Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews

A fresh threat of rabbinic excommunication

Exciting news. Twenty-two Israeli extremist rabbinic leaders threaten to excommunicate one of them. Why exciting? Because one must be really towering to be treated like that. I’d never be excommunicated. I’m not even a rabbi and even if I was, who cares what I think? NB: The very rabbi threatening ex-communication is one of the state’s chief rabbis and they have no standing among the devout so, such a ban would be toothless.

I would like to be generous and not suspect anyone of them to be motivated by jealousy, Heaven forbid. Rather, they must have no clue. They see him towering over them and feel threatened. And when you feel threatened, the first reflex is, there must be danger. The pious persecutors also must be courageous, because it’s scary to attack someone so honest who could answer you back in ways you don’t like to invite. Maybe that is also the reason that they chose to attack Rabbi Eliezer Melamed as a pack.

The first such assault we see in the Book of Genesis. The brothers of Josef suspect him of being outright evil and plot how to get rid of him. They were right that he was on a different moral plane from them, but not a lower one. Luckily, the L^rd of the Universe had different plans, and as miraculously and surprisingly as in the Esther story, all works out superbly.

Infamously, Maimonides’ books were burned soon after his death. These were handwritten copies from before the printing press! (Followed, on the same date, by the Church burning wagons of handwritten copies of the Talmud, possibly destroying and wiping out whole Tractates. Maybe there are still copies in the cellars of the Vatican?) The Rabbis suspected the greatest Sage after Moses of being a Hellenist since he had the audacity (greatness) to quote and borrow from Greek Philosophy. Now, his thought and writings maintain the same antagonism to pagan Greek Philosophy as the Sages of the Talmud, and therefore he had no fear citing any of it.

Spinoza, on the other hand, really left Judaism. But likely, he was banned at the request of the Dutch Christian authorities. His free-thinking was a danger to the mental stability of primitive literalist Christians. Jews were only allowed in the Low Countries to arrange money for their 80-year War of Independence against Spain–not to create upheaval. Rabbi Cardozo recently tried to get this ban lifted since Maimonides wrote nothings that should worry, scare, or intimidate Jews of today, but he failed.

In our time, we had the Lubavitcher Rebbe, such a giant, that no one could have excommunicated him. But especially after his demise, his followers split into two camps, almost excommunicating each other.

His emissary, the genius Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach got much opposition from established rabbis. Before he acquired his own following, he spent some years utterly alone. He made the pun that Rabbanim (rabbis) means ra banim (bad sons). But privately, most rabbis revered him and would receive him as a dear friend. He is even trashed after his demise. BTW: Exclusively by bystanders worried by libel, not by his alleged victims.

Rabbi Steinsaltz, may he rest in peace, had the chutzpah to be the first to unlock the Talmud for the public at large. By his life, all the critics already ate their black hats and his pioneering work is widely followed by others.

The British Rabbinate threatened to excommunicate readers of the best-selling The Dignity of Difference from 2002 by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, may he rest in peace. A reversed 2003 edition we were allowed to read. It was ridiculous. My rabbi told me that the first version was much better.

The Rabbis on the Perfidious Albion seemed quite jittery when they also trashed Rabbi Joseph Dweck, really for implying that Straight (British!) men could learn from Gays how to be warmer with each other.

Some attacking Rabbis were very careful not to excommunicate the saintly ultra-Orthodox Zoo Rabbi Nathan Slifkin but only some of his books. It really helped their sales. My friend Rabbi Cardozo has offered to ban me to help my books but admitted that from him, a ban would not work.

It seems that between the petty ones, we will always have stellar teachers. Which doesn’t mean that they will have to stand alone. Their ability to not wait for widespread approval, ironically, makes them attractive.

***

Amateur Sage advice on how to own Judaism against advice by the greatest Rabbis

In the past couple of months, we have all been able to hear the most outrageous position from the most senior, revered Rabbis in the world. How could any simple Jew still be religious and not become complicit?

