of will versus determinism. Many have attempted to solve the problem, but not one philosopher has been able to come up with a completely satisfactory response.
If anyone would ever argue that traditional Judaism is guilty of too much dogma and too little imaginative thought, a closer look into the world of rabbinical insight into the idea of revelation would cure him of such ideas.
One of the most common psychological conditions human beings find themselves in is denial. All men repress unpleasant experiences and do not want to be confronted with reality when it is not to their liking. Sigmund Freud was the first authority in the secular world to give full attention to this phenomenon. Still there is plenty of evidence that this problem existed since the earliest moments in human history.
In Devarim (14.1), the Torah warns against excessive mourning, expressing itself in a most unusual way: “You are the children of God, your God, you shall not cut yourself, nor make a bald patch between your eyes for the dead.” This prohibition teaches man the correct approach towards death.
Arnold Toynbee, the great, though slightly anti-Semitic historian of this century is quoted as saying that “history is the tragedy of what could otherwise have been.” When contemplating this comment, we wonder what would have happened if Johann Sebastian Bach, (1685-1750), genius musician and composer would have met Benedictus (Baruch) Spinoza (1632-1677), world renowned philosopher, a Jew by birth and foremost critic of Judaism.
One of the great advantages which many of us enjoy is that we often do not know what we have missed out on. Ignoti nulla cupido, “There is no desire for what is not known,” said Ovid in his Ars Amatoria. (111, i.397) This may sound rather strange, but when we look into our lives we realize that many people are able to be satisfied with their material lives because they do not fully realize or refuse to realize that they could have had more.
It has been our conviction, as stated in many of our other essays, that an unfaltering commitment towards human dignity is the foundation stone of Judaism. This is normally understood to mean that since Judaism includes many commandments in which man is asked to uphold and guarantee the dignity of his fellowman, it emphasizes God’s love and respect for man as one of the highest values.
One of the most unique talents which human beings are blessed with is the faculty of imagination. Unlike any other creature in the world, human beings have a nearly unlimited potential for constructive fantasy.
Judaism’s major enemy is the nation of Amalek. This nation is the personification of all evil, racism and Antisemitism. Amalek was seared into the Jewish consciousness as the first enemy the people of Israel encountered after the crossing of the Red Sea. The Amalekites attacked the Jews several times and brought much disaster and destruction. It was not only the fact that Amalek dared to fight the Israelites, but also the strategy which Amalek used which showed Amalek’s moral bankruptcy.
Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, one of the great Jewish leaders and thinkers of modern times, asks us to take notice of a strange incident in the days of Moshe. After Moshe left Egypt with a multitude of people, his father-in-law, Yitro, criticized him for the way he was administrating the Israelites. “‘What is this that you are doing to the people? Why do you sit alone and all the people stand around you from morning until evening? And Moshe responded to his father-in-law: ‘It is because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they are solicitous about any matter they come before me, and I decide between one person and another, and I make known the laws and the teachings of God.’ But Moshe’s father-in-law said to him: ‘What you are doing is not right, you will surely wear yourself out and these people as well.'” (Shemoth 18:13-21)
When discussing matters related to the ethical or religious foundation of sexual behavior, human beings tend to have severe differences of opinion. While up till the second half of the 20th century a more conservative approach was still prevailing, a radical change took place in the second half of the last century. Well established norms were suddenly challenged and often replaced by radical approaches which demanded more “liberty” and “broadmindedness.” This provoked a major confrontation between the conservatives and those who claimed that they were “modern-minded.”
In our days, the word, tolerance, has become a highly popular word together with such terms as pluralism and democracy. These words are by now so often used that one would hope that most people have a proper understanding of their meanings. This is, however, far from true. In fact, it seems that the more these words appear in our papers, books or in conversations, the less they seem to be comprehended. Often they are used in ways which oppose the very values they stand for.