Halacha is the greatest chess game on earth. It is the Jewish game par excellence. For people who want to live a life of great meaning and depth, nothing is more demanding and torturous while simultaneously uplifting and mind-broadening. They love the rules because they are the way to freedom. Certainly chess is just a game, while Halacha, if properly understood and lived, deals with real life, deep religiosity, moral dilemmas, emotions, and intuitions far more significant in a person’s life than a chess game.
What is holiness? It has something to do with the constant awareness that God is to be discovered in all that one does, speaks, thinks, and feels. But that’s nearly unattainable. How does one live up to this?
In last week’s Thoughts to Ponder (no 623), we published the first half of an interview with Rabbi Cardozo. At the end of his observations, Rabbi Cardozo discussed the codification and dogmatization of Jewish Law and religious beliefs as they took place in the diaspora and showed that these developments did not do justice to—and in fact opposed authentic Judaism. Here is the continuation of his arguments.
We are in desperate need of bold ideas that will place the Torah in the center of our lives and make us receptive to God’s presence through a daring new encounter with Him. Let it be heroic. Not staid and comfortable, but painful and hard-won; a deep breath in the midst of the ongoing conflict ever-present in the heart of humankind.
We are not asked to dream the inconceivable. We are asked to dream what is actually achievable. It is the Halacha that rescues us from unrealistic dreams, substituting them with those that are viable. Mount Sinai and the giving of the law replaced impossible dreams with those that are within our grasp.
Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo in conversation Moderator: Tanya White Two of the leading thinkers in Israel and America come face to face to discuss the burning issues facing modern orthodoxy today
A strictly secular approach to major moral issues may have to be much more restrictive than that which any religion would ever demand. In fact, a secular moral attitude may make life extremely difficult and even impossible.
Halacha is the practical upshot of unfinalized beliefs, a practical way of life while remaining in theological suspense. In matters of the spirit and the quest to find God, it is not possible to come to final conclusions. The quest for God must remain open-ended to enable the human spirit to find its way through trial and discovery.
Nobody can deny that Judaism today finds itself in a crisis that threatens to have devastating consequences. Instead of Judaism growing upward, vertically, it is becoming corpulent, growing horizontally. The growth of adherence to Halacha in the last few decades has clearly not been accompanied by a true religious revival. Genuine religiosity has nothing to do with the Yiddish expression of frumkeit, an untranslatable expression of routine religious observance.
The very fact that today we encounter a serious endeavor to see Halacha as the only expression of Judaism, and that some halachic authorities constantly attempt to bring the hashkafa (religious philosophy) of Judaism back to finalized dogmas, is a clear indication that those very authorities try to Halacha-ize issues of faith. But doing so robs Judaism of its vital flowing life force. We need to understand that Halacha is the practical upshot of un-finalized beliefs, a practical way of living while remaining in theological suspense.