ModernOrtho­doxy need­s­the­courageto con­front dif­fi­cult ques­tions


MY NEW book, Faith With­out Fear, is about mod­ern Or­tho­doxy. The def­i­ni­tion of this term is of course sub­ject to de­bate, but I be­lieve there would be broad con­sen­sus among think­ing ad­her­ents of the ide­ol­ogy that it in­cludes the fol­low­ing cen­tral fea­tures: an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the enor­mous re­li­gious sig­nif­i­cance of the state as well as the Land of Is­rael; a com­mit­ment to en­hanc­ing the role of women in re­li­gious and com­mu­nal Jewish life; open­ness to sec­u­lar stud­ies, in­clud­ing the hu­man­i­ties; and a de­ter­mi­na­tion to in­te­grate our cur­rent sci­en­tific un­der­stand­ing of the world with tra­di­tional faith rather than re­ject that un­der­stand­ing (the the­ory of evo­lu­tion be­ing a key case in point).

Tra­di­tion­ally in Ju­daism, there is a type of fear that is an in­te­gral part of faith. This is what is known as yi­rat Shamayim — “fear of Heaven” — a keen sense of awe and rev­er­ence be­fore God. I have writ­ten the book be­cause I feel that too of­ten, mod­ern Or­tho­doxy is af­fected by a dif­fer­ent and un­help­ful kind of fear. To be sure, the in­tel­lec­tual world of mod­ern Or­tho­doxy boasts much ex­cel­lent schol­ar­ship and lively de­bate. But we also need to have the courage to frontally ad­dress the huge chal­lenges posed by moder­nity.

The is­sue to which the long­est chap­ter of the book is de­voted is a key ex­am­ple. De­spite a very re­cent up­surge, far too lit­tle at­ten­tion has been paid over­all to the is­sue of To­rah min Hashamayim, To­rah from Heaven. Or­tho­doxy, in­clud­ing mod­ern Or­tho­doxy, has tended to shy away from this is­sue for at least two rea­sons.

First, the the­o­log­i­cal stakes are very high. The idea of To­rah as di­vine rev­e­la­tion is one of the most fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of tra­di­tional Ju­daism. Se­condly, at­tacks on the con­cept of To­rah from Heaven are rooted in parts of the aca­demic world and in dis­ci­plines and vo­cab­u­lary for­eign to the vast ma­jor­ity of Ortho­dox peo­ple and in par­tic­u­lar to Ortho­dox rab­binic scholars and lead­ers. In the UK in par­tic­u­lar, a third fac­tor is the spec­tre of the “Ja­cobs af­fair” of the 1960s, which still haunts An­glo-Jewry. I ar­gue in my book that avoid­ing the is­sue is in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­hon­est and no longer even fea­si­ble in a world in which we can ac­cess the con­clu­sions of aca­demic bib­li­cal schol­ar­ship via a few clicks on Google. I ar­gue that our tra­di­tion con­tains re­sources which al­low us to be both in­tel­lec­tu­ally hon­est and to de­velop a view of To­rah from Heaven that may be un­con­ven­tional but is still Ortho­dox, and which, un­like the views of thinkers such as Rab­bis Louis Ja­cobs and Zev Farber, does not in­volve ac­cept­ing what is known as the doc­u­men­tary hy­poth­e­sis (which ar­gues that the text of the To­rah is a com­pos­ite of dif­fer­ent sources). Faith With­out Fear deals with other is­sues too. There have not been enough Ortho­dox rabb i n i c v o i c e s p u t t i n g f o r - ward the view t hat f e min­ism is es­sen­tially pos­i­tive. Although fem­i­nism is, of course, a com­plex and var­ied in­tel­lec­tual phe­nom­e­non, it in­cludes as cen­tral com­po­nents ideals that are key to a mod­ern Ortho­dox un­der­stand­ing of Ju­daism, such as the fun­da­men­tal equal­ity of men and women and the im­por­tance of hu­man dig­nity and jus­tice. The book ar­gues that the preva­lent kinds of apolo­get­ics around this is­sue are un­sat­is­fac­tory.

I ns t e a d, male a nd fe­male ha­lachic scholars need to work to de­velop the ha­lachah as it per­tains to women in a way

Shut­ting down de­bate is a symp­tom of weak­ness

FRI­DAY, OC­TO­BER 16 (Marchesh­van 3), Shab­bat be­gins in Lon­don at 5.51; Bournemouth 5.54; Leeds 5.47; Manch­ester 5.56; Ty­ne­side 5.50; Glas­gow 6.00; Jerusalem 5.30 (lo­cal time). SATUR­DAY, OC­TO­BER 17 (Marchesh­van 4). Por­tion of the Law (To­rah): Noach, Ge­n­e­sis 6:9 to 11:32. Por­tion of the Prophets (Haf­tarah): Isa­iah. 54:1 to 55:5 Sephardim: Isa­iah 54:1-10. SHAB­BAT ends in Lon­don at 6.50; Bournemouth 7.01; Leeds 6.54; Manch­ester 6.58; Ty­ne­side 6.53; Glas­gow 7.05; Jerusalem 6.41. FRI­DAY, OC­TO­BER 23 (Marchesh­van 10), Shab­bat be­gins in Lon­don at 5.36; Bournemouth 5.40; Leeds 5.32; Manch­ester 5.40; Ty­ne­side 5.35; Glas­gow 5.43; Jerusalem 5.23.


To­rah from Heaven — a tra­di­tional prin­ci­ple un­der aca­demic at­tack

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