Monday, November 23, 2009

Why No One Should Act Holier Than Thou

I was learning a little bit of Sotah and I wanted to share the following Gemorah and my thoughts on it. Footnotes for explanations are found at the bottom as well as a link to the original site where the translation is from.

In the Gemorah on 22b it quotes the mishna and discusses the following idea (Soncino Translation):

AND THE PLAGUE OF PHARISEES etc. Our Rabbis have taught: There are seven types of Pharisees: the shikmi Pharisee, the nikpi Pharisee, the kizai Pharisee, the 'pestle' Pharisee, the Pharisee [who constantly exclaims] 'What is my duty that I may perform it?', the Pharisee from love [of God] and the Pharisee from fear. The shikmi Pharisee — he is one who performs the action of Shechem.4 The nikpi Pharisee — he is one who knocks his feet together.5 The kizai Pharisee — R. Nahman b. Isaac said: He is one who makes his blood to flow against walls.6 The 'pestle' Pharisee — Rabbah b. Shila said: [His head] is bowed like [a pestle in] a mortar. The Pharisee [who constantly exclaims] 'What is my duty that I may perform it?' — but that is a virtue! — Nay, what he says is, 'What further duty is for me that I may perform it?'7 The Pharisee from love and the Pharisee from fear — Abaye and Raba said to the tanna [who was reciting this passage], Do not mention 'the Pharisee from love8 and the Pharisee from fear'; for Rab Judah has said in the name of Rab: A man should always engage himself in Torah and the commandments even though it be not for their own sake,9 because from [engaging in them] not for their own sake, he will come [to engage in them] for their own sake. R. Nahman b. Isaac said: What is hidden is hidden, and what is revealed is revealed; the Great Tribunal will exact punishment from those who rub themselves against the walls.10 King Jannai11 said to his wife', 'Fear not the Pharisees and the non-Pharisees but the hypocrites who ape the Pharisees; because their deeds are the deeds of Zimri12 but they expect a reward like Phineas'.13

The main point of this Gemorah is to show religious Jews how important it is to not act holier than thou. All of these different types of Pharisees represent character traits that were found among the Jews in the second temple period and how they represent false righteousness. It was because of these haughty attitudes that King Jannai told his wife to watch out for the Pharisees. At the end of his life, before his wife took over in his stead, King Jannai realized that there were some righteous Pharisees and not all were fakers. However, the hypocrites that existed among the Pharisees ruined all of their standings among the King. This was so unfortunate because it led to the King and the Pharisees constantly quarreling. The Pharisees represented the Jews that believed in the oral law and the reason they were shunned was because of these ridiculous impostors that were accepted among them.

The story that points out how some of the Pharisees acted foolishly because of their phony righteousness is found in Kedushin 66a. Yehuda Ben Gedidya, one of the Pharisees, had to insult the king. He claimed that the King was not allowed to be the Kohen Gadol. However, this was completely based on Motzei Shame Ra (false gossip). It was because he was trying to be overly righteous, like the Gemorah states here in Sotah that some of the Pharisees act overly righteous, he ruined the relationship between the king and the Pharisees. Not only did he ruin that relationship, but King Jannai ended up killing many Rabbis because of his newfound distrust of the Pharisees due to the statements made by Yehuda Ben Gedidya.

I think there is a very valuable lesson for us to learn nowadays from this story. There are many religious Jews that live their lives according to halacha and are not hypocrites. However, for all of their good deeds they allow the hypocrites and the wicked people to prosper among them without any type of confrontation. This was the same attitude of the Pharisees back in the day and it led to much tension with the king. Had they stood up to the hypocrites then who knows what would have happened in the second temple era. Unfortunately, they allowed these foolish people to prosper and continue on with their detrimental actions.

I hope we can all take a lesson from these Gemorahs and learn from them. No longer can we stand by and allow hypocrisy within our nation. People are always looking for the way to be more frum than the next guy. This is a complete sham and it is a disgrace to our religion. We need to realize that truth is more important than these false ideals.

