Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The force is strong with this one

A guest post by Y. Bloch 

I say this with a heavy heart, but I think... that I may have to defend... Cross-Currents.

Hush, now, I can hear your boos from the future. This latest controversy over the writings of Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber, yadin yadin, at has already been addressed on this site by DovBear and Mark Pelta, as well as by Rabbi E. Fink and others elsewhere. Still, I do feel the need to add my two cents, or rather fifty shekels.

About three weeks ago, David Staum posted here: "Devarim 22: a rapist required to marry his victim?" Currently, R. Farber is reworking his own approach to this passage, which originally appeared in his multitudinous survey (Part 4). Cross-Currents still has the original draft (in R. Avrohom Gordimer's "Torah Min-Hashamayim: A Reply to Rabbi Nati Helfgot") though, and it goes like this:

The Oral Torah explanation proffered by the rabbis, i.e. that all of the practices not found in the Bible were either told to Moses directly at Sinai or are derived from midrashic reading of text, does not even begin to realistically address the religious changes Judaism has gone through in a believable way.
Fine, fair enough. I have argued the same. There are certainly those on the right of Orthodoxy who would differ, but I'm with him so far. Then he goes on:
Prophecy does not come as a verbal revelation from God to the prophet, but as a tapping into the divine flow. Even while channeling the divine wrath against the injustice of the rape, the Deuteronomic prophet (i.e. the author of Deuteronomy) was still a human being, his scope remains limited by education and social context. The prophet could not reasonably be expected to work towards correcting faults he did not see. Nevertheless, the injustice of the rape and the consequences to the girl and her family were things that he could see. This is what he worked to correct.
The law of the rapist is actually an example of a human mind tapping into the divine flow—albeit in a way limited by his own societally determined biases…
OK, I guess my next question is this: is a prophet tapping into the divine flow more like George Lucas's Jedi (and Sith) using the Force or Mark Waid's Flashes using the Speed Force? Clearly, in R. Farber's formulation, a prophet can only be asked to address what he would have found objectionable without any interaction with God. I'm not trying to be flippant here; I really think that this approach fundamentally undermines the ultimate distillation of Judaism: God tells us to do stuff. As I read it (and please tell me if I'm wrong), this version of God does not have the authority of a night-shift manager at a fast-food franchise. He can only work through the biases of the prophet. Some troglodyte thought "Fire! Sabbath! Bad!"--and hey, it's in the Torah.

That's why, although I find much that is hypocritical, disingenuous and downright ignorant in what the Cross-Currents writers have voiced about this issue, I can hardly begrudge them the right to draw red lines. If you're "on the derekh," you must by definition have some idea of where the lines of that derekh lie.

Now, I too struggle with this passage, but I find the idea of "channeling the divine wrath against the injustice of the rape" through the muddy mind of a primitive prophet utterly unconvincing. Sorry, there's no divine wrath there that I can find, neither explicitly nor implicitly. That's because the Torah was given to a nation of Near East nomads. Honor killings are still happening widely in this region in the 21st century, and the idea of exonerating a (young) woman raped in wedlock or out is still revolutionary around here. So, the Written Torah gave us a law progressive for its time, the Oral Torah a law progressive for its time, and modern Judaism should give us the same. Yes, I believe that God gives us the commandments that challenge but do not undermine society.

This belief may well put me in the category of heretic for the Cross-Currents writing staff, but I'm willing to argue the point. I eagerly await R. Farber's final word on the matter as well.

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