Sunday, August 23, 2009

Defending the True Faith

Borrowing a page from TRS' book, I'm posting something which I wrote back in the day, but never published publicly. I don't really agree with what I assert below, but neither am I sure how to explain the anecdote which I bring to support said assertion.

When we try to determine the halacha, G-d keeps an eye on us and steers us towards the right conclusion. Here's a story which shows us this process at work. This past summer, I toured Israel with a group of friends. At Masada, our tour guide told us a fascinating anecdote: archeologists were digging in Masada and found a pair of tefillin. As you probably know, there is a disagreement between Rashi and his grandson Rabbeinu Tam as to which order the parchment scrolls are to be put in the tefillin. When they found the tefillin at Masada, they opened them up and found that... the parchments were arranged according to Rabbeinu Tam. This seemed to imply that Rabbeinu Tam was "right," and Rashi was "wrong." But sometime later, they found another pair of tefillin... which were written according to Rashi.

I find this story amazing. The disagreement between Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam centers on how to interpret a Talmudic passage. One would think that either Rashi or Rabbeinu Tam understood that passage. The other must have gotten it wrong, thereby corrupting the Oral Law.

But if one of the opinions was merely a misunderstanding of the Talmud, then why were both types of tefillin used hundreds of years before the Talmud was written?

These tefillin tell us that G-d directs the disagreements of the sages. Both opinions reflect a true method of making tefillin. G-d puts the matters in our hands, but He guides our debate to keep us in line with His will.

This leads us to another question: why does G-d want halacha to be developed in this roundabout way?

Were the Torah, with all its nitty-gritty details, handed to us on a silver platter (or a desert mountain) it would be purely G-dly. G-d would be imposing His will on a bunch of people who weren't related to it. Conversely, were halacha entirely in our hands, it would become a human creation. In realty, Halacha is a little bit of both. A concept only becomes the halacha once a human mind has thought up the concept, played with it, examined it, tried to disprove it, compared it with other concepts, and shared it with other human minds. A true halacha must also be an instance of the will and wisdom of the Creator. It has within it that special spark that transforms physicality into spirituality and darkness into light. Halacha is a synergy of our reasoning and G-d's wisdom. Thus, Halacha relates to man and to G-d. And that's what gives it its power.

Sheesh. I wrote so formally back then. It's been a while since I wrote serious stuff.

25 comments:

  1. some poor jew who wanted to understand the role of oral law. I emailed it to you twice.

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  2. Right. I vaguely remembered reading it...

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. not everything we wrote to individuals was published. it was published on our internal blog.

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  5. i'd say something about the actual post, but i've learn that already, and it makes too much sense to discuss.

    glad to see you posting about halacha, even if u dont agree with it.

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  6. true faith- maybe you are not as shikse-ish as you wish people to believe.

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  7. and yes i know its shaygitz for a guy- dont correct me.

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  8. E: Nice post and well written - let me ask you, did you agree with what you wrote then?
    Altie: I think E might taka be shiksa-ish

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  9. e-I like this post. A lot. Thanks.

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  10. Mottel: Not even then. This was towards the end of my career.

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  11. Modeh B'MiktsasAugust 30, 2009 at 11:10 AM

    I do believe in halacha and I don't believe that post. Except for the part about halacha being partly human so that it is possible to have a kinyan in Torah.

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  12. so why are the jews of today stuck following what the rabbis decided long ago? Who says those rabbis didn't corrupt the oral law?

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  13. The Rebbe spoke Pesach (or pesach Sheni) in the 70's after the tefillin were discovered. Other frumme Yidden unnerved by the discoveries. The Rebbe spoke about the koach of Torah Sh'Ba'al Peh, that Moshe Rebeinu can say tefillin are like Rashi, and rebeinu could still sit there and argue with him via the power of Halacha.

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  14. Well written and interesting. Thank you for shearing.

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  15. I'm glad you liked it, because it was a royal pain to write.

    Modeh: I'm waiting.

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  16. Modeh B'MiktsasSeptember 1, 2009 at 5:03 PM

    First of all, don't be impatient. I really should let you stew another day just for that but I'm too nice. Here's my answer:

    Because a certain amount of 'corruption' as you call it is not corruption at all but examples of a biblical law that even my karaite friend recognizes to the point that he accepts the shulchan aruch. See if you can guess.

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  17. I don't know what you're talking about.

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  18. Modeh B'MiktsasSeptember 2, 2009 at 4:49 PM

    על פי התורה אשר יורוך וכו. Learn Torah shebiksav. It's the greatest heresy.

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  19. The original verse isn't talking about rabbis interpreting Torah. it says that if you have a disagreement--not necessarily in interpreting any texts--then listen to your rabbis.

    This does not guarantee that the rabbis will know faithfully transmit minutia like chatzi nezek tzroros for example.

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  20. Modeh B'MiktsasSeptember 3, 2009 at 1:19 PM

    And you now get back to the crux of it all which is that certain things are believed and I'm sure you know the RaMBaM's definition of the difference between faith and stupidity.

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  21. i actually don't know it. i'm a lubav, remember? The only rambam i know is those books that the rebbe said you gotta recite daily and "I believe with complete faith... I await his coming every day."

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  22. Modeh B'MiktsasSeptember 4, 2009 at 1:33 PM

    It's not in the yad proper but one of the nosei keilim cites the relevant part of moreh as necessary to understand the progression of yesodei torah ch. 1 which im sure you have learned. I don't learn moreh straight either.

    Re I believe: and what about the other 12?

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  23. the other 12 are difficult for chabad

    Praying only to G-d: you need a pilpul to define "pray."

    Reward and punishment: who gives a damn about that? A jew should never think about serving god for some personal benefit!

    god has no physical body: identifyingchabad.com can tell you why this one is problematic

    In general, we have no use for philosophical quibbles like "god is the first and the last." Ha ma'aseh hu ha'ikkar!

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Forth shall ye all hold.