Monday, October 17, 2005


A post-Yom Kippur Confession

I have a confession to make:

One of my favorite quotes is quoted in Harold Titus' Introduction to Philosophy (I forget the original source) in which, talking about existentialism, it says, to paraphrase, Nietzsche is as essential to Existentialism as Aristotle is to the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas but to call Nietzsche an Existentialist is a bit like calling Aristotle a Thomist. (You can make the same quotation in the political world in terms of calling Strauss a Platonist or in terms of calling neo-conservatives Straussian ... or in the religious world in terms of calling modern Fundamentalists, Calvinists).

My confession is that sometimes I feel that, while Torah is essential to Judaism, calling Torah Jewish is a bit like calling Aristotle a Thomist.

While Judaism takes from the Torah and weaves from it an entire system of living, one can imagine other systems being taken from the Torah and possibly even Judaism weaving its magic from other covenants. Like our Constitution is more than just the words on a piece of paper (I am not a Strict Constructionist, if you haven't figured that out -- btw, if one is a Strict Constructionist and Originalist, does one go all the way in extracting meaning from every stray word and punctuation mark in the Constitution a la R. Akiva's method of interpreting Torah?), the Brith is more than the terms in the written Torah but the process which has evolved to interpret those words. This is why the "vital lie" of Jewish Orthodoxy, that the Oral Torah was also given at Sinai, is so vital: because it is the process of Torah which is as important as the writing. This is also why Christian Reconstructionism makes no sense: how do you follow Torah, or any law, if you expect to follow mere words on a page. If rote following of the written law were possible, we could have computers take over the role of judges. Any judge is inherently an activist lest a computer take her place (just as any judge is inherently conservative lest the judgement not be grounded in the order of things). This is why the Torah itself commands the appointment of judges and only regulates the roles of other (secular) leaders should they be appointed/elected.

OTOH, there are books in the Bible that do strike me as truly Jewish. The Torah doesn't seem culturally Jewish to me, but Jonah (with God sounding exactly like my mother), Job, Daniel, the Megillot, deutero-Isaiah, Jeremaiah and indeed most of the later Prophets and Writings sounding very "Jewish".

But maybe my idea of Jewish is shaped too much by a false notion of "authenticity" based on what books reached me first.

I guess that is another confession. As much as I am a nominalist who views the key triumph of "Darwinism" as a triumph of the notion that variation is as important as type, I have a love of the "typical" -- products that match my image of what the class should be like ... I like my 'typical' tea (Scottish Breakfast), my 'typical' honey (fireweed), etc.

Oh well, I am rambling ... I guess I need more caffeine?

Best regards from NY!
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