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An Israeli Orthodox Rabbi’s Challenge to the Jewish Establishment

The Problem and Future of True Halachah
Part One of four parts, by Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo.

Excerpts from Jewish Law as Rebellion: A Plea for Religious Authenticity and Halachic Courage. Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, Urim Publications, Jerusalem, New York, August 2017. {Soon to be published.]

The Problem
It is time to start thinking big about Halacha. Great opportunities are awaiting us and too much is at stake to let them pass by. For too long, Halacha has been jailed in compartmentalized and awkward boxes. It is time to liberate it.
Most religious Jews are not aware that Halacha has nearly become passé. They believe it is thriving. After all, Halacha is very “in” and there are more books on this subject than ever before. Despite this, it lacks courage. We have fallen in love with—and become overwhelmed by—an endless supply of all-encompassing but passive halachic information, which does not get processed but only recycled. We have access to a nearly infinite amount of information via the Internet, books, journals and pamphlets, providing us with all the knowledge we could ever dream of. The problem is that this easily accessible information has replaced creative thinking. It has expelled the possibility for big ideas, and we have grown scared of them. We only tolerate and admire bold ideas when they provide us with profit-making inventions—when we feel our empty pockets—but not when they dare challenge our hollow souls. We do not discuss big ideas because they are too abstract and ethereal.
Novelty is always seen as a threat. It carries with it a sense of violation; a kind of sacrilege. It asks us to think, to stretch our brains. This requires too much of an effort and doesn’t suit our most important concern: the need for instant satisfaction. We love the commonplace instead of the visionary, and therefore do not produce people who have the capacity to deliver true innovation.
It is only among some very small, secular fields that we see staggering ideas emerging (Hawking and black holes, Aumann and game theory). In the department of Halacha, with only few exceptions, we rarely find anyone who even comes close to suggesting something really new. This is all the more true within Orthodox Judaism. While in ages past, discussions within Halacha could ignite fires of debate, we are now confronted with an increasingly post-idea Halacha. Provoking ideas that would boggle our minds are no longer “in.” If anything, they are condemned as heresy. Since they cannot easily be absorbed into our self-made halachic boxes, and they don’t bring us the complacency we long for, we stick to the mainstream where we can dream our mediocre dreams and leave things as they are.

