The concept of Supreme Power over us the humans called God is vital for our human wellbeing. It is vital even for those who call themselves atheists. It is vital mainly not for the purpose of praying to God and asking for guidance and favors but most importantly for accepting God as the unchallenged source of our moral rules, which cannot be changed by us the humans.
That is why it is difficult for me to understand the reason for an orthodox rabbi Donniel Hartman to dethrone God from the first to the second place in Judaism.
From the news media:
Donniel Hartman, the head of an orthodox educational powerhouse, Shalom Hartman Institute, argues that the great monotheistic religions are fatally flawed — by an obsessive focus on God that overwhelms what should be our prime imperative, to live decent, moral lives.
Donniel Hartman insists his resonant call to put God second is not some superficial provocation. Rather, it is issued out of a conviction that “the more we put ethics first, the more I am a religious person” and the less that God is “a destructive force in our lives.”
The rabbi Hartman’s innovations are what indeed we need in Judaism and in other religions, for Jews and Gentiles, namely – to teach how to live decent, moral lives and how and why to put the ethics first. That is indeed necessary and long overdue – to bring back the true meaning of the duties of the Chosen, which are to build a better world for everybody with everybody – the world where the complete majority can live decent, moral lives along the lines of Torah/Bible guidance. However, to do all that we need to have God at the first place in our lives.
In order to decide whether we live decent, moral lives we have to define common basic characteristics of decency and morality. Those characteristics have to be alike for Jews and Christians of different spiritual streams from the ultra-Orthodox to the ultra-Atheists. In the Judeo-Christian world, without One God at the first place with His Torah/Bible-codified rules for decent, moral behavior, it is impossible to have decent, moral lives. The current rules for “decent, moral behavior” are different for many Jewish communities as well as for many Christian communities.
Here are just a few examples. Some believe in the decency of socialism-inspired redistribution of wealth with the “helping hand” of the government while the others support free-market capitalist system with the mitzvah/charity helping hands. Some believe in the absolute morality of “do not do to the others what I do not want to be done to me” while the others consider to be just the severe punishment of devilish people. Some believe that only a family of man-woman-children is decent and moral while the others do not see anything wrong with a gay family. Some believe the decency demands considering a person to be Jewish if he himself believe so while the others trust in a rabbi’s decision on the Jewishness.
Thus, what principles are decent and moral enough to be used for building a better world for everybody, even for everybody inside the Jewish nation? I do not see any other approach but – in the course of competitive spiritual and peaceful discussions – to find it in the guidance of God at the first place.
The history tried to do it without God as was done for example in Stalin’s Russia, in Hitler’s Germany and in Mao’s China and the result was millions and millions of murdered people.
From the news media:
An Israeli rabbinical court did not accept a conversion by an Orthodox rabbi who also helped Ivanka Trump become Jewish.
In the latest case exemplifying the tension between Israel’s rabbinate and Orthodox groups in the Diaspora, a religious court prevented the marriage of an Israeli man and an American woman, who converted under a well-respected New York rabbi, Haskel Lookstein.
And in an unusual twist, which has brought the case into the limelight, Lookstein is also the rabbi who converted Ivanka Trump and officiated at her wedding to Jewish real-estate scion Jared Kushner, an advisor for presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
That is one more example of bad moral rabbinical prescripts as the result of removing God from finding proper Torah/Bible-guided decisions.
At Mount Sinai, some human tribe had become Jewish since it decided to follow the God’s prescriptions on “decent, moral lives”. If somebody decides now to follow these prescriptions, this person is Jewish by God’s definition, and no human rabbinical court can change it.
The true meaning of Brexit is simple and powerful: that is a spiritual separation from the others to preserve and strengthen the own identity and moral foundation (own spirituality). For the nation of UK, it is like the Exodus for the Jews that let the Jewish nation solidify and further develop the Jewish unique identity and moral foundation.
