Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rabbi Zev Farber's "Crime" and religious hypocrisy

There are a lot of issues that need addressing, but moderation won't allow some of them to be addressed in the proper forum.

1) I see lots of people throwing around technical terms like "apikorus" "heretic" etc., but not actually defining them. Rambam in the 3rd chapter of Hilchot Teshuvah defines them.

a. Min = heretic.  i. no God, ii. no Divine Providence, iii. multiple gods; iv. corporealism; v. worships a created object as a god or as an intermediary to God.

Nope, don't see R' Farber falling into any of those. OTOH, one major division of contemporary Orthodoxy does fall afoul of the fifth definition.  Which division of contemporary Jews talk about a "ממוצע המחבר"?

b. Apikorus: i. no prophecy or other Divine communication with Man; ii. refutes the prophecy of Moses (ding ding! - if Moshe didn't exist, he was no prophet); iii. God does not pay attention to the actions of man (that's another contemporary rav's view).

c. Denier of Torah: i. says that one word or letter was written by Man without direction from God; ii. one who denies the Oral Torah like Tzadok and Boethius; iii. one who claims God has overturned any mitzvah.

So, R' Farber seems to fall afoul of being an apikoros by definition ii. I don't see him actually falling afoul of c.i - even the prophets were guided by God's "wave".  Certainly not c.ii - the Oral Torah is valid, whatever its origin.  The Sadducees denied the whole Oral Torah, process as well as details, preferring nevuah as a source of psak

2. Disavowing: this is a broader issue.  YCT via R' Helfgot and R' Katz speaking in the name of the school, disavows the ideas, but does not disavow the person.  Which is probably wise, and follows precedent.  Has anyone ever lost their smicha from RIETS for changes in personal ideology?  Has the RCA ever cast anyone out for it?  There was an attempt 20+ years ago to revoke R' Avi Weiss' membership in the RCA.  Ironically, given his later IRF/YCT leadership, R' Angel was head of the RCA trying to expel him, and they couldn't find it in their hearts (or the RCA constitution) to do so.

R' Gordimer, by the same token, doesn't have a leg to stand on.  He belongs to the RCA, which has not cast out Chabad.  Why is that relevant?  The situations are analogous.  Many in Chabad hold a view that the Rambam describes as heretical.  The central organization won't cast them out, because it would break up families including their own.  And the RCA won't condemn them and declare them a heretical movement for a) having them as members, b) tolerating them.  This is RD David Berger's "scandal of Orthodox indifference" all over again.  If the RCA won't reject Chabad (and really, for institutional reasons, they can't - it would traumatize the kashrus inspection business), why would R Gordimer think that YCT must be rejected for tolerating R' Farber?

3. R Gordimer and RYA go overboard in their criticisms.
a. I don’t see RZF denying the Oral Law one bit. Not even its divine origin – that remains, even though the Written Law’s origin is demoted to the same prophetic level.
b) RYA quotes a Gemara and Rashi saying that denying that resurrection is from the Torah makes one a kofer – but I don’t see RZF denying either resurrection or its origin. And I don’t think even the Mishnah requires that one see it as coming from the Torah. I’ve never understood this need for it to be sourced in the Torah, which Rashi and (for political reasons) Rambam demand – it’s not a mitzvah, which would have to be present in the Torah, it’s a prediction of future events, which the Neviim are full of. So what’s wrong with it being sourced in the Neviim, where it’s explicit?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Rabbi Zev Farber's Choice

Rabbi Zev Farber has caused quite the online tumult.  It remains to be seen whether this will remain a tempest in an online teapot, or spread to the larger Jewish world of press releases.

After rereading the long essay, and some of the attacks and defenses, and discussing this with others, I'm left feeling rather sad about the whole business.  Namely, that R' Farber has real concerns, but that he may not have been the person to express them, or that this may not have been the time to do so.

As it is, most of us laypersons are being presented with a choice as to what should be an Orthodox approach to the textual problems of Torah.