The Retreat of Creative Thinking
Most of our yeshivot have retreated from creative thinking. We encourage the narrowest specialization rather than push for daring ideas. We are producing a generation that believes its task is to tend potted plants rather than plant forests.
We offer our young people prepared experiences in which we tell them what to think instead of teaching them how to think. We rob them of the capacity to learn what thinking is really all about. The plethora of halachic works, which educate them in the minutiae of the most intricate parts of Jewish law, hardly generate the inspiration for new ideas about these laws. In fact, they stand in the way. There is no time for anyone to process all the information even if they want to. But instead of seeing this as a problem, they and their teachers have turned it into a virtue.
And that is exactly the point. We are faced with two extremes: either our youth walk out on or maintain a lukewarm relationship with Jewish observance, or they become so obsessed by its finest points that they are incapable of seeing the forest for the trees and they consequently turn into rigid religious extremists.
What we fail to realize is that this is the result of our own educational system. In both cases, young people have fallen victim to the disease of information for the sake of information.
Information is not simply to have. It is there to be converted into something much larger than itself; it is there to produce ideas that make sense of all the information gathered in order to move it forward to higher latitudes. Information is not there to be possessed, but to be comprehended.
Jewish education today is, for the most part, producing a generation of religious Jews who know more and more about Jewish observance, but think less and less about what it means. This is even truer of their teachers. Some are even Talmudic scholars, but these very scholars don’t realize that they have drowned in their vast knowledge. The more they know, the less they understand. Just as a young child may think it is an act of kindness to lift a fish out of an aquarium and “save” it, so these Rabbis may be choking their students while thinking they are providing them with spiritual oxygen. Doing so, they rewrite Halachic Judaism in ways that are totally foreign to the very ideas that it truly stands for. They are embalming Halacha while claiming it is alive, because it continues to maintain its external shape.
Fewer and fewer young religious people have proper knowledge of the great halachic arbitrators of the past. They know little of their weltanschauung. And even when they do, the ideas of these great thinkers are presented to them as information, instead of as challenges to their own thinking or as prompts to the development of their own creativity. This is a tragedy. Our current halachic, spiritual and intellectual challenges cannot be answered by simply looking backwards and giving answers that once worked, but are now outdated.
The Quest for Certainty Paralyzes the Search for Meaning
Instead of new theories, hypotheses and great ideas, we get instant answers to questions of the utmost importance, offered via a wide variety of self-help books, the authors of which seem to claim that their halachic information came directly from Sinai. Trivial, simplistic, and often incorrect information replaces significant ideas. The information is reduced to a catchline—thus too brief and unsupported by proper arguments—yet still presented as “the answer.” By delivering “perfect” answers, which fit nicely into the often underdeveloped philosophies of their authors, everything is done to crush the questioning of halachic conclusions. The quest for certainty paralyzes the search for meaning. It is uncertainty that is the very stimulus impelling man to unfold his intellectual capacity. Every idea within Halacha is multifaceted—filled with contradictions, opposing opinions, and unsolvable paradoxes. The greatness of the Talmudic Sages was that they shared with their students their own struggles and doubts and their attempts at solving them, as when Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai, Rava and Abaye debated major halachic problems; their fierce disagreements rooted in their outlook on life and how they saw Judaism.[1] Students were made privy to their teachers’ inner lives, and that made their discussions exciting. The teachers created tension in their classes, waged war with their own ideas and asked their students to fight them with knives between their teeth. They were not interested in teaching their students final halachic decisions, but instead asked them to take them apart, to deconstruct them so as to rediscover the questions. These teachers realized that not all halachic paradoxes can be solved, because life itself is full of paradoxes. They also realized that an answer is always a form of death, but a question opens the mind and inspires the heart.
It is true that this approach is not without risk, but there is no authentic life choice that is risk free. Nothing is worse than giving in to the indolence and callousness that stifles inquiry and leaves one drifting with the current. Such an approach shrinks the universe of the Halacha to a self-centered and self-satisfying ideological ghetto, robbing it of its most essential component: the constant debate about the religious meaning of life and how to live in God’s presence and move to higher levels.

The Greatest Proof of Judaism’s Decline is the Prodigiously Large Number of Like-Minded Religious Jews
Outreach programs, although well intentioned, have become institutions that, like factories, focus on mass production and believe that the more people they can draw into Jewish observance, the more successful they are. That their methods crush the minds of many newcomers who might have made a major contribution to a new and vigorous Halacha is of no importance to them. The goal is to fit them into the existing system. That their outdated theories make other independent minds abhor Judaism and Halacha is a thought they do not seem to even entertain. To them, only numbers count. How many people did we make observant? Millions of dollars are spent to create more and more of the same type of religious Jew. Like the generation of the Tower of Babel, in which the whole world was “of one language and of one speech,” we are producing a religious Jewish community of artificial conformism in which independent thought and difference of opinion is not only condemned, but its absence is considered to be the ultimate ideal. We have created a generation of yes men. We desperately need to heed what Kierkegaard said about Christianity: “The greatest proof of Christianity’s decay is the prodigiously large number of [like-minded] Christians.”[2] Insight has been replaced with clichés, flexibility with obstinacy, and spontaneity with habit. What was once one of the great pillars of Judaism—the esteemed value of spiritual, intellectual and moral dissent—has become anathema. Instead of teaching the art of audacity, we are now educating a generation of kowtowers.
There is social ostracism of any kind of healthy rebellion against the conventional. The famous Orthodox Rabbi, Eliezer Berkovits, was ignored when he argued that Halacha had become defensive; the master thinker Abraham Joshua Heschel’s understanding of Halacha is completely disregarded by Orthodoxy; Charedi yeshivot pay no attention to Rav Kook.

Jewish Law as Rebellion: A Plea for Religious Authenticity and Halachic Courage is available for pre-order on the Urim Publications website: urimpublications.com/jewish-law-as-rebellion-a-plea-for-religious-authenticity-and-halachic-courage.html

 

Notes:
[1] Eruvin 13b.
[2] M.M. Thulstrup, “Kierkegaard’s Dialectic of Imitation,” in A Kierkegaard Critique, ed. H.A. Johnson and N. Thulstrup (New York: Harper, 1962), 277.

