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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Morality Shmorality

When you go to kiruv seminars or if you listen to shiurim of the more moderate voices within Judaism like the one of Rabbi Nathan Lopes-Cardozo (whom I do hold in high esteem), you will always hear the mantra that Judaism is an ethical religion, with the main imperative for this Chosen People® to be a moral light unto the nations.

The facts don't substantiate this claim though:

  • We are commanded not to take revenge or to bear a grudge. However, God holds himself to different standards that he judges other people by, by calling himself a 'El Kanah Venokeim', a jealous and revengeful God.
  • The book of Shulchan Aruch we are being taught most, is the daily ritual part of Orach Chaim. If you learn for Smichah (Rabbinic ordination), you are likely to be taught the dietary laws of Yore Deah. However, how many people do you know that are proficient in Choshen Mishpat (financial law)? This book will most likely contain moral laws. And guess what? These laws are mostly man-made (although they may reinterpret verses to fit them back into the Torah).
  • We are all being taught that, according to one opinion, Rivkah was 3 years old when she married Yaakov. Do you remember being taught that marrying a toddler was disgusting? No, of course not, we will find anything to make the Avos holy. The cognitive dissonance is mind-blowing consider these comments at The Yeshiva World:
    A 3 year old then was not the same 3 year old now. Things were different then. People lived longer, and they did not age. We can already see from the story with Eliezer and the camels that she had high intellect and a high level of functioning.And:
    It's very clear she musta been born during Adar Sheini and therefore as her real birthday didn't come around too often, she was really more like 12 years old.
  • The conquest of Kenaan that butchered the local population in the name of God.
  • The many laws that were perhaps considered advanced in antiquity but are considered by most people to be reprehensible nowadays, such as the laws condoning slavery, death penalty for homosexuality and other 'crimes' such as waiting too long before consuming sacrifices.
  • The position of women in Judaism: whichever way you want to turn it, she is unable or not supposed to bear witness, become a judge, show her hair in public, sing in front of others, study Torah for its own sake, write a Torah scroll, inherit like men do, marry or divorce a man, etc. 

But more than the question of whether certain laws and / or customs are ethical or not is this. The focus of our education is not to be moral and ethical people. What really really counts is what we keep or not. What we wear and how to fit in. The uber-goal is to subjugate yourself to the law and the community and to be 'Shomer Tora uMitzvos'.

Whether this Torah or these Mitzvos are morally inspiring or not.

This, in my opinion, is one of the main points why people are uncomfortable about their Judaism and, eventually, slip out through the back door.

34 comments:

  1. Americans as a whole: 20000 murders per year
    Orthodox Jews: 0 murders per year

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  2. The post is good, but doesn't even mention the institutionalized racism (though you mentioned the institutionalized genocide).

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  3. > We are all being taught that, according to one opinion, Rivkah was 3 years old when she married Yaakov. Do you remember being taught that marrying a toddler was disgusting?

    There’s nothing disgusting about marrying a toddler in a culture where it’s normal. Having sex with a toddler is disgusting, but according to that medrash, they didn’t until Rivka was legally an adult.

    You’re right of course about the disconnect between what is said about morality and what we’re taught. But I think that’s really a difference of opinion about what morality is and how it’s derived. If you accept that the Torah is the source of morality, than anything in the Torah is de facto moral.

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  4. Which religion do the Amish mimic almost exactly?

    Compared to some imaginary utopian community, Orthodox Jews aren't too great. Compared to any real communities, we may be the best.

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  5. Great post on a topic I agree with 100%. There are so many ppl who think that we would be absolute savages if not for the torah and I just don't think that is true.

    I have also found that OJ will give the benefit of the doubt to interpretation of the torah, but give no leeway to other holy books, like the koran. For example, take the command to kill everyone of Amalek including women and children. It is very easy to interpret this as metaphorical for ridding us of the enemy, but you know that if the same verse was in the Koran and said that about the Jews there would be no "other side" of the interpretation

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  6. "Amish communities aren't imaginary."

    Or utopian, either,

    If you want your kids to be kind, honest, peaceful, chaste and sober, and to have grandkids, send them to yeshiva. That's statically your best chance.

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  7. Hey, I went to yeshiva; if you mean sexual frustration by chastity you are right. Not only speaking for myself BTW.

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  8. chaste

    innocent of unlawful sexual intercourse

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/chaste

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  9. As opposed to a certain ex-president of Israel, unfortunately.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/31/world/middleeast/31israel.html

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  10. What about e.g. Quaker schools? Kindness, honesty, peacefulness - definitely at least as good as yeshivas, probably much better. Chastity, sobriety - haven't heard of severe problems in this regard. Regarding chastity, it of course also depends a lot how you define it. Having grandchildren - not everyone's priority.

    If you add a few other criteria, such as equality between males and females and between different nationalities, actively caring for the welfare of all mankind, ... they are definitely the better choice. And not only them.

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  11. "Which religion do the Amish mimic almost exactly?"

