Monday, January 11, 2010


Shemos Blogging

Exodus 3:3 -- "So Moses thought, 'I will detour from my path to see this amazing sight. Why does the bush not burn up?'"

Moses can only see God, in his avatar of Mercy (YHVH) when, faced with a "paradigm shift" of an observation, he goes outside of the 4 cubits of Halacha (lit. "the going" or the path) in order to investigate whether his path accords with the natural world. Reason and empiricism are clearly insufficient to be a basis for morality, and it is an aspect of the mercy of Hashem that Hashem has given us a means to go towards (Halacha) a higher moral level (and without a fence, we would not know which pitfalls to avoid, which is part of why we put a Fence around the Law, although c.f. my previous blogs about that concept). But, when what we think we know of God's ways is in conflict with God's creation and a miracle we see therein, perhaps we should re-reflect on what we think God's ways really are -- perhaps, indeed, what this will lead to is a more full revelation of Halacha (as the Exodus leads to Sinai).


Meanwhile, am I the only one who thinks the "and then Isaac studied in the Yeshivos of Shem and Ever" version of Judaism is a bit tone deaf to Jewish texts? Is that really the root of Haredism? A certain tone deafness to sarcasm, irony and nuance in certain Jewish texts? That they view comments that are not meant to be taken straight-up as a justification for nostalgia along the lines of how some view "as der Rebbe zingt" as not a parody but as a loving portrait"?

To whit, how do you view R. Hoffman's use of the quotation, "Return you wayward sons all except Acher – who knew my Glory and rebelled against Me", here, considering Acher turned away from God because he saw the ultimate example of "no good deed goes unpunished" -- a boy, in the process of performing an ultimate Mitzvah promised to result in long life, dying whilst performing the Mitzvah"? Surely if this is the "glory of God", something is wrong here. No doubt there was a certain bitter sarcasm in the context of the original Talmudic quote that seems to be missed in this frum interpretation of what to do when scholars fall (which interpretation leaves too much room to excuse malfeasance, either sexual or in business, on the part of our community's leaders).

How much is missing the tone, as it is missed here, a part of what constitutes the Haredi (as opposed to an authentically Jewish mindset -- remember sarcasm and irony have long been tools of survival of us Jews) mindset? Or am I reading my modern "ironic" sensibilities too much into Jewish texts?

But really, what are we to make of texts that say things like "Acher saw the full glory of God" or "God created the first pair tongs on the eve of the sixth day of creation"? Traditionally Judaism, when faced with an amazing sight in a text, the humanistic and literary equivalent of a burning bush, also detoured from the path, just as Moses did, and through analysis at all levels of PaRDeS, whether it be close p'shat reading or extensive spinning of midrashic yarns, found new insights into the ways of HaShem. Shall we act as if midrash is some fixed text we should believe some non-zero, non-unity fraction of or should we engage in midrash as a way of bringing the Bible into our times so that we too, in our times, can say we are receiving directly the revelation at Sinai?

I guess that is a question whose answer makes denominations, doesn't it?

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