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Archive for the ‘Halakha’ Category

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.


Posted in Faith, Halakha, Introduction, Litvak, normative, Yeshayahu Leibowitz | Leave a Comment »

The Introduction part 1

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on July 24, 2007

Reading Glasses

The Introduction to the Book is written by Eliezer Goldman.

I admit that I have difficulties getting all the finer points in Goldman’s Introduction to the Thinking of Leibowitz – I am not too familiar with the thinking of Kant on factual and normative. But I understand the meaning of the words, thanks to!

In philosophy, normative is usually contrasted with positive (i.e. descriptive) or explanatory when describing types of theories, beliefs, or propositions. Descriptive (or constative”) statements are falsifiable statements that attempt to describe reality. Normative statements, on the other hand, affirm how things should or ought to be, how to value them, which things are good or bad, which actions are right or wrong. It is only with David Hume in the 18th century that philosophers began to take cognizance of the logical difference between normative and descriptive statements and thinking, although Socrates had emphatically established it more than two thousand years before. There are several schools of thought regarding the status of normative statements and whether they can be rationally discussed or defended. Among these schools are the tradition of practical reason extending from Aristotle through Kant to Habermas, which asserts that they can, and the tradition of emotivism, which maintains that they are merely expressions of emotions and have no rational content. Normative statements and norms, as well as their meanings, are an integral part of human life. They are fundamental for prioritizing goals and organizing and planning thought, belief, emotion and action and are the basis of much ethical and political discourse.

You get that? I kind of do – normative is what we decide is the rule about something – regardless of whether it’s facts or not.

“Ultimately all normative obligations and value-imputations are dependent upon personal decision. A valuation may, of course, be justified in terms of already recognized values, but one’s ultimate values cannot be the subject of rational argument. Their validity for a person results from decision, not from recognition. Since Leibowitz regards religion as an exclusively normative domain and denies that Scripture was intended to be a body of information, this is as true of religious commitment as it is of all other basic life-values. Factual knowledge may be forced upon us by experience. There is nothing to compel one into acceptance of any ultimate value-commitments, including that of religious faith.” (introduction pp xiv-xv)

So religious faith is a choice. Well, I believed that already – though I wouldn’t have said it like that – I usually say it like this: “the existence of G-d cannot be proved nor disproved, so any belief based on the existence of G-d must be a matter of Faith.”

So what is religious faith according to Leibowitz? Leibowitz is Jewish (or was, as he died in 1994) so he is speaking about Judaism. To Leibowitz religious faith is the “Commitment to observance of Halakha as worshipful service of G-d”.

I like this – because it carries a thought I have had, often in discussion with more liberal Jews who complain about the rigidness of the Orthodox: “If it hadn’t been for the rigidness of the Orthodox there would have been no Judaism for you to claim!” Observance of the Mitzvot is the core of Judaism and what it means to be Jewish – in essence that is what makes one Jewish, and that observance is what has kept both the Jewish People and Judaism alive for more than 3000 years.

Posted in Aristotle, Faith, Halakha, Introduction, Kant, normative, Philosophy, Yeshayahu Leibowitz | 5 Comments »

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