I. Of Conservative and Haredi Judaisms
I have been told that Rabbi Moshe Tendler has said that because of the mitzvah to help a neighbor in need, that therefore, one is obligated to support Obamacare.
Perhaps Rabbi Tendler's own opinion is actually different, and was misrepresented by the man who told me about his opinion. But either way, someone certainly holds the above logic - if not Rabbi Tendler, then someone else - and it needs to be answered.
This sort of logic - that because one must support his neighbor, that therefore, he must support Obamacare - is an example of taking the sources too far, and from a simple and vague mandate, deriving an obligation to support a detailed and controversial and parochial program, without considering alternative methods of upholding the same vague and incomplete mitzvah.
This logic is as sound as the Conservative responsum permitting driving a car on Shabbat, on the logic that unless one drives to synagogue, one's commitment to Judaism will wither. For the Conservatives, it never occurred to them that perhaps Jewishness could be strengthened by doing more mitzvot or learning more Torah. They just jumped straight to davening, and ignored the fact that one could not build the Mishkan on Shabbat. (The Torah specifically says that on Shabbat, one must halt the construction of the Mishkan - the Tabernacle, the prototype of the Temple in Jerusalem. If so, how can one possibly countenance violating Shabbat for the sake of a synagogue?)
Those who say halakhah mandates support for Obamacare are grossly oversimplifying matters, and deriving from a simple pasuq (Scriptural verse) an extraordinary obligation, without considering any other possible alternative fulfillments of the simple and vague mandate. They, he, like the Conservatives, are playing fast-and-loose with halakhah, twisting it and reinterpreting it to fit a preconceived and narrow perspective. Halakhah would be and is being forced to say what its interpreters want it to say, rather than letting it speak for itself.
Both are forms of Da'at Torah. Fundamentally, Da'at Torah is simply a form of absolutist tyranny. (See DA'AT TORAH - The
Unqualified Authority Claimed for Halachists by Jacob Katz and Daas Torah: A Modern Conception of Rabbinic Authority by Lawrence Kaplan) The idea is that one man (or group of men) is allowed to dictate to others what must be done, without right of dissent. A corollary that does not necessarily follow, but usually does, is that authoritative sources of tradition and sound arguments of logic presented by the minority or the oppressed are usually ignored by the tyrant, because these go against his tyranny. A tyrant will twist traditions and reason to uphold whatever he has preconceived as ultimately valuable for him, namely his own power.
It is true that the Conservatives made halakhah more lenient, whereas the Haredim have made it more strict. The latter case seems more obviously tyrannical than the former. But we know from Pirqei Avot that there is true liberty only in keeping the law of G-d, and colonial American Puritans believed this as well, calling for "liberty, not license." If so, then both uncompromising stricture by the Haredim as well as permission of hedonism and license by the Conservatives, are both absences of liberty. If the Haredim limit us tyrannically, then the Conservatives simply loose all the bonds and allow us to descend into license and epicureanism. But both are equally absences of true liberty. Both are equally cases of distorting the Torah to uphold one's own parochial views, preventing what is truly beneficial for the common people. Both are fundamentally undemocratic.
Similarly, the Reform and Conservative Jews have fundamentally altered Judaism, making their conversions (giyur) invalid from an Orthodox perspective, because conversion requires halakhically-observant witnesses and certain ritual standards in order to be valid, standards which Reform and Conservative conversions do not meet. And yet, they expect the authorities in Israel to recognize their conversions and accord them legitimacy! Is this not tyranny? They invent a new, unprecedented legal standard and presume to foist its consequences and ramifications upon everyone else. Likewise, the Haredim have invented a new concept of giyur as well, holding that even if the witnesses are valid and the ritual standards are met, that even so, if the convert himself is not observant, that the conversion is invalid. This is unprecedented as well; traditionally, if the witnesses were kosher and the milah and mikvah were kosher, then it mattered not whether the convert himself was observant, and Maimonides upholds this. (See my Laundry List of Sources Relating to Giyur.) The Haredim, however, have forced their opinion upon the entire State of Israel. Both the Conservatives and the Haredim are engaged in absolutist tyranny.
