I am not an Orthodox rabbi. For that, I do not apologize. I would delight in being an Orthodox rabbi, if I believed it was true to be Orthodox. Yet, I do not have the slightest difficulty with those who are Orthodox, and do not, as many other Reform rabbis have done in the past, deride their primitivisms.
I am not Orthodox because I do not believe that the Five Books of Moses, the Pentateuch (Chumash) or THE Torah, was “given to Moses at Mt. Sinai”, together with the “oral law”, i.e. all the interpretation.
This for me is really a religious-political statement, following the Roman invasion. It says, in essence, “We, the rabbis, following our Teacher Moses, receive from him, not just the written law, but also his teachings on its interpretation, by which we receive our authority.”
This is a very brilliant, inspired way of defining a continuity of power, when, after the Roman invasion, the authority, of the priesthood and the Temple, had been decimated, and a new authority, needed to not just arise, but, be legitimized (i.e. made legal!)
So, at Passover, I am not a believer that our liberation from Egypt means that
we received the “Torah” and, in essence, the “Talmud”. This is a religious authority statement. I don’t believe it’s true.
Nor do I, as many believe, that Moses came down the mountain “merely” with the Eser Dibrot, what we, due to a goodly amount of Christian imperialism popularized, we call the Ten “commandments”.
What DID Moses come down with? The canon? Or, the sudden revelation of the Ten Commandments— as if they have absolutely no history to them at all?
No one knows. And anyone who asserts they know, asserts a doctrine– a teaching believed so: an article of faith. They do not know. They believe.
What I would, as a Universal Judaism rabbi like to address is FREEDOM, which
is the theme of the Exodus. And whether or not the Exodus actually took place,
whether or not the story is true, is IRRELEVANT for my purposes here. Whether the story is true or false, it nonetheless contains a Truth which is so very powerful, that even I– humbly un-orthodox (LOL) as I am– revere, and for which I am so very grateful, no less than my Orthodox brethren, for the great gift of the Torah.
“Freedom” in a sense, might be considered a synonym for the “God”. Freedom, by definition, must be Unlimited, Unrestricted, Unbounded. But, this definition is not good enough, because if these are the sole criteria, then Freedom would be identical to Chaos. Certainly the two are related: one does not express Freedom to an extreme without producing Chaos. But, Freedom and Chaos are not opposed in nature.
Besides, these days we know that Chaos doesn’t just happen. There is a very subtle ORDER to Chaos. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
So, to the above definition, we must qualify: Freedom or God is Unlimited, Unrestricted, Unbounded, EXCEPT BY ITS OWN NATURE. “Freedom” or I believe “God” is limited, restricted, and bounded by the rules of its own Nature, Divine Nature, perhaps.
God acts a CERTAIN WAY. Not every fanciful way, we can think up.
This means that God cannot do everything! The fantasy God doesn’t exist.
God can only do what it is ACTUALLY POSSIBLE for God to be ABLE to do.
No differently than it is possible for a Giraffe to be an impressionist.
If God is Self-restrained in God’s Nature of Freedom– then, how on earth, can we possibly imagine human beings expressing freedom with no self-restraint?
Is there anything in existence that acts without any effect upon itself, which is a kind of modifier or restraint or qualifier to their freedom?
Good luck searching for it. You will not find it. The only place you will find anything that has no effect upon itself, is some kind of a Fantasy God, who
“can do all things”, meaning, “whatever I imagine, God can do it, and more, no matter what it is, even if it violates God’s Own Nature.”
In this sense, I and my Orthodox brethren, might be in agreement, though our foundation for the agreement might be different; theirs more scriptural and traditional and only veiled philosophical— mine more philosophical and veiled scriptural and traditional. It really is a difference in emphasis, not substance!
You see if the God of the Exodus released us in Freedom, this freedom is not an
anything goes, because God Itself cannot express Its Freedom as anything goes. So, there is a Freedom FROM Egypt (a false order), and a Freedom TO
Something Else (a correct order). There must be an Exodus, and there must be a promulgation (a teaching) of some kind of rules for correct freedom.
It is therefore, understandable, that the CHEIRUT the Freedom of the Exodus, was followed by the CHARUT, the “engraving” of the tablets, in a GENERAL Universal, Spiritual Sense. To say the rules of the tablets, or by extension the scripture and its interpretation ARE the “Torah”, I think is quite the overstatement of authority.
Universal Judaism teaches that the foundation of the Torah, in all its varieties–
biblical and interpretive and philosophical, for all denominations, is a very real
Natural Law of Life– “How Life Works for GOOD” (and “Good” as I’ve said many times, is contracted to the word “God”, and thereby personified.)
The True foundation of Interpretation is Life-based: not a scriptural-based, or authoritative-based interpretation. And I think “Life”, in general, is another synonym for “God’.
So, this Passover, may I suggest that you celebrate your Exodus from the INSANITY of religions, that make themselves the Totality of the Laws of Existence, and do not properly place their clerical authority under Divinity.
(The REAL One—the ONLY REALITY, Reality Itself!)
Celebrate your freedom from the insanity of Orthodoxy. And celebrate your freedom from the insanity of liberals.
But, please, celebrate your freedom with the utmost respect. Or, you might miss the great value of any ignorance these two Jewish perspectives have.
In each viewpoint is an ignorance. If we consider the Laws of Life to be the foundation of the Torah, then, where is the UNIQUE JEWISH viewpoint? IT IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH to just be a spiritual-secular-philosophical generalist, no matter how “modern”.
On the other hand, if we consider the Laws of Torah to be the foundation of human Life, then, flexibility will always be viewed as an essential threat, and this is what results in the Obsessive-Compulsive disorder, that has contaminated so much traditionalism.
Freedom requires us to admit that there is, truly, a great commonality
between all the various denominations of Judaism: human ignorance.
We are all, humbly, in our precious and incomplete viewpoints, matzoh: very easily cracked and broken.
Blessings of Freedom to All.
May we Restore the True Light of Hebrew Teachings to all the world,
Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and secular Western . . . They all are views.
They themselves are not the Reality they describe.
May we know that Reality: It is That which liberated us, and is still trying to!!!
R’ Michael Shevack