The entity we call the humanity consists of spiritually competing nations. A spiritually competing nation should not hate the others – it should peacefully compete with the others to become “the light for the others”, or should peacefully change itself if it sees something more attractive in the life of the others, or should peacefully isolate itself from the others if it cannot change or compete.
In the political realm – not in the religious one, the first known Brexit was done by the Jewish nation with the Exodus from Egypt and then at the Mount of Sinai. There the Jews decided to split from the others to preserve and strengthen their own identity based on the God’s Torah-guided rules of behavior that distinguished the Jews from the others, and the new spirituality/identity of this nation was codified under the name of Judaism. In the religious terms, this Jewish identity was to obey the God’s commandments presented in the Torah – in the political terms, that was to strengthen the true individual freedoms – in the image and likeness of God, translated in the contemporary world into a free market economic/social system of government.
Just 68 years ago, the Jewish nation made another Brexit from the others and formed the state of Israel, where the Jewish nation can practice its spirituality on its own without overwhelming influence of the others.
The Brexit of UK from the EU dictatorship is of the same “Jewish” spiritual nature – to get rid of the evil of all-powerful EU government, which is forcing the people of UK to surrender its national identity to the newly invented, politically correct “humanity” identity.
Now, the same kind of revolt in making could be observed in other countries of EU such as Hungary or Greece for example.
America made its first Brexit at the end of 18th century by splitting from the authoritarian UK monarchy to preserve and further develop a newly created Judeo-Christian Bible-based identity with a free market economic/social system and strictly limited government that was codified in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. At such system of governing, the government was helping the people enhance their Judeo-Christian spirituality with the free-market and social freedoms.
However, in the course of the last about one hundred years the US government has been increasing its power – slowly, in small steps – and by now it has more power than the people have. With the changes in the small steps, it was difficult to understand that those small steps were creating a new political and social reality where the politicians were using the system for their own spiritual and financial empowerment and enrichment at the cost of the people.
The new Brexit-type movement in the USA, which some call “Trump-ism” (Donald Trump is just a messenger of this movement) is a revolt of the Judeo-Christian majority against the all-powerful US government of any party affiliation. That is a sort of American Exodus to make “America great again” – great in the Judeo-Christian identity and spirituality.
The Exodus/Brexit supporters do not hate anybody, they are not racists or anti-immigration bigots – they respect all immigrants of different races, nations or religions assuming those immigrants support the Judeo-Christian identity of an Exodus/Brexit country where they reside, and ready to be assimilated. However, the Exodus/Brexit supporters believe those who are unable to adjust to the Judeo-Christian identity should live happily in the countries of their own identities.
When I visit the Western Wall for prayers and inspiration, I always observe here Jews, and even non-Jews, of different “colors” – in completely white/black uniforms and in just colorful t-shorts – trying to find here the meaning of their individual lives. Everything looks peaceful and inspiring.
Then I read in the news media:
Clash between Haredi and non-Orthodox Jews at Western Wall. The Western Wall plan continues to spark riots: Today, hundreds of Reform and Conservative Jews arrived at the Western Wall in order to hold an egalitarian prayer service in protest of the decision to delay the plan. At the holy site, they encountered dozens of Haredi Jews who shouted and whistled in order to disrupt their prayer service.
Women of the Wall have been fighting a 25-year long battle “to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.”
In what may have been his first words on the subject in Hebrew, Netanyahu said: “At a time when we are continuing in our efforts to reach a solution that will allow every Jew to feel at home at the Western Wall, there are those who would prefer to divide our people and even declare that other Jews are wicked or not Jews at all. We must reject these words and these inappropriate acts that are opposed to the fundamental spirit of the State of Israel.”
At the Western Wall, the Jews are expressing and strengthening their faith – they are not here because the Jewish law is compelling them to do so. At the Western Wall, the Jews are as inspired faithful individuals – not as an organized group led by a rabbi or somebody behaving like a rabbi.
