Judaism Needs to Bring Back the Tension Between Old and New Ideas

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There is an ever-present tension between modernity and tradition, especially for Orthodox Jews in America. American culture places significance on tradition, yet manages to remain optimistic about new ideas.

It’s easy to be a fundamentalist. It’s easy to say everything new is wrong, or everything old is antiquated and bad. But I don’t believe that we should be looking for what’s easier. We should welcome the challenges of reconciling tradition and modernity. There is great beauty in using the new to improve the old, and the old to guide the new, without relying on extremes. 

Yesterday’s elections reminded me that the American system of government was revolutionary in the 18th century, our Constitution a groundbreaking document that charted a new course for politics around the world.Kinderhand und Seniorenhand / Child hand and senior's hand We revere the Constitution, and every law passed since its adoption must conform to a valid interpretation. That sounds a lot like Orthodox Judaism.

The Torah was revolutionary around 2500 BCE. It remains a groundbreaking document that charted a new course for religion and theology around the world. We revere the Torah, and all of Jewish law must be based on valid interpretations. To an Orthodox Jew, some of the political tension between old and new feels familiar.

Thinking about this tension raises an interesting thought experiment. If we were starting a new country today, would we write the exact same constitution? Would Newmerica be the same country as Oldmerica?

We’ve frozen time in 1789 and only allowed 27 changes in 225 years. I can’t help but think about how many other things have been completely discarded since 1789. What is the worldview that grants specialness to political theory from 1789? The “new” argument asks why we even bother holding onto a 225 year old vision.

On the other hand, we can’t rewrite fundamental laws every day or even every year. One aspect of the argument in favor of traditionalism is how impracticable it would be to discard the old laws regularly, but this only works to a point. How long is long enough? Another “old” argument is that the laws seem to be working. Further, it could be argued that the Founding Fathers were especially smart and saw things in a unique way that renders their opinions superior to ours. But both of these arguments are incomplete and don’t fully respond to the issues raised by the “new” argument. Orthodox Judaism shares this tension with the United States.

Sometimes, this kind of tension leads to revolution. A revolution exclaims “the old is terrible and the new is good,” but an extreme reaction to extreme traditionalism is unlikely to yield balanced results. Presently, this tension is handled by Constitutional amendments and Supreme Court reinterpretation, which are ad hoc solutions. The real question is whether the Constitution reflects the best possible formulation of laws for our country today. Answering that would require a comparison between the Constitution and a comprehensive new effort; I’m not aware of any such effort. I imagine that some might even consider this heretical sounding notion a form of treason.

The current system of law in the United States is a masterful attempt to balance the need to change things with the need for continuity. It works pretty well, and the most important element to the success of a balanced approach that reveres the tradition and embraces modernity is an internal system checks and balances. Power cannot be reserved for the traditionalists, and it cannot be seized by revolutionaries. Both must coexist for optimal success.

This is part of our problem in Judaism today. We’ve all retreated to our own corners. In the past, we’ve had orthodoxies and reformers in Judaism, but we were operating within one system. Judaism evolved, but not too hastily. We melded our healthy skepticism of change with our yearning for relevance and flexibility. Then, about 150 years ago, the modernists and traditionalists stopped talking to each other and they stopped working within the same ecosystem. Orthodox Judaism and Reform Judaism were born. People who leaned toward tradition chose Orthodoxy, while people who leaned toward modernity chose Reform. The internal conversation ended. Orthodox Judaism lost significant progressive voices and seems like it was frozen in the 19th century. Reform Judaism felt little allegiance to the ways of old, and seems like it has no definitive doctrine and structure. We all lost.

Ironically, the future of modern Judaism requires that the “new” and the “old” go back to the traditional conversation of the past. In truth, tradition and modernity are symbiotic. We need to hear the best arguments from both sides in order to move ahead with a commitment to truth and Torah as we navigate the challenges of modernity. We need to go back to a large community that lives in the tension between the past and the future. That was our secret for centuries, and now it’s time to bring it back.

  • tuvia

    You sell the philosophy behind the Bill of Rights short. It was the product of a lot of very sturdy Enlightenment thinking – leading to inalienable rights and self-evident truths.

