Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ki Mitzion Tetzei Torah

Years ago I stopped iterating the familiar, chanted prayer “ki mitzion tetzei torah”, having considered the weightiness of these words, in light of the current, uninspiring and derisive “torah” coming forth from Zion, the seat of the chief rabbinate. To the people of Israel, Am Yisrael, torah means different things to different people: Torat Kohanim, Torat Hamelech, Torat Korbanot, Torat Hateva, and Torat Imeinu, are but a few of the permutations of torah and its teachings. What most people, however would agree upon is that torah was never intended to be divisive, derisive, exclusive and encouraging prejudicial treatment of a minority seeking equality and inclusion under Torat Am Yisrael. Certainly, Isaiah’s intent when he uttered these words was that a strong moral and ethical message must go forth from Zion; not one laden with the politics of hate.

Over the decades and from the inception of statehood, Torat Am Yisrael has contributed enormously to the welfare of its citizens, placing them at the center of any social and welfare considerations. In many ways Isaiah would be proud of Israel’s accomplishments in the arts, sciences and humanities because of the manner in which these accomplishments have uplifted the human condition and spirit. However Torat Hashem that has been charged to the rabbinic leadership of Am Yisrael leaves much to be desired and if anything has sunk rather than uplifted the human spirit that Isaiah spoke of.

Recently the chief rabbi of Israel, Yonah Metzger (Ashkenazi) criticized the police for questioning Rabbis Yaakov Yosef and Dov Lior regarding their endorsement of the controversial book The Torah of the King. The book deals with the putative halachic position of killing non-Jews during wartime and the author of this inflammatory volume, Rabbi Yitzchak Shapiro is under police investigation for the incendiary content contained in this alleged metaphysically uplifting contribution to Jewish spirituality. Rabbi Metzger defended Shapiro claiming that the same standards, which apply to professors, protected by freedom of expression, ought to be applied to rabbis as well. Apparently, rabbi Metzger’s logic has been corrupted by the pilpulism shared by his acolytes, which graphically demonstrates the widening gap between the academic community and the medieval world he sojourns.

Academia is based not on the regurgitation of text and commentaries punctuated by inane interpretation, but on fundamental original research and thinking by which new ideas are germinated, tested and evaluated for their merit by scholars trained in critical thinking. Not every idea and theory has merit, but it is through consistent methodology, critical thinking and bold experimentation that have generated progress in the way we treat the human being and the world we live in. Haredi and ultra orthodox rabbis on the other hand, locked into medieval theological and halachic positions, have not the room or training to maneuver; intellectually smothered and rendered comatose very early in their development. It is for this reason that Rabbi Nosson Slifkin’s (haredi rabbi) theories and teachings about evolution were beaten back, his books banned, abused emotionally and verbally, as well as being victimized by character assassination in 2005. Original thought within the haredi/ultra orthodox community isn’t tolerated and so mired in anachronism that they can’t manage to move the furniture around in the room, much less replace it.
Rabbi Metzger knows as well as everyone else that the Shapiro book The Torah and the King is incitement to kill non-Jews in time of war. In the Haredi/ultra orthodox world there is a perpetual war raging against Amalek as currently personified by the Muslims. It was this type of incitement that got Yitzchak Rabin assassinated. By that standard, any academic that would incite to kill would be under a similar investigation.

There is no double standard, as Rabbi Shapiro would have us believe. What we do have is a colossal failure of the haredi/ultra orthodox community to study, analyze and critique text in a manner that would reflect intellectual honesty elevating all of us. Rather than ban Rabbi Slifkin’s books on evolution, (incorporating his teachings into the haredi/ultra orthodox curriculum which would have catapulted forward the haredi world into the modern age), they should be banning Rabbi Shapiro’s book, a throwback to the medieval period. By not doing so they have opted to remain suspended in the Middle Ages - the dark ages.