Diverse Orthodox Attitudes
A Variety of Orthodox Attitudes to Selected Ideological Issues Compiled by Rabbi Saul J. Berman
The ideological diversity which always existed within Torah - observant Judaism has been one of the factors which has fuelled our energetic revitalization in this past generation. From the disagreements within Talmudic hashkafot, to the deep division of opinion amongst Jewish philosophers in the period of the Rishonim, to the gap between rationalists and Kabbalists and between Hassidism and Misnagdim - all of that contributed to the diversity of thought which now exists within the Orthodox community itself.
The purpose of this booklet is to encourage a more conscious process of study, thinking and appreciation of the range of opinions which are now legitimately held, vigorously propounded and energetically debated within our community.
On each of nine key issues, we have compiled the three or four "attitudes" - not formal Halakhic positions, but ideologies based on different Halakhic assumptions and approaches - which comprise the full range of the Orthodox community's thinking. Our explication of these positions does not represent Edah's approval of them.
We urge you to approach this material thoughtfully, with an eye toward helping yourself to define what your own convictions are, and to staying open to the reevaluation of your position in the light of learning more about the opinions of others. Most importantly, we hope that this process of study will enable all of us to live with greater respect and love for those with whom we disagree even on these obviously vital matters.
- Rabbi Saul J. Berman
PLURALISM / TOLERANCE
ATTITUDE #1: Non-Orthodox denominations are realities which make positive contributions to Jewish Identity. Therefore, we should maximize our cooperation with them, attempt to strengthen and influence them, and strive to maintain the unity of the Jewish people.
ATTITUDE #2:Non-Orthodox denominations are incomplete forms of Judaism. They are a reality, and the well-being of the Jewish people in Golah is dependent upon cooperation amongst all Jews. Therefore, we should cooperate on all matters affecting the welfare and security of the Jewish community, while remaining separated on all internal, religious matters.
ATTITUDE #3:Organizations constitutes recognition of their legitimacy and falsely suggests the Hakachic validity of their positions. Therefore maximum seperation is necessary.
ATTITUDE #4: The boundaries of Judaism are identical with boundaries of Orthodoxy; therefore Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform are not Judaism. Both Jewish and non-Jewish adherents of these movements should be vigorously informed of this fact.
RELIGIOUS MEANING OF MEDINAT YISRAEL
ATTITUDE #1: The establishment of the Medinah is a step within the messianic process. The government and its laws are binding upon its citizens by virtue of their authority as melech Yisrael, expressed in the form of a Jewish-democratic state.
ATTITUDE #2: The establishment of the Medinah was fulfillment of the mitzvah of kibbush ve'yishuv. It is a pre-messianic political entity in which the secular government and its laws are halakhically binding upon its citizens by virtue of contractual obligation as in any modern political state.
ATTITUDE #3: The existence of the Medinah has no religious significance. But there is religious value in living in Eretz Yisrael, in studying Torah there, and in the economic support of Jews living there. The political entity of the State and its laws are binding upon its citizens by virtue of contractual obligations as in any modern political state.
ATTITUDE #4: The establishment of an autonomous Jewish state was an act of rebellion against God's will, and its continuation and support will be punished by God.
JEW AND GENTILE
ATTITUDE #1: Non-Jews are created with the same tzelem Elokim as Jews. The major religions are not to be classified as pagan Idolatry. Rather, all non-Jews are to be viewed as gerei toshav (observers of sheva mitzvoth B'nei Noach) toward whom our obligations in all economic and ethical matters are the same as those we have toward fellow Jews. While social interaction is limited in favor of Jewish society, exposure to non-Jews creates an opportunity for Kiddush HaShem.
ATTITUDE #2: Non-Jews are created with the same tzelem Elokim as Jews. However, idolaters (including Christians, Buddhists and many other religions) are to be avoided - contact with them minimized to the extent socially and economically possible to prevent our being influenced by their culture. In the interest of maintaining peaceful relations, we extend to non-Jews substantial equality in regard to economic and ethical duties imposed by Jewish Law.
ATTITUDE #3: Non-Jews were created with different form of soul than Jews. They are different both in regard to providential governance, and in regard to halakhic duties resting upon Jews towards them in economic and ethical matters - including duties of rescue of life and property.
ATTITUDE #1: The Individual accepts the binding jurisdiction of a posek voluntarily in matters of halakha. On non-halakhic matters, persuasive reasoning is the proper ground for decision making, whatever its source.
ATTITUDE #2: Recognition of the authority of one or more posekim, should lead the individual to serious deliberation on, and usually to comply with, the non-halakhic judgments of those posekim in recognition of their outstanding wisdom and insight.
ATTITUDE #3: The individual who has accepted the authority of one or more posekim on matters of halakha is bound by the judgment of those posekim also in non-halakhic areas when the posekim so dictate.
ATTITUDE #4: Gedolei Torah, recognized as such by the people, have the authority to bind both the individual and communities to comply with their dictates in all aspects of life, without having to provide technical halakhic justification of their position.