    This is the same Enlightenment the orthodox Jew boos and hisses at, and that got Spinoza chucked from his community.

    The US Constitution can be summed up by the Golden Rule. It seems much more like a light unto the nations.

    Judaism claims it is built on the Golden Rule, but I don’t see it.

  • Hanan

    It’s been a while since I have looked at the RAN’s 12 drashot but in it he talks about how the secular system of law in Spain (in his day) is much better at governing a society than Torah, due to the crystallization of halacha in the Talmud.

  • Robin Benveneste

    All your posts are the same. It’s time to do this, We need to do that. Why don’t you look around you? The tension you describe is already part and parcel of Judaism, and has been forever. It’s reflected today in the poles of orthodox and reform Judaism. If you go within orthodoxy, it’s reflected in the poles of Charedim and the RCA-type. And if you go within Charedim, it’s reflected in the poles of R. Shteinman and R. Aurbach. Judaism doesn’t “need” to do anything – like the song says, its already there.

    • Hanan

      >All your posts are the same. It’s time to do this, We need to do that. Why don’t you look around you?

      You know Robin, I swear I was thinking the same thing the other day. Rabbi Fink, fun site, but lately I have felt the same way. Always a cry for talk, on top of more cries for further talks and what needs to be changed here and what needs to be changed there. It’s the same old broken record, but with a different topic.

      • Susan Barnes

        So, are you saying nothing needs to be changed? I, for one, would love to see more open dialogue between the Reform and the Orthodox – real dialogue, not debates in which one “side” tries – and fails – to convince the other “side” about which “side” is better.

        • Hanan

          Im saying, there seems to be lots of posts about things that need to be “done” or a new “crisis” that needs to be talked about but nothing is ever really done. If something is so critical to change, than stop posting about things needing to be changed and just do something.

          • I’m doing plenty. Come to my shul and see firsthand. Thanks.

          • I’m doing plenty. Come to my shul and see firsthand. Thanks.

  • Milton

    Don’t you think you left out a key difference between the Constitution and the Torah? Namely, that the Torah is from God?

    • Why would that make a difference in this discussion?

      • Hanan

        Is there something wrong with your cellphone today?

      • Milton

        First off, no need to reply 3 times. As to your question, the difference is quite obvious. When you’re dealing with man-made law of course one should be more open for “new ideas.” There is no objectively valid or invalid idea, so all new ideas should be and are considered. Sure, many view our founders as having some kind of superior insight and/or intellect but even the most hardened originalist will tell you that there’s nothing intrinsically superior to the views of drafters of the Constitution than those of anyone else. The fact that we can amend the Constitution is precisely the point. We follow it simply because it is the founding document and any civilized society needs some kind of authoritative document. The comparison to the Torah simply makes no sense. We follow the rules of the Torah not simply because society accepted it as a legal document, but because it is the word of God. A “new Idea” with respect to the Torah is objectively correct or incorrect. Do you really think that we should entertain new ideas when it comes to the Torah the same way we entertain new ideas when it comes to the Constitution?! God is not James Madison and Ravina and Rav Ashi are not Justice Scalia. Your analogy simply makes no sense.

        • Tuvia

          The Constitution is quite an awesome document, though. It took some time to extend rights to all people (and protections to many groups to safeguard those rights), but this is certainly the story of the US Constitution. It is not only pretty brilliant, but has showed itself to be incredibly sturdy: people from all walks of life, races, genders, sexual orientations, ages — count on it.

          We don’t follow it simply because it is authoritative in our society. It is the embodiment of the Golden Rule, strives for fairness, is the light unto the nations.

          Everyone feels this in their gut. No one would find the rules of OJ particularly fair, equal, or unequivocally admirable.

          I suspect this is why thoughtful people, sometimes with great emotional difficulty, give up on Jewish values.