Halachic Fundamentalism
and Intellectual Dishonesty
Part 2 of The Problem and Future of True Halacha

Excerpts from Jewish Law as Rebellion: A Plea for Religious Authenticity and Halachic Courage. Urim Publications, Jerusalem, New York, August 2017.
For part 1 see: https://www.cardozoacademy.org/thoughts-to-ponder/problem-future-true-halacha/

Above all, we see dishonest attempts to portray halachic fundamentalism as a genuinely open-minded intellectual position, while in truth it is nothing of the sort. Great visions of the past are misused and abused. Today we are seeing many people taught that they must imitate so as to belong to the religious camp. Spiritual plagiarism (a term coined by Heschel) has been adopted as the appropriate way of religious life and thought.
It is true that there are still dissidents within the world of Halacha today—and they are growing in number. There are even some yeshivot and institutions that dissent, but the great tragedy is that these places speak in a small voice, which the religious establishment is unable to hear. Instead, the establishment puts its weight behind the insipid and the trivial, and has fallen in love with the uncompromising flatness of mainstream institutions; places that yield large numbers of students and offer instant answers to people who find themselves in religious crisis.
Original halachic Jewish thinkers today fall victim to the glut of conformists. While these thinkers challenge conventional views, they remain unsupported and live lonely lives because our culture writes them off. Rather than saying yes to new halachic ideas, which we are in desperate need of, the conformists pander to the idol worship of intellectual and spiritual submission.
Most Talmudic scholars don’t realize that the authors whose ideas they teach would turn in their graves if they knew their opinions were being taught as dogmas that cannot be challenged. They wanted their ideas tested, discussed, thought through, reformulated and even rejected, with the understanding that no final conclusions have ever been reached, could be reached, or even should be reached. They realized that matters of faith should remain fluid, not static. Halacha is the practical upshot of living by unfinalized beliefs while remaining in theological suspense. Only in this way can Judaism avoid becoming paralyzed by its awe of a rigid tradition or, conversely, evaporate into a utopian reverie.[1] Parents today who are worried by their children’s lack of enthusiasm for Halachic Judaism do not realize that they themselves support a system that systematically makes such passion impossible.
The Need for Verbal Critics
What today’s Halacha desperately needs is verbal critics who could spread and energize its great message. It needs halachic Einsteins, Freuds and Pasteurs who can demonstrate its untapped possibilities and undeveloped grandeur.
The time has come to deal with the real issues and not hide behind excuses that ultimately will turn Judaism into a sham. Our thinking is behind the times, and that is something we can no longer afford. Halacha is about bold ideas discovering solutions which nobody ever thought of. Its goal is not to find the final answer, but to inspire us to honestly search for it. The study of Halacha is not only the greatest undertaking there is, but also the most dangerous, since it can so easily lead to self-satisfaction and spiritual conceit. The leashing of our souls is easier than the building of our spirit.
What we need to do is search for the Halacha as it was in its embryonic form, before it was solidified into the great halachic codifications such as Rambam’s Mishneh Torah or Rabbi Joseph Karo’s Shulchan Aruch. We must return to the great ideologies of Halacha with its many varied opinions, as found in the Talmud and other early sources, and develop the Halacha in ways that can inspire the soul and address the varied spiritual needs of modern man.
To Emulate Rembrandt
We need to emulate Rembrandt, the great Dutch painter who, unlike all other painters of his generation, used the raw material of Holland’s landscape to perceive hidden connections—linking his preternatural sensibility to a reality that he was able to transform, with great passion, into a new creation. He found himself in a state of permanent antagonism with his society, and yet he spoke to his generation and continues to speak to us because he elevated himself to the point where he could see the full dimensions that art could address, which nobody else had discovered.
Just like art, one cannot inherit Halacha and one cannot just receive the Jewish tradition. One must fight for it and earn it. To be halachically religious is to live in a state of warfare. The purpose of art is to disturb; not to produce finished works, but to stop in the middle, from exhaustion, leaving it for others to continue. So it is with Halacha. It still has scaffolding, which should remain while the building continues.
