Sunday, January 31, 2010
Without being such a saint, I’m a pretty easy-going guy. I’m no genius, but I’m not so dumb either. I hold fast to my opinions, and I’m pretty obsessive about that. But I don’t write off all those people who disagree with me. I don’t get angry at them. Rather, I relate to them patiently, so that pretty much makes up for my being opinionated.
When I see a Jew violate the Shabbat, I don’t throw stones at him, but I feel sad, and I say to myself: “That person doesn’t know any better.”
When I see a Jew eat non-kosher food, it pains me, but I say to myself: “Poor fellow! He wasn’t taught.”
When I meet people who want to give up part of our country to our enemies, I shudder, but I end up saying: “They’re just confused.” [But see the very important comment of "Anonymous" below, the first of the reader comments. See also my reply to him.]
When I hear about a juvenile delinquent caught up in petty crimes and foolishness, it hurts me deeply, and I am filled with compassion for him.
Faced with all sorts of improper, inappropriate, immodest, immoral acts, I react with patience. I say to myself: “I believe in G-d. He won’t abandon His people. Everything will work out.”
But there are extremists, the likes of which make me lose patience when I see them. When I hear someone shout, “Death to the Arabs!” I shudder. I remember the Storm Troopers’ song, “When Jewish blood squirts from the knife, then will we have it so.”
The fellow who yells, “Death to the Arabs” always sugarcoats those words in a layer of fine verbiage taken from our treasury of holiness and nationalism. I remember that all that aggressiveness that hurts people and makes one forget what man is, starts with talk. When I hear an extremist call his Jewish brother, a traitor, an anti-Semite, a Nazi, etc., my patience runs out.
From my youth I recall Ionesco’s stage play “Rhinoceros”, which describes how moderate, friendly, intellectual, logical people can, without noticing it, turn into wild monsters who try to persuade their fellow man, by all sorts of arguments, that they are right. Those same brutes, closed up in their frozen world with their distorted approach, who never ever listen to anyone else, are unaware that they have turned into primitive crazies, busy trampling people.
Yes, be careful, man. I don’t know if you come from the wild, but for sure you’ve still got a bestial spirit, and you are liable to become a wild animal. Don’t fall asleep on the watch.
Certainly, during wartime we’ve got to protect ourselves, but let us not forget that our enemies are still people. Let us recall that when Yaakov was preparing for war with his brother, he “feared lest he be killed, but was troubled lest he be compelled to kill others” (Rashi on Bereshit 32:8). Let us recall Avraham, who returned from battle and was afraid because of the people he had killed (Rashi on Bereshit 15:1).
Yes, in war we kill, because “if someone is coming to kill you, you should kill him first.” We have no choice. But one should not nurture a culture of murder, even by allusion. One should not speak lightly about death to the Arabs. One should not arouse the nations’ hatred.
Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, wrote that every Jew who is aware, even a child, knows that despite the terrible things that the nations did to us, we never nurtured our hatred for them (Le-Netivot Yisrael 1:17). Also, one must not talk of hatred for the nations in the name of the Torah, and certainly we mustn’t talk of hatred for our fellow Jew. The Torah was compared to water, and Israel in its elevated moments was compared to the stars, and in its lowly moments was compared to sand. Sand and water mixed together make for a swampy morass.
I am therefore losing patience, because when that type of extremist gets going, it really hurts. They don’t let their fellow man live in peace, but turn the world into a powder keg.
Consider yourselves warned.
(End of Rabbi Aviner's piece.)
I am a follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane, and I approved this message. ;)
Saturday, January 30, 2010
1. You do not believe that the Rambam's thirteen fundamental principles are binding.
6. You support the ordination of women.
7. You think that professors have the same religious authority as rabbis.
10. You think that every rabbi has equal halakhic authority.
But it is difficult to tell what is objectionable about these.
- As Professor Marc Shapiro's The Limits of Orthodox Theology shows, countless medieval Jewish authorities disagreed with one or another of Rambam's Thirteen Principles. Are these rabbis all "Post-Orthodox"? Thus, Dr. Jeffrey Woolf says (My Obiter-Dicta: Post-Orthodoxy Reconsidered),
Post-Orthodoxy in the realm of theology is a result of the refusal, or the inability, of the Orthodox Community (especially those whose Talmudic credentials are above reproach) to creatively confront the challenges of Post-Modern culture, rather than give in to myopia (in an ironically, post-modern modern). ... Post-Orthodoxy in the realm of theology is a direct result of so narrowing the definition of what is acceptable in the area of core belief, that many medievals would have been excluded. ... In brief, in the realm of belief, we are witnessing the inevitable result of the theological brain death inflicted on Orthodoxy ...
- Regarding women's ordination, Rabbi Benzion Uziel permitted this (see here and here). Is Rabbi Uziel "Post-Orthodox"? The point isn't whether many rabbis agreed with Rabbi Uziel. Rabbi Mordekhai Eliyahu says that Rabbi Uziel was one of the greatest poseqim of recent days, even though I presume Rabbi Eliyahu does not support women's ordination (I may be mistaken, however; I am only guessing). The point is, Rabbi Eliyahu could disagree with Rabbi Uziel without calling him a heretic. But it would appear Rabbi Student cannot do the same.
- Regarding professors and rabbis having equal authority, I always thought that a given amount of knowledge gives you authority. If a given professor knows as much as a given rabbi, or if one rabbi knows as much as another rabbi, why shouldn't he have as much authority? In Judaism, there is no hierarchical authority, and authority is based solely on how much you know. As the Talmud says, a mamzer talmid hakham takes precedence over a kohen am ha-aretz. Is Rabbi Student rejecting this Gemara?
Rabbi Student's stance is thus puzzling. We must look deeper. In his second post,The Growing Problem of Post-Orthodoxy, Rabbi Student criticizes a panel discussion on homosexuality held by certain groups within YU. Even though the Torah forbids only homosexual acts, but not their desires, Rabbi Student feels that even to sympathize with those who struggle with homosexuality is wrong. Those who held the conference agree that homosexual acts are a sin, but they wish to help those with homosexual desires, who struggle every day to keep the mitzvah. Rabbi Student feels this is sinful. Why? Is the Torah mitzvah against homosexual acts not enough for him? Does he feel the need to add a 614th mitzvah, against homosexual desires?
In his first post (op. cit.), Rabbi Student says,
But first let me be clear. I am not saying that the views are Jewishly unacceptable. That is a more complicated discussion that requires both scholarship and nuance. Nor am I suggesting that someone who is Post-Orthodox is a heretic. This is a sociological argument, not a theological claim.Who does he think he is fooling? Academic professors can speak of "Orthodoxy" as a sociopolitical phenomenon, encompassing mostly Hungarian and Eastern-European Ultra-Orthodoxy. Such professors would exclude everything from the Talmud to German Neo-Orthodoxy and Sephardi Torah-observance from "Orthodoxy". But laypeople and rabbis do not talk this way. If Rabbi Student calls someone "Post-Orthodox", then he is obviously impugning the person's credentials as a Torah-observant frum Jew. Unless Rabbi Student has donned the academic hat, then his title of "Post-Orthodoxy" clearly indicates a heresy-hunt. If he wants to so engage in heresy hunting, then that's his prerogative, but let him at least have the courage to stop engaging in disingenuous doublespeak and hypocrisy. I am indebted to the comment of "lamedzayin" on "How Did We Get Here?":
... he [viz. Rabbi Student]'s somewhat of a coward, and is hedging his bets and couching his accusations in hard-to-pin-down doublespeak. He equates the Maharat/Rabbah nonsense ... with the treif banquet, and yet he coyly refuses to label Rabbi Weiss himself as non Orthodox.In his third post, "How Did We Get Here?", Rabbi Student also continues his aforementioned double-speak, of calling others heretics without saying so. As we saw above, he claims to merely be engaging in sociological analysis, without accusing anyone of heresy. But in his third post, he says,
Popular history has it that the "Treif Banquet" [when clams and such were served at the celebration of the first graduating class of HUC, the Reform seminary] marked the split between Reform and Orthodox [sic: Conservative] in the US. The truth is much more complex. But if we are looking for a "Treif Banquet" of our time that defines the start of Post-Orthodoxy, I suggest that it was the ordination last year of a Maharat (now Rabbah).He equates Rabbi Avi Weiss's ordination of a woman rabbi with the split between Reform and Orthodox, but he claims he isn't calling Rabbi Weiss a heretic. Come on man - if you want to speak, at least speak with courage! If you want to compare Rabbi Avi Weiss to the Reform, at least do so clearly and unambiguously!As (Rabbi?) Jonathan Baker ("Thanbo") says in his comments to "How Did We Get Here?",
You made his decision to ordain Mrs. Hurwitz, confirmed by his [Rabbi Avi Weiss's] calling her "rabbah," the equivalent of the Trefe Banquet. The Treife Banquet was prima facie evidence that Reform was not Orthodox, was opposed to Orthodoxy, was determined to cause the Orthodox to sin by eating treif. So call a spade a spade. Fish or cut bait. If you mean to call R[abbi ]A[vi ]Weiss "non-Orthodox", do so.
Rabbi Student reaches his nadir in his third post, How Did We Get Here?. He tries to claim that "Post-Orthodoxy" was an inevitable sociological occurrence, based on trends in non-Jewish religions, and he says,
Because it was inevitable, we can't look to see where the Modern Orthodox leadership have lost in Post-Orthodox circles and identify those issues as failures. Instead, we have to estimate how bad it would have otherwise been.In other words: the rabbis are perfect, and we cannot say that "Post-Orthodoxy" is a response to real errors and excesses by the rabbinic establishment. No; "Post-Orthodoxy" was inevitable, so if the rabbinic establishment accomplished anything, it could only have been to make matters less worse than they would have otherwise been. After all, the rabbis have Daas Torah! They cannot be wrong!
Rabbi Student not only criticizes Post-Orthodoxy, but also, he rejects the possibility that the right-wing did anything to contribute to the problem. By contrast, Rabbis Hirsch and Kook said that the Reform movement was inspired by overly dry and uninspiring Orthodoxy of the day. Nineteen Letters criticized Reform, but it was very sympathetic, and rather than reject the Reformers and the problem they claimed Orthodoxy had, it instead proposed a different solution to the same problem, admitting that the Reformers were correct in their claims, but incorrect in their solutions. (Dr. Woolf is taking an approach very similar to that of Rabbis Kook and Hirsch; see (Rabbi?) Jonathan Baker ("Thanbo")'s excellent summary of the post-Orthodoxy dispute here.) I see Rabbi Student as responding exactly the way the (proto-)Haredim did to Reform. What did Rabbis Hirsch and Kook do? They admitted Reform had some good points and some truth, and they tried to answer the claims Reform had, either by reformulating and re-articulating Judaism (i.e. re-explaining it without actually changing it), or by even changing it (Torah im Derekh Eretz being a departure from Eastern-European attitudes, and anthropological-theonomy being a departure from mysticism). But the Hungarians simply stood their ground, stuck to their guns, and drew a line in front of them. They nailed their feet to the ground, and said that anyone who wants to leave, leave. They built a fortress around themselves, and didn't care who stood outside the boundaries. I see Rabbi Student's approach as being very similar. I'll note that Rabbi Hirsch came to a Frankfurt where Orthodoxy was losing ground every day, where Jacob Rosenheim says he was the last young adult to be wearing tefillin. From this wasteland, Rabbi Hirsch produced an entire thriving community. By contrast, the Hungarians started with a significant holding and strength, but they succeeded only in holding their ground. Rabbi Hirsch started with nothing and ended up with everything; the Hungarians started with half and ended with half. Who was more successful? Whose approach is the more correct one?
One more point needs to be mentioned: In his third post, Rabbi Student gives an example of "Post-Orthodox" practice:
...for example, violating the Rema in Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 1:1 by appointing a woman as rabbi of a synagogue.(The Mehaber there says women may be ritual slaughters, but the Rema there says the Polish Jews have a minhag to forbid women that position.) I've never heard of someone violating a minhag. Usually someone is in violation of a mitzvah or a halakhah, but not a mere minhag! Besides, is this the best Rabbi Student can come up with? This minhag is, presumably, only binding in Poland! Furthermore, may Sephardim appoint rabbis? So if this is the best Rabbi Student can come up with in his heresy-hunt, then something is amiss. He wants to accuse Rabbi Weiss of heresy because he violates a minhag that was binding only in Poland to begin with, and a minhag with which the Mehaber disagrees? I wish to suggest that Rabbi Student knows how tendentious his claims are. He knows that a Polish minhag is an awfully small basis on which to accuse others of heresy. But he doesn't care. Indeed, (Rabbi?) Moshe Shoshan replies to "How Did We Get Here?", saying,
... You want the women rabbis issue to be point of no return, though you know you can't muster halachic sources to support this. ... [T]his split is being nurtured by MO leaders on the right who take un-nuanced, un-sypathetic ands at times, barely halachic positions on key issues such as the role of women and the reponse to homosexuality.(Rabbi?) Jonathan Baker ("Thanbo") makes an excellent comment on Rabbi Student's "How Did We Get Here?":
But there's no precedent for declaring a group beyond the pale because of sociological differences. Well, there is, but it has only been used by the Haredim to declare the Moderns outside the pale, and even they don't actually go so far in practice, only in rhetoric. Gil, however, wants to use a sociological change, dressed up in pseudo-halakhic garb, to declare LWMO [ = Left-wing Modern Orthodoxy] outside the pale. One wonders which of his Haredi handlers are encouraging this - is it his children's school? Is he running for office in his synagogue but they don't entirely trust him because he's one of the most successful J[ewish]Bloggers? So since there is actually no halakha on the books that says women cannot be yoreh-yoreh [i.e. pulpit] rabbis [as opposed to yadin-yadin, dayans], he has to fall back on "es passt nisht". But since even he knows it's not a real reason, esp. when there are Rishonic and Aharonic opinions on the books, as well as historical examples (the Maid of Ludmir? Bruria? Dvora?) on the books, he has to pretend it's analogous to something else where Ashkenazi custom, at least, bars women from performing. Relying on an analogy to a minhag in a completely different area is no argument at all to outlaw an entire segment of Orthodox Judaism.As Professor Michael Silber shows in "The Emergence of Ultra-Orthodoxy: the Invention of a Tradition," (pp. 23-84 in The Uses of Tradition: Jewish Continuity since Emancipation, ed., Jack Wertheimer, New York-Jerusalem: JTS distributed by Harvard U. Press, 1992), Rabbi Hillel Lichtenstein in Hungary announced that all synagogues with sermons in the vernacular (instead of Yiddish) were henceforth to be considered houses of idolatry, avodah zara. Many were at a loss to find where the Shulhan Arukh mandated sermons in Yiddish. Furthermore, Rabbi Lichtenstein (or perhaps it was his son-in-law, Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger) accused the Hungarian reformers (Neologs) of heresy, for relocating the bimah from the center of the shul to the front, even though the Shulhan Arukh clearly records the front as the ordinary position (as per the Neolog position, saying the bimah must be in the center, as per the Hungarian Ultra-Orthodox position, only when this is necessary for everyone to hear the reader). Thus, Professor Silber titles his essay "The Emergence of Ultra-Orthodoxy: the Invention of a Tradition". We already saw how Rabbi Student wishes to invent a 614th mitzvah against homosexual desires, and so I wish to suggest that we can analyze Rabbi Student's conduct similarly to how Professor Silber examined Hungarian Ultra-Orthodoxy, finding it to constitute "the invention of a tradition".
