Rabbi Bleich’s New Book, and the Growth of Orthodox Non-Orthodoxy

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15 Responses

  1. mycroft says:

    “that the issue of an independent moral sensibility outside of the dictates of halacha is one on the issues that divides the yeshivah world from the Modern Orthodox one. While I don’t believe that this is true”

    Agreed-thus for starters Prof Marvin Fox, Rabbi Bleich and the Chazon Ish opposed the position of independent moral sensibility. Professor Marvin Fox was not classified as a chareidi. The reason that I suspect that many believe that is an area that divides the chareidi Yeshiva world from the Modern Orthodox one is that students of Rav Soloveitchik have been in the forefront of arguing for an ethic outside of halacha. I believe it can fairly be stated the viewpoint that Halacha is not all a Jew must follow is from the Rav see eg his comment “Halacha is a floor not a ceiling”

  2. joel rich says:

    reasons best left to analysis on the part of others, but undoubtedly due, at least in part, to interrup¬tion of a cultural continuum resulting from a wrenching adjustment to Western society and a Western way of life, currently, the dominant influences brought to bear upon a developing adolescent are not the traditions transmitted through the medium of the home but the intellectual trends and mores of society at large. Our educational institutions, by and large, have not risen to the challenge. Matters of belief and ideology are simply not stressed in our schools.
    —————————————
    Which elements of the orthodox community is Rabbi Bleich referring to in the 1st sentence? in the third?

    One also gets the impression from R’ Bleich’s interview with WFMU that he believes that the ikkarim (fundamentals of faith) evolved over time and are subject to “psak” (e.g. before some time in history it was ok to believe in corporeality, but not now) When Sanhedrin is reestablished are those decisions reversible? Is it possible that Moshe Rabbeinu believed something not true?

    KT

  3. Jacob Suslovich says:

    I have a question. Rabbi Bleich has written in more than one place that although matters of belief can be subject to dispute there comes a time when the dispute is decided in accordance with the same rules that are applicable to disputes about matters of practice and once so decided they are binding. Once the halacha of what to believe has been accepted, to believe that a rejected view is correct (or even possibly correct) is no longer permitted. See for example page 4 of the General Introduction to his “With Perfect Faith” which I think is reprinted as chapter 1 in “The Philosophical Quest.”

    I wonder how he reconciles this view with a statement that I came across in Encyclopedia Talmudit, Volume 9, page (or more accurately column) 243, text accompanying footnote 40, which reads as follows (I am translating from the Hebrew and starting from the bottom of the preceding page):

    “We do not establish (declare? codify?) Halacha except where the dispute is about a matter of something being prohibited or permitted or the like . . . and accordingly Rishonim have written that we do not say that the Halacha is like one person when the dispute is not about an action but rather only about matters of belief and faith, such as reward and punishment . . . .”

    [YA – Sounds like the question ought to be addressed to him. He does not follow this blog – or any other! If someone were to ask me, I would say that it is generally true that there is no psak in matters of aggada, etc. However, matters of fundamental faith may be an exception, where the acceptance of a POV (or the rejection of some other point of view, e.g. Rav Moshe Taku on hagshamah, or Ralbag on Divine knowledge and human free-will) over an extended period of time can take on normative value.]

  4. lacosta says:

    Many people believe that the issue of an independent moral sensibility outside of the dictates of halacha is one on the issues that divides the yeshivah world from the Modern Orthodox one.

    —–when you say you disagree with this , with what part ? that MO believes it? that yeshivish don’t?

    [YA – I disagree about whether knowing what camp a person is in predicts his response to the question. I’ve come across people in both camps who have argued either way.]

