Monday, June 02, 2014

What "rational and historical" -- isn't

It's tiring to see people continue to misstate and misrepresent the rational/historical position.

For example, this:
"Someone once asked Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l the following question; If I stay up on Leil Shavuos to learn, I will be exhausted for the entire chag and it will prevent me from learning properly. Is it better for me to go to sleep as usual rather than stay awake?
How might you have answered the question? Perhaps, if you were into being totally rational and historical you could have said as follows. The 'custom” of staying awake on Leil Shavuos is only about 500 years old. None of the Rishonim practiced it. It's not found in the gemara. The story that lead to it, involving the Ari and Rav Yosef Karo is hard to understand and believe. Thus, if you will lose more learning than you will gain, go to sleep as usual. 

That's called being "being totally rational and historical?"

Why is it "rational and historical" to discount, discredit and dismiss a custom that is several centuries old, and provides meaning and significance to countless people? Its not "rational and historical" to write a real practice out of existence. Its not "rational and historical" to pretend something doesn't exist. The "rational and historical" approach doesn't ask you to discontinue meaningful practices, nor does it ask you to stand at distance from the community. It simply asks (demands?) that you recognize and acknowledge the truth about how things originate and develop.

There's this nonsense idea that being rational and historical requires deconstructing and discontinuing cherished beliefs so that Judaism is stripped of all that makes it magical and mysterious. But a "rational and historical" approach does nothing of the sort. A "rational and historical" approach to the practice of learning on shavuot night only requires you to be honest about how we ended up with the custom. The "rational and historical" approach doesn't say anything about dropping or continuing it. More importantly, it doesn't attempt to de-legitimize the way you happen to feel about the custom.


Who is the perpetrator? Is it the enemies of the rational approach who are falsely suggesting that rationalists want to drop all meaning from Judaism? Or are there actual (so called) rationalists out there who are foolishly forgetting that personal meaning and personal significance are both things a rationalist approach needs to take into account?

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