          • Milton

            I agree that the Constitution is “quite an awesome document.” And one of those reasons it is quite awesome is because the founders recognized that they were still, at the end of the day, flawed human beings, and they provided for a system which would make it possible, albeit with much difficulty, to amend the Constitution. To pretend, though, that we follow the Constitution because it contains some intrinsic super-natural powers is simply foolish. Are you honestly telling me that the reason we have a direct election for our senators is because we “feel in our gut” that this is right? Or is it because a civilized society needs an authoritative document and that is the rule that authoritative document provides for? And regardless, this whole point is moot. You’re arguing from your vantage point, I was directly addressing the author of this blog. Rabbi Fink is an Orthodox Rabbi, which by definition means he sees things from my vantage point, not yours. He believes (I hope) that the Torah is God given law, while the Constitution is man-made law, And thus, his analogy falls flat on its face.

            P.S. I’m a practicing attorney and I’ve also learned for many years in yeshiva. I’ve had the advantage of learning a lot about Torah law as well as secular law. While I will not pretend that I can give you a satisfactory answer about every rule in the Torah, to pretend that U.S. law “is the embodiment of the Golden Rules and strives for fairness” while the Torah does not, is quite comical and probably reflects your biases, both in favor of U.S. law, and against Torah law.

            • tuvia

              I’m reading a lot of thetorah.com these days, so it is hard for me to take the story Jews tell themselves about the origins of the Torah too seriously or literally – too many haredi professors who live the Torah life say it is clearly a composite document written over time. Everyone who immerses themselves in the academic study of Bible for four or five years comes to the same conclusion.

              I’m not a lawyer – Torah may have much to offer on fairness – but I don’t think it comes up to the US Constitution – or how the legal system is built. I don’t think the legal system is fair, but it keeps trying to figure out fairness, to its credit. It’s got a long way to go, but then again, it’s not hampered by this idea that it cannot change, so it will be perfected over time, in theory.

              I don’t think even most orthodox Jews would want to live under a Jewish government using Torah rules.

              Off hand, I think the Torah idea that if you don’t believe you will lose your place in the world to come is pretty awful. It’s not how we think about how real choice works. It makes a mockery of the idea that religion is a warm and inviting place. That’s just one of several examples I could think of of an ancient law book that Jews are wise to not take too seriously as a guide for living.

          • Hanan

            “Everyone feels this in their gut. No one would find the rules of OJ particularly fair, equal, or unequivocally admirable.”

            That’s because the Constitution and Torah are talking about two different things. The Constitution is generally about rights/protections and nothing more. Don’t get me wrong, that simplicity is where the brilliance resides, but the Torah or by extension, religion, deals with “oughts.,” (obligations). In my opinion, a society with rights and protection is only half the ingredients to building a society.

            • Tuvia

              I would disagree with your characterization of the legal system of our land. The Constitution set in motion a tidal wave of obligations – mainly arrived at through an obligation not to trample on people’s rights.

              So, for instance – we have obligations not to discriminate in all kinds of ways. We can’t force children to work; we can’t take advantage of the elderly; we can’t bar blacks from living in a certain neighborhood; we don’t permit people to starve; we don’t permit children to not have access to education; we don’t permit people to build houses that are not up to building codes; we don’t permit the handicapped to not have access to housing, buildings, or jobs. You can hate Jews, but you better not lay a finger on them. The list is almost endless.

              Certainly if one studied the laws of our country – probably in any given year there are more laws and pages of rules, restrictions, obligations, addendums to dwarf in pages the entire Talmud twenty times over.

              But the real point I want to make is – there is one very big obligation in our society, embodied in our laws and certainly the Constitution: you can’t force others to believe as you do; you can’t trample others’ rights to evaluate and learn all points of view; to embrace or reject an idea. You can’t force them to believe certain things, feel certain things. Etc.

              This of course is the one massive obligation Judaism (and most other religions) cannot abide. The one they chafe at as they tell you “believe what we say, or else face trouble here and in the world to come!”

              I sort of call it the Golden Rule. And it’s what makes this country great (ideally, potentially), and Torah thinking a bit of a second place way of thinking (along with Xtianity and of course Islam.)

              There are other things that are very peculiar about Judaism’s tenets (at least peculiar to modern sensibilities, which I would argue are superior to the sensibilities one finds in the Torah). It is amazing to me that people who are otherwise very smart and fair-minded are happy to embrace a system that has some pretty harsh ideas.