  5. Uriel Levi says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein’s review was excellent. I was curious on why he doesn’t think that one of the divides between Modern Orthodox and Yeshivish Orthodox is the principle of “independent moral sensibility outside of the dictates of halacha”?. That is a view clearly held by Rabbi Lichtenstein and Rabbi Kook ZT’L while the Chazon Ish.ZT’L and many others within the more Chareidi community held and continue to hold that there is in essence no independent moral sensibility (I.M.S) outside Halacha. The example of the Ramban”s condemnation of a “minuvel M’Reshus HaTorah” would be an example of an I.M.S outside of Halacha. Obviously, everyone agrees that a Gluttonous individual- even if he is eating only Glatt Kosher- is clearly frowned upon but no halachic injuction against his behavior should or could exist. However, a more contemporary example that might put this in perspective – is the kosher meat industry and issues of Tzaar Ba-alay Chaim ( cruelty to animals). I believe that many Rabbanim in the more centrist or Modern Orthodox community would not have a problem issuing an “edict” against eating from a slaughterhouse that clearly was unnecessarily & continuously cruel to animals about to be slaughtered. Those Rabbanim more to the right would be more nuanced in differentiating between what is halachically kosher to eat and what might be the “ehrliche” thing to do and not buy meat from that slaughterHouse. The mitzvah of “V’Halachta B’Bdrachov” is the source in the Torah for this I.M.S and my hope is the entire Frum world recognize that and be as careful in the Maasim Tovim spawned by this principle as much as the Halachos in Yoreh Day-ah or the other numerous technical aspects of Halacha that are Bain Adam L’MAKOM.

    [YA – 1) I don’t think that it divides the two communities, b/c we can point to a significant number of people who cross over on both sides 2) I don’t understand your point about “no halachic injuction against his behavior should or could exist.” Naval bereshus ha-Torah is a halachic construct, and has full halachic weight, at least according to Ramban. In fact, those who argue against IMS would never discount the validity of naval bereshus ha-Torah. To the contrary, they argue that concepts like it subsume all there is to be said about moral sensitivity, and that there is therefore no need and no room to look outside of halachic constructs firmly embedded in halachic literature. 3) I can’t think of anyone with serious Torah background in the MO world who will issue an “edict” against anything. They know too much about halachic process to issue edicts for the greater community. 4) OTOH, Rav Moshe zt”l, no centrist MO thinker he, did let it be known that he thought that if what people told him about the way veal was produced was factually correct, then frum Jews ought to avoid it. (He cited halachic reasons of tzar baalei chaim, not IMS ]

  6. Raymond says:

    Reading Rabbi Bleich’s words above makes me wonder about something: Can a Jew who studies and at least wrestles with traditional Torah beliefs, but does not often follow such beliefs with careful practice of Jewish law, be considered in any sense to be at least as religious of a Jew as a Jew who is careful to follow Jewish law, but never delves into, with any depth, into the theological underpinnings of his Jewish practice? And Does a Jew get any credit at all, for example, for immersing himself in the thought of the Rambam, the Ramchal, and/or Rav Soloveitchik?

  7. Ben says:

    For a discussion of this issue of codfying normative beliefs, see R Chaim Rapoport’s book The Messiah Problem: Berger, the Angel and the Scandal of Reckless Indiscrimination, in which he addresses and differs with R Bleich. Don’t have the page number to hand, I believe it’s in an extensive footnote.

  8. Gary says:

    Reply to Jacob Suslovich: In Rabbi Moshe Meiseleman’s new book, Torah,Chazal, and Science (Israel Book Shop), he presents a detailed treatment on the topic of whether there can be a conclusive p’sak in matters of faith and theology that were disputed among legitimate Torah authorities. An examination of primary Rishonim, especially the Rambam, yields that, as Rabbi Bleich asserts,a final determination can indeed be reached, paralleling the process used to determine a ps’ak in matters of practical halacha. I do not have the book in front of me right now,nor can I access the quote from Encyclopedia Talmudit cited above, however, I am quite sure that Rabbi Meiselman deals with this and similar statements. I will be happy to post a follow-up comment later this evening with a fuller response.

  9. Bob Miller says:

    Educators and parents each think or wish the other group will ground students in basic beliefs, leaving a void for unJewish notions to seep in. In the past, when key aspects of Judaism became submerged, movements like Chassidus and Mussar arose as fiery spiritual correctives. We are at such a point today.

  10. dr. bill says:

    there is a continuity of practice and of belief. however, both are to varying degrees, subject to change. the extent of legitimate change defines the various streams of Judaism. both extremes, imho, are dangerous to our long term survival.