II. Parallels to European Non-Jewish History
So both the Conservatives and the Haredim are fundamentally absolutist tyrants. I would like to draw a historical parallel. In Douglas F. Kelly's book The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World: The Influence of Calvin on Five Governments from the 16th Through 18th Centuries, we find the following. On page 83, quoting Douglas F. Kelly, "Richard Hooker," in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), pp. 531-32, we read:
In order to defend the Anglican Establishment Hooker circumvented both the Puritan appeal to Scripture and the Catholic appeal to Church tradition by going behind both to the primary source of authority: natural law, which is implanted in people's minds by God and comes to full expression in the state. The voice of the people is the voice of God, but is articulated through the civil magistrate. While Hooker held that Scripture contained what is necessary for salvation still the law of nature was primary. As times change, specific laws can be changed, though always in accordance with fundamental natural law. Thus the church cannot be held subject to the letter of Scripture or of tradition; it is free to adjust itself to its own historical context.The parallel to Zecharias Frankel's changing halakhah to accommodate the zeitgeist cannot be missed.
On page 107, Kelly discusses the reasons that the British Parliament rejected the recommendations of the Westminster Assembly. The British Parliament had appointed the Westminster Assembly (composed largely of Scottish clergymen) to recommend a suitable form of church government. The Assembly recommended Presbyterianism, a democratic form of ecclesiology (church government), with the church independent of state and a separation between church and state, but Parliament insisted that the church be subservient to the state, with an Anglican form of ecclesiology remaining intact as the established state church. Professor Kelly explains the reasons Parliament held this position:
To this factor must be added the widespread influence of the theories of the judicious Hooker, who held that church government is not specifically defined by Scripture for all times and places, but may be adjusted to the historical context in accordance with basic natural law as interpreted by the civil magistrate, who thus has the final say, as we have seen earlier.We must note that Hooker's theories just so happens to have been one of the theories behind opposition to the Puritan demand to democratize the Church of England. The Puritans wanted to replace Catholic-style Anglican government with more democratic Presybterian government, with a separation of church and state. In opposing this, Hooker relied on reason and logic, but of course, the "reason" he had in mind was not a layman's reason, but the reasoning of the king and his subordinate bishops. The king of England and his bishops supported Anglicanism precisely because it preserved their hierarchical authority, including authority over religion via a state-established church.
We see that Hooker opposed democratization by using a parochial understanding of reason and natural law, namely the king's. Hooker's notion of reason and history changing religious norms is similar to Zecharias Frankel's, who founded the forerunner to Conservative Judaism. Like Conservative and Haredi Judaisms, Hooker claimed to rely on reason and logic, but it was only the reason and logic of a parochial sect of biased individuals, preferring their reason and logic to that of those beneath them, and they used or misused reason and logic in whatever way would support their own power and authority.
III. ... and to Modern Orthodox Judaism
We might note, however, that Rabbi A. I. Kook and Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Berkovits both also held notions very similar to Frankel's and Hooker's. But if we compare their respective views, we will find a crucial difference. Professor Marc Shapiro, speaking about the evolution of ethical notions and conscience over time (in his Thoughts on "Confrontation" and Sundry Matters Part II) says,
Followers of R. Kook will put all of this in a religious framework, and see it as humanity's development as it gets closer to the Messianic era.He quotes Rav Kook as saying,
ואם תפול שאלה על איזה משפט שבתורה, שלפי מושגי המוסר יהיה נראה שצריך להיות מובן באופן אחר, אז אם באמת ע"פ ב"ד הגדול יוחלט שזה המשפט לא נאמר כ"א באותם התנאים שכבר אינם, ודאי ימצא ע"ז מקור בתורה.It is evident that Rav Kook held that history and moral opinions developing over time could affect the halakhah. Rav Kook held that G-d revealed Himself not only at Sinai, but that also, He continually reveals Himself in time, via a revelation in nature and history. (For a user-friendly explanation of this, see Pinchas Polonsky's Religious Zionism of Rav Kook.)
