Thursday, March 29, 2007

Yated Appears to Falsify Torah to Attack YCT

Now we have time to post the critique of the Yated’s attack on R’ Dov Linzer.

The Yated writer:

Another of Rabbi Linzer’s written statements warrant mention here. In the Jerusalem Report Magazine November 2004 edition, Rabbi Linzer in a signed article wrote, “As an Orthodox Jew, I have to struggle not just with G-d ’s presence in the world, but with His commandments as well. Some of these do not seem to square with a good, just G-d. The command to destroy Amalek and the Canaanite nations, the death penalty for one who… [engages in toeiva], the inability of a woman to terminate a failed marriage—to pretend that these are not profound problems or that they are consistent with G-d’s goodness is, for me, not an option. I choose to take the path of Yisrael, to face these problems and to struggle with them…”

Did Rabbi Linzer, forget that which every simple [sic] knows? Did he forget the words in the Torah on which Rashi (Bamidbar 19:2) cites the Chazal that we have no right to “second-guess” or question those mitzvos whose reasons are not immediately apparent?

What does that Rashi say? From

This is the statute of the Torah. Because Satan and the nations of the world taunt Israel, saying, “ What is this commandment, and what purpose does it have?” Therefore, the Torah uses the term “statute.” I have decreed it; You have no right to challenge it. — [Yoma 67b]

Clearly, the writer takes issue on the basis of the underlined section. But what is its source? (from the Soncino translation):

Yoma 67b: And My statutes shall ye keep,14 i.e., such commandments to which Satan objects, they are [those relating to] the putting on of sha'atnez,15 the halizah16 [performed] by a sister-in-law, the purification of the leper, and the he-goat-to-be-sent-away. And perhaps you might think these are vain things, therefore Scripture says: I am the Lord,14 i.e., I, the Lord have made it a statute and you have no right to criticize it.

(14) Lev. XVIII, 4.

(15) A web of wool and linen, v. Deut. XXII, 11. All the laws mentioned in this group cannot be explained rationally; they are to be taken on faith, as the decree of God.

(16) The ceremony of taking off the brother-in-law's shoe, v. Deut. XXV, 5ff.

What does this mean?

Let’s ask Rashi on the Gemara:

“Therefore it says ‘I am God’”: this refers to statutes (chukim), that came from Him, He constructed them, thus it is called “Chok” – I God have decreed it.

It is as clear as day. One has no right to second-guess chukim, arbitrary Divine decrees such as the Red Heifer or mixed kinds of cloth. But that tells us nothing about our approach to mishpatim – civil laws. We have every right to try to come to terms with the civil and criminal laws, that we find morally difficult.

To take R’ Linzer’s examples:

  • The command to destroy Amalek is not a chok, it comes with a reason – because of what Amalek did to us when we were leaving Egypt. Part of the command to destroy Amalek is to kill Amalekite babies. Would the Yated writer really feel no compunction in killing an Amalekite baby, who by definition could not have sinned? Does the baby possess some kind of , lehavil, “original sin” that allows us to kill it?
  • The death penalty for one who engages in toeivah, and the inability of a woman to terminate a failed marriage, these are mishpatim. And in the latter case, Chazal and the Rishonim went to great lengths to try to even out the balance between the man’s power to terminate the marriage, and the woman’s passive role – allowing hafka’at kiddushin in certain cases, allowing a woman to sue in beis din to initiate a divorce, the Cherem of Rabbenu Gershom – all of these are Chazal and Rishonim struggling with the apparent immorality of one-sided divorce mandated by the Torah text.

In neither case does the stricture in the Gemara and Rashi apply.

From where does our morality spring, other than from the Holy One Blessed be He? He gave us a moral sense, and He gave us law, and we have to make the two of them square.

The Yated, on the other hand, has apparently falsified the Torah (ziyuf haTorah) in its attempt to vilify R’ Dov Linzer.

[Irrelevant pointers to the necessity of tziduk hadin and the incomprehensibility of Divine thought snipped]

It is clear that he made this statement despite his knowledge of the above. This is why the “Open Orthodoxy” of YCT is not Orthodox but resembles something akin to a new “Conservative light” movement.

No. What is clear is that nothing, not even the words of Chazal and the Torah, stand in the way of the Yated writers’ desire to vilify R’ Linzer and his Yeshiva, Chovevei Torah. This claim had also been made against R’ Linzer in an earlier attack on YCT, that time without an attempt to justify the claim from Chazal. Evidently the writers felt that the point was important, and that supporting it from Chazal was important as well. It might have been better had they found a more appropriate source.


Anonymous said...

You're hurting Linzer more than helping.

The Yated may have used the Rashi to make a point. Just as Linzer MADE it appear those laws were Chukim by approaching them as "profound problems" that appear inconsistent with "G-d’s goodness" so too Yated did the same. The Yated may even pandering to him by stating: "we have no right to second-guess or question those mitzvos whose reasons are not immediately apparent".

Yated said "immediately apparent", not "not apparent".

If Linzer approached those laws as mishpatim, then he should have been able to approach those laws rationally, instead of having a problem with them. What you are saying is more devistating for Linzer, in that even for mishpatim, which have rationality, Linzer has a hard time supporting!