I am not advocating revisionist positions, presented just for the sake of being novel or to justify certain behavior. History has shown that such approaches do not work and often lack the genuine religious experience. We should not be overanxious to encourage innovation in cases of doubtful improvement. But the time has come to rethink Halacha, its goals and methods as it is taught in many traditional places.
A New Kind of Yeshiva
We are in need of a radically different kind of yeshiva: one in which students are confronted with serious challenges to Halacha and its weltanschauung and learn how to respond; where they become aware that it is not certainty, but doubt, that gets you an education; where it is not Rabbinic authority that reigns supreme, but religious authenticity. A yeshiva where the teachers have the courage to share their doubts with their students and show them that Judaism and Halacha teach us how to live with uncertainty, and through that uncertainty to be deeply religious people. Students need to learn that Halacha, like life, is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises (Samuel Butler). A reasonable probability is the only certainty we can have. No doubt there will be fierce arguments, but we should never forget that great controversies are also great emancipators.
Broad change is not just window dressing, and it can be painful. It is liberating and refreshing, but comes with a price. Without it, though, not only is there no future for Halacha; there is also no purpose.
To Deliberately Create an Atmosphere of Rebellion
One of the great tasks of Jewish education is to deliberately create an atmosphere of rebellion among its students. Rebellion, after all, is the great emancipator. We owe nearly all of our knowledge and achievements not to those who agreed, but to those who differed. It is this virtue that brought Judaism into existence. Avraham was the first rebel, destroying idols, and he was followed by his children, by Moshe, by the Prophets, and by the Jewish people.
What has been entirely forgotten is that the Torah and its laws was the first rebellious text to appear in world history. Its purpose was to protest. It set in motion a rebel movement of cosmic proportions, the likes of which we have never known. The text enumerates all the radical heresies of the past, present and future. It calls idol worship an abomination, immorality an abhorrence, the worship of man a catastrophe. It protests against complacency, self-satisfaction, imitation, and negation of the spirit. It calls for radical thinking and drastic action without compromise, even when it means standing alone, being condemned and ridiculed.
All of this seems to be entirely lost on our religious establishment. We are instructing our students and children to obey, to fit in, to conform and not to stand out. We teach them that their religious leaders are great people because they are “all-right-niks” who would never think of disturbing the established religious and social norms. We train them to view these leaders as the ideal to be emulated. But by doing so, we turn our backs on authentic Judaism and Halacha, and convey the very opposite of what Judaism is meant to project.
By using clichés instead of the language of opposition, we deny our students the excitement of being Jewish. It is both the excitement resulting from the realization that there is a need to revolt and take pride in it, no matter the cost, as well as the excitement at the awareness that they are part of a great mission for which they are prepared to die, knowing that it will make the world a better place because they are the real Protestants.
When we teach our children to eat kosher, we should tell them that this is an act of disobedience against a consumerism that encourages human beings to eat anything as long as it tastes good. When we go to synagogue, it is a protest against man’s arrogance in thinking that he can do it all by himself. When couples observe the laws of family purity, it is a rebellion against the obsession with sex. By celebrating Shabbat, we challenge our contemporary world that believes our happiness depends on how much we materially produce.
The Mediocrity of Religious Teaching
As long as our religious educators continue to teach Jewish texts as models of approval instead of manifestations of protest against the mediocrity of our world, we will lose more of our young people to that very mediocrity.
Halacha, in its essence, is an act of dissent, not of consent. Dissent leads to renewal. It creates loyalty. It is the force that compels the world to grow.
Jewish Law as Rebellion: A Plea for Religious Authenticity and Halachic Courage is available for pre-order on the Urim Publications website: urimpublications.com/jewish-law-as-rebellion-a-plea-for-religious-authenticity-and-halachic-courage.html

