Monday, May 16, 2005

On Judaism and Absolutes

From the Times review of "The Revenge of the Sith"
"This is how liberty dies - to thunderous applause," Padmé observes as senators, their fears and dreams of glory deftly manipulated by Palpatine, vote to give him sweeping new powers. "Revenge of the Sith" is about how a republic dismantles its own democratic principles, about how politics becomes militarized, about how a Manichaean ideology undermines the rational exercise of power. Mr. Lucas is clearly jabbing his light saber in the direction of some real-world political leaders. At one point, Darth Vader, already deep in the thrall of the dark side and echoing the words of George W. Bush, hisses at Obi-Wan, "If you're not with me, you're my enemy." Obi-Wan's response is likely to surface as a bumper sticker during the next election campaign: "Only a Sith thinks in absolutes."
And what about Jews? Must Jews think in absolutes? Though the pious frauds who pose as our spiritual and community leaders say we do, the happy truth is this: Pluralism is hard-wired into Judaism.

Some examples:

(1) The talmud says, in Chagiga, that the teachings of Rabbi Meir were not repeated in the heavenly court; first he had to be exonerated, on earth, of the sin of studying with the heretic Elisha ben Avuya.

(2) In Baba Metziah, we're told that the sages ignored a heavenly directive and ruled against Rabbi Eliezer. Later, the prophet Elijah told R. Natan that when this ruling was issued, God danced, laughing, "My children have defeated me."

I ask you: How can you subscribe to absolutes, if even the heavenly court can be defeated and over-ruled by the subjective and falliable judgements of mortals?