(These headline-creating pronouncements should not make us forget, all the wonderful advice we have gotten from so many Rabbis through the ages and counting.)

First of all, no rabbi is the Pope. (Even the Pope is not the Pope anymore. There are devote RCs who openly disagree with him, call him just a radical humanist, and disrespectfully call him by his first name as if he’s their kid.) Every Jew has a direct line with G^d, to obey Jewish Law, not Jews’ Law.

Now, Jewish Law is always determined by the greatest Halachists of our generation. How could we freely disagree with their rulings? That would make one non-Orthodox, Heaven forbid. So, per definition, an Orthodox Jew must always follow what the great Rabbis say, no?

No, it depends. When a Rabbi doesn’t know what he’s talking about, we don’t ask him to rule for us. And if he does anyway, we ignore it.

***

So, no matter how wise and learned, when a present-day Sage says, Don’t listen to the doctors, we don’t listen on that subject to that Sage.

The fact that he never learned math, chemistry, biochemistry, biology, or health issues makes it easier to ignore his bogus ‘health advice.’

Unfortunately, his lack of scientific training makes that he doesn’t even fathom what he doesn’t know–or he wouldn’t speak up like this.

The Torah obliges us to listen to sound health advice from competent MDs. Someone, no matter who, who went against sound medical opinion, placed himself beyond the pale of sound advice and we can’t follow him.

Just like we need to honor our Parents. But when they tell us to violate Shabbat, we remember that we honor them because G^d told us. The second they go against G^d’s Precepts, G^d takes precedence.

***

When a well respected Rabbi tells us that US President-Elect Biden is evil and outvoted President Trump is holy, we ignore his prediction of a Chanukah miracle that will return Trump to power, Heaven forbid.

We should also make a note to call out his false prophecy when the miracle doesn’t happen–which, of course, it won’t.

He shows he is completely possessed by a lack of political knowledge and insight. Worse, he sounds like a Christian preacher. Nothing wrong with the latter. But when a Jew sounds like them, he erases the difference and makes Jews look like old hat we could do without, Heaven forbid.

***

When a great Rabbi, who also has a degree in counseling, psychology, or psychiatry, says that gays and lesbians can live perfectly fine heterosexual lives and thereby their ‘choice’ for same-sex sex is forbidden, clearly does not know what he’s talking about. You ignore him. Such a Rabbi declared himself irrelevant on the subject. No need to argue with those who don’t want to look at reality because it’s not to their liking.

Being a religious Jew means to follow the Written Torah and the Oral Law and reality (as also conveyed by honest science) as well as we can. We ignore advice from religious Authorities who want to impress on us to ignore reality (for which the Torah was a blueprint).

There is no contradiction between the Torah, reality, and our ability and success to adhere to them, and have the most moral and deeply satisfying and safe lives. Opinions that say differently must be ignored. That is what Orthodox Judaism demands of us.

***

Let’s not only look at exceptional Rabbinic advice that can’t be followed. Look at what a leading Halachic expert recently has written about women’s ordination. Taboo for most Orthodox congregations, this rabbi came with the opinion that women certainly can learn enough to merit functioning as the male Rabbis. He just notes two problems: 1. We have a Tradition of passing on knowledge from teacher to student to his student, etc. How to do this between a man and a woman? 2. Most women interested in accomplishing this do not seem exactly so interested in keeping Traditional Orthodox Law the old-fashioned way, are more reformers. How do we get more conservative Orthodox women interested in such a commitment?

Here you have a super-Orthodox opinion by a great Rabbi who breaks the convention that, of course, women can’t be Rabbis. He says they can. He sounds so wise and unconcerned about such a change long overdue, that his advice will be followed. Any opinion against that is already not serious anymore and will face a losing battle, both in the State and in Halachah.

I’m bringing this example to show that even the most daring change can be advised within the Jewish Law’s framework by a Rabbi who knows plenty.