    I don't think you can say they follow halacha. That they have taken many ideas from the written Torah, sure. But isn't it surprising that they can change so much from a supposedly divine religion/way of life, and not behave any worse than the followers of the supposedly divine religion/way of life?

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  12. So we have ex-Pres Katzav, an Orthodox Jew who is believed to have raped at least 10 women.

    We have wonderful yeshiva rabbis and community leaders like Rabbis: Lanner, Weiss, Mondrowitz, Kolko , Lebovitz and Tropper who are alleged and in some cases convicted of a variety of egregious sexual behavior.

    That's just the tip of the iceberg

    And of course, we know that a Prime Minister of Israel was assassinated by an Orthodox Jew.

    The Amish, btw, do not really mimic Orthodox Judaism except in the area of dress codes.

    They are pacifists, They are all hard working, They allow their children to experience the world before they make an informed decision to commit to the Amish way for a lifetime.

    They are willing to help those outside their community and faith who are in need.

    They practice forgiveness to a level that's practically unheard of. When a deranged killer executed a number of their girls, they invited the widow to the funeral and had a fundraiser for her.

    The explanation was: She suffered by his actions as much as we did. She needs help to feed her children. This is how we teach our children forgiveness.

    Another significant distinction from the Orthodox world is that they refuse all forms of government financial assistance.

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  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  14. "What about e.g. Quaker schools?"

    As far as I can tell, Quakers seem to be a fairly small, humanitarian organization rather than a religion.

    http://christianity.about.com/od/quakers/a/quakersprofile.htm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_Society_of_Friends#Relationship_to_the_wider_Christian_community

    "ex-Pres Katzav, an Orthodox Jew"

    I don't believe he's orthodox.

    "As a traditional Israeli he also will promote better relations between religious and secular Israelis."

    http://www.jewishpost.com/archives/news/moshe-katzav-a-profile-of-israels-new-president.html

    "The Amish, btw, do not really mimic Orthodox Judaism except in the area of dress codes."

    Their religion was founded by a yeshiva drop out. Everything they believe is based on some, often distorted, Jewish values.

    Contrary to the stereotype, many Amish now work in factories and some are accepting government assistance.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32390961/ns/us_news-the_elkhart_project/

    And the Amish have their share of scandals also

    http://socyberty.com/crime/amish-criminals-drunk-drivers-and-child-molesters/

    http://boards.library.trutv.com/showthread.php?t=276594

    Forgiving everyone includes forgiving rapists in their own community, for example.

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  15. I regard the Amish as being a poor imitation of Orthodox Judaism. As their are sucked into the modern economy, they will disappear.

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  16. "Their religion was founded by a yeshiva drop out"

    Source, please? Seems highly unlikely. And http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jakob_Ammann seems to confirm you are wrong about this. Not that it would matter. A divine original should be significantly better than a cheap copy with some major changes on fundamentals. If it isn't, you should ask some tough questions.

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  17. "As far as I can tell, Quakers seem to be a fairly small, humanitarian organization rather than a religion."

    Fairly small - yes, but with a disproportionately large positive influence on society over a relatively short history.

    And I don't see how you can claim they aren't a religion, or at the very least, a spiritual group.

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  18. The Amish are growing rapidly and are expanding into more regions. They are hardly an imitation of Orthodox Judaism and were not founded by a "Yeshiva drop-out."
    While some Amish do work in the "modern economy" the majority remain on the farms. In Western New York, for example, they are the fasted growing segment of the agricultural population.

    Yes, they have their scandals but they hardly compare to the institutionalized scandal of Orthodox Judaism.

    As it stands, with the increasing poverty created by the distorted emphasis on men learning full-time in Yeshiva, the Orthodox world will collapse.

    Whether or not YOU consider Katzav to be Orthodox is irrelevant. The Rabbinate in Israel certainly does.

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  19. "Source, please? Seems highly unlikely."

    I mean jesus.

    "Fairly small - yes, but with a disproportionately large positive influence on society over a relatively short history."

    Like the Red Cross. But that's an international humanitarian organization, not a community.

    "I don't see how you can claim they aren't a religion"

    They apparently have no specific beliefs.

    http://www.quakerinfo.org/quakerism/beliefs.html

    "but they hardly compare to the institutionalized scandal of Orthodox Judaism"

    That probably depends who you ask.

    http://www.amazon.com/Amish-Confidential-Bishops-Shatters-Silence/dp/0977268004/

    "As it stands, with the increasing poverty created by the distortedl emphasis on men learning full-time in Yeshiva, the Orthodox world will collapse."

    We'll just adapt economically like we have for 3,000 years. The Amish however are linked to a specific profession, 19th century style farming, which simply cannot compete with 21st century agribusiness. The have to industrialize, and therefore change their lifestyle, go on welfare or starve.

    "Whether or not YOU consider Katzav to be Orthodox is irrelevant. The Rabbinate in Israel certainly does."

    Has he ever said he's orthodox?

    Compared to some imaginary utopian community, Orthodox Jews aren't too great. Compared to any real communities, we may be the best.

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  20. Quakers also use the name "Religious Society of Friends" - they obviously regard themselves as a religion. They have meetings for worship. They don't have a credo, but they have their testimonies. I don't think there are many people who will agree with your statement that they aren't a religion.

