ואף על פי כן, נוע תנוע
Thursday, last week, was a very, very painful day for me.
The morning began with an article from Rav Shmuel Eliyahu from the week’s issue of ‘Olam Katan’, a Dati Leumi newsletter which goes around many shuls. In far more eloquent words, the piece said that the proper reaction to the horrifying Earthquake which struck Turkiye and Syria this week, was to be grateful to God for delivering us from our enemies and for paying them back. All in all, a call to castrate empathy and ignore our human noble sentiments. Alright, it’s 9 a.m.
By 11, I had seen an SMS responsa from Rav Aviner which said the HPV vaccine is not necessary because (among four other answers he gave) HPV comes from forbidden promiscuity. All in all, medicine no, sexual ethic yes. A Puritan, nearly hole in a sheet ethic, wherein sacred sex is safe, while all other is impure and disease ridden. I’ll let you in on a little secret; when the kids find out that things aren’t the way you tell them they are, they doubt everything else you tell them. For a very long time. But we’ll leave that be for a bit.
All this at a time when reports were coming out that Shas was trying to push bills to jail people for non-Orthodox practice at the Kotel. A statement to the contrary was then released, but parties do things like this when they want to make the public lose confidence in standard media. Given their druthers I’m sure Deri and his cronies would do exactly that.
The question begs to be asked of what is the place of Jewish religion in the Jewish state; the two are separate matters, as much as some try to group them together. But the larger question is: if this is the spirit of the Dati Leumi, why am I so sure I’ve got it right, and that they’re the crazies, not me?
Trust me; I doubt myself every day. Maybe my thoughts belong to some other movement, and not Judaism. I’ve been told that, by quite a few people. People tell me I’ve been influenced too much by secular and leftist culture, and that I’m trying too hard to please the left leaning crowd. They tell me perhaps I’m reacting negatively to my experience in yeshiva. Or maybe, as I am often told, “You don’t really think that; deep inside you think something else, you just don’t say it”. To answer people in response to most of these, I quote Leibowitz, who said that a person can’t think what they don’t think. It’s quite intuitive, except that it’s not.
It’s not intuitive, because most religious people believe in a soul. That soul reaches for other things, and yearns for something high and exalted. And if the soul dwells within an animalistic body, the assumption is that a Godly soul wishes it could have something else. Which means that the only force which causes someone to violate the will of God is their body, or a lower level of soul; deep inside, a person’s soul wishes it could have kept the will of God the whole time. What concerns the soul is not what is good for the body or bad for it; it is concerned with what is permitted or forbidden.
This is a narrative which is taught to many people. It exists. I’m not denying that. It is also a common, widespread narrative, supported by many of the works of Jewish thinking and literature. The body is a cage for the soul, and it commits sins against the will and wishes of God; the soul only wants to serve God. There is no problem with this narrative in many senses because it encourages us to think of people who don’t follow Halakha or the Will of God in a bit more positive manner; they are, at their core, “good people”. Well, that bit bothers me. I don’t think a good person is defined by whether they keep Halakha or not. But often that is how these things are described, so let’s stay with it for a bit.
The second this starts impacting public discourse, however, it becomes dangerous. Of course the souls of all these people who do not keep Shabbat wish they were; as such, that is the true will of the people, and the government should impose it upon them, as Rousseau would have said about democratic representation. As such, most of the people truly don’t want public transit on Shabbat, or a decentralized rabbinate for marriage and divorce, and many other things. They only want what Hashem wants, and whatever Hashem wants will become law. The soul only worries what Hashem thinks is OK, and therefore, it is not a concern to me to think about the reasons; I will simply look to see where HPV comes from. The soul only worries about what it should do for and regarding God; human morals and pity are, as such, a secondary thing. And therefore just speaking the words of the soul is perfectly fine, it’s what your soul is thinking anyway.
But as Liebowitz said, You cannot think what you aren’t thinking. And I am not thinking any of that. And if I am not aware of these desires of my soul, I won’t let them influence the way I look at, speak to, or act on behalf of, others. Until my soul speaks clearly, which I can’t hear in the same way that I can’t hear God Himself clearly, I will act according to my conscience and allow the whisper in through that. And the whisper tells me that God did not demand any of this. I can’t know, I can only guess. Just like anyone else. And would that people had the humility to admit that.
As strong as our faith may be, faith, prophecy, and God Himself, are theories. Humans and their lives are concrete facts. STIs are facts. The existence of alternative spiritualities and modesty standards among the Jewish community is a fact. God is a theory whereby I live my life, but His Name and His Cause will not be the reason that I will limit the facts in the life of another, or allow me to try and silence some kind of empathy towards another.
האלוהים בשמיים ואתה על הארץ על כן יהיו דבריך מעטים.