As an aside, "DF" makes a profound comment on "How Did We Get Here?":
But I do think there is a zeitgeist in the air, only I wouldnt call it post-orthodoxy. I would call it something like "haskalah datit", or "religious free thinking". Something like that, anyway. What caused it? I would tentatively suggest it was academic scholars writing on religious topics. The effect of it was to show conclusively just how much of contemporary practice are late developments, how much of what we call "halacha" has no solid grounding, how much is based on printing mistakes or errors in transmission, etc. With increased education, these journals and articles, once the province of eggheads only, became increasingly widespread. Then along came the internet, and WHAMMO! - it blew the whole thing wide open.In other words: there are those who know how much of tradition and the mesorah is not technically accurate, but who still recognize the great truth and profundity in Torah Judaism. They want to be Torah-observant, but they want to combine this with the best of modern knowledge, especially history and academic study of Judaism. They want Torah-Judaism, but a thinking-(wo)man's version. And these are the people Rabbi Gil Student is writing out of Orthodoxy.
At the same time, the left has become so radical, that even people exposed to academic thinking are so repulsed by the left, that they are embracing the Torah, while fully aware of the flaws in the system. [Had the maskillim of 150 years conceived of how women's lib sought the emasculation of men, or how they would actually promote homosexuality as normal, or how liberal judaisim would morph into simply liberal politics, they would have done the same.] Also, the same journals that have showed the mistakes, have also demonstrated some of the greatness and wisdom in our tradition. And that is what has brought us to what you call "post-orthodoxy". In short - increased knowledge that our orthodox way of life is not as perfect and authentic as we claim it is, but it does have greatness within in, and at the very least, it is far better than the alternatives we see with our own eyes blowing in the wind.
Does Rabbi Gil Student Work for the Records Department of the Minitrue?. One looked from Haredi to MO, from MO back to Haredi, but no longer could he tell the difference anymore.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
a Brazilian-Portuguese-Spanish Anusim, Marrano, Converso, or whatever you want to call it. ... I’m in the process of converting to Judaism and I hope to share a little bit of this crazy but wonderful time in my life with you!
After reading most of her blog, it became apparent (here and here) that she was converting Reform. I asked her (here):
I see you mention your conversion is Reform.
I just realized that none of your posts says anything about specific Jewish practices, other than Hebrew and the Shema. You speak about your parents, your Catholic upbringing, your heredity and identity as a Ladino and a product of the Inquisition, and how you ultimately found your way to Judaism (genealogy, dissatisfaction with Catholicism, reading Isaiah, etc.), but I just realized that none of your posts say anything about Jewish practice.
I’m curious, then: when you think about things like keeping Shabbat, kashrut, etc., what do they mean to you? You already kept the moral laws of the Torah, so I presume that hasn’t changed. Your relationship to G-d (i.e. is there one or three?) has certainly changed. But other than that, is there anything else Judaism means to you? I mean, after your conversion, what will you be that you weren’t already, and what will you be doing that you weren’t already?
Some people do, however, identify Judaism as a certain theology of G-d combined with moral practice. Now, everyone of course agrees that is part of Judaism – the question is – is there anything additional beyond that? What do you say?
I simply realized that your blog doesn’t seem yet to discuss this. I’d be interested in reading what you think.
(I’ve been living for years now in the Orthodox community, and I realize that I’ve gotten out of touch with non-Orthodox movements. Furthermore, I live in Israel, where even the secular Israelis don’t want non-Orthodox Judaism to make inroads; the religious and secular in Israel disagree on many things, but they both agree that they want Judaism to be of the traditional sort. So I’ve gotten used to making certain assumptions and having certain prejudices. I actually don’t think that in my life, I’ve ever met anyone pursuing a non-Orthodox conversion. I’ve met tons of people in Israel pursuing Orthodox conversions, but no one in Israel seeks a non-Orthodox conversion. So my intellectual and experiential horizons are rather limited. So I’m trying very hard to ask you questions about your identity and observance and definitions without actually stating my own opinion. Believe you me, I do have some strong opinions in these matters, but I’m trying to be as silent about them as I can be.)
I further said to her (here),
Parallel to the other post I just made a moment ago: you do realize that all the Sephardi congregations in the world are Orthodox, right? There’s no such thing as Reform Sephardi or Conservative Sephardi. Sephardi is just Sephardi, period. Schismatic denominationalism is an Ashkenazi feature.She responded (here), however, in a manner that I should have seen coming:
In Rabbi Marc Angel’s Voices in Exile: A Study in Sephardic Intellectual History, we read (p. 157) that Rabbi Israel Moshe Hazan (1808-1863) of Turkey
complained that European Jews tended to polarize, either assimilating readily into non-Jewish culture or fiercely isolating themselves against its influence. He represented the classical Sephardic model – maintaining traditional religious autonomy while at the same time being open to the best teachings of the non-Jewish world.
Religious movements are a purely European innovation. For the Sephardim, there was simply no need for them. The Western-European Sephardim (Italy, Britain, Holland) were involved in secular learning and cosmopolitan affairs since the 16th century Renaissance, long before emancipation and Enlightenment became issues. By the time the 19th century came, they had long been acclimated to their surroundings, and they saw no need for a Reform movement.
The Eastern Sephardim (Turkey, Greece, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Romania) of course lived in societies without much opportunity secular learning, and moreover, they lived in Jewish ghettos, without much interaction with non-Jews. Nevertheless, they retained the same basic ethos of cosmopolitan pre-Expulsion Spain, even if they couldn’t practically express it. Indeed, the rabbis for Holland were often imported from Turkey, where they fit right in. If you take a Sephardi from either Western Europe or the Middle East, and transplant him to the other locale, he acculturates very easily, because at root, they are both Sephardim.
So the Sephardim had no need for a Reform movement, because they were modern and acculturated to modernity by default. Their Orthodoxy was the same sort that had existed in Spain, a cosmopolitan easy-going one.
Furthermore, because we’re talking about a pre-modern society, religion was taken for granted. You could choose to be observant or not, but either way, the religion was taken for granted. For Sephardim, and for even modern Israelis today, Jewish Orthodoxy is the standard, and they don’t want another kind of Judaism. David ben Gurion once went into a Reform synagogue, and when he opened up the siddur, he became furious. He never went into a synagogue, he said, but when he did go, he wanted it to be a real one without abridgments! There was a newspaper column in Israel, where the secular author would pray at different synagogues and review them, like one might a movie. He went to a Reform synagogue in Israel, and in his review, he caustically mocked it for feeling more like a church than like a synagogue. So for Sephardim, if you wanted to be non-observant, that was your prerogative. If you wanted to eat pork, fine, go ahead. (Okay, the rabbis would try to convince you otherwise, but still.) Even those who broke halakhah, theoretically acknowledged that they were sinners. That is, they were willing to be non-observant themselves, but they made no attempt to change Judaism per se. You could be as observant or non-observant as you wanted, but the benchmark standard of authentic Judaism stood outside, unchanged.
By contrast, in Germany, Reform Judaism was created as a way to reconcile Judaism and Christianity. The Reformers would stop keeping kashrut, move Shabbat to Sunday, introduce organs into the service, etc., all with the express goal of making Judaism as outwardly Christian as they could. For the Reformers, adapting to modernity meant changing Judaism itself to be more non-Jewish. But for the Sephardim, this route was never taken, because, as I’ve indicated, first, the Sephardim were already adapted to modernity anyway, and second, because for them, personal non-observance was no reason to change Judaism itself.
Interestingly, in Eastern Europe, things were much the same as they were for the Sephardim. Reform and Conservative are not merely European; they are German. Sephardim and Russians alike recognized that personal non-observance and alterations to Judaism itself are two very different things. See Dr. Laura Shaw-Frank, "But We Are Guilty for Our Daughters": Lessons Learned from the History of Jewish Girls’ Education in Germany and Eastern Europe in the Ninteenth Century.
For details on everything I’ve said, see:
- Daniel Elazar, Can Sephardic Judaism be Reconstructed?
- Daniel Elazar, The Special Character of Sephardi Tolerance
- Rabbi Marc Angel, Religious Zionism and the Non-Orthodox
- Daniel Elazar, Religion in Israel: A Consensus for Jewish Tradition
But I am not converting Reform because of the levels of observance or because I don’t want to observe Jewish practices. I am converting Reform because of gender equality. This is the main reason.I responded,(here),
I want to scream. I want to shout. I want to bang my head on the desk. But most of all, I want to go out and whip a few rabbis. I want to take them a chasm, where below is a river of molten lava, and a vast stretch of desolate scorching black wasteland, and show them visually what they’ve wrought.
I have a friend that she converted Reform. I asked her why, asking her a question very similar to what I asked you. And her answer was exactly the same. EXACTLY.
I said to her, well, maybe, you’d like to keep Shabbat and kashrut and the like nevertheless? If you want egalitarian prayer services, great, but why not be strictly observant in everything else? Fine, prayer with mixed-sex seating and read from the Torah, but keep kosher too – why not?
I already knew her answer before she opened her mouth. Why did I even bother asking her? She told me that if the Reform/Conservative rabbis are correct on egalitarianism, and if the Orthodox rabbis are wrong in that area, and so if she trusts the former and not the latter in egalitarianism, then she’ll trust them in everything else too. If they’re correct here, then they’re correct there.
I wanted to cry. And I want to cry now too.
I want to say to the Orthodox rabbis out there: fine, if you want to be misogynistic, fine, that’s your prerogative. If you want to say that hadash assur min ha-torah (innovation is forbidden, the rallying cry of 19th century Hungarian Ultra-Orthodoxy), fine, that’s your prerogative. But I don’t understand: if holding this stance results in many people avoiding Orthodoxy, people who would otherwise be attracted, then what good does it do? There are many people out there who would be perfectly willing to keep strictly observant, if only Orthodoxy would become egalitarian. Why does Orthodoxy shoot itself in the foot? Why does it so deliberately alienate so many who would otherwise be attracted? What good does it do? What purpose does it serve?
I don’t know. These damn Ashkenazim...
I'm not advocating that Orthodoxy adopt any particular degree of egalitarianism. What I am saying, however, is that it is senseless and self-destructive for Orthodoxy to cling to certain practices and opinions if the costs (alienating potential adherents) outweigh the benefits. I'll leave it to people greater than me to flesh out the details.
**Update: Below in the comments, "Eliyahu" makes an excellent point:
Do you realize that your last few sentences are irrelevant?To clarify, then: I'm not advocating violating the halakhah, but rather, I'm advocating reinterpreting it. For example, most Orthodox rabbis rely on the Rema, who forbids women to be ritual slaughterers, and they extend this to women being rabbis. But Tosafot, commenting on Devorah's being a judge (shofet), said a woman may indeed be a rabbi, either because she is certainly allowed to teach halakhah to others, or because, even if a woman is forbidden to hold authority over men, the men may compromise on their own honor and accept a woman as their leader. The Hida (Rabbi Haim Yosef David Azulai) and Sefer ha-Hinukh both accept this. The Ritva accepts this, and says it also regarding a king; the Rambam says a Jewish king may only be a man, but the Ritva says a woman may be a king if the people accept her as their king (the Ritva's precise language is something like, "Devorah was like a king, because the people accepted her". (The Tanakh in Devarim and Samuel clearly teaches that the people must accept their king democratically, and the Yerushalmi says that when King David was king over Judah in Hebron, he was not a "king", because the whole nation hadn't accept him. I am indebted to Rabbi Yuval Sherlow of Yeshivat Hesder Petah Tiqwa for pointing this source out.) Rabbi Benzion Uziel points this all out in his teshuva on women's suffrage (here), and Rabbis Daniel Sperber, Yoel bin-Nun, and Joshua Maroof follow Rabbi Uziel (here). Aside from any ideological reasons in favor of egalitarianism, i.e. any arguments that egalitarianism is intrinsically good and desirable even according to a traditional Orthodox Torah-perspective (see Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Berkovits's Crisis and Faith), does it not behoove us to at least examine these more lenient halakhic positions for the sake of appeasing the non-Orthodox and extending the olive branch? I'm not advocating violating halakhah, only reinterpreting it according to the traditionally-accepted sources, from a completely Orthodox perspective. We all know that rabbis can be lenient in their halakhic rulings, if a strict ruling will cause a great monetary loss. Are the feelings of the non-Orthodox less important than Orthodox money? Is the Orthodox wallet more important than the non-Orthodox soul? Rabbi Benzion Uziel said that given the requisite and indispensable technical Talmudic/halakhic basis, he would always as a matter of principle choose the most loving and lenient position, in order to make the Torah pleasant and not burdensome. (See Rabbi Marc Angel's Loving Truth and Peace: The Grand Religious Worldview of Rabbi Benzion Uziel. Rabbi Uziel's student, Rabbi Haim David Halevy, followed suit, saying that Beit Hillel prevailed over Beit Shammai because his school knew the human condition and tended deliberately towards leniency. See Rabbi Angel's Rabbi Haim David Halevi: Gentle Scholar, Courageous Thinker.) Cannot we do the same?
Orthodoxy is about serving God. Not man. In that sense Reform movements are non-religious at all because their aim is to follow their own whims. Orthodoxy asks only one thing: what is the stance of Halacha as God's word on a certain issue. There are no benefits except the service itself. Your hint that Orthodoxy should change because some people picked up the egalitarianism, is Reform.
There is a principle of takkanat shavim, lenient rulings made expressly for the purpose of facilitating those who wish to be observant or observe halakhah, but who aren't ready to keep the most rigorous ideal form of that halakhah. Rabbi Barry Gelman discusses this in an article in the YCT Meorot journal (vol. 3), "Takanat Ha-Shavim - Outreach Considerations in Pesak Halakha". Rabbi Angel's book Choosing to Be Jewish: The Orthodox Road to Conversion shows the technical basis to be extremely lenient, and he offers an ideological argument that the Orthodox ought to be as lenient as possible in their rulings on conversion, in order to open the door to those who might pursue an Orthodox lifestyle, if only that lifestyle were made easier and more compassionate. He says that at least, the Orthodox ought to be more lenient, so that potential converts do not need to be Reform or Conservative instead. If Orthodoxy sticks to a hard, uncompromising line, then this only causes potential adherents to flee to heterodox movements, strengthening Orthodoxy's opponents with an influx of new, idealistic and committed members. Does this really serve Orthodoxy's own interests?
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
I just bought the following books:
(1) Nathan Katz, Who Are the Jews of India?
(2) Nathan Katz and Ellen S. Goldberg, Kashrut Caste And Kabbalah: The Religious Life Of The Jews Of Cochin
(3) Ruby Daniel and Barbara Johnson, Ruby of Cochin: An Indian Jewish Woman Remembers
(4) Nathan Katz, Studies of Indian Jewish Identity
(5) Nathan Katz and Ellen S. Goldberg, Last Jews of Cochin --- with a foreword by Daniel J. Elazar!!!!!
(6) Shalva Weil, India's Jewish Heritage: Ritual, Art and Life-Cycle
(7) P. M. Jussay, The Jews of Kerala
(8) J. B. Segal, A History of the Jews of Cochin
So that's it for Cochini Jewry; regarding Sephardi Jewry, I bought...
(9) Esther Benbassa, Sephardi Jewry: A History of the Judeo-Spanish Community, 14th-20th Centuries
(10) Daniel Elazar, The Balkan Jewish Communities: Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey
That's all. I just love books.
Perhaps later, I'll write more on the Jews of Cochin - they are an absolutely fascinating community. And the tolerance shown them by the Hindus is simply breathtaking, almost miraculous. But more on that later. (I've already written a twenty-page paper on why I love Sephardi Jewry: On the Turn to the Right in Modern Orthodoxy, And Some Possibilities for Its Solution.)
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Whenever I write to MO women, specifically ones whose profiles evince some basic compatibility with me in terms of both hashqafa (weltanschauung or ideology) and general intellectuality (she doesn't have to be a nerd like me, but she at least has to be intellectual enough to appreciate one), the response I usually get is quite negative. That is, if I get a response at all; about half of the women don't respond at all. (They have premium accounts, so that's not the problem.) Just earlier this week, one wrote back to me, saying, "relationships with high-maintenance, socially-unaware, overbearing people who suck me dry are exactly what i just cut out of my life." Such a response is a bit more extreme than what I usually get, but it is within the basic ballpark; it is not an entirely abnormal response for me to get anymore.
