Wednesday, 18 June 2014
Discussing Jewish Orthodoxy
I'm currently writing a book about Jewish Orthodoxy, the theme of which is that Orthodoxy in particular and Judaism in general should be broad and deep, not narrow and shallow ( a phrase I've pinched from someone else- Hi David!).
Here are some of my potted thoughts, which I'll probably make into chapters, that I want to include (along with other stuff) in the book:
We never went through a 'reformation' in the same sense as our Aszkenazi brothers and sisters, which makes us by default 'Orthodox', but in a broader sense. What does this mean?
The Torah and Hebrew Bible as divine truth
You see for me, my truth is the Hebrew Bible, especially the first 5 books, the Torah as well as the Oral Torah and documented in the Mishna & later the Talmud. So I would have no problem in echoing our Rabbis in saying "This, The Torah of Moses, shall not be abrogated, nor shall there be any other Torah from G-d save it". In other words I believe that the Torah was divine and given by G-d (although this does not mean one is turned into a fundamentalist fanatic, nor does it mean that one has to take everything in the Torah as literal).
I am aware of the Biblical criticism called the 'documentary hypothesis', but I cannot accept this, because it would be a denial of the divine origins of my Bible. I also know that I cannot possibly prove that my religion and her deity is objective fact, despite what I believe in my own head about it. But this does not bother me, because I make that leap of faith. It is not necessarily to show faith as a fact, because that is what faith is all about & more importantly IMHO is about how to live well, by attempting to follow the Mitzvot.
The Spirit, not the letter of the law
I guess where I differ from the more Ultra Orthodox or Haredi position is that I don't see Judaism as a set of overtly legalistic or dogmatic set of rules which have to be followed to the letter. I believe that whilst the Oral and Written Torah is divine, along with the rest of the Hebrew Bible, it does not stop us from being able to interpret Halakha via lenient rulings and interpretations. To me the spirit, not the letter of the law, is most important .I see in my [Sephardi] tradition, this is about being tolerant of various levels of observance, which places an emphasis on community spirit and family ties, over fanatical dogmatism.
Besides which, I'd be a big hypocrite if I said I kept all of the Mitzvot, as tradition interprets, because there is one (being gay) that I am unable to fulfill (“oness rahmana patrei”), so I don't believe that people should turn the Torah into a hammer to beat people down about their lack of observance, but rather to see we are all Jews, who stumble and fall, so we should be encouraging each other to follow the Torah & therefore live a good and ethical life, a Jewish life, whatever tradition we come from, as best we are able .
Competing truths and spreading 'the word' (Christian Evangelism)
I don't have a problem with Evangelism. We now live in a free society of competing opinions, beliefs, religions and ideologies. I understand the Christian impulse to Evangelise - Matthew 28, vs 16 to 20, however, this also means that there will be a counterpoise to the Evangelism, be it from the old school Evangelicals, the Messianic Jews, Jews for Jesus or the Mormons (these being the groups who seem to do the most Evangelism). The funny thing is that, whenever these groups undertake such activities, it seems to backfire, e.g. my niece at university has had fierce debates with the Christian Union, after one of their missionary weeks and it only strengthened her belief.
Being an 'Ortho-Dyke'
Evangelical /or Haredi (take ur pick) : You're gay, how can you be Orthodox without twisting the word of God's truth?
Me :Yeah, I'm gay. So what?
Evangelical/or Haredi (take ur pick) : What about Leviticus and all that ?
Me : OK, well you see...
Israel & Zionism
I am a staunch support of Israel and a Zionist. I also want to see peace with Israel's neighbours and a just settlement for the Palestinian people. How to achieve this and what does Torah & Halakha tell us about how to achieve this?
[more thoughts to follow]