The Perfect Pill II:
Only One Path to God
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
The reader below responds to the “Perfect Pill” printed in the JewishTimes July1, 2007 issue:
Reader: I don’t mean to offend you, but as I read the article, I found myself getting annoyed. I think it’s arrogant to state that there’s only one way to grow closer to God and that is through the Orthodox tradition. I disagree. I do believe there are many paths to grow closer to God and embracing the Orthodox tradition is only one of them. Just because Orthodox was the original form of Judaism doesn’t make it the best, the truest religion or what God had intended in terms of how we should live. One of the aspects of Judaism I love is the encouragement to question and to be co-creators with the Creator to help make this world a better place. Conservative Judaism holds on to tradition, but also changes with modern times. Women should be allowed to be Rabbis and should be able to participate in a minyan...God is not a he nor is God a she...so a she or a he should be given equal status.
Mesora: First off, this is not about personal offenses. It is also irrelevant if you get annoyed, so using that as a line of response has no weight to any search for truth.
You wrote, “I think it’s arrogant to state that there’s only one way to grow closer to God and that is through the Orthodox tradition. I disagree. I do believe there are many paths to grow closer to God and embracing the Orthodox tradition is only one of them.” If this were true, then God would not have included the following prohibition in His Torah: “This entire matter which I command to you, guard yourselves to observe it: do not add upon it, and do not subtract from it.” (Deut. 13:1) It could not have been stated any simpler; God demands that His system is unaltered in any way. There is only “one path” to God. Tampering with this system, or worse, creating a new one, are direct violations. This also makes sense, since there is only one type of human being. Regardless of external differences, mankind’s psyche and soul are identical across all cultures: we all seek happiness, grieve over family deaths, possess greed, love and hate, and all other capacities. As such, the most enjoyable life for one person will also offer the same psychological state for all others. God knows what is best for mankind; He gave only one system for all of us…who have descended from one couple. Man has not changed over the millennia, so God’s system has not changed.
The verse above attests to the fact that God’s Torah will never be exchanged. This truth forms one of the Thirteen Principles of Judaism, and also attests to God’s omniscience: He knows the future and saw no need to ever alter the Torah. So of there is arrogance here, it is truly you who feels God is wrong, and that you are right about “many paths” to God. In stark contrast to this verse above, Conservative and Reformed Judaism have no verse licensing their Torah changes, as God does not contradict Himself.
Reality: Externally Based
You must understand that our subjective beliefs do not dictate reality. For example, I might “believe” that stealing less than a dollar form a bank shouldn’t be considered robbery, nor punishable. But the definition of stealing – defined as “any quantity” – makes sense, thereby rejecting my position. My “belief” is baseless, is inconsequential, and cannot dictate reality…since I arrived here “after” reality existed.
Your belief of what is Judaism, as well, is not based on any study of Judaism or definition of what is God’s will. You have irrationally and axiomatically posited your beliefs as if they dictate reality, with no proof or reason. You even contradict God’s words. And despite your lack of proof, you seek Judaism to conform to your beliefs. But you make a fundamental error: Judaism is to be studied, and only ‘then’ can we learn what it is. It is just like any science: the phenomena are first observed, and conclusions are drawn only “afterwards”. A scientist doesn’t walk into his lab one day, and posit new laws of nature prior to examining nature. That would be foolish, and he will most certainly be wrong. Your approach of mandating beliefs without studying our great Sages and Rabbis is equally foolish.