  11. Jacob Suslovich says:

    Reply to Gary:

    I have Rabbi Meiseleman’s book. I have thus far only skimmed a few chapters. My preliminary, tentative opinion is that although R. Meiselman has many interesting ideas, in some respects I don’t (so far) find them satisfactory. For example when discussing the point that we are discussing in chapter 60 he says that all of the statements by the Rambam about not deciding certain issues are limited to matters of “ideas that can be thought about” (at least that is what I think the translation that he approves of in footnote 16 on page 616 means) rather than matters of “Hashkafa.” He first seems to draw a distinction between ideas that have practical ramifications and those that do not but then he says that the distinction between issues that have practical ramifications and those that do not is illusory because there are halachos about what one may or may not believe. So I don’t understand when a belief about something that has no ramifications beyond whether or not one believes them falls in the category of Hashkafa or merely ideas.
    Furthermore he seems in chapter 60 to be attributing more binding power to ideas that have practical consequences as opposed to those that do not. Yet on page 215 he seems t be saying the exact opposite.
    Nonetheless, the book seems to be full of interesting, if sometimes not completely convincing, ideas, and I look forward to eventually reading it slowly and carefully. I wish that there was an appendix with the actual sources that he quotes laid out. I have been taught that in learning one should ideally read the sources oneself and not rely on how an author of a sefer parpharses them. I hope Rabbi Meiselman will not consider this to be a lack of emunas chachomim.

  12. shmuel says:

    R’ Adlerstein, thank you for making the public more aware of this newly published work. On a side note, I am surprised to see you say that there is a debate about whether there is an independent moral sensitivity outside of halacha. Isn’t it obvious that there is such a thing, given that certain mitzvot are described by chazal as being worthy of being followed even had they not been commanded? And the Rambam in the 6th perek of the 8 perakim? And the concept of “lifnim mishurat hadin?” And that the Torah covers all of life and therefore it has values that we have to apply even outside of a specific halachic imperative? It wouldn’t be surprising that there is considerable debate about how to apply such a concept, but it seems to me that it exists.

    [YA – The other side argues that the constructs you mention are themselves subject to halachic analysis – which is true – and that whatever can’t be supported by such texts and analysis has no validity.]

  13. Daniel Korobkin says:

    Rabbi Bleich writes:

    “With the passage of time, a different form of Judaism began to gain ascendancy – a Judaism based upon practice rather than belief.”

    IF one starts with Maimonides as the starting point of Judaism, then Rabbi Bleich is correct that “with the passage of time” from Maimonides’ ultimately dogmatic Judaism, a different form of Judaism began to gain ascendancy, a Judaism based upon practice, etc. However, Maimonides is not the starting point of Judaism. I’m astonished that this is not acknowledged in this small quote, although perhaps it is in some other place in the Rabbi Bleich’s book. Since this has been the subject of much discussion already, it’s surprising to me to see Judaism portrayed in its incipient form as doctrinal in nature and then morphing into a religion of praxis, when historically the exact opposite is the truth. This is the problem with Rabbi Bleich’s basic premise and why a large swath of thinkers don’t see eye to eye with his particular world-view on Jewish dogma.

    [YA – I’m not sure I get your point, Reb Daniel. Can you point to a time in history in which practicing Jews did NOT share a common platform of assumptions about Hashem, His Torah, Halachah – even if not enshrined as formulaic dogma? R. Bleich made a perfectly valid point about relatively recent history. He was not tracing the history of ikarim, or reflecting on self-perception during the Bayis Rishon period. For at least many centuries, observant Jews shared essential ideas; those who deviated did so in their practice. Orthopraxis is a strange new bird. That is pretty much his point.]

  14. Daniel Korobkin says:

    Thanks for responding, Reb Yitzchok. If that’s R’ Bleich’s point, that only in recent history Jews shared common dogmatic beliefs, then it’s not clear from the passage cited. Furthermore, if it’s only a recent phenomenon, then I’m not sure how relevant it is.