***

But what about the verse that says that we should listen to our Teachers, even when they call left right and right left? In my understanding, that relates to Rabbinic mistakes that will be on the head of such a Teacher. (To preserve unity.) Mistakes. But someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about doesn’t make mistakes. He never started solving the puzzle.

And we certainly don’t listen to someone who orders us to inflict unnecessary pain on ourselves or others because that is the definition of evil. You don’t want your Teacher to suffer punishment for that. And you don’t want to commit evil period. It’s not on your life’s menu. When Befehl ist Befehl is even outlawed for Gentiles, it is certainly not an option for Jews anymore because the Rabbis teach us that Jews should always hold ourselves to a higher standard.

And this is how I understand what some of our alive great Rabbis have said, that the era of the Rabbis is coming to an end. We need to inform ourselves to the best of our ability and be the Rabbis we’d wish to follow. As it says in Sayings of the Fathers: Where there is no leader, be a leader.

And what is then the difference between an Orthodox Jew and a self-styled Jew? The latter does what seems proper in their temporary vision. And is able to pick and choose their way through the Halachah. The former knows that we need to obey, also when it’s hard, and will let Jewish Law shape our brains and lives, and not the other way around.

The bottom line to all the above is that in almost all cases, there is no good reason even to think about deviating from standard Jewish Law. Only in exceptional cases, we may have to go our own way, ignoring exceptional (bad) advice. We can’t always put our life on hold until every Rabbi gets it.

***

Fundamentalists, stop being so liberal!

You Fundamentalists claim that you can’t help what you believe. And part of your belief is that everyone should believe and behave like you. But not everyone agrees. Some don’t want you to dictate your beliefs to everyone else. So now they ‘oppress’ you in your freedom?

People around you don’t want you to tell your children that they have no (viable) choice. The non-believers in your beliefs don’t want you to trash homosexuals, tell pregnant women what to do, enforce your values on others. Is it a war between their vision and your vision? Are you’re going to fight for the right to live by what you hold dear?

There is a rational, upright position outside of ‘either they win or us.’ Listen to this.

Fundamentalists act like liberals when they say that they have no choice to believe their beliefs and have the right to live so. That’s radical liberalism.

A real fundamentalist doesn’t go by rights. The road to the best world goes via mutual obligations, not mutual rights.

The missing insight from ‘it’s us or them’ is that it’s time to stop finger-pointing. Every religious community (included the Atheist community) has skeletons in their closets. Things that were proclaimed in the name of your beliefs that were wrong. You have to be frank and forward about that. Real pride can only lie in acknowledging what was shameful and rejecting it. Like, seeing women as inferior, believing that some are born to be slaves.

And every belief community has nonsense in terms of traditions (ideas and actions) that are unworthy and inconsistent with major parts of what you really believe. You can’t hold that your tradition superior but also not treat dissidents with total respect and empathy, helpfulness and love.

Instead of complaining about others bothering the exercise and spread of your beliefs, take some time cleaning up your own beliefs. Your teachers were great people but they were only human and mistakes crept in.

You cannot seriously hold that G^d is love and at the same time not care about His children who want a different life from what you chose.

You cannot seriously hold that the highest good is total autonomy and at the same time not care about people whose life goes down the drain and society that dysfunctions from too much freedom. You turned freedom into an idol. You became a fundamentalist religious worshipper too.

Your problem is not them. Clean out your own house. And then you can talk about others not being OK.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (https://diethylstilbestrol.co.uk/studies/des-and-psychological-health/), born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500th blog post with the ToI. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * NEW: To see other blog posts by him, his overspill blog you can reach by clicking on the Website icon next to his picture at the head of every post. There you may find precursors to later TOI blog posts, addition or corrections of published TOI blog posts, blog posts the TOI will not carry, and some thoughts that are too short to be a TOI blog post. Also, the TOI only allows for one blog post per blogger per 24 hours. Sometimes, he has more to say than that. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
Related Topics
Related Posts
Comments