Deferring to the Wise
You never administered an injection into your own body. You wisely prefer to let those who know more, address your life’s concerns. So doesn’t it concern you that the Sages and Rabbis – universally accepted as the greatest minds as their works testify – never suggested any form of Judaism other than Talmudic, Orthodox Judaism? Have you read the origins of Conservative and Reformed? They were not based on any meticulous studies or insights or Torah sources; rather, they sought convenience and reinterpreted Torah, or adopted a view that Torah isn’t Divine. And both did so without the traditional, Talmudic analysis, which you have yet to claim even a novice status. Your approach is remarkably unfounded, and surprisingly in denial of the very system you wish to follow. Study if you will, Tosfos, Rashi, Nachmanides, Sforno, Rashba, Radak, Ritva, Rabbeinu Nissim, the Rif, Taz, Shach, Rav Yosef Caro, Maharsha, Malbim, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Ibn Ezra, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik…and hundreds of others. The works of any one of these giants will be incomprehensible to you, since you have not mastered Talmudic thought. Their individual works span many decades and volumes. Their editions will fill your home. Their depth amazed the greatest minds alive today. And you make a claim that not one of these minds ever di? Do you see any problem with your position?
You defer to the wise in one aspect of your life, but not in another.
You also claim greater knowledge than those, of whom you have never read.
Truth Seekers or Not?
Do you find it as telling as I do, that not one leader in the Reformed or Conservative movements measures up to any of these Orthodox, genius minds? Do you know why this is? It is quite simple: what attracts one to the Reformed and Conservative camps is not a study of truth, but rather, emotional gratification. The movements are founded on this emotional crutch, and its followers breed it. One need not possess brilliance to follow the simple lure of these two movements. However, to be a master within the Orthodox, Talmudic chain of transmission, each leader possessed an astonishing acumen unmatched by most other groups. I say “most”, for we do find pockets of intellectuals throughout history; minds that pursued only truth as the Rabbis, and engaged in high levels of reason. These include the Greeks: a group whom the Talmudic Rabbis acquiesced to on one occasion.
The Orthodox Rabbis conceding to gentiles proves that the Orthodox Sages had no problem admitting defeat. They were not out for glory, but for truth. So when they realized the Greeks surpassed them in science, they admitted so. In this fashion, they remained attached to truth, and led others to study the Greek wisdom, as should be done. Had Conservative and Reformed Jews surpassed the Orthodox, the Orthodox would have admitted so again. But they have not.
But your view on its own merit is self-defeating. You wrote, “Conservative Judaism holds on to tradition, but also changes with modern times.” According to your view, Jesus was right in his position to modify Judaism as he saw fit. Yet you vilify Christianity. According to you, you should embrace Christianity. Truthfully, you should not live by any one religion, since you opine, “there are many paths”. Why select one over another?
Here’s something to think about: according to you, I would be correct if I were to make “changes with the times” to Conservative Judaism, and mandate something more strict than Orthodoxy…and you would have to follow it!
This approach, which lacks the allegiance and meticulous adherence to the finest details, will surely bury Judaism. In his Laws of Idolatry, Maimonides commences by recording how the first generations acted like Conservative and Reformed Jews. The slowly changed God’s worship, generation by generation…until after many years, no one heard of God, but only worshipped idols. God was not known to the world, precisely due to the constant “changing with the times” approach to religion.
The contradiction: the very “traditions” you seem to hold on to as you said, are only in your hands due to the Rabbis and Sages mentioned above, and their unwavering diligence, all of whom preserved it for you. For had they followed the path which you preach, Judaism would be long gone. You are in a contradiction: you enjoy Judaism’s survival lead by these Torah giants, but now you cast them aside, with no Talmudic argumentation other than “convenience”, and female equality?
Equality of Women
The fact is that nothing in Judaism endorses the degradation of women. Your argument that humans must mirror God’s “genderless” nature is not reasonable. Perhaps I too will suggest that God’s ability to kill man endorses my right to do the same. This reasoning is arbitrary. In fact, God Himself told Abraham to listen to his wife. And you have heard of Deborah, the judge? She surpassed many men. Ruth the Moabite? Esther, the queen? The daughters of Tzelafchad?
If you would study why Torah requires separate seating, hair covering, and the rejection of women Rabbis, instead of reacting without first studying, you would appreciate the reasoning…and it has nothing to do with viewing women as lower than men.
