Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Beep Beep

evanstonjew writes:
I fail to see why everyone is fixated on when it was written and not on the redaction. An Orthodox Jew focuses on the finished redacted text. Knowing the source critical literature he sees how these texts are combined to make up a composite picture of God that is complex and religiously challenging. It works equally well if at Sinai Hashem gave us a text that WE would say is composed of different scrolls. What is revealed in the text we have are the different partzufim of Hashem...God the creator, the destroyer,the warrior, the personal God of a particular family, but now seen as One God instead of different beings at war with each other. Whatever conflicts occur are internal to God himself, with only a few exceptions (Rahab, Leviathan, Yamm);what chazal and kabbalah call the confrontation between midas hadin and midas harachamim.It is this confrontation that drives the narrative of the bible.I think JEPD talk maps pretty nicely onto aspects talk. One is more old fasioned and post redaction, the other more modern and reductionist.

As for what really happened...chazal have an expression...mah dehavei ,havei, what was, was.
Hmm,
This seems like a fine argument for shalom bayis among orthodox jews, but it feels a little circular. The Chazal were the culmination of a certain school of Biblical interpretation which we inherited as Orthodox Judaism. Of course they have the expression "what was, was" because their goal was to promote their particular interpretation of "what was". What is striking to me is that this is very similar to the argument Kugel proposes at the end of his book:
The texts that make up the Bible were originally composed under whatever circumstances they were composed. What made them the Bible, however, weas their definitive reinterpretation, along the lines of the Four Assumptions of the ancient interpreters-a way of reading that was established in Judaism in the form of the Oral Torah. Read the Bible in this way and you are reading it properly, that is, in keeping with the understanding o f those who made and cannonized the Bible. Read it any other way and you have drastically misconstrued the intentions of the Bible's framers.

So this is almost precisely in sync with evanstonjew's first point. But here is the irony - in some ways this feels less a point of religion than literary criticism. HEY - there is a bigger question at stake here - are we doing the will of God? We have commited ourselves to a particular interpretation of God's will, one that survived among many that were around. If God has an idea of how a Jew should behave, and if this idea happens to be different from the ideas of Rabbinic Judaism, we may not get "credit" for being "Orthodox". Hell, if you are a believer in theodicy, and how can we not be given that it is the main theme of the Bible, we, as jews, haven't had it so good, since the rise of Chazal. Who knows, maybe God wanted us to be Sadducees?

Of course, the other side of the coin is that focusing on the redaction is pointless if by digging deep enough you uncover enough evidence that shows that there is no God of the Old Testament, that none of the events described in the Bible actually happened. Then the notion of an Orthodox Jew becomes kinda rootless, doesn't it? Sure you can keep going and you can trumpet all the wonderful benefits of an Orthodox lifestyle, but it's a bit of a sham, isn't it? It's kinda like the Roadrunner cartoons; as soon as the Coyote realizes that he is running through the air, and looks down, he falls into the gorge.

22 Comments:

Anonymous B. Spinoza said...

>evanstonjew writes:

where is this from?

February 05, 2008 9:22 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

A comment on my "Roleplaying" post - a few posts down...

February 05, 2008 9:46 AM  
Anonymous B. Spinoza said...

what about the famous story about chazal ignoring a bas kol regarding a certain halacha. They said, never mind, we'll take it from here, God. apparently they thought it's God's will not to worry about God's will.

Humans have the job and responsibility to figure out for themselves what is right and wrong. We can't rely on outside voices telling us how to act and behave. So the lesson is to stop searching and looking for outside validation and work on it ourselves

February 05, 2008 9:47 AM  
Anonymous B. Spinoza said...

>A comment on my "Roleplaying" post - a few posts down...

I see it now. Thanks

February 05, 2008 10:01 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Yes. It is a story about chazal by chazal. They are justifying their behavior.

I agree with your second paragraph. Accept that when God tells you that if you choose wrong, you're toast...

February 05, 2008 10:03 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

"If God has an idea of how a Jew should behave, and if this idea happens to be different from the ideas of Rabbinic Judaism, we may not get "credit" for being "Orthodox"."

I too was going to cite "Torah lo bishamayim hi." It may be circular, but at least it's logically consistent within itself. :)

The thing is, a system is a system. And we have a finely developed, closely honed legal system. The relevant question isn't really where the system came from; it's whether or not you decide to buy into it.

