MA and CT were intolerant theocracies. NH wasn't much better. RI's prosperity was largely based on slave trading -- and only descendents of the original signers of the Charter had full citizenship rights. And all of them treated the Indians terribly. Not much of a model if you ask me.
My response to him cuts to the heart of what I believe it means to be a Modern Orthodox Jew:
[Name omitted], how can you possibly be a Modern Orthodox Jew? I mean, if you're unable to engage in historical contextualization, and judge those societies in the contexts of their own times and beliefs, how can you possibly be a Modern Orthodox Jew?
For me, when I see what the Calvinists did, I remember that in their time, proper religious belief was the only way to be a decent, moral member of society. They condemned heretics not because they were concerned with whether everyone went to heaven or not (especially because Calvinistic predestination meant this would have not only unjust, but quite simply impossible and irrational), but rather, because they wanted to ensure that everyone's outward behavior was decent and moral. A heretic was guilty of civil sedition.
I do not necessarily agree with the Calvinists, but then again, I live in a different era. It is easy for me to say that one can be an atheist or a non-Jew and yet be righteous and decent, but it was far more difficult for a Calvinist to do so. In fact, I might hold my belief and not theirs not because mine is more correct in absolute terms, but rather, only because mine is more correct for the contemporary era. Even the Meiri held that only Christians and Muslims were to be protected, and even he said that atheists were to be subject to all the racist and discriminatory laws of the Talmud. And it is possible that for his own time and place, the Meiri was correct. Who am I to say that the Meiri and the Calvinists were wrong? Perhaps in their times and places, heretics actually were immoral and indecent and criminal! I can believe differently only because I live in a different time and place.
But you, [name omitted], you reject this practice of historical contextualization. You believe that everyone must judge all texts by today's standards. I would expect that when you see polygamy in the Torah, you would either reject it and all of Judaism with it, or that you would accept it and be a Haredi. That is, you, [name omitted], are incapable (or simply choose to reject) historical contextualization, and so you should either reject the whole Torah or accept the whole Torah, without any discrimination or judgement. You should see polygamy and slavery in the Torah, and either reject polygamy and slavery and all of Judaism with them, or you should accept all of Judaism and polygamy and slavery with it. So how, pray tell, can you, [name omitted], possibly be Modern Orthodox? You are rejecting the single most important foundational aspect of Modern Orthodoxy!
Professor Douglas F. Kelly, discussing Calvinist punishment of heretics, incisively argues (The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World: The Influence of Calvin on Five Governments from the 16th Through 18th Centuries, p. 35, n. 70),Our twentieth-century perspective, it must be added, is generally more comfortable criticizing the sixteenth-century execution of some hundreds of heretics than dealing with our own society's abortion of millions of infants.Now, being an Orthodox Jew rather than a Reformed Christian, my own perspective on abortion is very different than Professor Kelly's, and I will side with Rabbis Benzion Uziel and Ya'akov Emden in saying that generally-speaking, there is no prohibition whatsoever of abortion. Nevertheless, Professor Kelly's point is very well-taken. Before you condemn others, first look at yourself. Are you wholly innocent? Can you comfortably accuse them of crimes? Are you criticizing the past societies' failings based on true, eternally-valid principles that you yourself are keeping and that you can confidently assert that they ought to have, too? Or are you a prejudiced bystander, presuming to be able to judge others based on what you know only because you were born in more privileged circumstances? From their own perspective, the Calvinists could say that at least they executed only heretics who were guilty of sedition and immorality and indecency, whereas, they would say, you are murdering infants who are entirely guiltless of any semblance of crime. Can you really be so confident in criticizing them? Judge yourself before you presume to judge others.
My friend later said,
John Knox was a tremendous misogynist. Not a model for me!I responded,
He lived in the late 16th-century! What do you expect?
But [name omitted], your other problem, i.e. besides your inability to engage in historical contextualization - is that you want to rewrite history to fit your own prejudices. Fine, so you personally dislike the Calvinists' killing the Irish, etc. So what? If Calvinism is nevertheless the primary source of American democracy, then I don't care how much you dislike that fact. Facts are facts. Even if the Calvinists are the most repugnant and evil humans on earth, of all human history, even if so, nevertheless, facts are facts. You not only cannot historically-contextualize, but you also want to rewrite history to conform to your own contemporary prejudices.
I suggest you read "Thoughts on "Confrontation" and Sundry Matters Part II' by Professor Marc Shapiro, specifically s.v.It is with regard to the issue of the mamzer that one can see manifested a point I have often thought about. The great classical historian Moses Finley spoke of what he termed the 'teleological fallacy' in the interpretation of historical change. 'It consists in assuming the existence from the beginning of time, so to speak, of the writer's values . . . and in then examining all earlier thought and practice as if they were, or ought to have been, on the road to this realization, as if men in other periods were asking the same questions and facing the same problems as those of the historian and his world.' The fact is that earlier generations often thought very differently about things. For example, we are much more sensitive to matters such as human rights than they were. They took slavery for granted, while the very concept of owning another person is the most detestable thing imaginable to us. Followers of R. Kook will put all of this in a religious framework, and see it as humanity's development as it gets closer to the Messianic era.In that essay, Professor Shapiro shows, for example, that the Maharatz Hayot and Hatam Sofer thought it a perfectly reasonable practice for a king to kill the innocent children of a rebel, and that Hovot ha-Levavot said that if one bears a mamzer child, that if one does teshuva, that one's heavenly reward will be the death of the mamzer. (I saw this myself in Orhot Tzadiqim.)
[Name omitted], would you say that Hovot ha-Levavot and Orhot Tzadiqim are not only not good books to read, but that furthermore, they could not possibly have wielded any influence on Jewish belief? According to you, your personal dislike of the Calvinists means they cannot possibly be the source of democracy. By the same logic, Hovot ha-Levavot and Orhot Tzadiqim cannot possibly be influential books, simply because you personally, as an individual, will dislike their ideas.