The main thing I speak of now is the acceptance of other people's halachas. What do I mean by this? Well, if you have not noticed, for some reason a lot of people think that Rav Elyashiv has the last word on halachic matters, or other people that they consider "Gedolim." This is the most outlandish thing I have ever heard. Without a Sanhedrin, there is no unified halacha, there is no vote on the halacha and there is no consensus that is reached on halacha. As the Mishna in avos points out, Asseh Licha Rav, make for yourself a Rabbi. This is very telling of how we are supposed to live. Find a Rabbi that is learned in halacha and follow his psak. That is how every orthodox Jew should live their life. Whether it be ultra orthodox or modern orthodox, that is what being orthodox means, following your Rabbi's halachic psak. However, some people think that means that everyone has to follow the person that they consider to be a "Gadol." The most ridiculous thing I have seen is that people think it is absolutely crucial to not just follow one "Gadol" but every single "Gadol." What is really absurd about this is that the "Gedolim" often contradict one another. The type of person that tries to follow everyones halacha instead of making a Rabbi for himself is missing the boat and is someone who would be considered overly righteous. That is a HUGE problem.

This is what I think was the problem with Yehuda Ben Gedidya, he was overly righteous. This brings me to the Meiri. The Meiri says on Sotah 21, "Everyone who is overly righteous is someone who is removed from the world. Someone who is overly righteous is a person that his righteousness causes damage to himself or to others. For example, he fasts all the time, or if he sees a woman drowning will not save her because he does not want to look at her inappropriately or touch her(or come close to an Ervah)."

This Meiri points out exactly what Yehuda Ben Gedidya did. He did not want someone who he thought might have possibly been unkosher for the Kehuna to be the Kohein Gadol, even thought halachicly the King was fine to be the Kohein Gadol. Yehuda forgot one important fact, he based his opinion on false gossip. First off, not only was what he did against he Torah, but also listening to the false gossip was against the Torah. Secondly, even if it were true, it was a rumor without witnesses. A rumor without witnesses caused him to risk the Kings anger? It caused him to put all of his Pharisee brethren in harms way? He ended up causing hundreds upon thousands of Pharisees to die because of his holier than thou attitude!

The message is clear, do not act holier than thou and look down on others. This is a dangerous attitude and is clearly against the Torah. G-D wants us to help each other and unite in order to bring Moshiach. If we just point and say you are not holy enough because you only follow Rav so and so, but I follow 25 different Rabbis. That will bring our destruction, not our savior.

This is not to say that a Rabbi that does not follow halacha is appropriate. However, even if a Rabbi relies on a mesorah that is not in the majority, that does not mean he is unorthodox. If someone wants to follow the Nodah Beyehuda, even though all other achronim disagree, that is a Rabbi's choice. Again, without a Sanhedrin to vote and decide no one can say that another Rabbis decisions that are based on the Gemorah, rishonim and achronim is unworthy.

This brings me to the whole banning of Rav Nosson Slifkin's books. Why were they banned? One of the reasons was because someone thought the world was not older than 5770(see note 14 below) and that evolution was against the Torah. That is my point exactly, many Rabbis say that evolution is not against the Torah, as long as you believe that G-D is the one who guided evolution then there is no contradiction. Also, many Rabbis, since before the Gemorah was written believed that the world was older than 5770. True, there are some that believe the world is only 5770, but it is in no way against the Torah to believe it is older. Also, the scientific approach has been embraced by Rabbis of the past, to declare that it is against the Torah is to deny the truth.

In the end of the day one of the reasons for the ban on Rav Slifkin's books is the attitude of holier than thou. This is the exact problem that the Gemorah is dealing with. Unfortunately, we as a nation have not yet learned that the holier than thou bit destroys us as a people instead of bringing us together. Not only that, but it makes outsiders look at us as a ridiculous people, which delegitimizes us. This is why the Mishna says that these types of Pharisees bring destruction to the world, because they destroy the Jewish people and their reputation.