Notes:
[1] See Walter Kaufmann, Critique of Religion and Philosophy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1958), 268.
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Halacha: To Trouble the Comfortable
Part 3 of The Problem and Future of True Halacha

Excerpts from Jewish Law as Rebellion: A Plea for Religious Authenticity and Halachic Courage, Urim Publications, Jerusalem, New York, August 2017. Now available for pre-order on the Urim website.*
Part 1: https://www.cardozoacademy.org/thoughts-to-ponder/problem-future-true-halacha/ ;
Part 2: https://www.cardozoacademy.org/thoughts-to-ponder/halachic-fundamentalism-intellectual-dishonesty/

The Need for Instability
One wonders why we Jews, throughout thousands of years of our history, were never able to develop into a stable, secure nation. We had to deal with so many obstacles: being deprived of our homeland for nearly 2,000 years; experiencing difficulties living with each other; being few in number; and being the target of a constant onslaught of accusations and calls challenging our very right to exist—all unparalleled in world history. Even today, after the re-establishment of our commonwealth—the State of Israel, with its mighty power and exceptional accomplishments—we remain a nation in a constant state of uncertainty, never sure what the next day will bring, confronted with one crisis after another.
This emerges as a major paradox, considering the nation’s remarkable capacity to be constantly on the brink of extinction, yet, to not only survive, but to rejuvenate itself in a most powerful way. Historians and anthropologists are hard put to comprehend how we not only live on, but we outlive our enemies, draw the world’s attention with our achievements, and contribute to mankind in a manner that is significantly far out of proportion to our numbers.
The shifting sands on which all of Jewish history is based makes us wonder whether this paradox is not, in fact, essential to the very existence of the Jewish people.
There is one commandment and Halacha that, unlike any other in the Torah, is almost endlessly repeated. It instructs us to be concerned about the welfare of the stranger in our midst.[1] According to one opinion in the Talmud,[2] this commandment appears forty-six times in the Torah. Since no other commandment even comes close to such numerous repetitions, we must conclude that we are looking at the core of the mystery of Jews, Judaism and Halacha.
Of great importance is the fact that we are asked to look after the stranger because of our own experience in Egypt. Here we are confronted with a crucial aspect of a halachic moral imperative. The demand of what is seemingly the most important of all commandments, to care about the stranger, can only have sufficient authority when it is substantiated through the appeal to personal experience.
It indeed does not take much effort to realize that all of Jewish history is founded on strangerhood. Avraham, the initiator of Judaism, was called upon to become a stranger by leaving his home and country to find his Jewish identity. Early Jewish history relates the story of a nomad people who even after they reached their destination, the Jewish land, were compelled on numerous occasions to leave that land and live once again as foreigners. They were forced to live for hundreds of years “in a land that is not theirs,”[3] namely Egypt, and it was under those circumstances that their identity was formed. It was only sporadically that Jews actually lived in their own homeland. Even the Jewish raison d’être, the Torah, was not given “at home” but in a desert, an existential experience of “foreigner-hood.” It is as if all of the Torah’s commandments, without exception, find their meaning, justification and fulfillment only once one knows and experiences what it means to be a stranger. More recent Jewish history, of the last nearly 2,000 years, once again found Jews living as foreigners in other people’s lands.
There Can Only Be Moral Hope as Long as Man is Somehow Unsettled
What the foreigner lacks is security, a feeling of home and existential familiarity. Paradoxically, it is this deficiency that creates the climate in which man can be sensitized to the plight of his fellow men. It leads to the realization that there can be moral hope only as long as man is somehow unsettled. The human being’s quest for security will obstruct his search for meaning and purpose, while his lack of security will impel his moral powers to unfold. It is clearly this fact that underlies the ongoing repetition of the commandment to look after the stranger “because you were strangers in Egypt.”
What this means is that for a nation to maintain sensitivity and concern for “the other,” it must continue to live in some form of strangerhood. It must never be fully secure, and must constantly be aware of its own existential uncertainty. As such, the Jew is to be a stranger. Only in that way can he become a moral beam of light to the nations of the world, a mission that above anything else is the reason for his Jewishness. The Torah is a protest against humans feeling overly secure, for it is aware that the world will become a completely insecure place once people begin to feel too much at home and consequently forget their fellow man.
We Jews must live between eternal existence and insecurity, even as we reside in our own homeland.
The upheavals in recent Israeli Jewish history, which deny the Jewish people stability and security, may well be a message to return to a much greater sensitivity towards the stranger and fellow man. Jews must realize that God fashioned them into a people of archetypal foreigners, in order to enable them to live by the imperatives of the Torah. We need to understand and internalize that nearly all problems in society result from seeing “the other,” including one’s own fellow Jew, as a stranger. Most people cannot perceive what it means to be a stranger and how far it extends, unless they themselves experience it on some level. “For a crowd is not company; and faces are but a gallery of pictures; and talk but a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love.”[4] Most men are alone, surrounded by many; and man suffers his most difficult moments when by himself, standing in a crowd.
To Trouble the Comfortable
This awareness is the bedrock of Halacha. It wants Jews to be an eternal nation because this lack of definite security is the great paradox that makes a truly moral Jewish society possible. Halacha is a protest against too much familiarity with this world, because familiarity breeds contempt, causes complacency, mediocrity and a lack of authenticity. The function of Halacha is not just to comfort the troubled, but above all to trouble the comfortable (Louis Jacobs). It teaches us that something great is demanded of us, to rebel against spiritual and religious plagiarism, to never become aged and outmoded in one’s search for real life, and to warn us against the fallacy of expediency.