1) Tradition, including the principles of Maimonides, based on 2000 years of biblical interpretation, most of which we don't actually know (how many of us have studied 20 supercommentaries on Rashi, as is included in one collection from the publisher of the big red modern Mikraot Gedolot?), but which we take on faith to have dealt somehow with the apparent inconsistences; or

2) Modern Biblical Scholarship, as presented by R' Farber, which includes:

  1. treating all of the narrative in the Torah as allegorical/legendary;
  2. treating at least some of the legal material in the Torah as affected by then-common social mores;
  3. eliminating Divine Providence "if the stories are nothing but history, then the details are nothing more than the random accidents of history" - do we eliminate Divine Providence, or do we make the Torah into legends?  Either way, a massive part of tradition is cut away.
  4. as a result, several of Maimonides' principles become no longer tenable.  The Wave Theory undoes the Seventh Principle (the primacy of Moses, who never existed anyway), and the Eighth Principle (which is today widely tempered by the knowledge of a few spelling differences between known Torahs), and even impinges on the Ninth Principle by partially abrogating the Law.  
    1. And the Wave Theory itself is based on solid texts in Jeremiah - where the people go to Chuldah to get a more merciful prophecy, rather than Jeremiah, because while she taps into the same flow of Divine will, women are more merciful. R' Farber loses me when he applies the Wave Theory to hypothetical pseudo-Mosaic prophets.

In other words, a choice of authorities as to who gets to define one's view of Judaism. Since most of us haven't spent the years it takes to master either approach, let alone both, we are left choosing who to believe has the correct interpretation of revelation and transmission of Torah.

And that is really no choice.  Do we go with the weight of 2000 years of tradition, hundreds or thousands of expert interpreters, communal acceptance of the model, and a mostly-consistent axiomatic system?  Or do we go with a model that is less than 200 years old, which was promoted largely by 19th-century antisemitten and Wissenschaftliche Reformers who deliberately wanted to undermine traditional Judaism?  A model which, by R' Farber's own admission, necessarily undermines practice and faith?

Others have proposed "heretical" ideas in the past 50 years, but generally from a position of a long history of building up the community, both institutionally and intellectually.  

  • R' Yitz Greenberg has some odd ideas about theology, but he keeps them in his academic writing, not his popular writing and speaking; meanwhile, he has built a life as a pillar of Modern Orthodoxy, developing institutions, writing, advocating.  Most people don't even know about his odd theology, and he & they are quite happy keeping it that way.
  • R' Rackman z"l proposed and built a court for freeing agunot based on questionable psychological premises; while the idea was rejected, nobody was going to reject the whole person, because he had spent 80 years building up Modern Orthodoxy in the US and Israel, at Bar-Ilan and YU, in his shuls, in his capacity as an officer-chaplain in the US military for over a decade, helping Soviet Jews, etc.
R' Farber, on the other hand, is at the start of what looks like a promising career. He doesn't have the broad communal record on which to maintain his reputation.  Reading the comments to the attacks, he seems to be mostly known for writing a series of increasingly radical articles on Judaism. 

So whose opinion should we take on authority as a dogmatic model for Judaism?  Hundreds of writers over thousands of years, ratified by communal acceptance, or a young (well, not that young, after earning a PhD, many years in several yeshivas, and working in day schools, he has to be past 40) upstart, who proposes a theory of Revelation almost indistinguishable from those put forth by Conservative and Reform thinkers, except for a repeated claim of fealty to halacha?

Having struggled for years to convince myself that (a minimalist form of) the traditional view is plausible hence believable, I know where I'm putting my money.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Spiritual Blemishes

Dvar Torah: Lv 1:2 - one may bring offerings from the cattle, from the herds, and from the flocks.

Why three froms?  Rashi (from B. Tem. 28a-b, Toras Kohanim)- exclusions: not from animals that were used for bestiality, nor used or even just set aside for idolatry, nor a goring ox - but all of these are only for cases without sufficient evidence for conviction and execution.

What's the commonality?  They are all metaphysical/spiritual flaws in the animal.  I.e., not just physical blemishes can disqualify offerings, but also use of the animal for anti-holiness (big-3 prohibited behavior).

What's the takeaway? Just as animals used for anti-holiness but not convicted are still disqualified, so too when we do the wrong thing,  it has consequences beyond simple reward/punishment.  Which is why we pray to the Investigator of Failures and Hearts (bochein k'layot valeiv) for forgiveness.  Let's remember the spiritual meaning of chametz (leavened food) qua bad behavior, and remember to clean up our behavior while we're cleaning our houses of chametz.  Repentance/forgiveness are not just for the High Holidays, they're for every day, as we pray thrice.