By contrast, when I write to the more yeshivishe or Beit Ya'akov-ish women, I almost always get a very warm response. I don't know how many times the woman has said that if only my hashqafa were further to the right, that she'd be very willing to date me. In fact, several times, I've been told that even with my left-wing hashqafa, she'd love to be platonic friends, if only she were willing to have platonic friendships with the opposite sex. So were it not for my left-wing hashqafa, it would appear that the more right-wing young women would accept me just fine, if not enthusiastically so.
When I asked my rabbi where I ought to go to yeshiva after my three-year stint in Machon Meir (a yeshiva for baalei teshuva in Jerusalem), one of the places I mentioned was Machon Pardes, a non-denominational left-wing-but-traditional coeducational yeshiva. My rabbi responded that he could see why I'd think they were good for me, given their generally left-wing stance. Nevertheless, he said to me, what I needed was a place with the character of a traditional yeshiva (unlike Pardes) but with a left-wing hashqafa (similar to Pardes). But in any case, I needed to leave Machon Meir; my rabbi told me that its limited degree of tolerance was due only to its baal teshuva character (with the newly religious, one must perforce tolerate some degree of insubordination), and that if I were to attend a frum-from-birth-type yeshiva with the exact same hashqafa as Machon Meir, such as Merkaz ha-Rav, then, said my rabbi, I'd get eaten up alive for sure. In other words: I'm hashqafically left-wing but behaviorally right-wing.
About the early Spanish-Portuguese (Orthodox Sephardim) Jews of America, Rabbi Dr. Marc D. Angel writes ("Thoughts on Early American Jewry", Tradition 16:2, Fall 1976),
One of the notable features of this Jewish group was its ability to adapt to the American mileu while maintaining a reverence for its own religious traditions. Western Sephardim in general were receptive to the cultural forces at work in their societies. They did not isolate themselves in spiritual and intellectual ghettos. Gershom Mendes Seixas (1746-1816), minister of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York, was not only interested in science but was known to quote from the New Testament. The historian, Jacob Rader Marcus, goes so far as to compare Seixas to a founder of Reform Judaism, due to Seixas' "insistence on, western dress, decorum, dignity, and an increasing use of the vernacular." (J. R. Marcus, Handsome Young Priest in the Black Cown (Cincinnati, 1970), pp. 43, 49. (Reprinted from H.U.C. Annual, Vol. 40.41, 1969-70).) Yet, all of these qualities were' typical of Western[-European] Sephardic religious leaders long before Seixas was born. What Marcus considers to be Reform practices were normative orthodox qualities among Spanish and Portuguese Jews. This point must be stressed since so many students of Colonial Jewry err in this regard. The Western[-European], Sephardic approach to religion and life was neither Reform nor East European Orthodox; it was an independent tradition which must be considered on its own terms.There are many other salient misleadingly "modern" aspects of the Sephardi ethos which might interest us (both in its Eastern Ottoman - Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, etc. - and its Western-European - Holland, Britain, Italy - forms), but we cannot elaborate here; see my On the Turn to the Right in Modern Orthodoxy, And Some Possibilities for Its Solution.
For the Sephardim, strict traditional Orthodoxy with an open-mindedness towards secular learning and modern culture was no contradiction. As for myself, I believe I have some strange combination of left-wing Modern Orthodox hashqafot and right-wing yeshivishe sensibilities, behaviors, and characters. That is, if I were to list my intellectual and ideological positions, they'd come out very left-wing, but my basic personality and mannerisms and thought-processes are right-wing. I may hold left-wing positions, but my method of analyzing and executing them is right-wing. I hold positions that characterize the left-wing, but the method in which I hold them is right-wing. I've thus called myself a "liberal fundamentalist", and I've thought more than once that G-d should have had me be born in 19th century Neo-Orthodox Germany, or 16th-19th century Turkey, or some such - somewhere where the hashqafic opinions were more left-wing than the Ashkenazi ones, but where the same character of traditionalism and Orthodoxy and religious piety was present.
(Rabbis Isaac Herzog (Britain) and Benzion Uziel (Israel), both exemplars of enlightened non-Eastern-European Orthodox Judaism. No less pious than the Ashkenazi Haredim, but equally capable of holding a discussion on either Homer's Odyssey or the Talmud.)
So it would seem that I need to find a young woman who has the personality of a yeshivishe person but the hashqafa of a left-wing MO. Maybe a Beit Ya'akov graduate who's gone waaaay off the derekh?
Who am I? A shadkhan's nightmare.
Monday, January 25, 2010
In short: all libertarian democracy states is that it is the government’s job to ensure no one hurts anyone else. In the time of the Tanakh, Talmud, and Rambam, one Jew’s having sexual relations with a gentile was damaging to the very fabric of society. And given that the prohibition of murder and the prohibition of intermarriage were written in the same legal code, anyone who violated one was liable to violate the other soon enough.
You have to judge people in the context of their times. Don’t judge Rambam for lacking religious tolerance. But the essence of his thought would have been thoroughly democratic, as was Jewish thought in general. Where did John Locke get democracy from? From the Bible.
Heinrich Bullinger, John Knox, John Ponet, Christopher Goodman, and the other 16th-century Calvinist thinkers spoke of a government that violates G-d's laws being like a thief. For them, a king who executed the laws of the Torah was the epitome of the rule of law and conscientious responsible governance. For them, the government had a a contract, a covenant, a responsibility to uphold the law equally for all, for the good of society, only their law was the Torah rather than a secular law. But the point was that the ruler existed only for the sake of doing good, and he was bound by the same laws as his subjects, and if he violated those laws or failed to uphold them, his rule was illegitimate. See:
- Heinrich Bullinger and the Marian Exiles: The Political Foundations of Puritanism by Andries Raath and Shaun de Freitas
- The Calvinist Connection by David Kopel
- The Quest for Godly Rule: The Development of Resistance Theory in Reformation Scotland by John Cassidy
Petrus Cuneaus agreed with this line of thought; he said the Torah not only expresses sound liberal democratic federal political thought, but that more, it has the wisdom only a G-d-authored book may have. According to Fania Oz-Salzberger, "The Jewish Roots of Western Freedom", (here and here,
What did Cunaeus see in the ancient Hebrew polity? First and foremost, the biblical historical narrative from Exodus to Kings, and its exegesis in Jewish literature, provided him with a realistic source of political inspiration. He read Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities and Contra Apion, as well as Maimonides’ Mishneh Tora, and these works assisted him in translating the Bible’s political imagery into familiar Greco-Roman terms. In Cunaeus’ opinion, however, the Hebrew republic was of a higher order than the Greek or Roman states. Because its god was the true God, the Hebrew state, a real polity in every sense notwithstanding its divine origins, could function as an archetype for the ideal republic. Its laws corresponded to natural law, and its social spirit flowed directly from the divine imperative of justice. This state was neither a monarchy nor an oligarchy nor a democracy, but a republic, whose senate — the Sanhedrin — and magistrates, including judges and priests, enforced and executed divinely ordained laws in ordinary civic situations.
Libertarian democracy of Locke evolved from theocratic rule-of-law of Bullinger et. al., and for that matter, Locke himself believed the Torah was from G-d. To exaggerate only a little bit, if you reject theocracy, then you must reject democracy as well. Liberal democracy began with the idea of ein shaliah b'davar `averah (that you must disobey immoral or illegal orders), specifically regarding a Protestant subject and his Catholic king (whom the Protestants regarded as an idolater), and the fact that the king must carry a Torah with him wherever he goes. I believe it was not until Brutus's Vindiciae contra Tyrannos that the question was first broached of liberty and natural law in and of themselves (see Kopel, "The Calvinist Connection", op. cit.), but even with him and Locke, liberty was something that was granted by G-d, because humans are created in His image. In essence, democracy means nothing more than the fact that (1) all humans (including the king and his government) are equal and subject to the same laws and invested with the same power to run society, and (2) that the laws of G-d are supreme, and that no human has the right to do injustice, and that all humans have the obligation to do justice - that is democracy. So if you want to see the roots of democracy, read the Scarlet Letter. Indeed, the number of pro-revolution (against Britain) religious pamphlets from New England Congregationalist (a sort of Calvinist or Presbyterian) preachers outnumbered secular pamphlets in America four to one (see David Kopel, "To Your Tents O Israel", here and here).
Simply put, the truth is far more complex than any like to admit. Democracy evolved from Protestants asking whether they had to obey a Catholic king's laws (ein shaliah b'davar `averah), and the Protestants' instituting their own theocracy which they believed would better safeguard G-d's laws, which of course, for them, were the laws which any responsible king was obligated to uphold. So democracy evolved from enlightened theocracy. But of course, no one likes to say this; they prefer to distort the truth and say that democracy was originally and always secular, even though Locke and others explicitly appeal to the Divinity of the Torah.
People also tend to read the Tanakh's and Talmud's commands of religious coercion, without taking into account their historical context. (The following is summarized from my "Religious Coercion, or On John Locke and the Kehilla's Right to Assess Tzedaqa", here and here) Rabbis Ya’akov Ettlinger and Kook and the Hazon Ish have already laid it down that today’s non-religious Jews are not like the non-religious of previous generations. In previous generations, those who violated halakhah knew full well what they were doing. It was axiomatic that G-d is real and that halakhah is binding, etc. Therefore, anyone who violated halakhah was a deviant who threatened the very moral fabric of society. After all, the prohibitions of murder and idolatry were written in the same law code, and to violate one was akin to violating the other. But nowadays, non-religious do not rebel in the same way. They have distinguished between moral and ritual laws in such a way that when they violate ritual laws, they do not thereby intend to disavow the moral laws. It once was that if you violated Shabbat, you’d murder tomorrow, but this is no longer the case. Furthermore, the non-religious honestly believe that what they are doing is correct, and they don’t know better, from an Orthodox perspective. They haven’t been educated in a Jewishly thorough enough manner that they can be held liable; to be liable for punishment, you must know full well what sin you transgressed. Religious coercion was conscionable, even according to libertarian democracy, back when religious observance was an axiomatic part of the fabric of society. I have heard from my friend Gil Amminadav that Rabbi Dr. Jose Faur makes a similar argument, that religious coercion against Shabbat violators was conscionable back when public Shabbat violation was considered a grave disruption of the very moral fabric of society. Today, this is no longer true, and so religious coercion is no longer acceptable.
Furthermore, in Makkot, Rabbis Akiva and Tarfon say they would totally outlaw the death penalty completely. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel retorts that Rabbis Akiva and Tarfon would cause bloodshed to proliferate, by failing to execute murderers. Apparently, however, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel has no problem with not executing Shabbat violators or adulterers or the like. So the Gemara records a unanimous opinion that the death penalty would be completely outlawed, except regarding murder, in which case a dispute is recorded. So to read the Tanakh's and Talmud's statements regarding religious coercion, without taking their historical context into account, creates a false contradiction between theocracy and libertarian democracy, whereas in truth, there is no contradiction whatsoever between Judaism and democracy.
Now, actually, Rabbis Akiva, Tarfon, and Shimon ben Gamliel did not exactly "outlaw" the death penalty. What they really said is that they personally would grill the witnesses so intensively that no one's testimony would ever pass muster, and thus, in practice, no one would ever be executed. So technically, they did not erase the law from the books. But in Judaism, you cannot just erase laws you don't like. In Orthodox Judaism, rather than just ignoring laws (which is what Reform does), we rather reinterpret laws. That way, they remain on the books, but become null in practice. Thus, regarding saving a gentile on Shabbat, Professor Marc Shapiro says (here),
You have to violate the Sabbath to save everyone [including gentiles], but the reason given in the sources is utilitarian (non-Jews won’t save us if we don’t save them). Rabbi Soleveitchik said he was troubled by this. My point was that all legal systems have to operate in a legal fashion. That doesn’t mean there aren’t moral considerations pushing you, but those are not in themselves enough to get to the result you want. You have to go through the system, the halakhic rules. When you get to the utilitarian factor, that’s the rule. That’s the way to get to where you want to go. That no more means you are ignoring ethical factors than when a rabbi tries to free an agunah whose husband is missing. He’s certainly motivated by ethical factors, by great concern for the suffering of the woman, but that’s not enough. You need to work within the system.And Rabbi Norman Lamm says, also regarding saving a gentile on Shabbat (here),
Surely you [viz. Noah Feldman], as a distinguished academic lawyer, must have come across instances in which a precedent that was once valid has, in the course of time, proved morally objectionable, as a result of which it was amended, so that the law remains "on the books" as a juridical foundation, while it becomes effectively inoperative through legal analysis and moral argument. Why, then, can you not be as generous to Jewish law, and appreciate that certain biblical laws are unenforceable in practical terms, because all legal systems -- including Jewish law -- do not simply dump their axiomatic bases but develop them. Why not admire scholars of Jewish law who use various legal technicalities to preserve the text of the original law in its essence, and yet make sure that appropriate changes would be made in accordance with new moral sensitivities?Despite all this, Rambam still records the death penalty in his Mishneh Torah. Why? The reason is because of what we have just said. The death penalty is still technically on the books, notwithstanding the words of Rabbis Akiva, Tarfon, and Shimon ben Gamliel. Even if we don't keep this law in practice, it is still on the books, and Rambam must record it. Rabbi Dr. Jose Faur, one of the foremost Maimonideans in the world (he was educated in the traditional Syrian community, and was recognized as an iluy (outstanding prodigy) in the Lakewood yeshiva when he learned under Rabbi Aharon Kotler) has this to say, in his book The Horizontal Society: Understanding the Covenant and Alphabetic Judaism, vol. 1, pp. 406-15, online here:
The style of the Mishne Tora is that of a scholarly recapitulation or "transcript" (Derekh Qesara, ‘Introduction,' MT I. 158) of the law that could provide a pivotal point of argument, but is not, and never was intended to be, a code as in a Civil law system which the judiciary must follow. Clearly and unambiguously, he wrote in the ‘Introduction’ (I. 160) that the laws he was formulating were "approximate" (Qerovim) – not final! Not only does the Mishne Tora contain laws and regulations impossible to apply in practice (Halakha le-Ma’ase), but Maimonides himself did not hesitate to depart from the Mishne Tora in the application of the law (Halakha le-Ma’ase). To alert the attentive reader to this effect, he noted that some of the procedural norms are not observed by the courts, "...since we do not have the means to execute the law to the hilt." (MT Sanhedrin 21:6. The same expression appears in Perush ha-Mishnayot, Megilla 1:1, vol. 2, p. 344.) ... In general, we may say that an important factor in the ‘contradictions’ between the Mishne Tora and Maimonides’ response is the failure to distinguish between the judicial application of a rule (Halakha le-Ma’ase) and the law as taught in school.It is often said that the Written Law presents the rigid ideal (gevurah), while the Oral Law presents the practical reality (hesed). If so, then the Mishneh Torah is the Oral Law written down, the practically-realistic (hesed-dik) Oral Law written in a rigid ideal (gevurah-dik) manner.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
The following is an adaptation of what I wrote elsewhere already, here:
I thought Rabbi Riskin's talk was very good.
I'm reminded of Rabbi Eliyahu Benamozegh, a great 19th-century Italian rabbi, who said that the Gospels are second only to the Midrash, and that the difference between Qabala and the Trinity is ten minus three. (See the article by Alick Isaacs, cited here).
I'm also reminded of Rabbi Yaakov Emden, who believed the Christian Bible actually intends for Judaism to keep mitzvot and for gentiles to keep the Noahide laws. He believes the Christian Bible never intended Christianity to replace Judaism. (See here.)