[My translation: "And if a question arises on some Toraitic law, that according to ethical notions, seems to require being understood in an alternative manner [different than its conventional and accepted interpretation until then], then if indeed according to the Sanhedrin it will be decided that this Toraitic law was said only regarding [social or historical] conditions that are no longer extent, then surely a source in the Torah will be found [for the ethical notion that spurred this entire course of investigation]."]
כשהמוסר הטבעי מתגבר בעולם, באיזה צורה שתהיה, חייב כל אדם לקבל לתוכו אותו מממקורו, דהיינו מהתגלותו בעולם, ואת פרטיו יפלס על פי ארחות התורה. אז יעלה בידו המוסר הטהור אמיץ ומזוקק.
[My translation: "When natural morality strengthens in the world - in whatever form it may - everyone is obligated to receive it into his ethos, from its source - viz. its revelation in the world - and its details will be explicated by the ways of the Torah. Then pure morality, strong and purified, will come into his grasp."]
כל התורה הזאת של מלחמת רשות לא נאמרה כ"א לאנושיות שלא נגמרה בחינוך. כל לב יבין על נקלה כי רק לאומה שלא באה לתכלית חינוך האנושי, או יחידים מהם, יהיה הכרח לדבר כנגד יצר הרע ע"י לקיחת יפת תואר בשביה באופן המדובר. ומזה נלמד שכשם שעלינו להתרומם מדין יפת תואר, כן נזכה להתרומם מעיקר החינוך של מלחמת רשות, ונכיר שכל כלי זיין אינו אלא לגנאי.
[My translation: "This entire teaching of voluntary wars [of conquest] was said only for a mankind that had not yet completed its education. Every heart will easily understand that only a nation that has not yet come to its humanistic educational conclusion - or individuals thereof - will perforce require a matter directed against the selfish inclination [yetzer ha-ra], via the [permission of] taking a beautiful woman captive, in the manner spoken of [in the Torah]. And from this we will learn that just as it is incumbent upon us to rise beyond the law of taking a woman captive in war, so too we shall merit to rise beyond the educational principle of voluntary warfare, and we shall recognize that every vessel of war is naught but shameful.]
Rav Kook's concept is similar to the Reformed Christian (i.e. Calvinist or Puritan) notion of federalism ( = covenantalism, contractualism, constitutionalism; the word "federal" comes from the Latin foedus, itself meaning ברית, "covenant"). One of the main features of theological federalism is that man is advancing over history, developing his ethical and intellectual and spiritual characteristics, as a partner with G-d. This advancement is done by G-d's making covenants with men and men with each other. To quote Daniel J. Elazar, Covenant & Commonwealth: From Christian Separation Through the Protestant Reformation - The Covenant Tradition in Politics, Volume II, pp. 176f. (words in brackets are mine):
Covenant also introduced a strong historical dimension to Christian thinking, which was another of the Federalists' lasting contributions to modern theology. As opposed to the often timeless, metaphysical quality of predestination in mainstream Calvinism [of the Gevenan school of Reformed Christianity], covenant [by the Bullinger/Zurich school of Reformed Christianity] linked the idea to God's historical dealings with humanity. When one method failed at the outset of history, God tried another, more extraordinary way to reach man. This attitude continued the experimental approach evident in the Hebrew Scriptures. Cocceius especially emphasized the history of redemption and its present reality. It is by means of covenant that the Kingdom of God is actualized in history. Indeed, given the intense religious fervor at various points during the Reformation, some believed that 'reform' meant an earthly establishment of the Kingdom of God [cf. Winthrop's "A Modell of Christian Charity].Apparently, whereas Calvinism involved a Maimonidean abstract metaphysics, Bullinger's federalism entailed a Kuzarian/Hirschian concern for G-d's activity and relationship with man over time. (Speaking to Professor Menachem Kellner, I once expressed the opinion that for Rabbis S. R. Hirsch and Eliezer Berkovits, Judaism was a combination of Maimonideanism and Kuzarism. I said that if for the Kuzari, Judaism is a mystical religion of history and experience, and for Maimonides, Judaism is a rational religion of abstract philosophy and intellect, then, I said, Rabbis S. R. Hirsch and Eliezer Berkovits would see Judaism as a rational religion of history. That is, they would take the rationalism of Maimonides over the mysticism of the Kuzari, but place this within the context of the Kuzari's historical-experiential concept of religion instead of within Maimonides's abstract and philosophical concept. Professor Kellner showed me that he had already expressed a similar viewpoint of his own in a forthcoming introduction to Berkovits's God, Man, and History.)