              But really, the one that takes the cake is the “believe, or else” one. No one would join this club if it wasn’t their religion. No one would participate in a movement with this as a core tenet. It’s read as threatening, and most fair minded Americans don’t see real choice coming out of such an approach.

              Put it this way, if religion were a political party, you would find it frightening, totalitarian, and a threat to the dignity of at least gays, women, and I suppose the goyim. You would never join. But – like almost every kind hearted, loving, and sensitive religious person I know – you just kind of ignore that stuff because of the good stuff you like about it. So what if some gay kid kills himself in shame? So what if another kid is shunned by his family for not believing ? They can leave if they want – though they risk spending eternity in hell. Well, that’s their problem, not mine. Pass the chulent!

              The G-d of the Old Testament is kind of like a good pimp – he threatens and thrashes sometimes, he strokes and flatters sometimes, and all the while he has you half afraid and half in love and always dominated in one way or another. And many women fall under the thrall of pimps, and many men want to be them!

              • Hanan

                “So, for instance – we have obligations not to discriminate in all kinds of ways. We can’t force children to work; we can’t take advantage of the elderly; we can’t bar blacks from living in a certain neighborhood; we don’t permit people to starve; we don’t permit children to not have access to education; we don’t permit people to build houses that are not up to building codes; we don’t permit the handicapped to not have access to housing, buildings, or jobs. You can hate Jews, but you better not lay a finger on them. The list is almost endless”

                Most of these are “cants,” or “don’ts ” which is what I said regarding protections and preserving rights. None of these are instances in how you “ought” to live ones life. No government regulation touches upon people’s personal lives and who that person lives affect their family and community. This is exactly why you have writings of some of the founding fathers that even though they had big problems with specific dogma the notion of religion was quite needed to build a prosperous society. Because in the end, government can’t tell you how to lead a meaningful, structured life that compels you to do good. Religion was to fill in that hole. So yes, of course the government does great things. It’s a testament to the greatness of Constitution and it can do. But it can’t do everything that is needed. The only “ought” government has is for preservation of rights and liberties in order for us to live good and moral lives. The constitution doesn’t help with that last part.

                “This of course is the one massive obligation Judaism (and most other religions) cannot abide.”

                Right. An “ought” which is exactly what I said. Judaism doesn’t preserve rights. Hence there is no comparison between the two. If you want to say that the legalistic aspect of Judaism is ill prepared to govern a society, I would agree with you, but than again, so would the RAN, which is what I said below regarding his 12 drashot.

                “The G-d of the Old Testament is kind of like a good pimp”

                Blah blah blah. Let’s put this BS Hitchens rhetoric to rest. God demands. Yes. But a pimp wants to fatten his pockets at the expense of others. Do you really see this in regards to the OT God? When you read Melachim or any of the Nach do you really see a God that diminishes humanity for his own selfish materialistic desires?

                • Tuvia

                  Well, people who are not Jewish, not religious, from entirely different regions of the world – say ones that are primarily Hindu or Buddhist – all find a way to live a non-Torah based life with a lot of oughts in it. All cultures have oughts.

                  We must pay taxes. We must take care of children. In some states, we must call in a crime we see. There are notions of “depraved indifference,” and “manslaughter.” We must take minimal care of the lives around us – – to a certain standard. The state can take kids away if you don’t live up to your obligations (I recently read about Lev Tahor, who had children removed because the community was not meeting its obligations to them.)

                  In haredi communities – it is being stressed now that people MUST turn in predators to the police. Well, some rabbis argue this, based on Torah concepts of obligation. They say no to this idea. I don’t know, which side are you on?

                  We must put gays to death who do things with their body which G-d (or man, if you read thetorah.com) says they should not do.

                  Of course, rabbis say – it’s nearly impossible to enforce this!

                  So, this makes us the good guys? I don’t know, what do you think?

                  Is the G-d of the Old Testament a tough guy? Is there an Operation Price Tag out there? Are there rabbis recommending that gays who can’t help themselves commit suicide? Are there rabbis who suggest the goyim work for us, that is why they’re here? Are these legitimate opinions in the continuum of opinions? They appear to have sources.