The greatest problem with Christianity, then, would be that it turned the Mashiah (Messiah) into a demi-god, and believed that a man could be G-d. This is the central problem with Christianity, but it isn't clear that Jesus himself subscribed to this problematic concept. Jesus himself could be seen as a normative Pharisee not unlike Bar Kokhba or the like. (Not that Jesus couldn't also be viewed as a heretic. I'm offering a reconciliatory revisionist view.)
And so the only problem I see with Rabbi Riskin's talk is that while he distinguished between the first and second comings, he said nothing about the Mashiah being a G-d or not. This is iqar haseir min ha-sefer ("the principal subject matter is missing from the book").
When Rabbi Benamozegh expressed his great respect for Christianity as a religion and non-Jews as people, he was in no way influenced by censors. His remarks were written as parts of entire books he wrote about Judaism and Christianity (such as his Israel and Humanity). He also had a private correspondence with a Catholic who wanted to convert to Judaism, but who was convinced by Rabbi Benamozegh to become a Noahide instead. These weren't individual remarks by him. These were rather very systematic and comprehensive ideologies of his.
By the way, he also wrote an entire book criticizing Christianity, saying that its focus on spirituality and belief was inferior to Judaism's practical and this-worldly approach. So Rabbi Benamozegh wasn't afraid of criticizing Christianity. Also, he did convince this aforementioned Catholic to stop being Catholic anymore.
So I think Rabbi Benamozegh's view was basically one similar to Rabbis Riskin and Emden, viz. that:
(1) Christians are not idolaters. Their theology and metaphysics are troubling, but we need not accept Rambam that wrong beliefs lead to damnation. Meiri focuses on deed, not creed, saying that G-d is concerned with whether you are "bound by the ways of religion", viewing monotheism primarily as a way of life rather than a belief system. (Not that beliefs are unimportant, G-d forbid! But they are secondary. As Rabbi Dr. Isidore Epstein puts it, the Prophets criticized the pagans not for incorrect belief, but rather, because they sacrificed humans and oppressed the poor.) We can follow Meiri rather than Rambam. Even when others accept Rambam that belief is important, they emphasize that, contra Rambam, only deliberate heresy (b'meizid) is real heresy, whereas Rambam said even unintentional heresy (b'shogeg) is heresy. A Christian would be an unintentional heretic, because he really truly does wish to get close to G-d, even if he is confused.
Now, there remains the issue of whether Christians are idolaters. I honestly believe they are not, that they believe in the same G-d as Jews. According to Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn, discussing Rabbi Soloveitchik's essay on interfaith dialogue, "Confrontation" (see here),
Maimonides is well known to have ruled that Christian trinitarianism is beyond the pale of legitimate theology, but given R. Soloveitchik’s statements about positive relations with Christians and his appearances at Christian institutions, it is likely that he agreed with other rabbinic authorities who reject Maimonides’ position.But this discussion is beside the point. If we were discussing a Jew entering a church, or his using Christian ritual objects, or other questions of avodah zara, then we'd have to clarify whether Christianity is idolatry or not. But right now, we are discussing our interpersonal human relationships with Christians, whether we can talk to them and tolerate them respectfully and lovingly. Whether or not they are technically idolaters, we can still follow the Meiri and say that since they are righteous and decent upstanding people who truly wish to come close to G-d, therefore, we may have good relations with them.
In Rabbi Dr. J. H. Hertz's Early and Late (Soncino Press, 1943), we read, (“A Vindication of Religion”, p. 197),
An essential element in that [religious] vision is God's holiness. And the Holy God can only be sanctified [i.e. made holy] through righteousness, Isaiah has for all time declared. That is, moral conduct is the beginning and end of religion, and men and nations are to be judged purely by their moral life. 'The righteous of all nations are heirs of immorality', is an unchallenged dogma of the Synagogue. In this way, undeviating insistence on absolute monotheism goes hand in hand with the broadest universalism. No wonder that the first voice raised in Western Europe for religious toleration was a Jewish voice. It was 900 years ago that the Spanish-Jewish philosopher and religious poet, Solomon ibn Gabirol, gave utterance, in a hymn that is still recited on the Day of Atonement in the older synagogues, to the then novel and daring conception, that every religion represents a longing for the Divine. He says,And Rabbi Hertz to Devarim 4:19 (Hertz Pentateuch p. 103) and in "Religious Tolerance" (Affirmations of Judaism; Sermons Addresses and Studies) quotes Malachi 1:11:'Thou art the Lord, and all beings are Thy Servants, Thy Domain:
And through those who serve idols vain
Thine honour is not detracted from,
For they all aim to Thee to come.'
For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same My name is great among the nations, and in every place offerings are presented unto My name, even pure libations; for My name is great among the nations, saith the Lord of Hosts.Rabbi Hertz comments,
Even the heathen nations that worship the heavenly hosts pay tribute to a Supreme Being, and in this way honour My name; and the offerings which they thus present (indirectly) unto Me are animated by a pure spirit, God looking to the heart of the worshipper. This wonderful thought was further developed by the Rabbis, and is characteristic of the universalism of Judaism.
Rabbi Eugene Korn writes (One God: Many Faiths A Jewish Theology of Covenantal Pluralism),
Idolatry according to some rabbinic opinions (Rabbi Menachem Ha-Meiri, 13th century France, and those later rabbinic authorities who accepted his conceptualization of idolatry) is any ideology that rejects the above moral obligations, which are the foundations of any civil society. Importantly, there is no explicit requirement in the Noahide covenant to believe in God. The Noahide covenant is thus primarily moral, devoid of explicit theological doctrine. Even if it were to require belief in a generic creator who implanted a moral order into the cosmos and who ensures punishment for those violating that order (Meiri believed that one could not lead a coherent moral life without a belief in a Creator of heaven and earth who punished the guilty and rewarded the innocent. Like other pre-moderns, a secular ethic was untenable), at most Noahites would have to believe only that "God is" and that His moral authority is supreme—but no specific theology or a specific way to worship God.
There's a wonderful midrash by Abraham Lincoln, often quoted by rabbis who think Hazal said it. According to this midrash: idolater comes to Abraham, Abraham feeds him, asks him to make a blessing. The guy refuses to worship only one G-d (he cannot understand birkat ha-mazon's mention of only one G-d!), so Abraham throws him out. G-d says to Abraham: "I put up with this ignorant polytheist for seventy years, and you cannot live with him for an hour?".
See also Professor Marc Shapiro's article about Rabbi Jonathan Sacks's The Dignity of Difference, here.
(2) Rabbis Emden et. al. follow a revisionist view of Christianity, in which Jesus was a rabbi, perhaps an Essene or a messianic or an apocalyptic, but no worse than, say, a Habadnik. Paul twisted Christianity, not Jesus. So Jesus might have had some wrong beliefs, but he was still within the fold of legitimate Judaism, even if barely so. Therefore, Jesus's beliefs were Jewish, and the Gospels are like the Midrash (according to Rabbi Benamozegh). This doesn't mean we cannot disagree with Jesus and the Gospels, but it gives us common ground, and lets us criticize Paul's idolatrous pagan teachings and dismissal of the practical mitzvot, while, at the same time, acknowledging the Jewish truths that Christianity has. We can do this already (Rambam did it in the uncensored version of the Mishneh Torah, saying that Christianity and Islam paved the way for knowledge of G-d and Mashiah to permeate the world), but having this revisionist view of Jesus makes it easier. It gives us more common ground, and serves as a useful rhetorical tool.
Now, I am definitely concerned with Rabbi Riskin's statements, insofar as they are vague and incomplete. This is why I criticized him for failing to mention how the Jewish Mashiah is not G-d. I've often said that if Jesus comes back from the dead as Mashiah, then I'll accept him, but that I'll never ever accept him as anything but the Jewish Messiah, a very human one, charged not with vicariously atoning for our sins (which only G-d can do), but instead only with bring tiqun olam and knowledge of G-d. But my criticisms of Rabbi Riskin are against how he says what he says, and not what he says. Rabbi Riskin needs to be very careful about how he says what he says, lest he be misinterpreted. This is a very real concern, but as for the actual substance of what he says? - There, I completely agree with him, or at least, I'm close enough to his opinions to be living in the same neighborhood.
After all, I am not only a follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane. I'm also a follower of Rabbi Menahem ha-Meiri and Rabbi Eliyahu Benamozegh and Rabbi Haim David Halevi.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Regarding Leftists in Israel rejecting democracy, see Moshe Feiglin's Where There are No Men. See also my Why I Won't Serve in the IDF: Being Jailed For IDF Conscientious Objection and The Judge in a Fascist Dictatorship: A Review of Judge Aharon Barak.
Regarding American Modern Orthodox rejection of democracy, see Advocacies and their Consequences, regarding the recent Melamed-Barak affair, centering around civil disobedience in the IDF.
Regarding Israeli "moderate" Religious-Zionism, see my Anti-democratic Har Etzion rabbis Speak Out Against Soldiers' Protests. Also, in my own yeshiva, Yeshivat Hesder Petah Tiqwa (which is among the closest Israel has to "Modern Orthodox"), civil disobedience in the IDF is denounced and criticized; my yeshiva rather agrees with the Left that such civil disobedience is "undemocratic".
By contrast, ultra-right-wing followers of Meir Kahane and Moshe Feiglin see John Locke as a someone to respect, someone whose views deserve attention. If you talk to a Kahanist and quote Henry David Thoreau's "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience" (which inspired Ghandi and King alike), he will eagerly lend an ear. In fact, earlier tonight, I had a discussion with a Kahanist friend of mine (David Rosenberg) regarding states' rights versus the Federal government and John Locke's views on slavery. My Kahanist friend is a committed libertarian, and he not only agrees with Locke, but he even believes that Locke's ideas are such self-evident truths held by Judaism, that he finds it lamentable that Locke even need to state his ideas. (I quote David Rosenberg in my "Religious Coercion, or On John Locke and the Kehilla's Right to Assess Tzedaqa", here and here.)
Similarly, Moshe Feiglin will routinely cite Alexis de Tocqueville, Ghandi, Ralph Waldo Emerson, etc. etc. Western liberal democratic rhetoric is a regular feature in Feiglin's repertoire.
Note also the following statistics, from Poll: Israeli Jews oppose minaret ban (Haviv Rettig Gur, Jerusalem Post, 11 Jan 2010):
- 57.5% of Swiss support minaret ban
- Israeli Dati-Leumi (National-Religious / Religious-Zionist) opposed the ban 72% to 16%, with 55% saying they were "strongly opposed"
- Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox) opposed the ban 53% to 21%
- Masortim ("traditional") opposed the ban 36% to 31%
- Hilonim (seculars Israelis) opposed the ban 42% to 29%
- National Union (far-right) supporters opposed the ban 92%, with 65% "strongly opposed" and just 8% expressing support
- Israel Beiteinu (right) supporters opposed a ban 64% to 36%
- Habayit Hayehudi (the successor to the National Religious Party) supporters opposed it by 54% to 20%
- United Torah Judaism: 68% to 22% opposed, Shas: 55% to 20% oppose
- Meretz (left): 66% opposed
- Labor, Kadima, Likud (center and left): 43%, 42%, 41% opposed and 27%, 31%, 41% support
Back to Kahane...
Now then, some might say that Kahane spoke against democracy, but this is not exactly true. In Wikipedia, we see a quote from Kahane that,
One absolutely cannot confuse them [viz. democracy and Judaism]. The objective of a democratic state is to allow a person to do exactly as he wishes. The objective of Judaism is to serve God and to make people better. These are two totally opposite conceptions of life.But this is not an objection to a democratic government. Kahane's point is rather that according to Judaism, individuals must follow G-d's laws, while according to democracy, individuals may do whatever they personally wants. Kahane here is discussing the individuals, not the government, and his words pose no objection to a democratic government. By the way, Kahane's description is not even entirely correct, technically speaking. Democracy does not state that the individual may do whatever he wants; it only states that he may do whatever he wants provided that he hurts no one else. According to this, the state may forbid anything which harms another. But if one goes farther than Locke and classifies religious observance in general as essential to the moral fabric and societal atmosphere, then religious coercion becomes conscionable even according to libertarian democracy. I make this argument in my "Religious Coercion, or On John Locke and the Kehilla's Right to Assess Tzedaqa" (here and here). But in any case, as I said, Kahane is here discussing individuals, not the government, and so his words pose no objection to a democratic government.
In "Kach and Meir Kahane: The Emergence of Jewish Quasi-Fascism", by Ehud Sprinzak, we read that according to Kahane,
If the democratically elected government obeys religious laws and the interpretation of Orthodox authorities, then it is admissable, but if it does not, all its laws, regulations and policies are unacceptable.But this too is no objection to democracy. Even the paragons of democracy, such as John Locke and Thomas Jefferson, appealed to natural law, i.e. the inherent G-d-given rights every individual has a human created in G-d's image ("endowed by their Creator", as the Declaration of Independence puts it), such as life, liberty, property, etc. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his "Letter from the Birmingham Jail", speaks of laws that are null and void by virtue of their inherent immorality and violation of natural law. Henry David Thoreau, in "Slavery in Massachusetts", explicitly speaks of the Bible being above the laws of the state. According to all these democratic thinkers, it is perfectly legitimate to posit G-d's laws as being above those of the state. In fact, without G-d, democracy collapses, for it was assumed that G-d is the source of the inherent rights all individuals have, these G-d-given rights being the very basis and justification for democracy. So while Kahane's words may dramatically expand the scope of which Divine laws are under consideration, i.e. including not merely life and liberty but also kashrut and Shabbat, nevertheless, his thought remains legitimate to democratic thought. He expands G-d's jurisdiction, but he remains within the contours of democracy.
There remains one last possible objection from Kahane. In Wikipedia, we read,
Kahane also believed that a Jewish democracy with non-Jewish citizens was self-contradictory because the non-Jewish citizens might someday become a numerical majority and vote to make the state non-Jewish:But even here, there is no objection to democracy per se. Kahane's fears were practical and pragmatic, not principled or ideological: Israel cannot be both democratic and Jewish, for if the Arabs become a majority, the retention of democracy will cause them to vote for Israel to stop being Jewish. Kahane's objection to democracy was not a principled rejection of Locke per se, but only a practical pragmatic argument. And even here, Kahane's rejection could be reframed in democratic terms: all of the land of Israel belongs to the corporation of Jewish people as a whole, and the Jewish people as a whole rule Israel. (See Rabbi Emanuel Rackman's One Man's Judaism, who proves this concept is a Jewish one. According to Drashot ha-Ran, the principle of dina d'malkhut dina, "the law of the land is law", does not apply to Israel, because all Jews own Israel; dina d'malkhuta dina only applies where Jews are aliens in another nation's land. Also, Rackman discusses the kinyan agav, a technical procedure in Jewish law where one uses real estate he owns to sell movable property along with the real estate. Rackman says that it was assumed that every Jew all over the world had a piece of land somewhere in Israel which he owned, allowing him to utilize the kinyan agav even if he owned no land in his diasporic home, as was the norm in Christian feudal societies that forbade Jews to own land.) The Jewish people have chosen (following Locke) to invest their powers in one sovereign state representing them as their proxy, and if the Arabs reject this Jewish state, then they have, following Locke themselves, refused to grant their consent to be governed under the social contract. If the Arabs refuse to be governed by the Jewish state, then the Jewish state for its part need not grant them any democratic rights. And since the Jewish people as a whole own the entire land of Israel, the Arabs have no recourse; they may either accept Jewish sovereignty over Israel or forfeit any and all rights to any democratic representation in Israel. Indeed, Rabbi Kahane would often state explicitly that if any individual Arab accepted both the Seven Noahide Laws and the fact of Israel's sovereignty as the Jewish state, then they (as Arabs) would be granted full human rights under the Jewish law of the ger toshav, the resident non-Jewish alien. According to Rabbi Kahane, his enemies were only those Arabs who desired to harm innocent Jews or who rejected the legitimacy of the Jewish state. Those Arabs who eschewed violence and accepted the Jewish state, said Rabbi Kahane, were perfectly legitimate and protected members of Israeli society, according to the Talmudic halakhah of the ger toshav. Rabbi Kahane would even say that the worst thing in the world, besides the death of a Jew, is the death of an Arab. He'd say that even the murderous terrorists that he wished to expel from Israel, even them, he wished them safety and a good, serene and happy life, only elsewhere, and not in Israel. By contrast, the members of Labor and Likud wish to kill the terrorists in warfare, such as in the recent invasion of Gaza. It is difficult to understand how Rabbi Kahane is the racist, when he alone seems to actually cherish and value the lives and welfare of even the terrorists. Thus, Professor Aviezer Ravitzky is completely incorrect when he states (Roots of Kahanism: Consciousness and Political Reality),
The question is as follows: if the Arabs settle among us and make enough children to become a majority, will Israel continue to be a Jewish state? Do we have to accept that the Arab majority will decide? Western democracy has to be ruled out. For me that's cut and dried: there's no question of setting up democracy in Israel, because democracy means equal rights for all, irrespective of racial or religious origins.