To be continued.
Notes:
[1] See, for example, Shemot 23:9, “Do not oppress a stranger. You know how it feels to be a stranger, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”
[2] Bava Metzia 59b. See Tamudic Encyclopedia, s.v. ona’at ha-ger and s.v. ger 6:277–278.
[3] Bereshit 15:13.
[4] Francis Bacon, The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral. (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016) 46.

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Betraying Judaism in the Name of Halacha
Part 4 of The Problem and Future of True Halacha
Excerpts from Jewish Law as Rebellion: A Plea for Religious Authenticity and Halachic Courage, Urim Publications, Jerusalem, New York, August 2017. Now available for pre-order on the Urim website.*
Part 1: https://www.cardozoacademy.org/thoughts-to-ponder/problem-future-true-halacha/;
Part 2: https://www.cardozoacademy.org/thoughts-to-ponder/halachic-fundamentalism-intellectual-dishonesty/
Part 3: https://www.cardozoacademy.org/thoughts-to-ponder/halacha-trouble-comfortable/

Boredom
Psychologists tell us that one of man’s greatest enemies today is boredom. Sometimes, when reading a paper or popular journal, watching television or a DVD, using an MP3 or iPod, or just listening to the old-fashioned radio, we are confronted with the most absurd manifestations of dullness and apathy. Believe it or not, there are people who spend their time rolling around Europe in a barrel, and couples who dance the salsa for hours upon hours in order to break a record. Others seek entry into the Guinness World Records by developing the stunning art of eating more ice cream than any human since the days of prehistoric man.
What is boredom? It is a disorder that has stricken our modern world as a result of our wishes being too easily and too quickly satisfied. Once the urge has been fulfilled, we immediately feel the pressure of new urges because we cannot live without them. We are like deep-sea fish. We thrive on atmospheric pressure, and without it we are lost. Since Western man is easily able to satisfy most of his wishes, he begins to look for absurd pursuits to satiate his urges.
Our Sages make a very interesting point when they say a man’s character can be uncovered in three different ways: be-kiso, be-koso, uve-ka’aso—by his pocket; is he a miser or a spendthrift? By his cup; how does he hold alcoholic intake? And by his temper; how does he control himself when provoked? But according to one of the Sages, there is a fourth test: af besachako—also by how he plays, i.e., how he spends his free time.[1] One of the great blessings of our day is that more and more young people are starting to realize that there is more to life than parties and clubs. Many of them are showing a keen interest in matters of the spirit. Lectures on religion and philosophy in famous universities and other places of learning are becoming more and more popular. Young people are looking for existential meaning and a high-quality spiritual mission. It is here that Halacha has to tap in and show that it is able to dare to respond to this challenge. By showing that it has a wealth of different ideas, and even opposing rulings, it is able to fascinate many young people who live and love pluralism. Just like poetry, Halacha must become an expression of excited passion, and it can only do so by causing continuous earthquakes accompanied by eternal fever, which will throw young people off their feet in total surprise.
Jewish Self Discovery
In Israel, we see a large number of secular young men and women interested in studying Talmud, Halacha, Midrash, and Jewish Philosophy in their attempt to understand what it means to be a Jew and what Judaism has to offer the world.
Most interesting is the fact that young people are finding their way back to Judaism in rather unconventional ways. Official outreach programs are losing their grip on Israeli society. They are replaced by a new phenomenon: Jewish self-discovery. It is not uncommon to see young bareheaded men with long hair, earrings and tzitzit;[2] others eating kosher, but never entering a synagogue; young women lighting candles on Friday afternoon without observing Shabbat, praying with great fervor and going off to a dance party. There are even committed atheists who will enthusiastically join prayer events. And women, whose dress code perhaps leaves much to be desired, sincerely kissing mezuzot before entering a shopping mall or gym.
Surely not all of this is a sign of maturity—no doubt in certain cases it is superstition; still, what we observe is people searching for a sense of authenticity.
No to Religious Plagiarism
It is an aversion to religious plagiarism that keeps these people out of mainstream Judaism and the conventional Halacha. By paving their own way, they develop a fresh approach to what Judaism is really all about—being open to new adventures. They are keenly aware that one cannot passively inherit Judaism and its vital companion, Halacha; they realize that one needs to discover it on one’s own.
Spiritually, nothing can be worse than trying to fit these people into mainstream Judaism and conventional Halacha. The religious establishment could make no greater mistake than to interfere in this development and start giving advice. All it can do is be there to help when asked. By trying to force its views on these people, it will uproot the seeds that have been carefully planted.
What the religious establishment needs to realize is that Halacha itself has generally fallen victim to boredom. Rituals and prayers are often mechanical and do not touch the soul. Today, show and ceremony must be minimized in Judaism. Ceremonies are for the eye, but Judaism is an appeal to the spirit. The only Biblically required ceremony in today’s synagogue service is the blessings of the priests, and even then the congregation is asked to close its eyes![3] In Biblical days the Halacha was astir while the world was sleeping. Today the world is astir while the Halacha is sleeping. (Heschel)  Only when it wakes up and starts to challenge our society with novel ideas and rulings will it once more be the vital mover of Jewish life. It must be prepared to look inward, challenge its own verdicts and once again understand that its main function is to protest and rebel.
We are in desperate need of bold ideas that will place the Halacha in the center of our lives and make us receptive to God’s presence through a daring new encounter with Him. Let it be heroic. Not staid and comfortable, but painful and hard-won; a deep breath in the midst of the ongoing conflict ever-present in the heart of humankind.To forget this is to betray Judaism.
1

