Halacha makes life simple
Halacha makes things very, very simple. I have a modest booklet explaining how to start your own fish aquarium. It turns out to be not so simple.
Too small a tank and the water quality is hard to control. The view of the underwater world is rather small from a round tank. It needs to be positioned on a very solid base because water in these quantities is heavy. Too much light gives algal growth. Tropical fishes need slightly heated water. The water should have the right pH. Different fish must be fed differently – some can be fed pellets but some need dead prey and some need it alive. A quarter of the water must be replaced twice a week.
All this without even examining the living things that go into these aquaria. Here we run into a whole new set of problems. First there is the question of real or fake plants. Fake plants can look equally charming, and one runs less risk of them cluttering the tank or being eaten by the fish. And what about the fish types? Fat fish require better water conditions than thin ones. Aggressive ones eat too many of their fellows, but shy ones might not emerge from their hiding places and hence starve to death. The number of each type of fish should also be considered. When the fish get sick we need to find treatment for bacterial or fungal infections. And whatever we do, many fish will not live longer than two to three years.
No matter how well we are prepared and informed, only trial and error will teach us which fish and which combination of fish will thrive in our tank.
And that is a big difference between fish tanks and Jewish Law. Without Jewish law, life is open to millions of possibilities and who knows what is worth our time and effort? But Halachah seems to say: just do it and success is guaranteed. The more you keep the rules, the more successful your life will turn out to be in hindsight. Non-Jews pretty much have to fend for themselves and figure out what to do at every turn. Jews are lucky to have so much advice. Halachah makes life so very simple.
Yael Unterman’s response
I experienced the complexity of navigating life without Halacha when I first started to really care about environmental issues. Questions arose: what is worse, paper plates or washing up? What is worse, buying a hard plastic cup or using disposables? I even defined one of my friends (a female) as my “environmental rabbi” to ask her such “shaylas” (halachic questions). And it was then that I realised how much I rely on the huge, rambling halachic system for answers to a lot of life’s questions, and how much responsibility I place on the shoulders of the rabbis whom I ask.
But we should not be able to just put our existential questions into a halachic ATM and have the answer pop out like a 100 shekel bill. That doesn’t feel right. I can’t agree with the instruction manual model that Moshe Mordechai proposes. For me Halacha is not full of absolutes. It is not an aquarium manual but an aquarium in and of itself – not the glass case, but a delicate ecosystem made up of lots of living, breathing parts. The Halacha rests on the shoulders of many, and, just as every aquarium is a little different, it is differently shaped for each individual.
So – is your religious life similar to a glass case and fake plants, or to a group of living, breathing, multi-coloured fish (who, admittedly, do have rules about how they should be fed)? You decide.
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