  1. Tosaphoth explains this to mean after forty years of study. It may, however, be connected with the statement in Ab. V, 24, At forty for understanding.
  2. He died at the age of forty; v. R. H. 18a.
  3. Since they were not his superiors in learning, he decided questions although less than the requisite age. [Tosaf. s.v. [H] explains that Rabbah surpassed all other scholars in his town, and the restriction applies only where there are others equal in learning to the young scholar. For further notes on the passage, v. A.Z. (Sonc. ed.) p. 101.]
  4. Who was circumcised from an unworthy motive (Gen. XXXIV). The J. Talmud (Ber. 14b) explains: who carries his religious duties upon his shoulder (shekem), i.e., ostentatiously.
  5. He walks with exaggerated humility. According to the J. Talmud: He says: Spare me a moment that I may perform a commandment.
  6. In his anxiety to avoid looking upon a woman he dashes his face against the wall. The J. Talmud explains: calculating Pharisee, i.e., he performs a good deed and then a bad deed, setting one off against the other.
  7. As though he had fulfilled every obligation.
  8. [Abaye and Raba understood 'love' and 'fear' to denote love of the rewards promised for the fulfilment of precepts and fear of punishment for transgressing them. In J. Ber., however, they are both taken in reference to God — i.e., love of God and fear of Him.]
  9. From pure and disinterested motives.
  10. In simulated humility. Others render: who wrap themselves in their cloaks. The meaning is that hypocrisy is of no avail against the Judge Who reads the heart.
  11. Alexander Jannaeus. For his advice, given on his death-bed to his wife Salome, v. Josephus, Ant. XIII, XV, 5.
  12. Num. XXV, 14.
  13. Ibid. 11ff. [He probably had in mind the treacherous act by a group of Zealots — not Pharisees — in resisting foreign assistance — Demetrius Eucerus, King of Syria — in their struggle with Alexander Jannaeus. Josephus, op. cit. XIII, 13, 5. V. Klausner, [H] 11, 128.
  14. The Brooklyn-based Rabbi Yitzchok Sheiner wrote a letter in Hebrew confirming that Slifkin’s books were “hair-raising to read…. He believes that the world is millions of years old—all nonsense!—and many other things that should not be heard and certainly not believed.”

Translation and footnotes of the Gemorah found on this site:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ideology and Reality

There are often huge divides between what something is ideally supposed to be and in reality what it ends up being. The divide that I want to discuss is that which exists in modern orthodoxy. How did the ideology depart from reality in such a severe way?

In the ideology behind modern orthodoxy a Jew is supposed to follow their Rabbi's judgement, like Jews have been doing for thousands of years. The greatest source of these halachic dicisions are based on the Rama and Shulchan Orech. However, in reality modern orthodoxy is usually described by people to be a lower level of observancy. The women are described as wearing pants, not covering their hair and just having a lower level of modesty than their ultra orthodox counterparts. The men are considered to be unlearned and less observant.

First off, I think these generalizations are incorrect. There may be people that associate with modern orthodoxy that do not follow strict halachic guidelines, but this is analagous to there being people that associate with Charaidi Judaism that cheat and steal. Do these people take away from the ideology of Charaidi Judaism? Exactly, they do not and neither do the people that are more lax about certain halachas that associate themselves with modern orthodoxy.

Modern orthodoxy is the branch of orthodox Judaism that believes it is possible, because of the changes in the world, to coexist with the outside world. No longer are Jews segregated and confined to the ghetto, but they must adapt to a new world where the Jew and non-Jew are viewed as equals and partners in society. Modern orthodoxy is the religious Jew standing up and saying that I will contribute to society as a whole. This is also why modern orthodoxy recognizes science as valid.

There have been several Jews that have lived in societies that were more integrated than the ghettos of Europe. The Rambam, Ralbag and Meiri are just a few great Torah scholars that lived in countries where Jews and non-Jews lived together and had constant interactions. This is why they embraced science and universal morals that applied to Jews and non-Jews alike. This was in opposition to some of their counterparts that lived in lands where Jews were constantly being killed by their gentile neighbors.

The question remains, are the Jews of this day and age supposed to view their non-Jewish neighbors as nonentities or are we supposed to interact with the societies around us in this day and age? Well, the modern orthodox philosophy says that we must interact and associate ourselves with our gentile neighbors. However, it seems like the Charaidi society believes in the seclusionary method of the European Ghettos.

Obviously, I think the modern orthodox approach makes more sense, but only time will tell us who is truly correct. Should we be like Avraham and show the world the beauty and truth of the Torah or should we be like Yaakov and seclude ourselves in Goshen?