Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rationalizing Torah

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha begins with the words, “Zos chukas haTorah.” Rashi quotes Chazal who explain the use of the term chukas in describing the laws of parah adumah. He says that the word chok represents a Divine law, the reasons for which we are not privy to. The nations of the world scoff at us, asking why we observe these strange laws and customs. Instead of engaging in debates with them, offering up explanations and rationales, we are to state simply that we follow these laws because G-d commanded us to. End of conversation.

But some of us tend not to be content with this approach. We seek to understand the deeper wisdom behind the mitzvos and the reasons for the gezeiros derabonon. We believe that by attaching a reason to a mitzvah, we will enhance its observance. If we can explain the word of G-d in contemporary terms, the thinking is, we can bring more people into the tent of Torah and expand the popularity of its observance. Offering explanations for the mitzvos will not only make us more effective in kiruv, we presume, but it will strengthen our own observance.

One can’t deny that there may be some validity to this approach at times. Yet, when we fail to take Chazal’s advice seriously, we pay the price. We open the door to a form of Judaism a la carte, with people choosing to observe the mitzvos that “resonate” with them and suit their taste, while neglecting those that appeal less to their reasoning or emotions.

As an example, let’s take the mitzvah of shechitah. The reason we eat only animals whose necks were slit with a swift cut of a shochet’s sharpened blade is not because that is the humane method of killing animals. The reason we eat meat only from animals whose innards were checked and found to be blemish-free is not because those animals are healthier.

Why, then, do we scrupulously adhere to the smallest details of ritual slaughter? For the sole reason that we are required to follow the word of G-d as commanded in the Torah, as delineated in the Gemara, and as codified by the Shulchan Aruch. A mashgiach must attest that the shochet cut the majority of the two simanim, the koneh and the veshet. The difference between kosher and non-kosher, between something fit for consumption and neveilah, could be as small as a hair’s breadth, or “kechut hasa’arah” in Torah parlance.

Rashi states in Maseches Sanhedrin (90) that one who believes in techiyas hameisim because he came to that conclusion on his own and not because he believes the drashos of Chazal is a kofer, an apostate. We follow the commandments, chukim and mishpatim because we believe with our innermost fiber that G-d created us for that purpose. Once we inject our own human reasoning into the equation, we are no longer following the will of G-d.

Once we begin interpreting the will of G-d for the masses, we lose our footing. We lose perspective. We lose appreciation for the mitzvos as we bring them down to our superficial, fallible level.

And there is another way we lose. Witness the ongoing campaign by the Conservatives and Chovevei Torah-types, who consider themselves more advanced than we are, to involve themselves in the business of kashrus. Since they believe that the laws of shechitah were created to provide a humane form of animal slaughter, and the laws of kashrus were designed to provide us with healthy and clean meat, it follows that if a slaughterhouse does not conform to their perception of clean and humane, the meat is unfit for consumption.

We, who live in neighborhoods overflowing with religious Jews like ourselves, are deluded into thinking that there are millions of us out there. We fail to realize how small our numbers are in relation to the population of the United States. We don’t appreciate the kindness that G-d has showered upon us in providing such a wide array of kosher products for our use. When you think about it, it is a miracle that international food companies such as Coca-Cola and Proctor & Gamble permit rabbonim to snoop around in their facilities, and actually pay them to do so, all in order to sell an additional small amount of their product.

The same group which, since its founding, has wreaked havoc upon Jewish communities, misleading uninformed Jews into believing that it was comporting with Judaic law and tradition as it drove them away from authentic observance, now seeks to bring kashrus under its jurisdiction. The same group that permitted chillul Shabbos and estranged tens of thousands of fellow Jews from mitzvos now has the temerity to dictate to us the laws of kashrus. These same people are setting up an organization to operate as a ‘rabbinic’ kosher supervising agency.

As did mosrim of old, they are engaging in a massive propaganda campaign through a compliant Jewish and secular media, bashing Orthodoxy and its “archaic” standards. How ironic. The people who uphold the Torah, follow in the footsteps of their ancestors, and brought monotheism and a system of civil laws, jurisprudence and decency to a pagan and depraved world are being lectured by charlatans who have destroyed for their followers every vestige of the very religion they claim to promote.

These same leaders who have robbed their followers of every remnant of kedushas Yisroel by substituting Torah law with fictitious “halachot” and other innovations seek to undermine the system of kashrus which took so long to establish.

By parading the unproven allegations of PETA and other aberrant groups through the press that “kosher is not really clean,” and that Orthodoxy does not guarantee workers’ rights and respect for the individual, who knows how many people these “humanitarians” will cause to turn away in revulsion when they see a kosher symbol on a product?

How many will begin questioning our system of kashrus while swallowing the pop-propaganda of these arrogant groups?

Let us wake up and put a stop to this misguided and dangerous crusade before it is too late. We look to supervising agencies to announce a policy that will not tolerate a mockery of the laws of kashrus which Jews have fought so valiantly to adhere to.

By trying to make sense of the Torah and make it relevant to the modern age, it ends up becoming adulterated and poisoned of its true intent. Its laws are turned on their head and become viewed with disdain.

By debating these charlatans and granting them credence, we are allowing them to establish a beachhead and a foothold. We have to head them off and let it be known in no uncertain terms that the laws of the Torah are non-negotiable. We will not countenance the accreditation of Magen Tzedek or anything like it.

The error of seeking to modernize the Torah and have it speak a modern dialect, which has reared its ugly head in Chovevei Torah circles, is now being permitted to spread and encroach on traditional Orthodoxy. When a Young Israel in the Five Towns of Long Island can invite the infamous Rabbah Maharat to serve as a scholar-in-residence for a Shabbos without fear that its neighbors will ostracize it, we have begun to lose the battle.

The invitation by this shul was clearly an attempt to make a statement supporting the granting of semicha to the woman, who calls herself Orthodox. While many had felt that the Rabbah Maharat debate was over, apparently they were in error and the urge to undo centuries of halachic custom is alive and well in our midst. The attempt to legitimatize the free-thinkers of today’s society was given the red carpet in Long Island no matter what title they introduced her with.

We wait for the parent organization to ensure that this aberration does not become the norm. We wait for local leaders to stand up for their convictions and lay down the rule of law, declaring that this behavior cannot be tolerated. For if not, we will be faced with yet another rupture in our midst, which we can ill afford.

There are many fragmentations in our society. There are many different ways to look at many different ideas. But when certain unalterable principles are toyed with, we must all stand together to protest the breach.

Many of the improvisers have good intentions as they endeavor to improve Judaism. Throughout the generations, there have been countless people who thought that they knew better, that Judaism had to be tailored to conform to modern social norms, and that Yiddishkeit had to be viewed by the surrounding society as “proper” and “socially acceptable.” These misguided people, who left the Torah weltanschauung behind, are remembered in infamy. They are gone, while authentic Judaism lives. They assimilated and there is no zeicher of them. We have an obligation to try to help save today’s innovators from meeting the same fate. We have to do all we can to prevent them from doing more damage to themselves and to Klal Yisroel.


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