The fact is that in the past, women read the Torah in shuls. The reason they are not allowed is not male chauvinism. It is due to the Rabbis’ injunction. The Rabbis saw the men slacking off, as the women read. The Rabbis didn’t want the men to continue in their laziness, but rather, that they fulfill their obligations. Therefore, the Rabbis’ mandated that women should not read the Torah in shul, thereby forcing men to fulfill their obligations. It had nothing at all to do with rejecting women, or belittling their status. But you would not know this, unless you studied. Ignorance can lead to false conclusions.
You may ask why women are not obligated in Torah study. But keep in mind; this is not a prohibition, but an exemption based on a practical issue. God’s wisdom deemed it vital to human perfection that we all endure a growth process, with two parents as authority figures. Later in life, we are to transpose our learned sense of authority from our parents, onto God. Without being raised with authority figures, we will reject God.
Now, as part of this maturation process, God also saw it vital that one parent attend to the child’s psychological and emotional needs, this being the mother, who caresses and pampers the baby, speaking softly, and offers a delicate, maternal security and unconditional love. Simultaneously, the father’s role is to attend to the child’s intellectual growth. One parent is necessary for each role. It matters none who attended to what role. What matters is that a single parent is obligated and fulfills its responsibilities. Since the mother is at the beckon cry of the child, God did not obligate her in commands that would conflict with the practicality and time restraints associated with child rearing. Raising the infant is a full-day affair. God also equipped women with greater intuition for children’s needs, precisely because this is required for her God-given role. And men are equipped with more black and white reasoning and are not as emotionally wired, precisely because this is what Torah study and teaching requires: attending to the cold, hard facts. Had the tables been turned, men would be more emotional, and women more black and white. Only God knows why He selected each gender for its respective role.
Finally, both genders are required for human life to continue, so it is baseless to suggest inferiority of women. No Orthodox Rabbi could exist without a mother. No Orthodox Rabbis or Sage ever belittled God’s will that women exist, or their role.
God knew very well that future generations would seek to eliminate laws, so He wrote that we must not detract from the Torah. God was addressing the Conservative and Reformed camps: “This entire matter which I command to you, guard yourselves to observe it: do not add upon it, and do not subtract from it.” (Deut. 13:1) Two of our 613 laws, have been understood by leaders from Moses through Maimonides to mean just that: do not add to, or subtract from Torah.
In summary, Judaism must be approached, as is any other science: we first observe its laws, and then arrive at a conclusion. We must abandon this approach of having “feelings” or “beliefs”, and seeking to conform Judaism to these wishes. It is “we” who must conform to God’s wishes.
We must recognize the brilliant minds that preceded us, and wonder why none of them suggested to “Conserve” or “Reform” Judaism. We also must wonder why such minds are completely absent in both camps.
Would a Conservative or Reformed Rabbi today suggest one must be killed if he carried on the Sabbath? Of course not, they would even suggest you drive to temple for Sabbath services, and carry your prayer book. In doing so, they deny God’s words in Number 15:35 where God commanded the Sabbath violator to be killed. And the claim that Torah and God’s word can be changed today, denies God’s words again: “I am God. I do not change” (Malachi, 3:6) as well as “…do not subtract from it.” (Deut. 13:1) God never rescinded the decree of death for Sabbath violation.
The greatest minds since Torah’s receipt on Sinai throughout time until 200 years ago all agreed: Orthodox, Talmudic and Mishnaic Judaism is God’s will. It is not to be changed based on convenience or the “modernity” of our times. This is akin to saying that God could not anticipate future generations. It is only the last few generations that, with the feeblest positions, desired to alter Torah for motives of convenience and assimilation.
As we follow our doctors of medicine and do not trust our measly knowledge, we must also trust the Doctors of Talmud, and not suggest we know better. We must certainly accept God’s commands and teachings as accurate, and not deny Him.
There is only one human race, and therefore, only one best system: only one path leads to God. And this path is one that God commanded us to retain without any alteration.