February 05, 2008 10:34 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

"And we have a finely developed, closely honed legal system. The relevant question isn't really where the system came from; it's whether or not you decide to buy into it."

I don't agree. It is more than just a legal system. The fact that it came from God is the key aspect of it. If not, then the byproducts of its inflexibility, the agunot, the husband who cannot hug a wife who just lost her mother because she is niddah, is absurd and sadistic.

February 05, 2008 12:03 PM  
Anonymous Tobie said...

Secular law systems have 'evil' consequences in individual cases as well, and in general, judges will accept the byproducts of applying the system as a whole. I think that it's still a question of buying into it as a whole or not. That said, the only reason to buy into it is if you think that G-d endorses either the system per system or the results that it reaches. So to make it a morally binding system, it still needs the G-d aspect.

February 05, 2008 12:18 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

>Secular law systems have 'evil' consequences in individual cases as well, and in general, judges will accept the byproducts of applying the system as a whole.

Yes. But this system is too inflexible. And I don't want to hear about the fact that conservatism is a good thing in a legal system. Because even though I agree with that in principle, we have gone way beyond conservatism. In my opinion, the state of halachic innovation, true innovation that serves the Jewish populace, and not some abstruse rulings on irrelevant, obscure topics, is in a state of paralysis.

And I have a hard time calling it a legal system. It is legal in the sense that the laws are given by G-d. But a huge proportion of the laws deal with the relation between man and God. This is not the conventional definition of a legal system, which deals with social relations.
And I haven't even brought up the fact that there is much more to OJ than just halacha.

But that is just my perception. I am open to counter-examples.

February 05, 2008 12:37 PM  
Blogger Baal Habos said...

>The relevant question isn't really where the system came from; it's whether or not you decide to buy into it.

Of course, it's relevant! Knowing where the system came from helps me decide if I should buy into it. Especially, when at face value, the "system" as we were taught it, insists it came straight from God.

February 05, 2008 12:42 PM  
Blogger -suitepotato- said...

As with the secular world calling for logic and common sense, one's life calls for logic and conscience. If we treat either as a computer where there are rules which will necessarily result in certain outcomes then we get only a couple possibilities. The right thing for the wrong reasons or the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. Right reason is brought into the world by the conscious free will choice of mankind.

We're all trusting at least a little that those who write the rules and programming code for us to follow, the dos and don'ts, are perfect or at least using their conscience. If we do not use ours, then there is no check on theirs and for all we know, they're full of it. I think G-d would rather have ongoing error checking by using that gift of conscience than waiting till some awful juncture where it all seems to be nonsense and the faith falls apart.

So which do you believe? The faith is strengthened by its encouragement of conscience or that the faith isn't presently encouraging conscience? I see a faith that in the abstract and history most definitely DOES teach conscience. I merely see SOME people flipping on the autopilot switch.

Given that, blogs like this are doing a great service to the community by asking the questions that need to be asked. If only so we can say, "yup, that mitzvah is entirely sensible and moral, feels right and good, check."

February 05, 2008 2:00 PM  
Blogger Miri said...

E-Kvetcher-
"But this system is too inflexible."

ah, but is it? Of course we can't truly debate this without a specific issue, but the fact of the matter is that there are many board-certified Rabbis out there that give kulot out freely according to need.

BHB-
"Of course, it's relevant! Knowing where the system came from helps me decide if I should buy into it."

I guess I'm operating from the premise of "maaaaaaybe it's divine, maybe not...." in that case, you just have to look at the system for what it is and decide to go with it or not. I mean, no one debates the divinity of American tax law, but everyone abides by it. maybe that's not the best analogy though.

"Especially, when at face value, the "system" as we were taught it, insists it came straight from God."

Eh...insists is kind of a strong term. It sometimes claims to be the Torah shebaal peh as handed down from Moses, but then you bring in the whole torah lo bishamayim hi thing and you start losing street cred with the first claim. I mean, the phrase implies that G-d put the building blocks in our hands and said "Mold things to fit the community." The idea of G-d telling Moshe on sinai that ovens would need to be blowtorched for Pesach isn't really buyable past a certain age.