One readily discerns, on hearing these words, that the call for the expulsion of the Arabs is not linked to security or halakhic arguments alone; nor does it really address itself to the mind and the reason. It speaks to quite another level of the listener's psyche—the level of straight-forward, undisguised ethnic hostility, a hostility that only grows stronger in the face of the harsh realities of our region.
We might also look at another of Rabbi Kahane's statements, though it does not bear on democracy per se. According to Sprinzak (op. cit.),
he maintained that if the state was incapable or unready to react in kind against those who spilt so much as "one drop of Jewish blood," then it was the duty of individual Israelis to do so.Now, then, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, John Locke,
An illegitimate civil government seeks to systematically violate the natural rights of its subjects. It seeks to make them illegitimate slaves. Because an illegitimate civil government does this, it puts itself in a state of nature and a state of war with its subjects. The magistrate or king of such a state violates the law of nature and so makes himself into a dangerous beast of prey who operates on the principle that might makes right, or that the strongest carries it. In such circumstances, rebellion is legitimate as is the killing of such a dangerous beast of prey.In short, an illegitimate civil government that fails to protect its citizens, is accounted no government at all, and it is equivalent to the government-less state of nature. In this state,
There are no police, prosecutors or judges in the state of nature as these are all representatives of a government with full political power. The victims, then, must enforce the law of nature in the state of nature. In addition to our other rights in the state of nature, we have the rights to enforce the law and to judge on our own behalf. We may, Locke tells us, help one another. We may intervene in cases where our own interests are not directly under threat to help enforce the law of nature.In the state of nature, everyone is a vigilante to protect his own rights and those of his neighbors. There is of course a problem with this:
Still, the person who is most likely to enforce the law under these circumstances is the person who has been wronged. The basic principle of justice is that the punishment should be proportionate to the crime. But when the victims are judging the seriousness of the crime, they are more likely to judge it of greater severity than might an impartial judge. As a result, there will be regular miscarriages of justice. This is perhaps the most important problem with the state of nature.In the state of nature (which includes not only the absence of government but also an illegitimate government), vigilantism results in uneven and unpredictable application of justice, and perhaps miscarriages of justice. But this is not Rabbi Kahane's fault; if the State of Israel fails to protect its citizens, making it (according to Locke) an illegitimate government, thus justifying (according to Locke) vigilantism, and if (according to Locke) vigilantism results in injustice, the fault lies with the Israeli government that violated the social contract and returned matters to the state of nature; Rabbi Kahane can only work with what he is dealt. It is the State of Israel that is anti-democratic, not Rabbi Kahane.
So far, we have not found that Rabbi Meir Kahane was opposed to democracy. But as I have remarked above, Israeli Leftists, American Modern Orthodox, and Israeli "moderate" Religious-Zionists are very much opposed to Locke and democracy.
First, look at Martin Luther King, Jr.'s example. Did anarchy result from his campaign? I could rest my case right here if I were so inclined.
Chaos is an unlikely result, because of the natural human inclination to follow the "mob mentality" and just "go with the flow". It is hard enough for even strong-willed people to break the law. This is the lesson of the "Emperor's New Clothes.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson says ("Politics"), "We are superstitious, and esteem the statute somewhat: so much life as it has in the character of living men, is its force."
Even Henry David Thoreau, the father of modern civil disobedience, found it difficult to break the law. In his words,
I do not wish to quarrel with any man or nation. I do not wish to split hairs, to make fine distinctions, or set myself up as better than my neighbors. I seek rather, I may say, even an excuse for conforming to the laws of the land. I am but too ready to conform to them. Indeed, I have reason to suspect myself on this head; and each year, as the tax-gatherer comes round, I find myself disposed to review the acts and position of the general and State governments, and the spirit of the people, to discover a pretext for conformity.
So in fact, it is simply unlikely that civil disobedience will lead to anarchy. And not only is this the case, but moreover, in the unlikely event that it does in fact lead to anarchy, maybe that anarchy is not as bad as the totalitarianism that is its alternative. If disobeying the government leads to chaos, is this worse than fascism? As Moshe Feiglin says (Between Conscientious Objection and Anarchy),
What is the real danger? The normative person has no desire for anarchy. He strives for personal and financial security and a calm environment in which to raise his children. The predisposition of the normative citizen is to obey the government, and that is good. There is no real danger that suddenly everybody will start doing whatever they want. If tens of thousands of normal, working, family people are suddenly willing to pay a steep price in jail terms and loss of income, that means that the government – even if it was elected in legitimate elections – has crossed a line that it should not have crossed. Conscientious objection does not create anarchy. On the contrary, it guards the state from moral corruption and totalitarianism.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
I even retitled it from "John Locke and the Kehilla's Right to Assess Tzedaqa" to "Religious Coercion, or On John Locke and the Kehilla's Right to Assess Tzedaqa" to reflect the fact that I deal with religious coercion in general relatively extensively.
Oh, and I finally make sense to myself! I've always wondered why I'm left-wing on issues of religion but right-wing on issues of politics. Now I understand: I'm a libertarian on everything! I'm a libertarian! That's why I love Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits and Rabbi Haim David Halevy - that's why I love Rabbi Meir Kahane and Moshe Feiglin. It all makes so much sense now!
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
My question, my analysis and investigation into it, and my ultimate answer to it, are all offered from the perspective of Orthodox Judaism, and it should be read as such. In other words: for me to disagree with the Talmud or Rambam is not an option. I take it for granted that their opinions are non-negotiable, and so rather than disagreeing with them, I must instead navigate my way through them and reconcile myself with them.
Also, being that I am a right-wing West Bank "settler" type of Orthodox Jew, libertarianism and the thinking of Western liberal democracy will be very important in my analysis. Israeli Leftist grant very little credence to democracy in general and John Locke in particular, but Religious-Zionist Jews tend to value democracy far more than the ultra-secular Israeli Left does.
I. The Question
We know that historically, Jewish communities (kehillot) would assess tzedaqa like a tax. At the very least, they'd coerce misers to give tzedaqa. I.e., even if they didn't they didn't assess tzedaqa as a tax as a matter of course, rather leaving it up to individual conscience, they'd still compel individual misers when the situation arose. As Rambam says (Hilkhot Matnot `Aniyim 7:9),
Whoever does not want to give tzedaqa, or gives less than what befits him, the court forces him, and beat him, until he will give as much as [the court] establish he should give. And [the court may authorize for its designated agents to] go into his domain and take whatever it befits him to give.
The question is, how could the Jewish authorities do this? Granted that everyone has an individual obligation to give tzedaqa, but who gave the kehilla the right to assess tzedaqa as a tax and/or to compel misers to give tzedaqa? Who made the kehilla boss?
II. John Locke on Taxation
If you carefully read things like John Locke, Cato's Letters, and the other examples of democratic thought (anything that Thomas Jefferson would have read), one constantly recurring principle is that the government has only those powers which the people grant it. Social contract theory would dictate that the government is only the people's proxy. Thomas Paine's Common Sense (written to advocate the Revolutionary War against Britain) gives a brief overview of Locke-ian theory (specifically in the sections "Of the Origin and Design of Government in General" and "Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession"), and Ralph Waldo Emerson's Politics is excellent as well.
(Emerson's piece really is extraordinary. He combines the best of Locke-ian social contract theory and democracy (will of the people, consent of the governed) in general, along with the theory of civil disobedience to morally unjust law, as exemplified by Henry David Thoreau (On the Duty of Civil Disobedience), Martin Luther King Jr. (Letter from the Birmingham Jail), and Mohandas Ghandi.)
The issue, however, is that if the government is only the people's proxy, then it cannot have any powers which the people themselves do not have. All the people can do is surrender their own powers to something more capable and powerful, to execute those powers on their behalf.
Now, I cannot go to my neighbor's house and take his money to feed the poor. Therefore, I cannot grant the government that power either. The entire concept of taxation for the sake of social welfare is anathema to the Framers of the United States Constitution.
Everyone has a right to his own "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" (or "property" in place of happiness), and everyone has the concomitant obligation to honor others' rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". So the liberty and rights are very negative; everyone has the right to sit under his own vine in content, but no one has a positive right to anything which he can demand from others. Therefore, the government's task is only to police society and make sure that everyone's rights are honored by everyone else. According to Cato's Letters,
The two great laws of human society, from whence all the rest derive their course and obligation, are those of equity and self-preservation: By the first all men are bound alike not to hurt one another; by the second all men have a right alike to defend themselves.
Government therefore can have no power, but such as men can give...no man can give to another what is none of his own...
Nor has any man in the state of nature power...to take away the life of another, unless to defend his own, or what is as much his own, namely, his property. This power therefore, which no man has, no man can transfer to another.
Nor could any man in the state of nature have a right to violate the property of another...as long as he himself was not injured by that industry and those enjoyments. No man therefore could transfer to the magistrate that right which he had not himself.
No man in his senses was ever so wild as to give an unlimited power to another to take away his life, or the means of living... But if any man restrained himself from any part of his pleasures, or parted with any portion of his acquisitions, he did it with the honest purpose of enjoying the rest with greater security, and always in subservience to his own happiness, which no man will or can willingly and intentionally give away to any other whatsoever.
As I said, all this is utterly opposed to the concept of welfare, taxation, etc. A good explanation of this fact is found in "The Rise of Government and the Decline of Morality" by James A. Dorn. As Dorn shows, Locke-ian thought and the United States Constitution would both regard the concept of the modern welfare state as anathema. Locke's thought in general, as well as the Constitution properly understood, forbid coercion in this area.
(Dorn also shows that on purely pragmatic and utilitarian grounds, the welfare state is ill-conceived. I.e., even from a utilitarian perspective of doing that which will benefit the poor the most, without regard to its cost or justice from the perspective of the taxpayers, even from this perspective, the welfare state is ill-advised and ill-conceived. Jews committed to social justice will likely be appalled. But regarding Dorn's pragmatic arguments, that even from a utilitarian perspective, the welfare state is simply ineffective and inefficient - even from a Jewish perspective, this is a valid argument; Judaism wants its tzedaqa to do good, and if the welfare state doesn't work, then why should Jews support it? Second, even according to Judaism and tiqun olam, the government as such does not have an obligation in Judaism to perform welfare; people do. Even if we make a legal fiction and say the government is one "person", nevertheless, all other people are people as well. The obligation is that justice be done, and if justice can be better done by free-willed individuals than by the government, then even Judaism would agree that the welfare state should be eschewed. That is, Judaism is more concerned with the practical outcome than with the acts along the way (see Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Berkovits), and so if Dorn's pragmatic/utilitarian argument is correct, then Judaism would agree with libertarians, without our even having to address the theoretical arguments of Locke-ian morality, on which Judaism and libertarianism might disagree. Additionally, sevara is d'oraita, and so if the pragmatic/utilitarian argument is correct, that is enough. That "do no harm" comes before "do good" is a valid sevara (logical argument), and if welfare does more harm than good, that is a legitimate halakhic argument in Judaism. But all this - viz. pragmatism and utilitarianism and practical considersations - all this is another subject; we are concerned here with theory, not with practice; we are concerned with pure morality and justice, and not with utilitarianism or pragmatism. All this was was by way of aside.)
One important clarification, for which I am indebted to Rabbi Dr. Alan Brill, for forcing me to clarify the following: my analysis assumes that John Locke was a libertarian, his thinking being in correspondence with such libertarian thinkers and writings as Cato's Letters and the United States Constitution. But this correspondence between Locke and the others is not entirely clear. Locke was a liberal, which Wiktionary defines as,
Any political movement founded on the autonomy and personal freedom of the individual, progress and reform, and government by law with the consent of the governed.By contrast, the later thinkers who followed Locke were libertarians, which Wiktionary defines as,
(US) a political philosophy maintaining that all persons are the absolute owners of their own lives, and should be free to do whatever they wish with their persons or property, provided they allow others the same liberty.It is very difficult to find a difference between the two, but there might be a very tiny but meaningful one. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Locke's Political Philosophy,
It seems clear that at the very least Locke allows taxation to take place by the consent of the majority rather than requiring unanimous consent (2.140). Nozick takes Locke to be a libertarian, with the government having no right to take property to use for the common good without the consent of the property owner.In other words, the difference is: does taxation require majority or unanimous consent of the governed? I will be assuming the latter, the libertarian interpretation of Locke, that universal consent is required. But this is taking a side in a dispute about the intent of Locke himself. It might be better for me to say instead that I am simply following the libertarian consensus of Locke's followers, especially of the Framers of the United States Constitution and the authors of the Federalist Papers. So my views generally follow Locke, but here and their, they might diverge very slightly.
And as I said, I'm sure that everything I've said so far is utterly foreign to the Tanakh, Gemara, Rambam, etc. If I started speaking about social contract theory to them, and my right to revolt against the government when I am not pleased with it, they'd think I'm crazy. Nevertheless, the Tanakh tells us that the people choose a king. I feel quite confident that the basic roots of democracy are in the Tanakh, and indeed, it is from the Tanakh that John Locke derived his ideas. See:
- Yoram Hazony, "The Jewish Origins of the Western Disobedience Tradition", Azure No. 4 Summer 5758 / 1998, here
- Yoram Hazony, "Judaism and the Modern State", Azure No. 21 Summer 5765 / 2005, here
- Fania Oz-Salzberger, "The Jewish Roots of Western Freedom", Azure Summer 5762 / 2002, here
III. Repetition of My Question
So again, my question is: given that we know that historically, the Jewish communities would assess tzedaqa like a tax, how could they do this? Granted that everyone has an individual obligation to give tzedaqa (even Locke himself acknowledged this), but who gave the kehilla the right to assess tzedaqa? Who made the kehilla boss?
IV. Possible Answer #1
Now, then, one might argue that the people made the kehilla the boss. But even according to this, any one individual could (according to social contract theory) still withdraw his individual democratic consent to be governed under the social contract, and thus deny the kehilla the right to assess taxes from him - democracy encompasses civil disobedience (whether draft-dodging or tax-evasion) no less than voting. As Professor Peter Suber says (Civil Disobedience):
Objection: We must obey the law under a contract with other members of our society. We have tacitly consented to the laws by residing in the state and enjoying its benefits. Reply: ... But even for Locke ... the theory permits disobedience, even revolution, if the state breaches its side of the contract. ...