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  21. A religion anyone can join on Facebook is not exactly comparable to orthodox Judaism

    www.societyoffriends.org

    The Amish are at the other extreme. It is almost impossible for an "Englisher" to become Amish.

    So again, if you want your kids to be kind, sober, chaste, peaceful and honest, sending them to yeshiva is probably your best bet.

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  22. You really believe that by joining their facebook group, you become a quaker? Sure, you can become one (in real life), and it won't entail paying enormous sums of money for tutors and a beth din (or being asked to fulfill some leader's perversions...), but I don't see how you can hold that against them.

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  23. Saying "I'm a Quaker" is like saying "I work for the Red Cross." I don't think it's a real religious community which you can live in and educate your children to follow and be better than anyone else. Nixon was a Quaker.

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  24. Many top leaders in Washington including Obama send their kids to a Quaker school, Sidwell Friends. They aren't converting to being Quakers. That's what I mean that it's a sort of a humanitarian movement more than a religion.

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  25. It seems you don't want quakers to be a real "religion" or "religious community", because it would be a challenge for you. So I don't think it will help if I write much more; you have posted links yourself, read them properly (and don't skim them for phrases to take out of context or misrepresent).
    If you are a quaker, you can go to a weekly worship meeting, try to live according to the quaker testimonies at all times, send your children to quaker children's groups, and in some areas to quaker schools. Bekitzur.

    P.S. I'll be on a business trip this week, so I won't be able to reply the next days (and as mentioned, don't think that it would make sense anyway).

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  26. Re: your last post: Many people send their children to religious schools even if they don't belong to that particular religion. And not every religion is proselytizing.

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  27. Quaker churches and schools range from Universalist to Evangelical:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_Society_of_Friends

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  28. So far as the Amish are concerned:

    I can't help but wonder if you have even read the books you post as links, much less the articles. It appears that you search for data to support your preconceived notions and then simply post links.

    I've lived in Orthodox communities. Nowadays I live in a Jewish community very close in proximity to the Amish.

    I've been on their farms, in their homes and businesses. I find them to be far more reliable, honest and trustworthy in transactions then a good number of Orthodox Jews I've known over the years.

    Contrary to the minimalist data you searched, the overwhelming majority do NOT want public assistance of any kind.

    As to their economic prospects, they are booming. The demand for their "organic" produce, their fine artisan food products and craftwork is booming. People are seeking quality in place of agro-industrial foods.

    They do have very successful small factories running on hydropower or gas power, instead of grid connected electric.

    Since they retain over 90% of their youth , even nowadays, their prospects are just fine.

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  29. Regarding Katsav's religious affiliations:

    "In 2001, Moshe Katsav asked Jewish communities to form a new Sanhedrin to deal with modern halachic (Jewish Law) issues. The Sanhedrin was established in 2004."

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  30. The chosen people mantra is precisely why Judaism is out of all the world faiths has the least likelihood of being even remotely true.

    Because nobody else claims to be a light unto the gentiles. Christians, muslims, hindus, atheists, none of them claim they are chosen as moral lights to everyone else. They all claim outright nothing is special about their adherants, and that they are just as prone to sin as everyone else.

    Its Judaism that makes the outlandish claim that everyone else learns from the jewish people where as history shows the matter to be entirely opposite for it is Judaism that is formed from taking in ideas from every other nations out there.

    Most of the mythology in the torah comes from Near Eastern nations. Maimonidian Judaism, itself is the Rambam's reimagining of judaism using islam as a framework. All of Kabbalah comes from sufism, mainides' monotheism itself is something he took from muslim sufis like Ibn Rushd. Even jewish messianism is a zorastrian product, something developed in persia and judeofied in second temple period. What, if anything, is unique to this religion or serves as a independent contribution?

    And its precisely this non-stop plagarism of everyone else that makes the chosen people claim all the more outlandish. Even the "chosen people" concept was lifted wholesale from the Canaanites

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  31. "It seems you don't want quakers to be a real "religion" or "religious community", because it would be a challenge for you."

    At best the Quakers are another Protestant church, like Lutheran or Baptist. I don't see any utopia.

    "I find them to be far more reliable, honest and trustworthy in transactions then a good number of Orthodox Jews I've known over the years."

    But they have plenty of problems too once you scratch the surface. Again, I don't see utopia. Besides the fact that it's almost impossible to join them.

    So again, if you want your kids to be kind, sober, chaste, peaceful and honest, sending them to yeshiva is probably your best bet.

    "Moshe Katsav asked Jewish communities to form a new Sanhedrin"

    That's probably the best proof he is NOT Orthodox. I believe he is always described as "traditional" which in America would be Conservative.

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  32. "It's like any other society. You have great families, very well-balanced, but you also have dysfunctional ones. Take the Amish off the pedestal. They're just like everybody else." - Ruth Irene Garrett, former Amish woman.

    To learn more about the Amish, visit http://www.facebook.com/AmishTruths

    No gossip, just facts.

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