News of the latest diatribe against Orthodox Judaism crossed my computer screen recently. In his first book, R. D. Gold’s “Bondage of the Mind” attempts to lay out solid counter proofs against the supposed moral authority of the Orthodox. In my 34th year of life this isn’t the first attempt I’ve seen nor is it likely to be my last.
I haven’t read the book but I have read several reviews. Some of the main points discussed are:
- The Torah is a work of man, not the writ word of God.
- The survival of the Jewish people throughout the millenia is remarkeable but not necessarily a work of God. Many other peoples have survived in place for centuries
- The Torah does not describe an ultimate justice citing the punishment of righteous king Josiah for the sins of Manasseh.
- The problems of modern society are not related to a loosening of religious standards. Religious standards themselves proscribe certain immoral behaviours. Gold cites several examples including the Orthdox treatment of women.
- Gold examines several controversial figures (Rabbi Ovadia Yosef) and several Orthodox scandals. The subtext to his discussions would appear to be that the presence of controversial characters or scandals places the moral supremacy of the Orthodox under suspicion.
I can’t speak to Gold’s intentions in writing his book but I can speak to it’s anticipated effects. It will and already has upset some of the Orthodox. It may prevent some borderline candidates from becoming Orthodox. It will not move many Orthodox to leave the ranks.
The believing mind is externally impervious to evidence. The most that can be accomplished with it is to induce it to substitute one delusion for another. It rejects all overt evidence as wicked…
– H. L. Mencken
That may sound as if it was intended as an insult. Not so. I, having been orthodox myself, fully understand the joy of belief. Just the same, being a servant of the truth above all else, I must admit I was deluded during my stint of Orthodoxy. There are no magic bullets that can be used to, in an instant, disprove Orthodoxy. It isn’t a problem of logic, it’s a problem of psychology. The fabric of belief is ripstop nylon which has been reinforced under centuries of attack. Ripstop nylon in turn is the stuff of hot air balloons, full of hot air yes, yet they offer long peaceful rides just the same. It’s only upon a paradigmatic shift away from Orthodoxy that one is able to look at the body of knowledge and notice many, not just a few, magic bullets of failed logic. I have an armory of magic bullets at my disposal, which have come from a lifetime of reflection and re-evaluation. I’ll share my favourite bullet. It’s a subtle point but personally I find it undefeatable.
Orthodox Judaism holds two bodies of law to be of divine origin: the Torah and the Talmud. The Torah is the written law allegedly passed down to Moses at Mount Sinai and the Talmud is a compilation of the Oral Tradition. In common law there exists the notion of Statutes and Regulations. The former allocates the legislative authority and the latter are the laws created based on that authority. Both reference eachother extensively and one is meaningless without the other.
Orthodox Judaism likewise claims that the Talmud and Torah are inseperable.
The Gemara (also known as the Talmud or Oral Torah ), an explanation of the Written Torah, was given to Moshe at Sinai. Without the Talmud the Written Torah can’t be understood. There are a lot of critical facts and points that are only hinted at or not even mentioned in the Written Torah that were explained in the Talmud.
I agree that they are inseparable, in that the Torah makes little sense without the Talmud. However, the Torah doesn’t mention the Talmud, not even once. Now, not to be stereotypical, but Jews have no shortage of lawyers. I find it very hard that God, the father of this nation, would write two bodies of law one of which contains no reference to the other. It just wouldn’t happen.
The Orthodox, of course, disagree and claim that the following verse proves divine origins of both bodies:
And I will give thee the tables of stone, and the law and the commandment, which I have written that thou mayest teach them.
– Exodus XXIV, 12.
Where is the mention of the Talmud? It says the laws and commandments which I have WRITTEN. Where is the mention of the Oral Tradition (Talmud)? The Talmud itself tries to explain this away:
R. Levi b. Hama says further in the name of R. Simeon b. Lakish: What is the meaning of the verse: And I will give thee the tables of stone, and the law and the commandment, which I have written that thou mayest teach them? ‘Tables of stone’: these are the ten commandments; ‘the law’: this is the Pentateuch; ‘the commandment’: this is the Mishnah; ‘which I have written’: these are the Prophets and the Hagiographa; ‘that thou mayest teach them’: this is the Gemara. It teaches [us] that all these things were given to Moses on Sinai.
– Berakoth 5a -> http://www.come-and-hear.com/berakoth/berakoth_5.html
Am I to accept that an interpretation of God’s word is God’s word because a human interpreted God’s word to be God’s word? If you’re confused by that previous sentence, it was intentional, and pretty much sums up my point. To rephrase, you can’t claim that the Talmud is the divine word of God by interpreting the Torah in the Talmud to suit your purpose. The only proof I’d accept is the Torah itself saying: “today I give you the oral laws and the written laws”. Short of this, I say to the Orthodox when they play Moral Monopoly: “Do not pass Go, Do not collect 200 shekels”.