V. Possible Answer #2
Others will argue based on the fact that Judaism in general permits (or mandates) punishment of sin and coercion to do good. This is part of the general principle of kol yisrael `areivim ze le-ze, all Jews are responsible for each other. If your neighbor sins, it is your responsibility to coerce him to do good. This would be positive liberty, forcing another to do what he really ought to do (even against his will) rather than Locke-ian negative liberty, live and let live. R' Zev Sero gave me a good response in this vein, saying (here),
As for your question: how, if this [Locke-ian social contract] theory is true, the gemara can say "me'asin al hatzedakah", that one can be forced to give tzedakah, and if someone is assessed for tzedakah and doesn't give it his property can be confiscated and sold at auction to pay it, the answer is simple: the beis din can make a Jew give tzedakah under exactly the same power with which it can make him wear tefillin. ... And He [viz. G-d] has made each of us responsible for our fellow Jews, and authorised us to use force if necessary to make each other keep halacha. That authority rests with the beis din. When they lawfully order him [viz. a recalcitrant husband] to give [to his wife] a get [writ of divorce], and he refuses, he is violating "lo tasur" ["don't deviate from the words of the rabbis"], and they may beat him to make him comply. Under the exact same power they may also make him do any other mitzvah, such as wearing tefillin, and even mitzvot derabanan [Rabbinic commandments]; hence "makat mardus" [lashes of rebelliousness, given to those who violate Rabbinic commandments]. And under the same power they can make him give the tzedakah that they have estimated a person of his financial standing ought to give.
But this answer is not valid for our specific case of assessing tzedaqa as a tax. There area few reasons for this:
First, we are entitled to fiddle and tinker around with Locke a bit. There's a difference between a liberal and a communal democracy, with the latter being less individualistic and more societal. America is mostly liberal, but even things like the Civil Rights Act are communal. According to pure Locke-ian liberalism, if I want to keep blacks out of my store, that's my prerogative. If I hate people in wheelchairs and don't want to build them ramps, hey, that's my right! So a communal democracy would take a broader outlook, and look at things from the standpoint of the society at large. It'll tend towards more positive liberty (i.e. coercion), but it's still closer to negative liberty ("live and let live") than to positive liberty. You could still say the black and disabled people have a right not to be discriminated against (negative liberty), and you're enforcing their negative liberty. You're using positive liberty and infringing my right to keep out anyone I don't like, but you're also using negative liberty and upholding their right to be respected as equal human beings. It's a little bit of violence against Locke, but not too terribly much. It's still more libertarian than not.
Based on that, we can still, according to Locke and libertarianism, execute Shabbat violators, for example. If Shabbat expresses G-d's existence, and if G-d's existence is the basis for all morality, then anyone who violates Shabbat is liable to violate all morality. It used to be that if you violated Shabbat today, that you'd murder tomorrow. In fact, the 13th century Provencal halakhist, Rabbi Menahem ha-Meiri, assumed that belief in G-d was required to be moral. In a famous theory of his, called gedurot be-darkhei ha-datot, "nations restricted by the ways of religion", he said that non-Jews who followed religions like Christianity and Islam were to be treated like Jews in many ways, because they were moral and G-d-fearing individuals. But even the Meiri assumed that atheists were immoral and couldn't be trusted, and should be treated harshly. Now, as Rabbi Yaakov Ettlinger of Germany (the Arukh la-Ner) said (in a theory called tinok she-nishba, "taken captive as infants", i.e. Jews taken captive (physically or metaphorically) by non-Jews as infants and thus not liable for ignorance of Judaism), this is no longer true. Rabbi Ettlinger saw that in his day, in Reform-Jewish Germany, Shabbat violators were otherwise ethically-sound individuals. He saw that it was no longer true that Shabbat violators were ethically-challenged. But back in the time of the Tanakh, Gemara, and Meiri, before the time of Rabbi Ettlinger, executing Shabbat violators was perfectly libertarian. A Shabbat-violators was a threat to the safety and morality of society.
Many of Locke's arguments for religious toleration (in his Letter on Toleration) are not relevant to Judaism. Locke took Christianity for granted, in which belief is paramount. Thus, Locke argued that everyone has a right to his own salvation, and that it ought not be the government's concern whether one wishes to believe orthodoxy or heresy and go to heaven or hell. Second, Locke argued that coercion cannot change one's beliefs anyway. But Judaism focuses on deed and not creed, and this renders both of Locke's arguments null. Regarding Locke's argument that everyone has a right to his own inner belief, the the problem is that in Judaism, the deed is a public act. One may have the right to choose whether to believe in the historicity of Sinai or not, but for him to drive a car on Shabbat might be an act of disturbing the peace, of disrupting the religious atmosphere. Regarding Locke's argument that coercion cannot affect belief, this is indeed true, but Judaism focuses on the deed, and coercion can affect the deed! So only Locke's third argument remains, viz. that we must be humble and admit that we have no way of knowing which religion is the true one. Nowadays, the Orthodox recognize (according to the accepted tinok she-nishba thesis of Rabbi Yaakov Ettlinger) that the non-Orthodox Jews are not to blame for their lack of belief and observance, for they were raised in their non-Orthodoxy, and do not know better. This thesis was first put forth by Rambam, who said that the Medieval Qaraites, who rejected the Talmud, were simply following the beliefs of their parents who also rejected the Talmud, and that they didn't know any better. (However, the very first original Qaraites, says Rambam, were in fact quite blameworthy.) Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the leader of 19th-century German Neo-Orthodoxy, and the student of Rabbi Ettlinger, held that Reform rabbis were blameworthy but that their congregants were not. Rambam and Rabbi Hirsch both recognized that we must analyze the individual's personal reasons for believing heresy, and determine whether or not he is personally to blame, or whether he is merely following a leader in good faith. (Toby Katz, the daughter of the late Rabbi Nachman Bulman, who was Hirschian in belief, said to me that in her opinion, non-Orthodox rabbis today are also not blameworthy for their beliefs, as they are merely following their rabbis, who are following their rabbis, etc., all the way back to the original heretical Reform rabbis.) Also, as Rav Kook, the late leader of Israeli Religious-Zionism said, the non-Orthodox taken are taken captive, as it were, by the secular zeitgeist. They are, through no fault of their own, convinced by modern Western philosophy that Orthodoxy is false. They mean no evil; they are simply following what they believe is the scientific and proven truth. In fact, they mean quite well. In the 16th century, Rabbi David ibn Abi Zimra (Radbaz) said that if anyone believes heresy not because he seeks a pretext for non-observance, but rather, because he truly and honestly believes that reason and intellect dictate that heresy, then, says the Radbaz, this individual is not truly a heretic. According to all these, it is a quite simple matter to for the Orthodox to tolerate heretical belief. However, heretical deed remains a serious question, because, as said, non-observance can disrupt the social fabric and the religious atmosphere. This essay in large aims to investigate whether religious coercion in matters of deed is legitimate.
As my friend David Rosenberg (who learned in the same baal teshuva yeshiva as me, viz. Machon Meir, and who is a follower of Rav Meir Kahane like me) said,
This halacha [viz. tzedaqa] is, in its origin, a personal one [i.e. binding on the individual only]. However, like many personal individual mitzvot, it was placed upon the local authorities to enforce observance. This was not unique to tzedaka, et al, rather it was part and parcel of all observance, for both deorita [Torah-based] and derabanan [Rabbinic] mitzvot.
The essence of my point is that the coercion there [in tzedaqa], as stated by the Rambam, was akin to the coercion of all mitzvot, because in those days coercion was an important tool in maintaining a healthy community, where a few "bad weeds" wouldn't spoil the otherwise strongly religious population. [Emphasis added.]
I don't think the distinction was made between Shabbath and tzedeka; compulsion was employed by the shotrim [religious police] for all mitzvot. Its clear from the beginning of Hilchot Sanhedrin in the Rambam that the officers maintained a certain "atmosphere" if you will on all issues and in all places and enforced the performance of all mitzvoth.
Today, however, when coercion for mitzvot isn't relevant, there would be no governmental involvement in enforcing any commandments, including tzedaka. Taxation, which is to pay for those things which the taxpayer benefits, is not included in this concept of tzedaka, obviously. And a person must still give tzedaka, just as he must still keep shabbat, but just as the government wont send agents to force him to keep shabbat at home, it wont force him to give tzedaka.
Luckily, according to Rabbis Akiva, Tarfon, and Shimon ben Gamliel in Gemara Makkot, we don't have to execute Shabbat violators anymore. Rabbis Akiva and Tarfon said they wouldn't execute murderers (they'd cross-examine the witnesses so thoroughly that no one would ever have enough evidence to be executed), and all the more so they wouldn't execute Shabbat violators either. As for Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, he argued against Rabbis Akiva and Tarfon that they'd cause murder to proliferate and bloodshed to increase. Ergo, he had no problem with their failure to execute Shabbat violators. Based on this, I'll tell people, with a completely straight face, that a theocracy in Israel would not necessarily entail any coercion to keep Shabbat, or to keep anything else in halakhah for that matter. That's what's great about Judaism - lo bashamaim hi ("it is not in heaven", i.e. it is here on earth for us to do what we think is right based on the Torah, and not what G-d commands us anymore). To paraphrase Jackson's statement to Marshall, if G-d wants Shabbat violators dead, then let Him do it.
Something similar is said by Rabbi Dr. David Zvi Hoffman (one the foremost authorities in 19th-century German Neo-Orthodoxy) in his Problems of the Diaspora in the Shulchan Aruch:
There can be no doubt that a number of rules in the Shulchan Aruch, the practice of which would be be frowned upon today as a possible defamation of the Divine name, were welcomed by the non-Jewish world of medieval times. As an example we refer to a ruling of the Sh. A. which must have found critical acclaim in the 16th century but which today this same Sh. A. would surely consider a step in the direction of a Chillul Hashem. Shortly before the destruction of the second Temple, the leaders who were responsible for the edition of the Jewish law saw fit to abolish the death penalty. Since then no Jewish court as a rule had the power to decree a sentence of death even if the state indicated its approval. An exception are heretics and apostates. Their crimes, according to the Sh. A., are still punishable by death.In short: the general intellectual and social and cultural climate cannot but influence the execution of religious law. In an age when tolerance and religious freedom were not yet even on the horizon, an age when belief in G-d and religious observance were inextricably intertwined with morality and ethical interpersonal behavior, heretics and apostates were damaging to the basic fabric of society, and had to be dealt with harshly. Today, things are of course entirely different.
The Sh. A. was codified at a time when heretics and apostates were most cruelly persecuted by the Christians. Thus, the Jewish attitude towards heretics must have found the wholehearted approval of the non-Jewish world. On the contrary, a more conciliatory treatment of the heretics would have been branded as being godless and irreligious, unworthy of the Jewish rabbis.
We are firmly convinced that the Sh. A. would have strictly prohibited the persecution of heretics and apostates because of a possible Chillul Hashem, were it not for the fact that the principles of tolerance and religious freedom found few followers in medieval times. Nowadays, when a majority of the civilized countries upholds the principle of tolerance as a basic concept of democracy, the execution of the Sh. A.-paragraph concerning the heretics and apostates would constitute a major injury to the Jewish religion, a veritable Chillul Hashem.
There is a story I once saw somewhere, about an Eastern European rabbi - he may have been Polish or Lithuanian or Russian; it matters not - giving advice to another. Now, remember, this rabbi was from a time when pogroms in the name of Christianity were the norm; Jews were burned at the stake for their crime of murdering G-d. So this rabbi, as might be expected, didn't exactly think very highly of Christianity. And yet his advice was this: if you ever find yourself riding on a Christian's carriage, and the carriage passes a church without the Christian driver crossing himself, get off the carriage immediately! This is amazing: countless pogroms against Jews were committed in the name of Christianity, and yet this rabbi tells others to avoid riding with a Christian who fails to show sufficient reverence for a church! In that time, Christians may have been prone to a horrifying and at times murderous lack of religious tolerance, but atheists were feared even more. Thus, even Locke-ian libertarianism and negative liberty could justify religious coercion, once upon a time, given the conditions we have described.
Suffice it to say for now, then, many Orthodox Jews would oppose coercion to contribute to tzedaqa for the same reason that they oppose coercing non-religious Jews to keep the Shabbat. The reason is the same libertarian one, viz. free will and freedom of conscience.
There remains a question regarding a famous ruling of the Rambam. Rambam describes coercing the recalcitrant husband in terms of positive liberty, saying (Hilkhot Gerushin 20:20, translated in Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn, "Tradition Meets Modernity: On the Conflict of Halakhah and Political Liberty", Tradition 25:4, Summer 1991),
And why is this get not null and void seeing that it is the product of duress, whether exerted by the heathens or by the Israelites? Because duress applies only to him who is compelled and pressed to do something which the Torah does not obligate him to do, for example, one who is lashed until he consents to sell something or give it away as a gift. On the other hand, he whose evil inclination induces him to violate a commandment or commit a transgression, and who is lashed until he does what he is obligated to do, or refrains from what he is forbidden to do, cannot be regarded as a victim of duress; rather he has brought duress upon himself by submitting to his evil intention. Therefore this man who refuses to divorce his wife, inasmuch ashe desires to be of the Israelites, he wils to abide by all the commandments and to keep away from transgressions-it is only his evil inclination that has oveiwhelmed him. Once he is lashed until his inclination is weakened and he says, "I consent," it is the same as if he had given the get voluntarily.In other words, since the recalcitrant husband has a G-dly soul and really wants to be a good person, therefore, we can beat him until he consents to divorce his wife as he really wants to, deep down inside. That is, we force him to do what he really wants to do, which is positive liberty. But even this is not a challenge to libertarianism. What Rambam is really explaining is why this act of coercion does not render the get invalid as a coerced get; the husband, to divorce his wife, must do so willingly. The question for Rambam is, why does compelling him here not render the get invalid? The answer is that the husband is being compelled to do what he really wants to do, and so the get is not invalidated as a coerced get. But the very reason for coercing him in the first place is not for his own sake, but rather, for that of his wife. The original reason for this whole affair is one of negative liberty, of the wife's right to be divorced. In fact, Rambam and the Babylonian Gaonim (the heads of the Babylonian yeshivot) took the woman's liberty so seriously, that they held that if a woman wanted a divorce just because she doesn't want to be married anymore, period, in that case, the husband could be compelled to divorce her, even against his will. As Rambam said (Hilkhot Ishut 14:8),
She is not like a captive woman that she should submit to one she dislikes.If she wants a divorce, the man is obligated to give her one; he cannot hold her captive. So Rambam's coercing the recalcitrant husband is still acceptable to a libertarian. (Unfortunately, many halakhic authorities rejected Rambam's view, holding that a man could be compelled only if he committed an objective violation of marital law against his wife; see Professor David R. Blumenthal's review of Michael J. Broyde, Marriage, Divorce, and the Abandoned Wife in Jewish Law. Rambam held what Broyde and Blumenthal call "unilateral no fault", while other authorities, regarding an objective infraction on the part of the husband to justify compelling him to divorce, demanded "legal fault".)
So far, we've explained how Judaism could coerce observance of mitzvot in general, such as Shabbat and gittin (divorce) and tefillin, etc. Even according to Locke-ian libertarianism, all this coercion can be condoned.
But collecting tzedaqa as a tax is something different. At least with Shabbat and tefillin and gittin, there are definite objects of my observance. I have to put tefillin on me. I have to avoid lighting that fire, and I have to divorce that woman. But with tzedaqa, there are a million different possible recipients of my money. How can you force me to give money to this poor guy, when maybe, I want to give it to that other poor guy?
With murder or Shabbat violation or tefillin, my violation is definite, and my punishment is definite. If I have to be killed for Shabbat violation, it doesn't matter to me which beit din kills me, assuming the verdict is indeed correct and not a miscarriage of justice. Whether or not the beit din is one I accept, either way, I'm dead. After I had already written this, I saw that according to Garth Kemerling, Locke: Social Order (I thank Rabbi Dr. Alan Brill for pointing me to this source),
[T]he state of nature vests each reasonable individual with an independent right and responsibility to enforce the natural law by punishing those few who irrationally choose to violate it. Because all are equal in the state of nature, the proportional punishment of criminals is a task anyone may undertake.In other words: since every individual is equal, everyone has an equal prerogative (or perhaps duty) to punish those who violate others' rights and the natural law. Indeed, the same is apparent if we work in reverse: if we assume (following Locke) that the government can have only those rights which the people themselves already had and delegated to the government as their proxy, then if the government may execute murderers, then obviously, individual people also have this right too, until they surrender it to the government. So again, with many laws, even if I don't personally accept the beit din punishing me, this is of no consequence, for even individuals absent a government could also punish me just as well. My punishment remains the same in any case, regardless of who - whether government or vigilante - executes it.