However, sometimes a rabbi or somebody behaving like a rabbi lead to the Western Wall an organized group that disrupts the Western–Wall harmony of the faithful – with the goal of strengthening his/her religious group and membership and with clear knowledge that it disrupts the Western-Wall harmony of faithful. Those official and nonofficial rabbis put their business-based professional interests above the Jewish faith.
That is a well-observed troubling general trend in the “professional Judaism” – the rabbis of multiple different streams and sub-streams are interested more in emphasizing their difference to attract more members and money instead of searching for and strengthening the common foundation of Jewish faith which is the “design” of the God-guided better world for everybody.
Finally, I have understood why the rabbis are hesitant, or sometimes even afraid, to discuss how individual Jews may feel or sense their own Jewish faith. That is so because the rabbis are teachers of the Jewish law (including traditions and rituals) – not of the faith.
The faith is a strong belief or trust in someone or something, most importantly in the existence of God and His morality guidance on how to create a better world for everybody. The Jewish “tribe” has its own understanding of God-guided morality – the other “tribes” have their own understanding. The belief or trust in someone or something cannot be learnt – it is inherent at a sort of genetic level. If somebody in the tribe does not have the common faith of the tribe, no teacher is able to install it in this person. It looks like we are born with our faith. The Jewish faith-morality is presented in the Torah even for those who do not know of its existence (and never talked to a rabbi).
With the Jewish law (including rituals and tradition) everything is different. The Jewish law is a human codification of the Torah guidance on morality done mostly by the rabbis. Our rabbis have created the Jewish law, and the Jewish law continues to be developed. Since the Jewish law is of human development, it is a subject of human – in the Jewish case the rabbinical – competitiveness. That is why we have many competitive variations of the Jewish laws created by different rabbis at different times.
Below are the thoughts of two respectable rabbis in support of the above stated.
Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.
A rabbi is a teacher of Judaism qualified to render decisions in Jewish law. The term is derived from rav, meaning “great man” or “teacher;” Moses is called Moshe Rabbenu. (“Moses our teacher”).
In post-Talmudic times, the conventional title among Sephardi Jews was Hakham, “sage,” and this title is still used by the Sephardim. The Ashkenazim preferred the term “Rabbi” and developed a new form of ordination, in which a prominent scholar subjected a candidate for the rabbinate to an examination in order to determine his proficiency in Jewish law.
The professional rabbi was unknown before the fourteenth century. Scholars capable of rendering decisions in Jewish law performed this function without receiving any salary, following the Talmudic injunction against obtaining financial gain from the Torah, except that scholars were exempted from communal taxation and had the right to be served first when buying in the market-place, so as to enable them to devote more time to their studies.
Once the rabbinate became a profession, proper contracts of service were drawn up and these are discussed in the later [law] codes under the heading of general financial undertakings. This pattern was preserved among the Ashkenazim in Eastern European communities, as was the institution of the Hakham among the Sephardi and Oriental communities, and it is still the norm in the State of Israel and in the Diaspora communities of the older Orthodox type.
Thus, the rabbinate is a profession, and as any other professions rabbis have to compete with others in the field.
Rabbi Gordimer is a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, and a member of the New York Bar. His writings on Jewish topics are published widely.
It is sometimes hard to believe what we are reading, as things are turned upside down in an effort to be politically correct and gain popular appeal. Orthodox Judaism has never sought to be politically correct – on the contrary, it has stood its guns no matter what direction the winds are blowing. Unfortunately, with the case of Modern Orthodox rabbis who have crossed the line into Open Orthodoxy, it has become almost commonplace to read the unbelievable, things that would never have been expressed were Rabbi Soloveitchik zt”l, the Torah luminary of American Modern Orthodoxy, still with us. Sometimes, shocking ideas are articulated in direct contravention of his views, with the excuse that “times have changed.” Since when has that wellworn excuse been used in Orthodoxy? This, much as it hurts to write it, seems to be the case when it comes to rabbinic superstar, Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin, who seems to be on a much publicized collision course with tradition.