Similarly, to quote Charles S. McCoy and J. Wayne Baker, Fountainhead of Federalism: Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenantal Tradition, p. 14:
In federal theology, this dynamic element is affirmed by viewing the creation of the world and humanity, not as complete, but as developing toward ever greater fulfillment within the unfolding economies of the covenant of God. God's covenant is not a static order but a pattern of changing relations in the word toward greater justice and love. Sixth, federalism, either tacitly or explicitly, holds views of human nature and history. Both humanity and history are understood developmentally, as moving toward fulfillment, and humans are understood as social and covenantally shaped and committed. The mix of good and evil in history and the compound of original goodness and fallen sinfullness in human nature eliminates the possibility of an easy optimism or a notion of automatic progress with reference to the future. Yet there is, among federalists from Bullinger to Johannes Althusius, John Winthrop, and James Madison, a strong element of hope within republics shaped for the federal perspective.
Now then, Rabbi Kook, Rabbi Berkovits, Zecharias Frankel, and Richard Hooker all held that the zeitgeist could be used to develop the Torah. The difference, however, seems to be that whereas Frankel and Hooker held that reason and the zeitgeist alone were sufficient, by contrast, Kook and Berkovits held that notwithstanding the important role of reason and the zeitgeist, that even so, everything must ultimately accord with the Torah. (Kook specifically said, על פי ארחות התורה, "by the ways of the Torah," and David Hazony, in his introduction to Essential Essays on Judaism, reproduced as Eliezer Berkovits and the Revival of Jewish Moral Thought, argues that Berkovits can be distinguished from Conservative Judaism based on the former's strict adherence and uncompromising loyalty to the integrity of the halakhah.) In federal (again, meaning "covenantal" or "constitutional" or "contractual") terms, the revelation of G-d in history and its covenantal import must never be taken to contradict G-d's prior revelation at Sinai. For the theological-political federalists, any covenant or constitution or contract between man (which they compared to G-d's covenants with man) was null and void if it contradicted G-d's original covenant. Man had full power to form contracts with his fellow (and in fact, he was urged to form political constitutions with his civil government, so as to advance the redemption of mankind), but only so long as they conformed to the original, supreme contract. Likewise, Kook and Berkovits allowed morality and history to shape the halakhah only so long as this did not contradict prior and authoritative traditions and revelations from G-d.
Frankel and Hooker allowed man's unaided reason to suffice, which often resulted in one single man's or movement's tyranny. Frankelian Conservative Judaism twisted the laws of Shabbat beyond any resemblance to their true meaning, ignoring other possible alternatives to achievement of the desired end, simply to uphold its own institutional integrity and authority. Hooker opposed democratizing church government and granting liberty with a separation of church and state, instead preferring hierarchical authority in the form of a state-established church, simply to uphold the authority of the king and his lackeys. Similarly, Haredi Judaism will twist the Torah to uphold its own parochial beliefs. By contrast, Rabbis Kook and Berkovits held that history and nature could change the Torah only insofar as the prior revelation of G-d at Sinai permitted this. No man had absolute power, according to them, for ultimately, G-d's original revelation bound all equally, giving no man license to lord over his fellow in a manner contrary to G-d's revelation.