    Can I point to a time in history where Jews didn’t share a common “platform of assumptions about Hashem”? Sure – every generation before the Rambam and many generations after him. Despite our desire to romanticize past generations as holding the same common beliefs as we do in the frum world today, that simply is historically not the case. That is why Rambam was considered so revolutionary in “inventing” 13 Ikarim. Indeed, the word “Ikar” held no meaning for people like R’ Yehuda HaLevi who was just a generation before him. Hashem’s very incoporeality was not accepted among all rishonim, as one example. Nor was it considered essential for those who came before the Rambam to render absolute decisions on these issue.

    Further, I think we oversimplify the history of Jewish thought and society to say that Orthopraxis is something new; it is the praxis that has been the glue that has held our people together, not the doxy. Nor can we reliably report as historians the commonly shared beliefs of prior generations, since there were no outward manifestations of said beliefs.

    But I’ll go one further. The fact that we’re seeing some bizarre pronouncements about faith issues coming from some segments of the frum rabbinate, such as, you’re pasul l’edus if you don’t profess a belief in XYZ, or if you have an iphone, etc., comes from an overplaying of the dogma hand. Of course, the danger of no dogma whatsoever is potentially equally as dangerous, but my point was simply that we have to be truthful about our past, and realize that this emphasis on dogma is a relatively recent phenomenon. Kol tuv, Daniel

    [YA – Well it is good to see that our positions are coming closer together. There still may be enough for us to debate when I visit your shul as an SIR in March 🙂

    I agree with your last paragraph fully. I’m not sure about the ones that precede it.

    What made the Rambam’s ikarim revolutionary was not his determination of dogma. It was the implication that any part of Torah could be more important than any other part. That is the point that those who pushed back against him made. They did not oppose him because they received preview copies of Marc Shapiro’s book.

    Which brings us to the next point. The jury is still out as to why the Rambam (and others) tried to identify key principles. One theory is that with traditional Jewish belief on the ropes, someone had to formulate a statement of what Judaism really stood for. Whatever his motivation, the 13 he came up with showed remarkably good judgment, because they have been universally accepted! (I knew I would get a rise out of you for that!) By that I mean that even those who would differ with Rambam’s exact formulation agree that these principles are true!

    Take your example, for instance. Corporeality is the most extreme would-be counterexample of a fixed dogma. The most extreme proponent, however – R Moshe Taku – is quite explicit that what he means by a body is not c”v what all of us mean (or what Christians mean!), but some kind of ethereal substance. Rambam would not agree with R Moshe Taku, but I believe he would concede that this spurned belief of R Taku attempts to chase down the same thing that the Rambam was pursuing – a sense of G-d Who has no limitation.

    So I disagree (maybe?) with your view of history. You are correct, of course, that we have insufficient evidence in the historical record to prove what people believed in his day. At the same time, you could not point to evidence that would discount the notion that Jews roughly speaking did share a common platform of unsystematized and unformulated belief. This belief was not turned into a catechism or doxology – nor did it have to be. At least not till the time of the Rambam.

    And while praxis is indeed the glue, a belief system into which action is embedded is crucial. Seforim ranging from Chovos Halevavos (who preceded all the authors we’ve been talking about) to the hakdamah of Derech Hashem have made different arguments against stripping belief from the daily avodah of a frum Jew.]

  15. Jill Schaeffer says:

    Well, I shied from commenting but seeing the comments I hope to make a small dent in the fender of confusion here. So, there is this statement: “Moses is Plato talking,” as commentary on Tertullian’s “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem.” So fast forward to the 13th century, the age of Aristotle, Aquinas, and Ramban, and we’ve got “Moses is Aristotle talking.” Quite a change. I’m pasting in the following in English, with an aside after each each tenet:

    1. Belief in the existence of the Creator, who is perfect in every manner of existence and is the Primary Cause of all that exists. (Motion is Aristotle’s engine running everything else in his repertoire. So read, “sets existence in motion” which means contigency.)

    2. The belief in G-d’s absolute and unparalleled unity. ( The word absolute simply means absolved from contingency, as in free from, acquitted of …….)

    3. The belief in G-d’s non-corporeality, nor that He will be affected by any physical occurrences, such as movement, or rest, or dwelling. (Already stated if not implied. G-d cannot rest, because G-d never moves or exerts force that would deplete HaShem of Being.)