Theologically, the Reform and Conservative (as well as the Reconstructionist) movements reject the Singular Divine Authorship of the Torah and the other Cardinal Principles of Faith, and they have disavowed the binding nature of halakha.
I am not a rabbi but feel strongly that this rabbi is wrong: the other rabbis, whom this rabbi maligns, do not reject “the Singular Divine Authorship of the Torah and the other Cardinal Principles of Faith”. The other rabbis are tailoring and applying “the Singular Divine Authorship of the Torah and the other Cardinal Principles of Faith” to different human life conditions that rabbi Gordimer has not met yet.
Who decides you are Jewish – a neighbor, a rabbi or you yourself? With all non-Jewish faiths and ethnicities, their definition is based on how somebody defines him/her-self. If somebody says, I am a Catholic, or an Assyrian, or a Russian, or an atheist … the others accept it without any doubt. With the Jews, everything is different.
From the news media:
The boxing website thesweetscience.com reported on Wednesday that Muhammad Ali attended Shabbat services at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in April, to celebrate the bar mitzva of his grandson, Jacob Wertheimer.
Ali’s daughter, Khaliah Ali-Wertheimer, was raised as a Muslim, but described herself as “not into organized religion” and “more spiritual than religious.” Her husband, attorney Spencer Wertheimer, is Jewish and their son, according to Khaliah, chose to have a bar mitzva because he “felt a kinship with Judaism and Jewish culture,” the Inquirer reported.
According to Islam, a child’s religion is passed down from the father, while according to traditional Judaism it is passed down through the mother. This means that Islam, the religion of Jacob’s mother, considers him to be Jewish, and his father’s Jewish religion considers him to be a Muslim.
Thus, Jacob Wertheimer himself has decided he is Jewish, a Jacob’s Jewish orthodox neighbor has no doubt Jacob is not Jewish since his mother is not Jewish, and Jacob’s non-orthodox rabbi, knowing that Jacob’s mother is not Jewish and therefore Jacob has to be considered non-Jewish, nevertheless performed a bar mitzvah. In defining the Jacob’s Jewishness, who is right and who is wrong?
From the news media:
Application that identifies (((Jews))) online disappears from Google Browser. The developer of the Google Chrome extension Coincidence Detector, which identifies Jewish individuals and organizations by putting triple parentheses around their names, pulled the application last night after several news reports exposed it to the general public.
In this case, Google developers were deciding who is Jewish and who is not.
From the Hitler and Stalin’s directives:
A person with 1/8 of “Jewish blood” should be considered Jewish, or a person, which is identified as Jewish in his/her passport, is Jewish.
Here the government decides who should be considered Jewish.
It looks like almost everybody in this world has an opinion on who is Jewish and who is not. If it is so, what might be a right way to define the true Jewishness?
The true Jews are those who follow in their individual lives the original spiritual ideas precisely described by the Chabad in the following way:
Throughout our 3300-year history, what has defined us as Jews is a relationship and commitment. We are Jews because G‑d chose us to be His “cherished treasure from all the nations… a kingdom of priests and a holy people” (Exodus 19:5-6). We are Jews because G‑d chose us to play the central role in the implementation of His purpose in creation: to orientate our lives in accordance with His will, and to develop a society and world community that reflects His goodness and perfection. The substance of this relationship, the charter of this commitment, is the Torah.
Thus, the true Jews is somebody who is applying the Torah moral principles to his work on developing a society and world community that reflects the Torah guidance. Only the true Jew, who may call him/her-self religious or non-religious, may decide for him/her-self how to apply the Torah guidance to all that. If he/she feel uncertain how to apply, a rabbi may be asked for an advice – but for an advice, not for marching orders.
If it is so, an individual have to decide for him/her-self on being Jewish – not a neighbor or a rabbi.