                  We agree on some things – but you are guilty of picking and choosing to preserve the religion. it’s very common. It’s a movement, and an old one, and it is showing its age. Some people want to preserve it, even as it fails in so many ways to put forth a hospitable and fair vision of society. But people get too much out of it to say this!

                  You don’t think Islam has the same problem? I know Islamic people who are torn by their identity as Islamic and their modern “new” identity.

                  Let’s hope those who cleave to the Koran drop it, right?

                  But shouldn’t we all drop it based on the same reasoning?

                  But it feels too good. It is home.

                  To me too, by the way. So I do get it.

                  But I also see right through it.

                  In our society, we have a huge self-help industry. We thrive on hope for a better tomorrow. None of it explicitly comes from Jews or Torah. I have watched many times how modern ideas like Positive Psychology (by Seligman) and modern guides to parenting have been processed and filtered and rebranded as Torah ideas. But Seligman is a secular psychologist at U of Penn. And modern parenting guides have nothing to do with what some of the Torah greats said about how to raise children. (I could send you stuff. No modern parent would listen to those greats.)

                  Torah folks pick and choose what parts of the Torah to say are “true,” ignore what is uncomfortable or unwise or otherwise ugly, repurpose modern ideas as Torah ideas (and hope nobody notices!) and declaim the perfectness of Torah.

                  I mean, there was that book “The Gifts of the Jews” which I believe made a case that Jews had passed on some important ideas to the world.

                  I wouldn’t argue with that. I guess though – the ideas were passed, the good adopted, the bad rejected. The result is our society – totally imperfect, but quite amazing in some ways, no?

                  And belief in G-d does not mean belief in Orthodox Judaism. The whole world seems to need G-d (me too.) But that doesn’t translate into OJ. And if you ask me – those who believe in G-d outside of OJ appear to me to have every bit of sense of faith as those inside OJ. And many times have a happier (and possibly healthier, not sure) sense of G-d in their lives.

                  We even added “under G-d” to our pledge of allegiance in the US, and talk about America’s special mission in the world. And the American People. One nation (under G-d.) The Founders tried to keep these ideas out, and over time, they seeped back in. The need is real.

                  What OJ is largely about is keeping the Jewish people going in the face of better ideas from the outside world – an open world, a world of open inquiry, a place where you can believe or not and learn about all ideas.

                  This is why there are such high walls around the OJ community, and why kids can’t go to college. This is why learning from outside voices is forbidden. Not because the OJ ideas are better, the Jewish history more accurate, the take on the origins of the Torah so ironclad, the reading of archaeology so irrefutable – but because all of it is subject to being contested by outside experts.

                  And this will never do. (That some of these outside experts are actually haredi – but will contest traditional ideas about the Torah, the making of the masorah, ideas about the accuracy of Jewish history — only makes this a more interesting problem.)

                  I’m in on this fight too – but I just can’t say for sure it is built on anything more than our own desire for survival at any cost. You sound more certain about it.

                  By the way, if you read sociological works on pimps — what is going on there is actually quite complex.

                  Thanks.

                  • Hanan

                    Your comment is all over the place so I am not sure where to hone in on. I will say this. The constitution is great. It allows for a thriving system that enables people to attempt to lead good lives. You and I will simply not see eye to eye on the issue of religion being a powerful force for good. You will only concentrate on evils. I do not believe a secularized society remains healthy in the long run. I don’t believe the founders believed in that either. If we are talking about secular vs religious law, lets just keep it there.

                    • Tuvia

                      Yes, could be all over the place.

                      Society without religion? G-d forbid. Society without OJ? Probably fine. (I’d be devastated personally though.)

                      Hard-core versions of religion have to carefully cultivate some very particular, questionable, near-nonsense ideas in order to keep the flame of fundamentalism burning.

                      Some of us sense this is what is happening. Some of us are in to it. I think it is wrong to control minds this way. I know it’s not right to indoctrinate and call it “education.” But what other choice is there with fundamentalism? You have to control and dominate the educational process to keep fundamentalism going. Basically, you have to lie! But what other choice is there? Thetorah.com says there is another choice – we’ll see.

                      Truly, people who are barely religious seem to be able to do and be good. Somehow the Scandinavian/Nordic countries seem almost entirely disinterested in G-d, but seem to be a peaceful, caring, resourceful, productive and responsible people.

