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Everything Between Heaven and Earth and Beyond

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    Henric C. Jensen
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The Introduction Part 2

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on July 26, 2007


“The very ascription of normative force to a divine command is a matter of decision. Like many other weighty decisions, this one may be tacit rather than explicit. In the typical case, one is committed to halakhic practice as a result of socialization. Only in situations in which it cannot be taken for granted need the decision enter one’s awareness. The tradition presents the decision to accept the Halakha as a unique historical event which committed the future generations of Israel. However if we follow out the logic of Leibowitz’s position, it would appear that recognition of the validity of this commitment requires constant renewal of the basic decision. The heteronomous force of the Torah and its Mitzvoth is dependent upon continued autonomous commitment (either explicit or tacit) on both communal and personal level.” (Introduction p. xv)

This sounds self-evident to me – again thoughts that have been roaming my mind for years. First the idea of acceptance of faith as a matter of fact (tacit) through socialization and then the idea of acceptance of faith as a result research (explicit) f.i through conversion, but also if the socialization was missed because of f.i secular parenting. Both are valid, and both require constant renewal.

I’d like to enter a thought that was put forward in the comments to “The Introduction Part 1” –

“And with that you should keep in mind that Leibowitz was a Litvak. While we see eye to eye on Jewish ethics, his approach to Jewish observance does not suit the needs of every Jew.” (Mobius July 25th, 2007 at 9:32 am) My emphasis.

When I read Leibowitz I am constantly reminded of Dr. Ellis Rivkin, and the idea that every generation of Rabbis pass the authority of Torah, the Mitzvot and the interpretation of those on to the next generation of Rabbis – which in reality means that even if one were to reverse the order of importance of Written and Oral Torah, the halahka one decides to follow would still be binding, because it’s been transmitted through a chain of halakhic decisions from Sinai to the present. If I choose to take up a certain practice, regardless of which order I give to WT and OT, I cannot one day decide to not do that practice, as that would be violating the level of observance that I have accepted on a personal level.

I also see how Ellis Rivkin and Yeshayahu Leibowitz share a strong kinship in terms of what Judaism and being Jewish is. This is a great comfort to me as I search for a way to reconcile within myself a Zionism that is based in Jewish Law and Tradition with a sense of something not being quite right with secular Zionism. But again I am forestalling the discussion 🙂

“In Leibowitz’s opinion, a need cannot possibly be a value since it is given, not chosen. Freedom of choice is not a value in its own right, but a condition of all valuation. It is something imposed, part of the human condition, not an end in itself. Autonomy does not commit one to any specific norms, not even “the Moral Law.” Hence there is nothing contradictory about the idea of autonomous commitment to a heteronomous system of rules.” (Introduction p. xv.)

I must say that I really don’t see any conflict or contradiction between an autonomous commitment and a heteronomous system of rules – such as halakha. After all, I still have to get up in the morning and put on my tzitzit, lay my tefillin and say my prayers. regardless of whether the decision to do so originates from within me or is imposed on me from without. Both require that I activate myself and move according to a religious imperative.


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