“The purpose of Halacha is to disturb. To disturb a world that cannot wake up from its slumber because it thinks that it is right.”
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo
What is currently known as the ‘North Atlantic Civilization’ is a construction whose blue prints have been initiated in the Middle East, on the Banks of Jordan.
The Jews, those who had started the process and one of the very few peoples/cultures who have survived since that era, have reached a very interesting stage in their development.
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo discusses, in a series of articles, some very important ‘contemporary issues’.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the context:
– “The word “halakhah” is usually translated as “Jewish Law,” although a more literal (and more appropriate) translation might be “the path that one walks.” The word is derived from the Hebrew root Hei-Lamed-Kaf, meaning to go, to walk or to travel.”
– Yigal Amir had killed Yitzhak Rabin in an attempt to halt the Oslo Peace process and
– Baruch Goldstein had killed 29 and wounded 125 in “the Muslim prayer hall at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron“.
When reading Dr. Cardozo’s considerations please engage yourself in a mental experiment. Try to identify at least one aspect of those mentioned here that doesn’t fit the rest of the North Atlantic cultural space.
I encourage you to use the links and read Dr. Cardozo’s articles in full. I have selected some of his words trying to suggest something, there is a lot more to be learned there.
“One of the greatest tragedies of Judaism in modern times is that certain halachic authorities, as well as people like Yigal Amir and Baruch Goldstein, forgot to study the first book of the Torah. They have become so dedicated to the letter of the law that they have done the inconceivable and have caused the degradation of Halacha.”
“It is for this reason that Halacha has always developed on the basis of case law, and not because of overall well-worked-out ideologies. It is sui generis. Much depends on circumstances, the kind of person we are dealing with, local customs, human feelings, and sometimes trivialities. God, as Abraham Joshua Heschel explains, is concerned with everydayness. It is the common deed—with all of its often trivial and contradictory dimensions— that claims His attention. People do not come before God as actors in a play that has been planned down to the minutest detail. If they did, they would be robots and life would be a farce.”
“Not only do we see a considerable amount of chaotic halachic literature, published by numerous authorities, which seems to lack consistency and order, but we may even find contradictions in the various writings of one halachist. This doesn’t mean that the writer lacks a particular line of thought and some basic principles; it just means that within these norms almost everything is an open market.
I believe this is the reason why the Conservative movement, with all its good intentions and great scholarship, was unable to grasp the imagination of many halachic authorities. It is not the lack of knowledge, but rather the over-systematization that is responsible for this. Once there is too much of a unified weltanschauung and agenda, Halacha loses its vitality. The multitude of attitudes, worldviews, chaotic thinking and sometime wild ideas, through which the greatest halachic authorities freely expressed their opinions, is what kept the Orthodox halachic world alive. In some sense, and even almost paradoxically, Orthodox Halacha is less fundamentalist than Halacha in other movements within Judaism.
None of this should surprise anyone. When looking into the Talmud, which is the very source of Halacha, we find a range of opinions so wide, and often radical, that it is almost impossible to find any sense of order. There’s a reason why the Talmud is compared to a sea in which storms create unpredictable waves and turbulence. The revealed beauty of this natural phenomenon is what attracts people to gaze at the sea for hours on end. It reflects their inner world, which thrives only in the presence of tension, paradox and chaos.”
“In my opinion, Halacha is in need of more “chaos.” It must allow for many ways to live a halachic life unbound by too many restrictions of conformity and codification. It must make room for autonomy on the part of individuals, to choose their own way once they have undertaken to observe the foundations of Halacha. Acceptance of minority opinions will have to become a real option, and some rabbinical laws must be relaxed so that a more living Judaism will emerge. While some people need more structure than others, in this day and age we must create halachic options that the codes such as the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides and the Shulchan Aruch of Rabbi Yosef Karo do not provide.
Surely those who prefer to live by the strict rules of the codes should continue to do so. For some, these rules are actually a necessity – even a religious obligation – since this may be the only way they can experience God. But they should never become an obstacle to those who are unable to adhere to them. Labeling these new approaches “non-Orthodox,” or “heresy,” is entirely missing the point.
I wish to be clear: I am not advocating Reform or Conservative Judaism which, as I stated earlier, have paradoxically become overly structured and agenda-driven. They lack sufficient “chaos” to make them vigorous.
While there is great beauty in attending synagogue three times a day to pray, we clearly see that much of it has become mechanic – going through the motions, but no religious experience. Yes, it’s better than not being involved in any prayer at all, but the price we pay is increasing by leaps and bounds. It is pushing many away. Codification is the best way to strangle Judaism. By now, Orthodox Judaism has been over-codified and is on its way to becoming more and more irrelevant.
I believe that one of Halacha’s main functions is to protest against a world that is becoming ever more complacent, self-indulgent, insensitive, and egocentric. Many people are unhappy and apathetic. They no longer live a really inspiring life, even though they are surrounded by luxuries, which no one would have even dreamed of only one generation ago.
The purpose of Halacha is to disturb. To disturb a world that cannot wake up from its slumber because it thinks that it is right. The great tragedy is that the halachic community itself has been overcome by exactly those obstacles against which the Halacha has protested and for which it was created. Halachic living has become the victim of Halacha. The religious community has succumbed to the daily grind of halachic living while being disconnected from the spirit of Halacha, which often clashes with halachic conformity for the sake of conformity. Many religious people convince themselves that they are religious because they are “frum.” They are conformists, not because they are religious but because they are often self-pleasers, or are pleasing the communities in which they live.
Large numbers of religious Jews live in self-assurance and ease. The same is true of the secular community. Both live in contentment. But as Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs notes: “Who wants a life of contentment? Religion throughout the ages has been used to comfort the troubled. We should now use it to trouble the comfortable…” ”