ATTITUDE #1:The Torah is entirely true. Human reason, applied to the study of all reality, can also produce Truth. We are required to engage with and study both Torah and other knowledge in order properly to achieve love and fear of God. We are permitted to study any aspect of human culture which enriches our intellectual, spiritual, or aesthetic identities. However, where the application of these studies might lead to behavior in conflict with Torah, we must submit to Torah. Engagement in this struggle is positive and results in a responsible, learning, thinking, and spiritually vibrant community.
ATTITUDE #2: The Torah is entirely true, Science contain partial truths which are capable of yielding technological advances beneficial to humanity. Jews may study such knowledge only as necessary in order to benefit from or contribute to the increase of such beneficial technology, or in order to earn a dignified living for the support of a family.
ATTITUDE #3: The Torah is entirely true. Other sources of knowledge, while contaminated by falsity, may produce information which could enhance the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot, and may to that extent permissibly be studied. Such study ought be delayed until after wholeness in Torah study has been achieved.
ATTITUDE #4: All truth is contained exclusively in the Torah. Other sources of knowledge are contingent and contaminated by falsity. The duty of the Jew is to be engaged exclusively in the study of Torah.
ATTITUDE #1: Whenever possible, severity should be avoided on legal decisions since it would reduce the experience of permissible pleasures. The Torah values permissible material pleasures as vehicles for the experience of religious joy.
ATTITUDE #2: Severity and leniency are relevant only in circumstances of factual doubt (safek), not in situations of debate (machloket) or varied practice. In the latter situations, the conclusion should be based solely on the legal analysis of Torah, Talmud, Gaonim, Rishonim, and Achronim.
ATTITUDE #3: The most severe position is not innately more religious. However, it is the most likely basis for unity and commonality of practice within the Orthodox community and is therefore to be preferred.
ATTITUDE #4: Whenever there is debate or alternative practice as to the performance of a mitzvah, it is preferable to adopt the most severe position or practice. Such severity maximizes ascetic withdrawal from material pleasures and results in the greatest certainty that God's will is being performed.
WOMEN IN HALAKHA
ATTITUDE #1: The ultimate ideal of Torah is the perfect equality of men and women, in which there is no mandatory role differentiation and no difference in obligations and rights as to mitzvot. Any movement in that direction countenance by halakha, through creative legal interpretation or the adoption of minority opinions or the creation of new religious forms, is to be applauded.
ATTITUDE #2: The Torah protects but does not mandate a distinctive role for women centered only in the family. Changes of, and additions to the common practices of Jewish women of the past, when they are halakhically justifiable and potentially religiously enhancing, should be encouraged. Special creativity and effort must be applied to the elimination of women's distinctive vulnerability in situations of divorce.
ATTITUDE #3: The narrative descriptions and halakhic regulation of male and female roles in the Torah are meant to be prescriptive and eternal and make clear to us that the Torah has fully regulated the separate and innately valuable role of women as primarily engaged with the home and family. Any change of, or addition to, the traditional practices of Jewish women is prohibited as an offense to the Mesoret and is a threat to the stability of the Orthodox family and community.
ATTITUDE #1: Outreach to non-affiliated Jews is fulfillment of the mitzvah of talmud Torah and ahavat HaShem. The goal is to aid them in becoming the best possible Jews they can be at that point in time. The means used must respect the autonomy of the subject and must not demean the possible choice of affiliation with non-Orthodox movements.
ATTITUDE #2: Outreach to non-observant Jews is fulfillment of the mitzvah of tochacha. The goal is to move people closer to Torah in their beliefs and in their action. The means used may not violate the autonomy of the subject, and his/her ultimate choice must be respected.
ATTITUDE #3: Outreach to non-Orthodox Jews is fulfillment of the mitzvah of tochacha. The goal is to move people to t'shuvah - the full adoption of Orthodox life. The means used may not compromise the Orthodox integrity of the outreach worker, while it may sometimes have to separate the subject from family, friends, and community.
ATTITUDE #1: In contemporary times, governments and other institution are particularly vulnerable and responsive to mass public opinion shaped by the media. Established Jewish organizations are reluctant to use this form of political leverage because it is an extreme tool which abandons the niceties of private negotiations. It is essential for the safeguarding of Jewish people and interests that there be strong activists, individuals and groups willing to take uncompromising stands and willing to use the media and their "sound-bite" approach to shape public opinion
ATTITUDE #2: The duty of arevut to fellow Jews throughout the world requires of us that whatever political or economic leverage we have be used in their benefit. Established Jewish communal organizations have the commitment and intelligence to balance the interests of Jewish needs against maintaining the security and safety of the American Jewish community.
ATTITUDE #3: The Jewish community thrives in America only at the tolerance of the non-Jewish populace and government. Making Jewish issues part of the public agenda, exercising Jewish economic and political power in an intentionally public fashion, create a threat of anti-Semitic backlash. All that God desires for us can be achieved in private negotiations.