                      I’ll stop now.

                    • Hanan

                      Nothing I said was in defense of OJ, so let’s keep OJ out of the discussion here. Regarding theTorah.com?? I would say they are more disingenuous than any fundamentalist.

                    • Tuvia

                      They still might be right. dare we immerse ourselves in their world and see what we see?

                    • Hanan

                      People (including myself) have been immersing themselves in their world for quite some time. There is nothing new to find there. Their solutions to basically anything is rather lacking (and that is being generous)

                    • Tuvia

                      Maybe. But what I do notice is that anyone (secular through haredi) who spends five years in an academic setting studying primary sources, comes away saying Torah is product of many hands over hundreds of years.

                      And I notice that people who dabble in the subject with popular books and articles (including on thetorah.com) basically dismiss it as unserious.

                      So this to me is an interesting question.

                      And some of these academics are black velvet kippah, white shirt wearing guys who raise their kids haredi.

                      I have a feeling the more intensively and extensively studied, the more it leads one to the academic view. That is, I have a feeling that the lay-person level of study is somehow not enough to really understand the arguments of academics.

                      Is it possible we don’t really undertake serious study of Biblical Crit findings because we don’t want to look at this depressing possibility? That is, we are emotionally predisposed to dismissing it before we really truly study it? I really don’t know, but wouldn’t be the first time.

                    • Hanan

                      Like I said, nothing that thetorah brings is new. Their only purpose to exist is to somehow ease OJ into source criticism and somehow wave their magic wand and say there is a great way to to make it part of Jewish belief.

                    • Tuvia

                      Maybe not part of Jewish belief, but part of Jewish thinking? (Which, I think, depressingly, may be anathema to Jewish belief.)

              • Milton

                It’s ironic that of all things to choose, you pick rules against discrimination to make your point. The most obvious problem with that is that of course the Constitution EXPRESSLY permitted slavery. Moreover, the Civil Rights Act was passed IN SPITE OF the Constitution. They used the Commerce Clause to say o yeah the federal government has that power, but any fair-minded person, on the right or on the left, will acknowledge that clearly this is not what the framers had in mind and we just let it slide because we liked the policy.

                • Tuvia

                  I wouldn’t argue with you of course about the Civil Rights Act.

                  I think the idea that secular society does not have obligations, though, is inaccurate. I feel like obligations are everywhere. From you have to stop at red lights, to you have to pass the bar to practice law and you have a fiduciary responsibility to your clients, you have to minimally care for your kids, give up your seat for the elderly and handicapped, pay taxes.

                  It can be tough to detangle positive from negative obligations.

                  I don’t believe ANY religion can actually be a light unto the nations. None of them can make the cut because they are all ortho-something, and can’t respect all people equally. They just cannot abide ideas that are not in support of their pre-conceived notions. Just calling yourself the light doesn’t make it true for all time or every time.

                  The real light is our messy democracy. It takes work to make it work.

                  Religions excel in crowing about their own virtues. This doesn’t make religions better, just vocal and another interest group, like the NRA.

                  I say this while also thinking very highly of many religious people. I certainly don’t extend this criticism to any individual member of a fundamentalist religion. It’s the politics of the whole enterprise that are suspect. All fundamentalist religions are very suspect in the same way.

                  • Hanan

                    “give up your seat for the elderly and handicapped”

                    No. You don’t. Yes, you can try make laws for that, but do you really want the government dictating that? That is my point regarding “oughts.” What you are doing is basically what Sam Harris does. He contends science (not philosophy) can answer moral dilemmas. He has been properly criticized by even his fellow atheists. But you are doing the same thing, but instead of science, you are claiming government can do that. Moral obligations is not something science or government (on it’s own) can do. It has to emanate from an outside source. So if government passes a law that one HAS to give up one’s seat, it isn’t FROM government. Governmental policy is a reflection of something from the outside.

                    I think you need to separate what “oughts” or “obligations” are being discussed. Stopping at a red light is not the moral obligation we are discussing.

                    • Tuvia

                      Sure, laws emanate from outside sources. I think religion has a place.

