Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Some Good Brisk Politics

After publishing my first online post, I literally "posted" the paper on HaKotel's message board. A verbal battle ensued, as attackers pinned their ideas onto my original article, and defenders penned their ideas onto the growing stack of paper. One comment raised the point that Judaism does in fact include a political vision, thus defining one's rabbinate as a legitimate- if not sole- political source to follow. The following is my defense against an idea that runs much deeper than Amona . . .

I am not a gadol, I have never received s'micha, nor am I considered a talmid chacham. However, as a highly qualified am ha'aretz I still enjoy vocalizing my opinion. Anybody (I can hear the Shanah Bet's lickin' their lips) with more Torah background ought to have a field day with what I write. Ok, let's see what you've got:

Political decisions do in fact have a major Halakhic component. After all, Judaism does advocate a theocratic government, and our American bred obsession for democracy will be one of many sacrifices reduced to ash on the messianic altar.
As pointed out on the message board, yishuv eretz yisrael is likewise not just another mitzvat shmirat n'giah to break when convenient. Without doubt, there is a treasure trove of similar concepts to further prove this point. However, it is not to my person, my place, or my style to offer up more examples. Rather, I am going to skip that bekiut seder for a much more important lesson in iyun; the scope of religious interaction in the political realm must be defined, and an important hiluk is in order.

Every statement of Halakha- responding both to the theoretical case or the practical sheilah- contains two parts: a situation and a decision. Before a psak-decision can be handed down, the situation must be described in accurate and specific terms. It's no great surprise that a misrepresentation of the situation can lead to a faulty psak.
I recall the controversy in Los Angeles but a year ago, when a well-known American posek allowed Listerine mint strips on Yom Kippur; somehow the Rav received a completely inaccurate description of the strips, and only after the fast did all parties realize their mistake.

This, of course, is common sense- yet we blur the lines so quickly when it comes to political sheilot. Obvious: if the disengagement will only increase the terrorist murder of Jews while stunting the growth of emunah and religious commitment, its as assur many pretend it to be; but, if it births an authentic, long-lasting peace that ultimately lends to the flourishing of the Jewish people, it was not only mutar but a hi'uv.

So how can we possibly state our "Halakhic" question? "Assuming my personal political forecast, based largely on the newspapers I read and the social circle I was born into, are in fact accurate depictions of heatedly debated international issues, then is it assur to. . ." Even asking the sheilah assumes the Rav is either a navi or a reliable, well-tested political expert - two roles the rabbinate has yet to master.

Which brings us to the uncomfortable warning label this hiluk sticks on our most proudly held beliefs:
"Caution: your entire 'religious' outlook is based upon a few social assumptions!"
If Western culture really has nothing to lend Judaism outside higher assimilation rates and fading levels of commitment, our Haredi brethen are- oy veh- actually right. If our worship of Zionist symbols distracts us from the real importance of Eretz Yisrael, once again, we've been fooled. Most every religiously backed belief, is in fact, merely a function of world perspective.

But fear not! This does not limit or restrict our ability to form opinions within the Jewish community, adaraba, our ideas have been redeemed from the prison of religious thought. You know those cutie-tutie things R. Elon talks about, like "ahavat hinam" or "ahdut bein achim?" Removing the holy-war tension between the Left and the Settlers mends a tragic socialogical rift . . . even as the political debate continues! Ridding ourselves of the "holier than though" rhetoric makes us recognize the beauty and sincerity in both sides of the Haredi versus Modern Orthodox dispute.

Nothing I said leads to a fatalistic sense of halakhic relativism- "I can't ever establish a completely legitimate world outlook and therefore everything is wrong and right and unclear." All the excitement, energy, and stubborn will that Jews drive into political arguments should be just that- passionate but political, without a hint of religious taint. Go ahead and yell and scream and write and argue and reason your ideas- but don't pretend to spout G-d's holy message. You never know if you're actually portraying Him correctly, and He may not be so thrilled if you've gotten it wrong.

9 comments:

Ezzie said...

Hey Ben! :)

Lots to say, but since I haven't seen HaKotel's message boards... I'm only going to take issue with the last part.

All the excitement, energy, and stubborn will that Jews drive into political arguments should be just that- passionate but political, without a hint of religious taint. Go ahead and yell and scream and write and argue and reason your ideas- but don't pretend to spout G-d's holy message. You never know if you're actually portraying Him correctly, and He may not be so thrilled if you've gotten it wrong.

Yes and no. You sound as if you are saying religion plays no role in politics, and should not have anything to do with one's political views and message. But that misses the point: For a religious person, their religion plays an integral role in forming their political point of view, and it should be spoken, much as you say in the beginning.

Of course, they may be wrong, and they should take as much care as possible to determine whether their beliefs have basis and are correct. Your strongest comment was "if the disengagement will only increase the terrorist murder of Jews while stunting the growth of emunah and religious commitment, its as assur many pretend it to be; but, if it births an authentic, long-lasting peace that ultimately lends to the flourishing of the Jewish people, it was not only mutar but a hi'uv."

Using this example... [I would think] most people against the disengagement believe one of two things: Either that it's not mutar or a chiyuv, even if the peace would come; or, more commonly, that this will not bring peace. In either one of those cases, your example no longer holds water. It's not that they have blinded themselves from the opposing point of view by not being 'me'ayen' into it properly; rather, they have, and they have rejected its conclusions.

Overall, though, a very good post. :)

charliehall said...

Thank you for the interesting posts. Allow this am haaretz in the galut to share these thoughts:

I didn't think the disengagement was a good idea, but then I'm neither a halachic expert nor a security expert. And I don't live in Eretz Yisrael so I don't have to live with the consequences. So from the beginning I was hesitant to speak out on the matter.

Then came the demonstrations, the invective, the lashan hara, the motzi shem ra -- often directed towards other religious Jews, even very prominent rabbis! Was this really the way of Torah?

Tzarich Iyun said...

"Using this example... [I would think] most people against the disengagement believe one of two things: Either that it's not mutar or a chiyuv, even if the peace would come; or, more commonly, that this will not bring peace. In either one of those cases, your example no longer holds water."

Two points that want only to be clarified:

I did in fact ignore your first "option." Such a halakhic opinion, although voiced, is in the minority- and definetly not nearly as recognized to legitimize any sort of "GOD ON OUR SIDE" rhetoric.

The second option- that many base their "religious" beliefs on much less divine political assumption about the possibility of peace-is the essence of the my argument. I agree, many people do it. And its bad. Very bad.

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