Alfred visited his doctor’s office. Due to his lack of a healthy diet and exercise, his doctor tells him his internal organs are diseased, and that he has one month to live. However, the doctor says, if he follows his diet, his prescription, and exercise regimen exactly, he can live a full life. But Alfred says, “I don’t like the blue pill’s taste, or the shape of the yellow pill, and I won’t give myself injections. And exercise takes too much exertion.” Alfred died later that month.
Many times we hear fellow Jews echoing this sentiment, but endangering something more vital than their bodies: their souls. “God just wants me to be a nice person,” they feel. The obvious response is, “Where does God say this?” Furthermore, if this were so, the Torah could be a bit shorter.
Of course, their sentiment is merely a justification for taking the “easy” way out, and ignoring what they truthfully know is binding. But their laziness is not based on any analysis of fact, facts that if learned, they would treasure. No, their path in life is fueled by the desire to cater to emotional gratifications, and commands get in their way. Had they studied that wise man’s work “Koheles” (Ecclesiastes) they would learn that the gratifications they seek are empty…explaining why they constantly need new ‘toys’, travels, wives, and parties. They won’t dare act as Alfred above, and ignore a doctor’s advice regarding life-threatening circumstances. But they do ignore God…who knows more than the doctor. Why is this? The answer lies in the origins of the Conservative and Reform movements:
“In response to Haskalah (late 18th century) and Jewish emancipation, elements within German Jewry sought to reform Jewish belief and practice. They denied divine authorship of the Torah, declared only those biblical laws that are easily understood to be binding, and stated that the rest of Halakhah (Jewish law) need no longer be viewed as normative. Circumcision was abandoned, rabbis wore vestments modeled after Protestant ministers, and instrumental accompaniment -- banned by current Orthodox and most Conservative interpretations of Halakhah (and by traditionalists of the time) in Jewish Sabbath worship -- appeared in Reform synagogues, most often in the form of a pipe organ to model what appeared in churches. Early Reform Judaism, in order to assimilate more into European culture, held that Judaism was no more a peoplehood, but was only a religion. This was because holding Judaism as a culture and peoplehood prevented Reform Jews from being ordinary citizens in their host nation.
Positive-Historical Judaism, the intellectual forerunner to Conservative Judaism, was developed as a school of thought in the 1840s and 1850s in Germany. Its principal founder was Rabbi Zecharias Frankel, who had broken with the German Reform Judaism in 1845 over its rejection of the primacy of the Hebrew language in Jewish prayer. In 1854, Frankel became the head of the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau, Germany. At the seminary, Frankel taught that Jewish law was not static, but rather has always developed in response to changing conditions.”
What comes into existence for the first time – never before having existed – defines it as the “original”. Conservative and Reformed Judaism admit with their very names, that they “conserved” and “reformed” something. That something, being the original form of Judaism. This is a very salient point, so think about it.
Would anyone accept that someone who claimed to have created a Ford – after Henry Ford – created the true Ford? Or, must we say, that Henry Ford was in fact the originator, and that Henry’s first Ford defines what “Ford” is? What would we say to someone who painted a copy of the Mona Lisa? Do we say the second painting is the original? That is equally absurd.
Similarly, the unanimous acceptance by our most brilliant minds, and the every history of Sinai, the Rabbis words, and Talmud with the Shulchan Aruch, together teach what true Judaism is.
The histories above of Conservative and Reformed also unveil how superficial these two movements are: “They denied divine authorship of the Torah”, “rabbis wore vestments modeled after Protestant ministers”, and “Jewish law was not static, but rather has always developed in response to changing conditions.”
First, the Reformed movement denies the Divine nature of Torah…but offers no basis. Clearly, they wish to escape from God, as did the Jews in the desert on so many occasions. (Had they studied the book of Numbers, what they declared not to be Divine, they might have saved their souls.) They also sought to assimilate, and dressed like Protestant ministers. Is this what religion is to be: a means to assimilate, or is it to draw close to reality and God? Do we decide religion based on human foibles, or by objective truths?
And the Conservative movement decided after millennia of “static” Orthodox, Talmudic Judaism, that the great Rabbis had it all wrong. Both polluted forms of “Judaism” do not go back to the sources attempting to prove God’s intent. Rather, they succumb to recent, emotional needs, and from that starting point, somehow transpose their needs onto original, Talmudic Judaism, and change it to meet those wishes.
This is identical to someone claiming a pill to be useless, since many people don’t like its flavor. Had he displayed how those who ingested that pill remained sick, he would have a case. But he didn’t. He resorted to ‘external’ and unrelated critiques. Same story here: Conservative and Reformed have not examined each law. They have not proven how Tziztis or the 39 forms of Sabbatical labor are detrimental. Both movements condemn themselves based on their corrupt foundations, and they are destined to crumble.
On a simple level, we can also reject Conservatism since one would agree to follow a more learned doctor, than a novice. The same should apply to whom we follow in Judaism: shall we follow masters like Maimonides whose writings are beyond our depth, and comparison to anyone on the Reformed or Conservative camps…or shall we follow lesser individuals?
And on a more piercingly true point, we can study history, and the works of the Talmud to truly appreciate the depth and precision of all these “restrictions”. No one I have met who studied Talmud and Torah for its required decades denies the Divine nature Torah reveals. No man could have written it. But we also know historically of God’s endorsement of Moses subsequent to Sinai, as his face miraculously literally shone with light, teaching that God was with him. Had Moses fabricated God’s Torah…even a single word, God would not endorse Moses with any miracle.
One must ask why the greatest minds zt”l from Saadia Gaon, Rashi, Maimonides, Nachmanides, Ibn Ezra, Radak, Sforno…to Rabbi Sampson Raphael Hirsch, The Rabbis Soloveitchik, Rav Moshe Feinstein and so many others, never once suggested what the Conservative and Reformed movements suggest. Additionally, these two movements are fairly recent, only a few hundred years old. Even more of a question is this: if these two movements are in fact wiser than the forenamed Rabbis, where is the Maimonidean level of brilliance or voluminous intellects in these two new forms of “Judaism”? The fact is, both camps are bereft of such minds.
These arguments apply equally to the act of picking and choosing which laws we observe today. We reject the notion that God only wants us to be good. There is much greater detail to Torah, since the human being is so complex. We are fortunate to have such a detailed system. As Rabbi Tarfon said, “The work is not upon us to complete, but we are also not free to abandon it”. (Ethics, 2:19) God is not seeking that we “cover ground”. Rather, He desires – for our own good – that we regularly work to improve, and recognize the Torah as a means to this grand goal. God desires our intellects to be at work, not taking the east way out. His ideas are so profound; it takes years to elevate our minds to appreciate. God designed us in a way that with greater involvement in study, comes greater treasures, and happiness.
Alfred will probably never exist. He will remain a mere metaphor. The reason he won’t exist, is because of a few, predominant fallacies: man values physical life over eternal life; man can’t see past the here and now; man yearns for immortality.
We must first recognize our mortality, so visiting gravesites is wise. This will loosen the grip on the here and now. And this will help shift our focus – just a bit – towards the reality that physical life is temporary; but spiritual life is eternal life. We should value that which lasts.
With this backdrop, if we are truthful with ourselves, we will detect when we are lazy, and have no excuse for our failure to comply with the Torah. And if we truly desire the good for ourselves, we must know that God did not give the Torah to benefit Himself...He needs nothing from our performance. If we investigate each command, each Rabbinic injunction, we can derive pleasing truths, and a happier life. But if we reject God’s medicine, aren’t we as foolish as Alfred?