But with tzedaqa, when the beit din takes my money, they'll give it to the social cause they like themselves. So now, it really does matter to me which beit din takes my money. So who is this beit din to tell me I have to give tzedaqa? Maybe I'd prefer it if the other beit din took my money, and gave it to the cause they like rather than the one the other beit din likes.
A second distinction: it's been a while since I studied it, and I forget the exact details, but there's the whole discussion in Gemara Mesekhet (Tractate) Makkot about giving lashes for a sin that can be corrected and undone, such as theft. Do we lash you when you fail to correct your transgression immediately, or only when you render it impossible to ever correct it in the future? I think it was something like: regarding the prohibition of taking eggs from a nest with the mother bird around, if you do sin and take the mother with the eggs around, you can always put the eggs back. So do we lash you the moment you fail to put the eggs back immediately, or do we lash you when you eat the eggs and make it impossible to ever put them back? I forget exactly, but I think that's the gist of the discussion in Makkot. Tzedaqa is like that discussion in Makkot. Yes, I have to give 10% of my income to charity. But maybe I'll wait until I'm on my deathbed and I'll give 10% of everything I've ever earned in my entire life! So until the day I die, you cannot be sure I haven't done the mitzvah of tzedaqa. With Shabbat, you know I violated it the moment I light a match. With tefillin, you know I violated it the moment the sun goes down. But with tzedaqa, how can you be sure I violated it?
So even under libertarianism, it's relatively easy to justify punishing for Shabbat or tefillin, as long as you feel free to fiddle with Locke a little bit. But tzedaqa remains a huge question.
I asked my own rabbi, Rabbi Marc Angel what he thought about this, and he responded that,
You are assuming that taxes/tzedaqah are imposed based on the individual's ceding these rights to the kahal/government. I don't think halakha is based on this assumption. Rather, it's based on the notion that no one "owns" his property, but that the property is "on loan" from G-d. Thus, G-d has a voice in how that property is to be utilized. The halakha, reflecting the "will of G-d", tells us that 10 percent of our income (for the average individual) is not "ours", but is in trust to help the poor and or tzedaqah in general. The kahal/government has the right to coerce us to pay this "tax"; but the kahal/government does not have the right to force us to give lifnim mi-shurat ha-din [beyond the letter of the law].I responded that his point is a very good one. In fact, I said, the entire principle of hefker beit din hefker ("anything the beit din declares ownerless for reallocation, is indeed so") emphasizes this fact that our property is on loan from G-d. As Rabbi Emanuel Rackman notes in One Man's Judaism, what hefker beit din hefker really proclaims is that property is a means, not an end, and that ultimately, the rabbis can reapportion it for the greater good. But I told my rabbi, I'm not trying to argue against the halakhah, only against its execution and enforcement. I agree that (according to G-d and the halakhah) everyone must give tzedaqa. In fact, John Locke also held by a commandment to give tzedaqa to the poor, based on the Tanakh. But my objection is against the enforcement of this obligation, i.e. positive liberty, forcing another to do what he is obligated or ought to do. what gives an individual beit din (Jewish court) or dayan (judge) the right to enforce my obligation? Who gave him authority? Maybe I'm my own dayan. My contention is that we are accountable to G-d, not to other humans, for our obligation to pay tzedaqa. Indeed, the kahal is forcing you to pay your obligation to pay 10%, but what if I have a different halakhic view, that something less than 10% is mandatory? Or what if I want to choose where my 10% goes, to these poor and not to those poor? Who put the kahal in charge? What gives them the right to impose a certain halakhic view on me, or to choose where my 10% goes? This is why Locke and others said the legal system should content itself with negative liberty, i.e. indisputable rights and everyone's right to freely practice them. For example, everyone has a right to life and no one has a right to murder, so there's no real infringement of your rights if even a court whose authority you reject holds you accountable for murder. With such things, it's very difficult for one to cry foul and say his rights were infringed, assuming the trial was fair and impartial. But in terms of positive liberty, i.e. someone else forcing you to do what you really ought to do, there's a real question. Yes, I have an obligation to give tzedaqa, but who gave the beit din the right to force me to do this?
Indeed, as Rabbi Emanuel Rackman notes again in One Man's Judaism, the obligation to separate terumah and ma'aser (tithes for the kohanim, levi'im, and poor) absolutely does not imply an obligation to actually hand it over to its intended recipients. One must separate the tithe in order to render his food kosher, but following that, he may let the tithe rot in his cupboard. G-d may hold you accountable, but no human will. Thus, personal autonomy is retained as against government coercion. Moreover, it ensures that the kohanim and levi'im, who (as priests and their assistants respectively) were the rabbis of the day, will be solicitous for your welfare. If they want to get paid (unlike the Egyptian and Mesopotamian priesthood, the kohanim were not landed), they had to cultivate a warm relationship with you. You were required to give them their tithes, but they could not force you; your compliance with the law was between you and G-d.
(As an aside, Rabbi Emanuel Rackman's One Man's Judaism is a masterpiece of the combination of left-wing enlightened Orthodox Judaism and libertarian politics. Upon recent reflection, I finally make sense to myself! I've always wondered why I'm left-wing on issues of religion and Jewish Orthodoxy but right-wing on issues of politics. Now I understand: I'm a libertarian on everything! That's why I love Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Berkovits and Rabbi Haim David Halevy and yet also Rabbi Meir Kahane and Moshe Feiglin. It all makes so much sense now! As I said, Rabbi Rackman is both a left-wing enlightened Orthodox individual and a libertarian. One of Rabbi Rackman's most celebrated crusades was on behalf of agunot (women held captive by their recalcitrant husbands), but I just recently discovered that as well, he was close to Rabbi Kahane; see my Assassination of Rabin, Massacre by Goldstein. I finally make sense! I'm finally coherent and consistent with something outside myself!)
Rabbi Angel further said,
I believe the "Torah view" takes it for granted that we can't rely on individuals to do the right thing with their tsedaka money. Since we need to have synagogues, schools, hospitals, welfare funds etc., we need a structured way of maintaining these things. If we leave it to individuals to support just what/who they want, a lot of things and people will be left behind. ... People don't always live up to the ideal. If I say: I will give my money only to my community where I know the people involved, then what are smaller, endangered communities to do for help? If all American Jews said they'd only give money in their own neighborhoods, what about the interests of Israel, Soviet Jewry, Ethiopian Jewrry etc. We need to look at the macro picture, and realize that tsedaka isn't a local issue, but a world wide issue; we need some sort of mechanism so that people who have a broad vision of the needs outside of our immediate communities can channel our tsedakah where it's needed. i.e. when we send in contributions to UJA--part goes to local needs, part to Israel, part to the JDC for international needs etc. No one individual has the time or expertise to learn how to prioritize tsedaka gifts.I agree with Rabbi Angel that people cannot be trusted on their own. There's a wonderful quote from neo-conservative Jewish radio talk-show host Dennis Prager that I love, something like, "The Torah would love for you to give tzedaqa out of the goodness of your heart. But if knows that if it leaves it to the heart, then the poor will be waiting an awfully long time. So the Torah says, 'Give 10%', and if your heart catches up, great. If not, good has been done anyway." This goes very well with Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Berkovits's claim that the Torah emphasizes the practical result of the deed and cares very little about the intention along the way. Now, I'm not as optimistic about human nature as Ralph Waldo Emerson is in "Politics", but there's something to his argument that there's an inverse proportion between individual activism and government activism. That is, the more the government does, the less the people do. If the government takes care of the poor, then the people will forget about the poor. In Emerson's words,
No forms [of government] can have any dangerous importance, whilst we are befriended by the laws of things. It makes no difference how many tons weight of atmosphere presses on our heads, so long as the same pressure resists it within the lungs. Augment the mass a thousandfold, it cannot begin to crush us, as long as reaction is equal to action. The fact of two poles, of two forces, centripetal and centrifugal, is universal, and each force by its own activity develops the other. Wild liberty develops iron conscience. Want of liberty, by strengthening law and decorum, stupefies conscience.Alexis de Tocqueville says that when he came to America, he saw that when a poor man stretched out his hand, everyone around him rushed to give him charity. In his words (quoted in Dorn),
When an American asks for the cooperation of his fellow citizens it is seldom refused, and I have often seen it afforded spontaneously and with great good will. ... If some great and sudden calamity befalls a family, the purses of a thousand strangers are at once willingly opened, and small but numerous donations pour in to relieve their distress.There's a reason why that's no longer true in America. We need to have smaller government.
Rabbi Angel, as quoted above, also was afraid that without enlightened educated guidance, people wouldn't know where to send their tzedaqa. As he said,
We need to look at the macro picture, and realize that tsedaka isn't a local issue, but a world wide issue; we need some sort of mechanism so that people who have a broad vision of the needs outside of our immediate communities can channel our tsedakah where it's needed. ... No one individual has the time or expertise to learn how to prioritize tsedaka gifts.I responded that all those organizations for tzedaqa can still exist, only they'd be privatized and not coerced. Nothing stops the rabbi from getting up and giving a drasha about the importance of giving money to starving Somalis. (Somalia is where all the starving children lived for whom I ate all leftovers on my plate. As Feivel (the mouse) says, every Jewish mother has her own country of starving children with which to compel her children to finish their plates.) So, all the various tzedaqa organizations can still exist and market themselves. They just won't coerce you. As Ralph Waldo Emerson says in "Politics",
The power of love, as the basis of a State, has never been tried. We must not imagine that all things are lapsing into confusion, if every tender protestant be not compelled to bear his part in certain social conventions: nor doubt that roads can be built, letters carried, and the fruit of labour secured, when the government of force is at an end.My brother even advocates that the garbage company be privatized. Now, I'm not so optimistic as Emerson or my brother, but they have a point. Just because the government isn't forcing you, doesn't mean it won't get done. Educate people enough, give them autonomy and freedom, and they might just do the right thing. But when you coerce people, there's a pretty good chance you're forcing them to give to a cause against their conscience. And let's face it, the government is usually inefficient and clumsy. As Thoreau says in "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience",
The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way.
Rabbi Angel, regarding my specific fears of coercion in taxation, said
The public has "freedom" in the sense that it elects its Trustees, government officials etc., who are thereby empowered to make decisions. If we don't like those decisions, we can vote them out next time around.With all due respect, Rabbi Angel's statement is false from a Locke-ian standpoint. That is, while the public indeed can elect its trustees, it is false to claim that the minority must go along with the majority. As it says in Cato's Letters,
It is a mistaken notion of government, that the interest of the majority is only to be consulted...otherwise the greater number may sell the lesser, and divide their estates among themselves; and so, instead of a society, where all peaceable men are protected, become a conspiracy of the many against the minority...Or as Henry David Thoreau said in "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience",
After all, the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest. But government in which the majority rule in all cases can not be based on justice, even as far as men understand it.Alexis de Tocqueville argued stridently against what he called the "tyranny of the majority" in a democracy, saying (Democracy in America, chapter 15, Unlimited Power of the Majority in the United States, and its Consequences),
A majority taken collectively is only an individual, whose opinions, and frequently whose interests, are opposed to those of another individual, who is styled a minority. If it be admitted that a man possessing absolute power may misuse that power by wronging his adversaries, why should not a majority be liable to the same reproach? Men do not change their characters by uniting with one another; nor does their patience in the presence of obstacles increase with their strength. For my own part, I cannot believe it; the power to do everything, which I should refuse to one of my equals, I will never grant to any number of them.The Framers of the United States Constitution, in the Federalist Papers also expressed those fears voiced by Tocqueville, and they tried to protect against the majority "selling" the minority away. Finally, Ralph Waldo Emerson gave a wonderful argument against the tyranny of the majority, specifically in the area of taxation, saying,
In my opinion, the main evil of the present democratic institutions of the United States does not arise, as is often asserted in Europe, from their weakness, but from their irresistible strength. I am not so much alarmed at the excessive liberty which reigns in that country as at the inadequate securities which one finds there against tyranny. An individual or a party is wronged in the United States, to whom can he apply for redress? If to public opinion, public opinion constitutes the majority; if to the legislature, it represents the majority and implicitly obeys it; if to the executive power, it is appointed by the majority and serves as a passive tool in its hands. The public force consists of the majority under arms; the jury is the majority invested with the right of hearing judicial cases; and in certain states even the judges are elected by the majority. However iniquitous or absurd the measure of which you complain, you must submit to it as well as you can.
Every man's nature is a sufficient advertisement to him of the character of his fellows. My right and my wrong, is their right and their wrong. Whilst I do what is fit for me, and abstain from what is unfit, my neighbour and I shall often agree in our means, and work together for a time to one end. But whenever I find my dominion over myself not sufficient for me, and undertake the direction of him also, I overstep the truth, and come into false relations to him. I may have so much more skill or strength than he, that he cannot express adequately his sense of wrong, but it is a lie, and hurts like a lie both him and me. Love and nature cannot maintain the assumption: it must be executed by a practical lie, namely, by force. This undertaking for another, is the blunder which stands in colossal ugliness in the governments of the world. It is the same thing in numbers, as in a pair, only not quite so intelligible. I can see well enough a great difference between my setting myself down to a self-control, and my going to make somebody else act after my views: but when a quarter of the human race assume to tell me what I must do, I may be too much disturbed by the circumstances to see so clearly the absurdity of their command. Therefore, all public ends look vague and quixotic beside private ones. For, any laws but those which men make for themselves, are laughable. If I put myself in the place of my child, and we stand in one thought, and see that things are thus or thus, that perception is law for him and me. We are both there, both act. But if, without carrying him into the thought, I look over into his plot, and, guessing how it is with him, ordain this or that, he will never obey me. This is the history of governments, - one man does something which is to bind another. A man who cannot be acquainted with me, taxes me; looking from afar at me, ordains that a part of my labour shall go to this or that whimsical end, not as I, but as he happens to fancy. Behold the consequence. Of all debts, men are least willing to pay the taxes. What a satire is this on government! Everywhere they think they get their money's worth, except for these.
In fact, Locke-ian social-contract theory does not require voting at all! All it requires is the consent of the governed, which may be granted in ways other than by voting. For example, Locke considered a tacit granting of legitimacy to the government, such as using its coinage or its highways, to be a form of consent to the social contract, even if no elections were held. Thus, according to Garth Kemerling (op. cit.),
The structure or form of the government so established is a matter of relatively less importance, on Locke's view. What matters is that legislative power....is provided for in ways to which everyone consents.Similarly, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, John Locke,
It is entirely possible for the majority to confer the rule of the community on a king and his heirs, or a group of oligarchs or on a democratic assembly. Thus, the social contract is not inextricably linked to democracy. Still, a government of any kind must perform the legitimate function of a civil government.Steven Schroeder (All Things New: On Civil Disobedience Now) makes the most far-reaching argument. He first notes what Kemerling and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy just have, viz. that Locke-ian social-contract theory can operate even absent elections. But then, following Thoreau, he says that in fact, elections can even subvert democracy; by voting, one assumes that he has done his duty, and that he need do no more. One votes, and then lays down his hands, content that he has done all he can. Following this, one continues to obey the government, and this obedience grants more consent and legitimacy than one's voting against the offending measure or candidate ever denied, for actions speak louder than words. If one votes against slavery or supporters of slavery, but then continues to stand by slavery without protest, then one's actions in support of slavery did more to uphold the government's authority (and concomitantly, slavery) than one's vote ever denied it. In Schroeder's words,
All government derives its authority from the consent of the governed. While this may appear more explicit in the case of “democratic” governments than in the case of authoritarian governments, the process is the same in both. Consent is measured by obedience (even if obedience is undertaken under protest). As Henry David Thoreau noted and Emma Goldman reiterated, voting is, at best, largely irrelevant to this process. At worst, it is an illusion of action that partly facilitates consent by diverting attention from the action that matters--obedience, disobedience, or disregard. In the final analysis, it matters less who is elected or how particular faces of civil power in particular places came to occupy their positions than whether their directives are obeyed by publics on which they are imposed. If yes, the civil power has consent; if no, it has no authority.So to say that taxes are legitimate because the citizens voted for the legislators who passed the tax laws, is illegitimate not only because this view denies the citizenry its democratic right to revoke - at any time it desires - the consent to be governed under the social contract, but also, because this view assumes that voting is the only means of expressing one's consent to be governed, whereas, in reality, voting is only one of many means of expressing or revoking one's consent.
