We have two separate subjects.
First is Rabbi Glasner's and Dr. Berkovits's general view of the Oral Law being human-dependent for its development. As Rabbi Glasner says,
Thus, whoever has due regard for the truth will conclude that the reason the [proper] interpretation of the Torah was transmitted orally and forbidden to be written down28 was not to make [the Torah] unchanging and not to tie the hands of the sages of every generation from interpreting Scripture according to their understanding. Only in this way can the eternity of Torah be understood [properly], for the changes in the generations and their opinions, situation and material and moral condition requires changes in their laws, decrees and improvements.29 Rather, the truth is that this [issues from] the wonderful wisdom [and] profound insight of the Torah, [which teaches] that the interpretation of Torah [must be] given over to the sages of each generation in order that the Torah remain a living force with the nation, developing with it, and that indeed is its eternity.This, in general, leads to a radically different view of what the Talmud is. The student realizes the Talmud was composed by humans; these humans were the fathers of our tradition, and the masters of our mesorah, but humans nevertheless. What this means is that the student will not be so hung-up over the Talmud, because he won't try to square the circle, to view it all as the output of some omniscient mastermind beyond human logic. They'll expect the Talmud to make sense; they'll expect it to conform to human logic as they understand it. And if something in the Talmud seems outdated, they won't be afraid to admit that the thought is according to 6th century CE modes of thought, and they won't be afraid to update the thought, to say the same thing but in 21st century mode. One realizes that not everything in the Oral Law is sacrosanct; if Hazal said that this medicine will cure this disease, or that women are best kept indoors, we won't automatically assume this is Sinaitic. Moreover, as Rabbi Hayman writes, we'll realize that the Talmud ought to conform to human logic, and that its logic is not inscrutable. Rabbi Hayman says, as I quote at The Necessity for Academic Talmud Study,
Beyond these didactic issues, more basic problems present themselves in the realm of the faith positions and religious attitudes resulting from the prevalent approaches. According to the ideological program of religious education, a religious person is expected to relate to sacred texts as ultimate sources of authority which define one’s lifestyle, one’s values, one’s priorities and even one’s innermost thoughts. However, these same texts are seen to be beyond comprehension and logic, let alone independent textual inquiry. In a certain post-secondary institution, a student asked the Talmud teacher about the logical implications of the text under study. To this question, a second student retorted: “What? You expect the Talmud to be logical?” In such a situation, a student may come to the obviously threatening conclusion that there is not supposed to be any orderly connection between spirituality and intelligence, between religiosity and cognition, and that human awareness, sensitivity and reasoning has nothing to do with God-centered life and behavior. Once this dubious concoction has been internalized by the despairing pupil, what will be the reactions to the faith positions of others, to their logical challenges to his/her own dogmatic positions? How is a person to be expected to resolve loyalty to God with rejection of his/her own mind, under pressure of a general society which values empiricism and the reign of reason? The historic differentiation between Judaism as a spiritual national-legal system on the one hand, and dogmatic-charismatic spiritual systems such as paganism and Christianity on the other hand, becomes obscured, even eliminated, giving support to the secular position that spirituality as a whole is merely a vestige of the primitive, pre-enlightenment, pre-empirical darkness. ... It would appear, therefore, that the prevalent didactics for Oral Tradition studies in general, and Talmud in specific, create a contradiction between learning and life. Teachers of sacred texts claim that their fare is the deepest, most meaningful on earth, yet simple logic and normal cognition render them detached, even ridiculous. The intelligent student has no escape, and the choice is clear: if he/she accepts the texts and lifestyle being dictated by teachers, the result is potential rejection of one’s own mind, heart, and experience. Acceptance of oneself may lead to rejection of religious texts and, with them, religion itself. Learning leads to passive acceptance of the incomprehensible, life leads to active formulation of the necessary. Learning leads to submission to authority, life leads to the acceptance of responsibility. Learning leads to the precedents of the past, life leads to the needs of the present and the future. ... As a result [of the alternative pedagogic method, proposed by Rabbi Hayman and Revadim], the components of the Talmud text receive context: as one progresses through the discussion, one is called upon to pay attention to the prevailing circumstances surrounding each remark, each step in the evolution of the halakhah, and to relate to the religious, philosophical, social, economic, political, educational or communal motivations for halakhic change. Jewish observance becomes a prism through which the student can see religiosity as interplay between eternal values and temporal conditions, and Talmudics and halakhah become the map by which one charts the course leading to one’s own day - and beyond. Halakhah becomes a national-legal process which takes its rightful place alongside and among the dynamic historical and national processes which fill modern life, and Jewish values can justly claim once more to lead, not follow, human development.We'll also realize that our rabbis are not beyond reproach or criticism, because we'll realize that they are humans as well, albeit wise humans with authority. Obviously, we cannot blithely overwrite areas of the Torah, but we must ask the question: is this sacrosanct, or not? According to the Talmud, yafet toar is not; according to Rav Kook, milhemet reshut is not; according to Dr. Berkovits, many laws of women are not. We must have the courage to ask what is time-bound and what is eternal.
As for Dr. Berkovits's own supposedly heretical view of moral values being determinative in deciding halacha, this is merely an exegetical issue. I say one should investigate Dr. Berkovits's proofs, and see if they stand up to scrutiny. But either way, I cannot see why they are heretical. Perhaps they are even completely wrong in every detail, but G-d forbid that we make error and heresy synonymous; as Professor Marc Shapiro has remarked, if Judaism includes only those authorities who are factually correct, an awful lot of heretofore traditional Judaism will be excluded from the tent. Rav Kook says we should first determine whether something is heretical or not, so that if it is not heretical, we can dispassionately investigate its factuality; Rav Kook concludes that evolution is not heretical, and so he dispassionately discusses whether he believes evolution is true or not, and Rav Hirsch seems to follow a similar approach. I cannot figure out what is heretical about Dr. Berkovits's proposal. In any case, given that Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits in Tradition uses Berkovits-ian logic in discussing saving a gentile on Shabbat, we should realize who else's Orthodox credentials are at stake alongside Dr. Berkovits's. (I covered up Rabbi Jakobovits's name, and asked my rabbi to read it, and he thought Dr. Berkovits wrote it. Rabbi Jakobovits argues that really, according to halakhic logic, we shouldn't save a gentile on Shabbat, but that since this is "immoral", darkhei shalom overrides it, as the Torah's internal ethical ethos and override, overriding any law which is logical but immoral. Actually, Dr. Berkovits is preceded by Rabbi Glasner, who argues that one should eat pork over human flesh, and wear women's clothing rather than be naked, even though there is no prohibition of cannibalism or nakedness; Rabbi Glasner says this is simply immoral, with or without a Torah prohibition, and that it overrides the Torah command. I might note that Rabbi Yehuda Amital enthusiastically endorses this position of Rabbi Glasner's; realize who else we risk declaring to be heretical.) I might add that this area of Dr. Berkovits's thought is not particularly critical for me; I do not know enough Talmud to judge whether he is correct here or not, so I have simply stashed this thought of his in my mind for later consideration, alongside the other shitot of other rabbis in a variety of areas. It is the first area of Dr. Berkovits's thought, in the first paragraph of this email, which truly concerns me.