    4. The belief in G-d’s eternity. (same here. All depends upon Aristotle’s idea of motion. Motion implicates change (contingency) in space over time or in time, or contingency itself generates time, creates what we call “time.” HaShem is absolved from those events which are the results of interacting “stuff,” or as we may say, “the chain of events.”

    5. The imperative to worship G-d exclusively and no foreign false gods. (Philosophically, to worship other than G-d deprives the human being of both the necessary and sufficient condition of relationship with ultimacy. To worship another denies “ultimacy” itself and, well, wastes my time.)

    6. The belief that G-d communicates with man through prophecy. (Now we get fussy and problematic, or ethical. Up to now, we’re safely in an ontological appreciation of G-d versus change. We’re into change as deficit. It’s asif we were looking up and out, now we’re looking across and in. And what and who we see is the prophet as mediator.

    7. The belief in the primacy of the prophecy of Moses our teacher. (I believe here, that Judaism proper starts with 6 and runs through to 13. Beforehand, we can go back to Parmenides and understand the pre-socratic focus on permanence and immutability as the true (only) reality worth a hoot.)

    8. The belief in the divine origin of the Torah. (That’s Philo stepping up to the plate – or tablet). One of the authors of the Gospel of John stole Philo’s idea of equating Torah with Logos and came up with Jesus as the incarnate Logos. I wish they had copyright laws in those days.)

    9. The belief in the immutability of the Torah. (Ramban is assigning the same status of “absolve” to Torah as to HaShem.)

    10. The belief in G-d’s omniscience and providence. (It’s here that Aristotle, Aquinas and Rambam hold the same thought: the doctrine of aseity – omnipotent because G-d is “absolved” from effects but only causes……; omniscience – knowing itself is bound to space and time, but G-d is unbound. omnipresent, ditto. Providence is the only “Jewish” statement of intent – providing G-d with momentum towards the human being so that the human being becomes engaged by G-d for no reason other than G-d wants it that way. Or….go figure.)

    11. The belief in divine reward and retribution. (But here, the scales are not equally balanced. In order to find out how rewards are greater than the retribution, one has to study Torah. So now Torah becomes not just G-d’s Daily Mirror, one among many journals, but The Tablet of interpretation for Jews.

    12. The belief in the arrival of the Messiah and the messianic era. (Likewise, Torah)

    13. The belief in the resurrection of the dead. (Likewise, Torah).

    I set these principles down because the conflict of interpretations seems to begin with particularity. So, let me cut to chase, “Is every human being born a nascent Jew because he or she is made in G-d’s image?” If, so , then practice could manifest a natural condition of any human being regardless of belief. All peoples would behave similarly. And the role of the Jew is to manifest that image in practice through Torah (instead of through the Gitas or Gospels) until the Messiah comes, which means that when the Messiah comes, nobody goes to the Bahamas for a bar-mitzvah because the Bahamas will have come to the Bima. On the other hand, the moral law inscribed on the heart (Kant, now) is apriori, a ding an sich, and has no consequence other than its existence. Nobody has to do anything at all. Redemption is not observable or measurable, which obviates rewards and retribution both somewhat observable and measurable in experiences. A conundrum: “Image of G-d” also implicates immutability, absolution from contingency or motion, in some way, so that the apriori is normal and natural for humanity and need not be deliberately entertained in practice. A posteriori, or “practice,” has the characteristic of a feedback loop which scoops up the world in experiences that, by definition, are contingent and consequential, changing both the individual and the world s/he affects and by which s/he is affected. I think that the problem here is that both the changeless and the changeable participate in redemption. One question is how? Relating principles 1-5 with 6-13 may be a start for commentary: Do principles 6-13 logically follow from principles 1-6? No, they don’t. What then is the relationship which admits of Jewish particularity as an singular claim to the witness of redemption. Are there ethics outside of Torah? If Torah is of divine origin, then the answer is “no.” Well? Ok, let’s make it worse: When Ruth does her thing with Boaz, – is what she does within or outside the law? Whose law? When Abraham argues with G-d for Sodom and Gomorrah, how does he know to do this? Who told him? HaShem said nothing about it. Does Torah say then both are possible? or should be? Ok….just wanted to admit to some difficulties I encounter, at any rate.

    thank you

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