So to repeat our difficulty: even under libertarianism, it's relatively easy to justify punishing for Shabbat or tefillin, as long as you feel free to fiddle with Locke a little bit, and slightly blur the distinction between positive and negative liberty. But tzedaqa remains a huge question - how can we coerce in this area?
VI. My Answer to this Quandary
So here's what I'm thinking: in a small, self-contained community, where everything is intertwined and mutually-related, living in the community and eating kosher food and using the mikvah are all parts of living there, and so is paying taxes to finance tzedaqa. If one doesn't want to pay tzedaqa, then fine, leave the community and live with the Christians or Muslims. At the very least, stop eating the community's kosher food, using its mikvah, etc. Also, in a small community, the lay-people and the rabbis and judges are intimately associated; they know each other, communicate with each other, and can hold each other accountable.
This of course falls apart in a larger community, like an entire country, with a capitalistic economy. In that case, one is more likely to belong to a synagogue, pay dues to the mikvah, buy kosher food at a purely capitalistic market with no communal backing, etc. Everything is delocalized. Additionally, the laity and the leaders are too far-removed; the judges and rabbis are appointed by the government from afar, and have little relationship (and no accountability at all) to the people. For how Judaism and democracy interact in a modern society and nation, we'd have to study both the halakhah and John Locke much more deeply, and study the words of Rabbis Haim Hirschensohn, Benzion Uziel, Yitzhak Herzog, and anyone else who's written on the subject. Tzarikh `iyun gadol me'od.
In other words: in a small self-contained community, a greater amount of coercion is justifiable, because the community has more reality than a larger community, especially a nation. As the community grows larger, especially as it becomes an entire nation, it grows more and more abstract and disconnected from the people. At the same time, it becomes harder and harder to escape. To enforce religious practice in a small Jewish community is tolerable, because one could conceivably move away from the community to somewhere else. Additionally, he is an intimate part of the community and its services. The community is both concrete and immanent. But a nation is abstract and transcendent; it is neither immanent in his personal life, nor can he easily escape it if he is displeased with it.
Of course, nowadays, Israeli politics is even further from democracy than it is from the Torah. (See my article, Why I Won't Serve in the IDF: Being Jailed For IDF Conscientious Objection.) Israelis care about John Locke even less than they care about kashrut and Shabbat. In Israel, we're still struggling to ensure that the government is democratically-elected, as most of the power is in the hands of the judiciary, which is not elected and has no constitution to limit its powers. (See my post, The Judge in a Fascist Dictatorship: A Review of Judge Aharon Barak.) So the question of how to reconcile mandatory tzedaqa with John Locke is the least of our problems. But today's community's are something else. Right now, I just want to reconcile Medieval Jewish practice with John Locke. Anachronistic, yes, but it's a still a concern to me.
I just saw that interestingly, Moshe Feiglin (another Meir Kahane-type West Bank "settler" Religious-Zionist) advocates the revitalization of localized communities in Israel, precisely because he believes it will lead to a resurgence of Jewishness and Judaism in Israel. In his article (Judaism and Democracy for Israel), he writes,
Israel's Jewish constitution must institute district elections, as is common practice in the vast majority of democracies in the world. In that way, Israel's communities will be revived. (They were all united into one large socialist collective when the state was born). Every community will decide on its Jewish public character. There is no doubt that the absolute majority of communities will choose to preserve their Jewish identity. Even the residents of predominantly secular Ramat Aviv preferred closing their local mall on Shabbat – once they were finally asked.So perhaps indeed, localizing and de-nationalizing matters is the correct thing to do, both from a pragmatic standpoint (i.e. it will encourage people to themselves choose to be more Jewish) and from a philosophic standpoint (i.e. John Locke). We might note that Feiglin (a Meir Kahane-ist) quotes Alexis de Tocqueville and Ralph Waldo Emerson and Mohandas Ghandi perhaps more than anyone else in Israel.
And even more interestingly, it would appear that my libertarian concerns have been voiced by Jewish authorities before me. In Rabbi Dr. Marc D. Angel's The Jews of Rhodes, we read (p. 26),
One of the persistent and complex problems associated with haskamoth [communal ordinances, passed for social reasons but with the binding nature of a religious law] was the question of whether the majority the right to pass an ordinance over the objection of a dissenting minority of the community. Does the majority rule, or is unanimity imperative? Over the centuries this question evoked considerable rabbinic discussion.As Rabbi Angel's larger discussion shows, many (if not most) of these haskamoth were regarding tzedaqa to the poor. So the community accepted that it could not pass a new haskamah, even for the poor and for tzedaqa, without unanimous approval by the community. In other words, the Jews of Rhodes were concerned with the tyranny of the majority no less than Alexis de Tocqueville and the Federalist Papers were, even regarding the issue of tzedaqa. The solution was different than mine, but the question was the same libertarian one.
It seems the Jews of Rhodes resolved this dilemma by distinguishing between different types of haskamoth. In matters involving an improvement that was needed for the general community, a majority was sufficient to enact a haskamah. But in matters involving taxation, a unanimous decision was required in order to protect individuals from a barrage of levies imposed on them by the majority of the community. In the final analysis, the situation surrounding each haskamah had to be carefully evaluated before determining whether a majority or unanimity was required for its adoption.
Rabbinic law allowed for the institution of herem, excommunication, in order to give communities power to enforce their laws. Yet, herem was more a threat than an actual procedure.
What I would say, however, regarding Rhodes, is that perhaps some degree of coercion is conscionable in a small self-contained community. A Jew who lives in the Jewish quarter of Rhodes and doesn't want to pay taxes, well, he can leave the Jewish quarter and live elsewhere, or he can accept excommunication and cease having social and religious relations with other Jews. In other words: he has the freedom to avoid paying taxes, and the community has the freedom to deny him access to communal services. And as I said, there is a vast difference between a community and a nation, in terms of the immanence and accountability of the rabbinic leadership. So if the Jewish community Rhodes were an entire vast nation (like Israel), rather than the small city quarter that it was, all this would be much less certain. One cannot so easily leave an entire country, or stop using the services offered by an entire country, and one cannot so easily hold a national rabbinate accountable to the people. It is one thing to move to a new neighborhood when you don't want to pay taxes, but it is something wholly else to move thousands of miles to a new land.
Everything I've written until now has been based only on my reading of Locke, and my own personal conjectural reconciliations of Locke and Judaism. I just saw that at least from a New England Puritan/Protestant perspective (which, along with Locke, was a very strong influence in New England in colonial America), it would appear that I am very much on the right track. According to Brian S. Brown, Beyond the Liberal Myth (review of Barry Alan Shain's The Myth of American Individualism: The Protestant Origins of American Political Thought),
Within each community, it was understood that individuals would obey the responsibilities and constraints placed on them by their superiors. Freedom came by membership in such an ordered community rather than outside or opposed to it. Family, friends, and religion all served as the means of structuring daily existence. That one should be free from the dictates of the local law, denominational elders, or even stigmatizing neighbors, was simply not a political good in the minds of these colonists. If one found oneself theologically or otherwise opposed to the clergy, civil government, or fellow members of the community, one freedom was guaranteed: freedom of exit. ... Shain's description of Protestant "communalism" as a political philosophy, with its emphasis on subsidiarity and localism, strikingly differs from the cosmopolitan communitarianism currently en vogue. The new communitarians seek community unbounded by locality. Exactly what the early colonists feared - constant intervention from outside the community, stripping corporate rights - Amitai Etzioni, et al. cherish. In the last chapter, "The Concept of Slavery," Shain shows that the idea of men and women, having the ability to "compact" and erect their own community, bound by place, was central to the reformed Protestant view of freedom. The denial of this ability was equated with slavery.
My friend David Rosenberg gave an interesting response as well, on Jewish antecedents for Locke's thought. He said,
The ideas that Locke promoted weren't his invention; they were deeply rooted in the origins of government and society. Also its worth mentioning that the Rambam also, albeit tangentially, discusses the concept of a Social Contract (Hilchot Geziela v'Aveida 5:18):In what case is this relevant (regarding the right of a ruler to collect taxes)? When his currency is accepted in those lands (because that indicates that) the residents of those areas accepted his governance and accepted him as their governor.Though the Rambam was referring to a feudal system, as existed at the time, the essence of what he's saying is relevant. The basis of all governance and taxation is a social contract. The governing body is entrusted with running those affairs that individuals cannot deal with, and for that purpose allowed to charge citizens money for said services on their behalf, but no more.
Anyway, were I a dayan (judge on a beit din), I very might well myself not enforce this halakhah of coercing tzedaqa. For that matter, I probably wouldn't coerce any mitzvot at all, such as Shabbat or kashrut. As I show above, coercion is only justifiable in a certain type of religious environment, when non-observance threatens the very fabric of society. Moreover, it is conscionable especially when non-observance of ritual law gives rise to fears of of non-observance of moral law, as was the case in pre-modern societies. All of this is no longer true, and so religious coercion is much less necessary or justifiable than it once was. But I still wanted to somehow reconcile all this with Locke enough that Locke wouldn't vomit upon reading it. I'm doing the classic move (performed by many rabbis for centuries) of justifying a troubling halakhah or interpretation of halakhah, rationalizing it, and once I've rendered it reasonable, ultimately rejecting it anyway. I want to reject this view, but not until I've first rendered it at least sensible and agreeable. I might disagree with some aspects of Jewish tradition, but I don't want to spit in its face. As I said, I come from the perspective of Orthodox Judaism, and for me to disagree with the Talmud or Rambam is not an option. I take it for granted that their opinions are non-negotiable, and so rather than disagreeing with them, I must instead navigate my way through them and reconcile myself with them.
And in fact, the kinds of historical Jewish communities with the Gemara and Shulhan Arukh discussed were indeed small and self-contained. So who says I'm disagreeing with the Gemara? Maybe Hazal agree with me! Whenever the Gemara and Shulhan Arukh mandate religious coercion, they were always dealing with small, self-contained Jewish communities, because that's the only thing that existed in the days before urbanization and cars and telephones! When I offer my oqimta (casuistric distinction in a given law), distinguishing between religious coercion in a small self-contained community versus in a nation, maybe I'm offering an oqimta on the Gemara which Hazal themselves would agree with! So if I oppose religious coercion in Israel today, if I oppose religious coercion even in a hypothetical Israeli Torah-based theocracy, who says the rabbis of previous days would disagree with me?
VII. An Aside Intended for Myself
I really, really liked how my friend David Rosenberg responded to this whole issue. So I'm going to quote his entire response. The reader need not read the following, as nothing particularly novel or new is said in the following. I just want to preserve the following for the future, for my own personal edification.
I don't understand what needs to be reconciled. John Locke correctly described the absolute right of a person to his own property and fruit of his labor (which I think is so obvious its sad that he needed to write it in the first place). The mitzvah of tzedaka has nothing to do with government, it is relevant to the individual. Government has a right to take taxes in order to pay for the services it provides to citizens (roads, military protection, courts, etc), but no more. The mitzvah of tzedaka and government are two unrelated things.
The ideas that Locke promoted weren't his invention; they were deeply rooted in the origins of government and society. Also its worth mentioning that the Rambam also, albeit tangentially, discusses the concept of a Social Contract (Hilchot Geziela v'Aveida 5:18):In what case is this relevant (regarding the right of a ruler to collect taxes)? When his currency is accepted in those lands (because that indicates that) the residents of those areas accepted his governance and accepted him as their governor.Though the Rambam was referring to a feudal system, as existed at the time, the essence of what he's saying is relevant. The basis of all governance and taxation is a social contract. The governing body is entrusted with running those affairs that individuals cannot deal with, and for that purpose allowed to charge citizens money for said services on their behalf, but no more.
I don't think the commandments which obligate individuals regarding social issues (say, tzedaka) are relevant to the governing body, and therefore, there is nothing to reconcile. Locke discusses the rights and responsibilities of the government vis a vis individuals. The Torah, in discussing certain personal mitzvot like tzedaka, discusses the individual's responsibilities, responsibilities which are his own and not the governments.
[So far, we see that my friend David was completely dedicated to libertarianism, as am I. This thrilled me. But to his specific statements that halakhah never compels tzedaqa as a tax, I responded that Rambam writes about coercing misers to pay tzedaqa. David in turn responded,]
This halacha [viz. tzedaqa] is, in its origin, a personal [i.e. individual] one. However, like many personal individual mitzvot, it was placed upon the local authorities to enforce observance. This was not unique to tzedaka, et al, rather it was part and parcel of all observance, for both deorita and derabanan mitzvot.
The essence of my point is that the coercion there, as stated by the Rambam, was akin to the coercion of all mitzvot, because in those days coercion was an important tool in maintaining a healthy community, where a few "bad weeds" wouldn't spoil the otherwise strongly religious population.
[To this I completely agreed, responding based on the Meiri and Rabbi Ya'akov Ettlinger, as I show above.]
Today, however, when coercion for mitzvot isn't relevant, there would be no governmental involvement in enforcing any commandments, including tzedaka. Taxation, which is to pay for those things which the taxpayer benefits, is not included in this concept of tzedaka, obviously. And a person must still give tzedaka, just as he must still keep shabbat, but just as the government won't send agents to force him to keep shabbat at home, it won't force him to give tzedaka.
I think that the biggest proof that this is so is that this halacha, like others regarding coercion, has been set aside for ages, while others using coercion when it is more than just a means of maintaining general mitzva observance are still employed. The best example is forcing a husband to give his wife a get, where batei din will, to this day, employ goons to 'convince' him to do the right thing.
[To this, viz. coercing a recalcitrant husband, I responded based on positive and negative liberty, as I show above. However, I reiterated my specific concerns about coercion in tzedaqa. I.e., even if religious coercion can be justified even according to libertarianism and Locke, tzedaqa specifically remains a question. David responded,]
I don't think the distinction was made between Shabbath and tzedeka; compulsion was employed by the shotrim [police] for all mitzvot. Its clear from the beginning of Hilchot Sanhedrin in the Rambam that the officers maintained a certain "atmosphere" if you will on all issues and in all places and enforced the performance of all mitzvoth. You mention the idea that deviating from Shabbath observance is liable to lead to bloodshed or theft. That's one way of looking at it, but one can also see the general threat of violating laws, big or small, spreading and causing a deterioration in observance. Also, if the idea of tzedaka deteriorated, it could have (and especially in the time of Hazal, when it was more crucial to the survival of many poor) had enormous ramifications on society, particularly its weakest elements.
[I responded that these are all good points, and that I think we're quibbling. We mostly agree on libertarianism/Locke in general (awesome!), and we mostly agree on the purpose of coercion in general. I'm just saying that tzedaqa specifically has a few extra concerns not relevant to religious coercion in general, and so coercing requires a bit more justification with tzedaqa than with Shabbat. Religious coercion, such as regarding Shabbat, can be justified even according to libertarianism and Locke, but tzedaqa requires just a tad more justification than most other halakhot. But I agree with David 99.99%.]