Upon discussing the issues of my last blog with an esteemed Orthodox Rabbi, and specifically what I mean by “Post-Rabbinic” Judaism, the question came up – am I trying to start a new “sect” of Judaism?
No – I am not. God forbid such a thing should happen. We have enough “movements” in Judaism. In my last blog I vented my frustrations with Orthodox Judaism. Now it’s time to go after the rest of ’em.
Yes, I have problems with Orthodox Judaism as it is practised by the majority of its adherents today. But. It is still better than the rest of Jewish “movements,” as it is the only one honestly attempting to follow the Torah according to the Torah’s own rules. Every other “movement” in Judaism adapted the Torah to its own needs, just as the Christians and Muslim did when then attempted to take the Torah for themselves. The early Reform and Conservative Rabbis made their bold statements and started their movements by twisting the Torah to match the ideals of their own times.
The very concept of “different” Judaisms is in and of itself antithetical to Torah. To be overly dramatic (as is my way) I will go so far as to say it is a sin to call yourself an Orthodox Jew, a Conservative Jew, a Reform Jew etc ad nauseam. The Jewish People are One. What one could do (without being a sinner ; ) is to say… “I play for the Conservative movement” much as a baseball player might say, I play for the Mets. There is only one Major League Baseball Association, it would be stupid for a player on the Mets to think the Mets are the only team in the league. (Only the Yankees are allowed to do that). But it is of course legitimate, and even important, to know what team your are on. There have always been different streams of practise within Judaism, it goes back to our earliest history. In fact, each of the 12 Tribes of Israel had a unique flag, colour, spirit animal, etc. They were different “teams.” But just as all the teams in baseball must follow the same rules, so too, every legitimate stream of Torah observance must sincerely and honestly do its very best to follow the Torah.
Again, the Jewish People are One. At some level, there is no such thing as “Orthodox/Conservative/Reform/Reconstructionist/Renewal/Bu-Ju/Bundist Jew etc. There is simply the Jew. What defines “the Jew?” Well, according to the Halacha, it is quite simple. There is a covenant mentioned in the Torah and reaffirmed with additional power two times. It is the binding agreement – the contract – quite literally – between God and the Jews. If an individual today converts to Judaism, it means they have signed on to that contract. The contract cannot be changed, annulled, or revoked. It was signed in blood, and is Eternal. But it can be ignored. The consequences and penalties for ignoring the contract are severe. Our People have suffered much because we willfully ignored the contract, many times. But the only thing, the only real thing, that defines a Jew which is not subjective, is this covenant, this contract.
So. Again. There really is no such thing as “types” of Judaism. There is only the way we as communities interpret said contract – ie – what is our understanding of Torah – within which it is perfectly legitimate to have informed opinions that differ. For example – in the middle ages, while Rambam (Maimonides) and those that followed him may have had one interpretation of what a “public domain” on Shabbat is, Rashi and those that followed him had a radically different interpretation. And yet both are legitimate. In the Talmud, this is referred to as “These and these are (both) the words of the Living God.” It is interesting that the Sages refer to Hashem as the “Living God” in this context. The reason is obvious, life is organic. It is natural that different climates and circumstances will cause growing things to grow in different ways. So too communities that observe Torah. Where they live, what they have to deal with, is going to impact how they live Torah. But the spiritual “genetics” are still the same between the different communities, they are all Jews.
The example of defining a public domain on Shabbat is of course an example of a single detail within one Halacha…. what about more radical differences? When we look into the history of Jewish practise, we find sometimes huge divides between approaches and philosophies. Furthermore, if we look at Biblical times, even back to the earliest formation of the 12 tribes at the beginning of Bamidbar (Numbers), we find that how each tribe implemented Torah was given to the authority of each tribes individual set of scholars, judges and leaders. Much as the Constitution of the United States gives individual States the right to have legislators and courts. There is Federal law, and there is State law. The latter does not supersede the former, but rather interprets and applies the law locally according to the needs and desires of the people of that State. In some states abortion and marijuana are legal, and in some not. But all states must follow the Constitution, as they are bound by it, being one of the 50 states of the Union.
So too in Judaism, the power of the local community to interpret Torah is absolutely vital – but it never has the power to replace the essential “constitution,” the Torah itself. To be organic and respond to the individual communities needs, the leaders of said community must interpret the Torah as the people need, but must always remain true to the essential contract of the Torah.
So to sum up – the concept of “Post-Rabbincal” Judaism is not a new “movement.” It is simply the call to move past the Judaism/Torah which was created by the Sages of the Talmud to survive the Exile. As the majority of world Jewry now lives in Israel, the Exile is not our place anymore. We are home. It’s time to act like it.