without a strong religious component, conversion is a farce, just as it would be completely ridiculous to claim, conversely, that even though somebody is totally committed to all the mitzvot of the Torah and lives in its spirit, he or she would not be considered part of the Jewish people. He or she is, but we do not really know why or how. We need both components, religion and nationhood, but we cannot figure out how they relate to each other.
One of traditional Judaism’s most important claims is its total commitment to the divinity of the text of the Torah, the Pentateuch. It is believed that the other books of Tanach may contain a human element since “no two prophets prophesied in the same style.” But the Torah came to Moshe from God in a manner that is metaphorically called “speaking,” after which Moshe wrote it down “like a scribe writing from dictation.” In the nineteenth century, this belief came under severe attack by a theory called Higher Criticism or Quellenscheidung. This theory denied the divinity of the Torah as a verbal account of God’s words to Moshe. Instead, the text was seen to be made up of a conglomeration of various sources compiled over many hundreds of years. As such, it could not have been written by Moshe.
The dynamism of Torah permits two or even more opposing viewpoints to be correct at the same time. Even though practice demands that we establish a law in accordance with one opinion, we can still maintain that these different viewpoints are true.
No doubt, there is one law within the Jewish tradition that has puzzled many Jewish scholars. This is the law that prevents the Jew from mixing milk with meat. Its source is found in the Torah (Exodus 23:19; 34:26, Deuteronomy 14:21), but no clue is provided as to its meaning.
The primary message of the Torah is mitzvot – precepts. As we have already stressed, the Torah is a moral code designed to train man for his mission on Earth. As such, it commands us to obey certain precepts, for they are the God-given directions for fulfilling our role. These precepts deal with societal organizations, the service of God, and man’s responsibilities to himself and others. Some mitzvot are logical and understandable; others are beyond our comprehension. Regardless, man is obligated to observe them all, for the performance of the mitzvot fulfills the will of God and is the key to creating Heaven on Earth.
In the way that man observes the world and interacts with it, he reveals one of the most surprising and impressive sides to all of human existence: the faculty of appreciation. When walking by a landscape he can be overwhelmed by its beauty. Wondering at the sky, standing on the seashore, or viewing the sunset, he becomes aware of an inner, uplifting experience that he cannot verbalize. Enjoying the music of Mozart, Beethoven or Paganini, man can be lifted to unprecedented heights. Through the constant search for beauty, harmony, conformity and so forth, man confirms his unique place in this universe.
First presented in 1983 as a lecture in
Congregation Poale Zedek on the invitation of its
Spiritual Leader, Rabbi Yisrael Miller (1)
THE ISRAELI STATE BY BONAPARTE
The Jews living during the reign of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the most influential leaders of the European continent of the 18th century, derived great benefits from his patronage. While it is true that Napoleon was responsible for a lot of unrest within the European Jewish Community, his most famous decision – as far as the Jews were concerned – was to free them from the ghettos, where they had been confined by previous monarchs and empires.