                      Not rules on kosher, or whether women have to wear veils, or anything about the spiritual distinctness of a Southern Baptist – none of that has much of anything to do with whether we treat elderly people well or not.

                      But we still are a richer world because of religious thought about charity, the sanctity of life, the family. I would not want to live in a world without religion. I’m very glad I live in a society with freedom of religion.

                      It’s just that any one organized religion fizzles upon deep inspection. Unreliable stories, a lot of magical thinking, an us versus them attitude, superiority complexes, enormous claims of veracity – and if you go to check you just might be committing heresy.

                      Organized religion can sound very much like a young kids’ game, where everyone pretends something is true for the sake of the game.

                      We can call ourselves a light unto the nations – but this is a label that hasn’t applied for a few hundred years. We were once better, but a few thousand years have passed, and we’re stuck telling gay dads they are in spiritual trouble and can’t marry and their kids can’t go to frum schools (by and large.) We’re stuck defending genocide in some circumstances, and women as property.

                      I live in a community with a decent sized hardcore Islamic population. They even do kiruv in their stores (pamphlets showing Koran codes and proofs of Islam, how prophecy shows Islam is the true religion, how Jesus was a Muslim….yawn…this s^&t again?)

                      None of the particulars for a fundamentalist religion are why we make good laws – Islam is a religion we don’t want influencing our societal laws.

                      A lot of what makes good laws is philosophy – natural rights, human rights ideas, the Golden Rule.

                      The government does not consult the Torah or the Koran or the New Testament to decide what is wise for our society. Whether we as a society want to make sure kids are fed or handicapped have access to a bathroom, or whether two dads can marry, or whether an abused woman can obtain a divorce.

                      We are simply better than these religious texts – and every Jew quietly knows this and is glad to live in the kind of society we live in. But we pretend, for the sake of a game we love, like little children do. Nothing about this is meant as an insult.

                    • Hanan

                      “The government does not consult the Torah or the Koran or the New Testament to decide what is wise for our society. Whether we as a society want to make sure kids are fed or handicapped have access to a bathroom, or whether two dads can marry, or whether an abused woman can obtain a divorce.”

                      Of course they don’t. They rely on the moral character of the public, which was my point from the very beginning.

                    • Tuvia

                      I don’t know about you, but the orthodox rabbis I’ve heard generally have a pretty low opinion of the secular public’s moral character. Part of the charade, I guess. Part of the reflexive deception perpetuated by organized religion. But it does make us feel good (I know, in the past, it has made me feel good too.)

                    • Hanan

                      >I don’t know about you, but the orthodox rabbis I’ve heard generally have a pretty low opinion of the secular public’s moral character.

                      Did you notice you just put the word “secular” in there? So decide, you want a world free of religion or with religion. You seem to be saying two things at once.

                    • Tuvia

                      With religion. With everyone. The apikorsos, the bible critic, the reconstructionist through the orthodox rabbi — and their exact opposite. The moron Jew for Jesus breaking bread with all of them.

                      I want the kiruv rabbi to talk his proofs, followed by the Imam talking his proofs, followed by the bible critic talking his proofs, followed by the orthodox rabbi with his archaeology, followed by the academic with his archaeology. And the lectures should take months, not minutes.

                      Everyone at the table — but the orthodox Jews would rather die I think than have this.

                      And that is very, very small of them, and sad…!

    • Why would that make a difference in this discussion?

    • Why would that make a difference in this discussion?

  • “Presently, this tension is handled by Constitutional amendments and Supreme Court reinterpretation, which are ad hoc solutions.” Why do you call them ad hoc, when that was the intended method from the start?

    Regarding your broader point – a national court (along the rabbinic lines, 120+ top legal minds representing the nation) would be a great way to cultivate that tension between tradition and modernity without sacrificing the integrity of the legal system as such.

  • Apikorus al ha’esh

    I think this is remarkably simplistic. Before the reform movement started, klal yisrael was one cohesive and unified group? Seriously? We haven’t been “one system” since Moses wore short pants.

    • That’s a remarkably simplistic understanding of what I said. The idea is that before a separate movement created its own denomination, the tension happened amongst all Jews instead of within denominations.