Linzer gives the impression of a wavering emunah and potential disregard for the laws that he discusses. Linzer's words "the inability of a woman to terminate a failed marriage" will be misused by radical feminists such as JOFA for years to come.

I think you should carefully read both Linzer and the Yated. Frankly, this post is foolish and the title "Yated Ne'eman Falsifies Torah to Attack YCT" is libelous.

You must really want to help those that are going after Linzer, Weiss, and YCT.

thanbo said...

You clearly don't understand the "rationalism" of mishpatim. That they're rational means that they can be understood, not necessarily that every detail of them is immediately apparent to be reasonable.

Chukim cannot be understood, although the taamei hamitzvot effort (Rambam, RSR Hirsch) would try to ascribe meaning to them (symbolic meaning, if not underlying reasons for the laws to exist).

But mishpatim can be understood. And every law has a bit of chok in it, in that it has to be followed, willy nilly.

Linzer is approaching them rationally. And rationally, when measured against a contemporary Torah moral sense, they don't make immediate sense. That they're mishpatim means that we have to try to make sense of them.

As for libelous, noted and updated.

Anonymous said...

Maybe not every detail of mishpatim are immediately apparent, but the basic reason of a mishpat should be readily apparent or accessible. If not from the obiousness law itself, from the context the law was given or the Oral Law.

So, IMHO, to state "to pretend that these are not profound problems or that they are consistent with G-d’s goodness", is to challenge the rationality of laws that have readily available answers. Linzer gives the impression that he is dissatisfied with those answers.

Anonymous said...

I posted this response to you on Hirhurim as well

I believe that you are standing Rashi on his head. You are taking it as license to question items that are not Chukim, neither Rashi nor any Gemara state that.

"We have every right to try to come to terms with the civil and criminal laws, that we find morally difficult."

"From where does our morality spring, other than from the Holy One Blessed be He? He gave us a moral sense, and He gave us law, and we have to make the two of them square."

These two statements are not reflective of normative Orthodox Jewish thought.

thanbo said...


"challenge the rationality" hardly. Again. They're rational, they have to be, but that doesn't mean their reasons are immediately apparent.

Rabbi Zvi: not normative?

Pray tell, where are the norms about how we are to define our morality? Where do concepts such as lifnim mishuras hadin, bnei neviim, etc. that all affect our personal moral stances, come into it?

You appear to be talking about legislating hashkafa, an enterprise which has not really caught on.

Anonymous said...

"Pray tell, where are the norms about how we are to define our morality? Where do concepts such as lifnim mishuras hadin, bnei neviim, etc. that all affect our personal moral stances, come into it?"

If you respond to my post on Hirhurim, I will address the issue over there.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

approaching mishpatim rationally = struggling to figure them out, since by definition they're supposed to make sense.

Just saying "of course they're right" is a hhoq approach, not a mishpatim one.

thanbo said...

1) Rabbi Zvi:

Why must conversation continue on Hirhurim? Who made him the sole proprietor of YCT discussions? Unless he starts his own thread on what constitutes a normative approach to morality.

Continue here - I'd like to get more readers. His thread already has 400+ responses.

I'm also taking it to Avodah, you can respond there too. Get some good discussion going.

2) Steg: thanx for putting it into different words.

thanbo said...

Rabbi Zvi:

I feel my approach is sufficiently supported by this paragraph from R' Nati Helfgot's letter about the Yated article:

R. Linzer’s quote about struggling with difficult mitzvot that challenge our ethical notions and our conception of a just God (a conception that emerges from many parts of the Torah) is a badge of honor. God implanted within us a moral sensibility and did not want us to be morally insensitive or obtuse. Gedolei olam from time and immemorial struggled with difficult mitzvot such as the commandment to obliterate Amalek. Read some of the writings of Rav Lichtenstein in English and in Hebrew or the recent essays by Rabbi Shalom Carmy and Rabbi Norman Lamm in the new volume on “War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition” for any more citations.

Complete letter here.

Anonymous said...

If you were confident in your position that it was 100% correct then you wouldn't have added the word appears when your were charge as being possibly libelous!

Anonymous said...

what is the "hhoq approach"?

thanbo said...

There's confidence, there's clean speech, and there's protecting oneself from unfair libel charges and potential lawsuits.

Better to err on the side of caution, no? Esp. since I'm *not* a posek, not a great expert in machshevet yisrael.

Now, having seen Rashi and the Gemoro disagreeing with the Yated's claim of what they mean, perhaps someone could bring other sources, rishonim or whatever, who actually do extend the Gemoro's prohibition to mishpatim?

Or is it all about tone? In which case, i toned it down, so the tone issue should no longer be at issue.

Anonymous said...

dont stretch it by calling r n lamm or r lichtenstein GIDOLAI OLAM

thanbo said...

Hey, it's not my letter. But the point stands - personal struggle with mitzvot that appear to be morally "problematic" has a long history in Jewish tradition.

That's not to say that one should, God forbid, reject any such mitzvot, but one's morality is shaped by many things, parents, society, and of course, Torah learning, and there are things that don't appear to fit. So either we pigeonhole them as "things which are difficult, but not particularly relevant to me, so I won't worry about them", or we struggle to fit them into our understanding of the Torah worldview.