Tuesday, March 21, 2006

1 Kings 19:10

"Gedolim that Time Forgot," a new series running over at my friend GH, is off to a good start, and I look forward to seeing how it develops. I was especially pleased to see that GH included Hasdai Crescas, the Aragonese philosopher who argued in Or Hashem, pace the Rambam, that our free will is quite limited. (Those of you following my ongoing debate with GH about the role of the soul, may understand how Crescas bolsters my position.)

My only problem with "Gedolim that Time Forgot" is that the premise might be too narrow.

As I understand it, GH is attempting to show that current Haredi thinking on science and history is not perfectly in line with the opinions of Jewish thinkers of the past. (Samson Rephael Hirsh's acceptance of evolution is one example)

But what about current Haredi thinking on ethics and social justice? Sure it's a scandal, if Moishe Chaim Pupchik thinks that the 5000-year-old universe is essential to Judaism, but isn't it also a scandal if he thinks Judaism has nothing to say about how we treat each other?

Let me put it this way: what was it about the Slifkin affair that destroyed our confidence in the Haredim? Was it their ignorance of science, or their blind reliance on unscrupulous kanoim? The fact that people who should know better ignored the writings of a few obscure Sages, or the fact that people who should know better treated R' Slifkin like a criminal, and used their power to defame him? Was it ideas, or actions?

Actions, I say, and for this reason I am proposing a companion series: The Prophets that Time Forgot.

Our first inductees:
  • Isaiah who (per Makos 24A) told people to focus on just six commandments: (1) Walk in righteousness, (2) speak uprightly, (3) despise undeserved advantages, (4) accept no bribes (5) believe no rumors and (6) tolerate no evil
  • Michah, who (ibid) reduced it to three: (1) do justice (2) love kindness, and (3) walk humbly before God.
  • Zechariah, who (7:8-10) told us the basic commandments were "truth, social justice, helping the poor and needy, and thinking kindly of one's neighbor."
  • Jonah, who reminds us that God's mercy extends to us all -Jews and non-Jews alike - in ways that we can't fathom.
And because no DovBear post would be complete without it, let's close this post with a sorely-needed lesson for the GOP Jews. If you on the political right wing of Orthodox Judaism could come down to earth, get over your obsessions with abortion, homosexuality, male dominance, evolution, taxes, and the age of the universe—obsessions that most American Jews do not share—and concentrate on the social-justice and ethical teachings of the prophets and sages you could make enormous contributions toward helping to solve the myriad real problems facing humankind today.

Cross Currents, I am talking to you.