SP-
"So which do you believe? The faith is strengthened by its encouragement of conscience or that the faith isn't presently encouraging conscience? "

I don't know who you're talking to here, but I'm going to jump in and say that a) I'm not sure I understood your question and b)my ideas of faith aren't exactly conventional enough to fit into either construct you've provided. I don't really think of faith as something active, or interactive, I think of it as something you're either saddled with or your not.

February 05, 2008 2:27 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

>f course we can't truly debate this without a specific issue, but the fact of the matter is that there are many board-certified Rabbis out there that give kulot out freely according to need.

Are these decisions significant enough to change major halachot? Can you give me some examples?

February 05, 2008 4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stop kvetching already! there's no reason to think God wrote the bible. you don't spend any time agonizing over whether god wrote the koran, so don't waste any time on this either.

February 05, 2008 7:35 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

>Stop kvetching already! there's no reason to think God wrote the bible. you don't spend any time agonizing over whether god wrote the koran, so don't waste any time on this either.

Jeez, I guess some of us have a right to agonize for like five years about this stuff, through several incarnations of a blog...

Besides I am not kvetching, I am just putting some of my ideas in order. Debating ideas and thinking things out doesn't equal 'agonizing'

February 05, 2008 8:14 PM  
Blogger Miri said...

E-Kvethcer-
I don't know about changing halacha; the fact of the matter is, when discussing any iven halachik issue there's generally about fifteen different opinions. Sofo shel davar, we need to pick something and stick with it for general purposes but in special situations, other opinions are brought into the picture. Specifically, in the inyan of hair covering, of birth control, frequently in niddah situations; the heter mechira is an example of relatively recent halachik innovation. I'm sure there are more...

February 06, 2008 4:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

:)

You were there for most of the 5 years (actually 3) too! Haven't you had enough yet?

February 06, 2008 9:31 AM  
Blogger -suitepotato- said...

Maybe the kvetching and agonizing is enjoyable. There's a little masochist in everyone, and you could find worse subjects to obsess over, right?

February 06, 2008 2:01 PM  
Blogger Tobie said...

I heard somebody say once that there was nothing that the original Conservative movement permitted that modern Orthodoxy has not, by now, found a way to be matir. I don't know if that's one hundred percent true, but watching certain controversies from the outside- female rabbis, end of life issues- it's incredible to see how much things have already evolved and continue to evolve within the Orthodox movement. Halacha has a lot more wiggle room than people give it credit for, and it tends to go out there and wiggle in it.

February 07, 2008 1:40 AM  
Blogger evanstonjew said...

I didn't realize my comment was up there;I thought it had died and gone to a virtual heaven or maybe limbo.

Anyway the thread has moved in different directions, as it should.
There are two threads on Rabbi Gutman's blog on the use of allegory and metaphor when chazal say something unacceptable to us, (XGH's 20 ft.Moshe) It gets lively, but is convoluted and goes on for a while.

http://yediah.blogspot.com/ 1/28
and 2/04

February 10, 2008 11:33 AM  
Blogger evanstonjew said...

The first point you raise is independent of TMS. If you take a hyper realist view of everything how do you know that unbeknownst to us the reality is according to Bais Shamai . There is the famous story of Rabbi Eliezer in Bava Metziah with the punch line of lo basamayim hee, which effectively rules out hyper realism or what is called Platonism. Chazal have abrogated the right to shoot the arrow and then draw the circle.

Your second point is more complicated. Once the DH is on the table it is unlikely barring the coming of mashiac that you will ever be able to say "I know TMS is true." At best it is possibly true and emunah is necessary. If you can't forget about the DH as charedim do, and emunah is difficult there is no choice but to live with it and accept Torah as a mixture of history, myth(literature) and religious instruction. One can end up a very religious and pious Jew without knowing anything for certain.

February 10, 2008 2:26 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

The first point you raise is independent of TMS. If you take a hyper realist view of everything how do you know that unbeknownst to us the reality is according to Bais Shamai.

But that is the precise reason why so many people are interested in biblical archaelogy, history, etc...

These are not some kind of mystical truths that can only be revealed. It's no different than trying to solve an older murder. You try to find as many clues as you can. Sure, in the end, you may never find out "whodunit", but that doesn't mean that there is no point in looking.

February 11, 2008 12:21 PM  

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