Notes:
[1] Eruvin 65b.
[2] Ritual fringes knotted on each corner of a four-cornered garment, which religious Jews wear under their shirts as a remembrance of God and His commandments. See Bamidbar 15:37–41.
[3] Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man’s Quest for God, quoted in Samuel H. Dresner, I Asked for Wonder (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1983), 87.

Questions to Ponder from the DCA Think Tank
1) R. Cardozo describes the crisis of halacha as a contemporary phenomenon, yet his proposed remedy is to return to halacha’s embryonic phase before it was codified in the Mishneh Torah and the Shulchan Arukh, namely the Talmud. So, is the “embalming” of halacha a contemporary phenomenon or is it a very old one?
2) A traditional view has it that freedom of thought and diversity of opinion is legitimate within the realm of agadah but halacha requires uniformity. What is the reason for demanding uniformity in halachic practice? Is it driven by a pragmatic need to maintain social cohesion within the community? If so, is that need as strong today as it was in former times, or is it perhaps even stronger?
We live in pluralistic times. Does that mean we are better equipped to maintain social cohesion while accepting greater diversity of halachic practice?
3) A traditional view has it that halacha is something that is transmitted unchanged, and in an objective manner, from generation to generation – from Sinai, via the Talmud, to the present day. Does R. Cardozo’s call for novelty and creativity contradict this traditional view? Can the two views be squared?
Can it be said that what is unchanging are the deep, underlying values that inspire halacha while the detailed rules adapt to meet the needs of each generation? Is there precedent for such an approach in the halachic literature or is such an approach itself an innovation?
4) A traditional view has it that halachic developments, to the extent they occur, are a result of poskim (halachic decisors) responding to the needs of the age – in other words a “top down” model of change. On the other hand, Rav Kook writes of periods in which religious leadership becomes stultified and religious revival comes about through the rebellious behaviour of the people.  Do you think the halachic innovation that R. Cardozo calls for in his extended essay will come about through a “top down” or a “bottom up” process? That is to say, to what extent do you think the contemporary rabbinic establishment is capable of initiating such changes; and to what extent do you think change will come about through grass roots initiatives (that may eventually receive retrospective rabbinic confirmation)?

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