Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Introducing the DovBear Dialogues

DovBear is one of the only blogs where kofrim and maamin talk to each other without moderation or interference. Now we're stepping it up. Beginning today, I plan to post a series of conversations between members of the DovBear community who sit on opposite sides of the issues. Our first two participants are Little Foxling and Chaim G. The first letter, written by Chaim F, follows. LF's reply will be posted tomorrow, and the correspondence will continue until we keel over from boredom or one of them switches sides:

September 3, 2007

Dear Little Foxling,

As you have taken up residence as the in-house kofer at the blog of our gracious (and mightily conflicted) host DovBear I’d like to share an idea as a ma’amin that I have found to be compelling. If you, DovBear and/or others find it so I will be blessed.

וְזֶה-הָיָה חֶלְקִי, מִכָּל-עֲמָלִי.

Let me preface the idea by saying that IMO the existence of G-d, the historicity of TMS and many of the other ikrei HaDas cannot be proven empirically. To borrow idioms from the two O J Simpson trials, while I believe that the “preponderance of evidence” points to the truth of much of our religious dogma there are no proofs “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Among other reasons I believe this is so because to say otherwise would rob us of our exercise of free will in believing them and hence of their identity as Mitzvahs.

Still, among the observable phenomena that strengthen my emunah is the tzidkus and superlative decency of much of Torah Observant Jewry and especially of the Gedolim that it has been my privilege to interact with “up close and personal”.

Borrowing from Linus (of “Peanuts”) Rabbi Berel Wein famously (IMO infamously) said “I love Judaism…its Jews that I can’t stand”. This was probably the arch observation of a pulpit Rabbi embittered by too many decades of rough-and-tumble Shul politics. In reality nothing could be further from the truth. For me the sages and Tzadikim produced by the Torah’s system are proof positive of the Torah’s divinity.

For the sake of contrast; while Christianity and Socialism both sound good on paper the former gave us (by us I mean humanity not only Jewry) the crusades, the inquisition forced conversion and pillaging of indigenous populations and many centuries of nearly uninterrupted war and sectarian bloodshed while the latter gave us the Gulags, suppression and oppression of indigenous populations, the Doctors trials, the Cultural revolution and the Killing Fields.

Torah Judaism sounds pretty harsh and even obtuse on paper. What with Khukim like Shatnez and Parah Adumah where’s the intellectual rigor, reason and rationale? And with a “Jealous angry G-d” and mitzvahs involving slavery, polygamy, arranged marriages, cruel and unusual (by constitutional standards) capital punishment and genocide where’s’ the high moral/ethical plateau? Yet Torah Judaism produced the high moral ethical plateaus and brilliant works of genius of Yeshaya, Hillel, Rebbe Akiva the Rambam, Rebee Akiva Eger and the Chofetz Chaim. The proof, as the old saw goes, is in the pudding.

You’re probably saying that this is only so because Jews have been landless and out of power for well over two thousand years and that given the kind of land and power that Christendom and the caliphates had would’ve evolved into something as dumb and ruthless. I think that the relative benign nature of the state of Israel (if not raishit tzmikhat geulatenu then at the very least an outgrowth of national yearnings grounded in Torah Judaism) belies this. Furthermore I say “so what”? There are no historical accidents. G-d the Lawgiver is one-and-the-same as G-d-the-puppet master-of-history. There are no alternative histories. G-d orchestrated history such that His am hanivkhar whom He chose from among all nations to receive and live by His Torah contributed great good and did miniscule damage.

Lest you accuse me of buying into Thomas Carlyle’s now discredited “Great Man Theory” let me disabuse you of this by saying that I find much sublime divinity in rank and file Jews. From the parents of large demanding families and from founders and members of various Bikur Cholims to those of Zakah, Hatzalah, Dor Yeshorim and countless G’makhs I’ve found people who don’t just talk the talk but walk the walk of living selfless lives. In the yawning bone-weary participants of daf-yomi shiurim, father-son-learning programs, Yarchei Kallahs, SEED programs kollelei boker and kollelei erev I’ve discerned an unparalleled dedication to learning for its own sake and not for how it translates into a lucrative career or social climbing.

I’ve been privileged to hear lectures delivered by RYBS and to see Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz cry at the funeral of a young sun stroke victim as if he’d lost an only son. I’ve been extended weeklong hachnosas orchim by complete strangers and seen Yeshiva bochurim volunteer to change the pus soaked bandages of street people. Yes, the hagiographical fluff pieces that have become the norm in Gedolim Biographies must be read with a grain of salt. (Still, consider the fact that they’re not exaggerating stories like that about you and me!). But the pristine midos and intellectual genius of living breathing exemplars of Torah scholarship and mitzvah observance cannot be denied… even by a denier.

Chaim G.
The Bray of Fundie

[DB: How do I set up peekaboo posts? Anyone know? Thanks]

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