Deep (Possibly Bogus) Philosophy Alert

Those of you that worry about me may want to look away.

I read this comment/question on this post at DovBear today:

[in your opinion] will there ever be a time when all *Torah* questions have been fully answered?

The question wasn’t directed at me, so I didn’t want to interject over there.  Plus, I think what I’m about to write is going to ramble and not make as much sense when you read it as it does to me when I think it, so better to keep it here.

Here’s my opinion on the matter: no, never.

Keep in mind, this is not to suggest that I don’t believe that in the coming of Moshiach.  See, I think that part’s not relevant.  Let me explain.

I have a very active imagination.  I always have.  I like to conceive of scenarios and situations that aren’t possible, and imagine how they will play out.  For instance, one thing I’ve always thought was that after t’chiat hamaytim it would be awesome to be standing at the banks of the Jordan River when Moshe Rabbenu takes his first steps into E”Y.  Seeing his reaction would be fantastic.

One other thing I imagine is if we could pull a Bill and Ted, and bring Moshe Rabbenu to this time to pasken all of shaylos.  What would be?

Well, aside from having an active imagination, I can tend to be somewhat of a pessimist sometimes.  What I think would be is that Moshe Rabbenu would be ignored.  Aside from the fact that he would barely recognize what we call Judaism today, even if he were somehow brought to speed on the evolution of technology, and understood everything he needed, his p’sak would be ignored.  Why?  Someone, somewhere, would say “well, that’s just how we do it.”  People would point to thousands of years of tradition, and say that this isn’t for Moshe to decide.  People would say “lo bashamayim hee” and say that even though Moshe’s knowledge of the Torah far surpsasses us (for instance, he could say “God never told me that.  So I don’t really know where you came up with it”) the decisions of the Shulchan Aruch must be followed.

That’s why I think the answer to the question is no.  The evolutionary process of Judaism has removed it from the possibility of having all the questions answered.  What if Moshiach comes and says, “this psak halachah was wrong.  It always has been.  Hashem wants me to ask you exactly how you came with this” do we relaly think that people will stop?  Let’s say, for example (I’m not suggesting that this will happen, just using an example), that Moshiach comes and says something like: “listen, folks, lo tevashel g’di bachalev imo is a really isolated case.  God emphasized it’s importance because it’s nasty cruel to cook something in the very nurishment it received as a baby.  This whole six hours thing?  Not really sure where that came from.  Also, they’re nice and everything, but you really don’t need so many dishes.  And chicken?  Whoa!  Chicken aren’t even mammals, they don’t have milk.  Let’s not get carried away.”  Do you think that the Jews will suddenly abandon years of halachah?  Or do you think the greater likelihood is that this will be rejected?  That the “gedolim” will say that you can’t change years of halacha and that the intentions of heaven matter not once the Rabbi have paskened?  I think the latter is more likely.  Perhaps I am wrong (I would love to be proven wrong on this).

If you think about it, lo bashamayim hee is a pretty self-serving drash for the Rabbis to make.  Let’s see, we are pretty much sure, having been told so, that the intention of the halacha is the opposite of what we think.  Uh, no, sorry.  This isn’t your religion anymore, heaven.  It’s ours now, we’ll decide what’s right and wrong.  Well, isn’t that convinient.

Not to mention the fact that there is so much fraction in the Jewish community now, that when Moshiach comes, there’s a good chance not everyone will accept him.  (Like this great poem).

This is essentially the crux of my problem: over the course of Jewish History, we’ve abandoned the will of heaven in favor of tradition.  The intention of the laws doesn’t matter anymore because of lo bashamayim hee; incorrect assumptions and changed circumstances don’t matter because of minhag avoteinu b’yadeinu.  How will we ever allow ourselves to come to a resolution on halachah, to allow “all *Torah* questions [to be] fully answered” as long as our guiding principles dictate that critical thinking about halachah is impermissible in the face of tradition?  Do we think obstinate Jews and gedolim that refuse to adapt will suddenly bend like trees in the wind, just because Moshiach (or Moshe with a time machine) says so?  Like I said, I don’t think so.

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4 responses to “Deep (Possibly Bogus) Philosophy Alert

  1. I’m not so sure you’re right. Assuming Moshiach is universally accepted as being the Moshiach (I know this is a big assumption but it is one we have to make), I think Jews who follow halacha will accept his word. Even if he uproots a well accepted halacha, ppl. will follow his word. Today’s gedolim have altered some accepted halachik norms and we as a group have followed lock step (mixed seating, broccli etc.). Not that these are universally accepted but close to it in terms of % of orthodox Jews. And if the halachik word was from the accepted Moshiach or Moshe Rabeinu himself I think everyone follows. Only time will tell(hopefully not too much time). I think a big question in this regard is how Moshiach will be ushered into our lives. If it is concrete and indesputable that he is Moshiach, it will make the transition a smoother process. If he comes through metaphysical means that would certainly help in this regard.

  2. Like I said, I hope I am wrong.

    But, there’s a distinction that I think you’re not making, when you reference changes made by gedolim to normative halachah: to what extent are these changes made l’koolah? I think this is a major and necessary distinction to point out. It’s very easy (as we see) to continually add chumros; people will follow them, both because of the “frum race” and because there’s no spiritual risk. That’s not the case with kulos, which is why proclamations of halachich vitiation are rare, and often met with contempt and calls of “kefirah.” If Moshiach comes with a long list of things we do that are wrong/completely unecessary/lack basis in normative halachah (e.g. Kitniyot? Making chicken fleishig? etc.) you think it would be so easily and readily accepted for Jews to just stop? You think stopping would be universally accepted? You are certainly more of an optimist than I.

    How do you think the chareidi world reacts if Moshiach says that bekeshes and streimels are random and of no value? What if Moshiach says that ma’aseh B’raishis is a metaphor, and the earth is much older than just 5768 years (assuming he comes this year)? You think people just toss those long-held beliefs out the window? Have you know that world to ever be so reasonable? What if Moshiach’s Judaism resembles Conservative Judaism more than Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox Judaism? (“Driving a car on shabbos isn’t melachah. It’s easy and relaxing.”)

  3. I recognize your distinction and I agree generally. For arguments sake, however, there have been a few instances where changes in halacha have gone l’kula (only a few). For example, when I was a kid there were no weddings from Pesach through Shevuot and if you wanted a haircut in that span you had to get one on Lag BaOmer itself or you waited until Shloshes Y’mei Hagbalah. Americans who visited Israel for the chagim kept two days of yom tov (fast becoming a minority).

    I guess what I really believe is that I don’t think that Moshiach will totally disqualify our modern day halachik interpretations. Noone knows for sure but it is my belief that halacha, as an evolving body of law, is what Hashem intended and therefore becomes proper. Obviously, this assumes that such halacha was darshened in the proper ways. This may mean that some of the accepted norms that were not darshened in the proper ways (minhagei shtus for lack of better words) will be corrected by Moshiach. Who knows how we will react? I will say this, if he comes from outer space riding a white donkey in a truly metaphysical way (I know whether his arrival will be metaphysical or not is debated), and is universally accepted as THE Moshiach, I think most will follow his ways.

  4. This was really funny. I’m not so keen on your putting the word “gedolim” in quotes, and there are some other things I disagree with (and definitely some things I do agree with), but this was really funny.

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