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16.6.13

The issue here is that the Conservative and Reform Movement have left the works of Musar and Medieval Jewish ethics in the hands of the Orthodox. This has given the Orthodox a monopoly in defining what Musar says. This was a bad mistake.

I would like to argue for a renewal of the idea of Israel Salanter about having a small Beit Midrash in every city for the sake of the study of Musar-Jewish Ethics.

But I am going to do this in such a roundabout way that it might not be obvious what I am advocating.



This one word made everything clear to me, but I realize it might not for people reading this blog.
So I will elaborate.

Classical Torah Theory as developed rigorously by Maimonides and the other Jewish thinkers of the Middles Ages is different in Orthodox Torah Theory. The area of difference is in Meta Ethics.

Orthodox Judaism today does not seem to have one theory of Morality but many. It slides between these theories seemingly almost at random.,- according to perceived interest of the group. The way it slides is by supposing that the many conflicting approaches do not conflict. But for lack of time I will not go into this right now.


 [To say things are good because God commands them means that mitzvot are arbitrary conventions established by God for no rhythm or reason. If so the Torah is not good. It is arbitrary]  Or because God is stronger than us and can punish  us if he wants to. Or that it is in our nature  But it is far from clear that we ought always to act in accordance with our nature. Suppose it were discovered that I (an aggressive male) am naturally adapted to fighting other people. I presume it will be granted that such a nature is possible--I could, for example, have naturally quick reflexes, physical strength, and an innate bloodlust; I might even have a naturally fearsome visage, suited to intimidating my opponents. Would it follow from this that I ought now to go out and attack people physically?





Now what I want to ask about this situation is, would Nazism be a good form of government, or would it still be bad? Surely this would be a case of establishing Halacha conventions according to which  Nazism  is good, if there were any such thing?  Yet here Nazism  would still be just as bad as it always was. The fact that something is generally practiced, obviously, does not make it right; that is why it always makes sense to doubt whether current practices are right. It always makes sense to try to establish better conventions, to find conventions good or bad, and so on, which it could not make sense if there were no possible standard of value independent of the conventions themselves.


On the other hand Classical Torah Theory as developed by Maimonides and Saadia Gaon [Ibn Ezra and many other Jewish thinkers from the Middle Ages] is very well grounded.
Their justification of Torah Morality is based on Aristotle and Plato. Saadia Gaon and Maimonides are from the Neo Platonic school (see chapters 3 and 4 from Emunot And Deot) and Ibn Ezra from  Platonism.
Whether in Plato or Aristotle Morality is objective and that is how the Medieval Thinkers understood the Torah to mean. as opposed to Orthodox Judaism today.  What I mean by  "objective" is that their truth does not depend on beliefs, feelings, or other attitudes of observers towards the things evaluated. This provides a reasonable interpretation of the notion of the objectivity of ethics. Assuming the correspondence theory of truth, this view entails values being 'part of reality' or 'part of objective reality.'

The issue here is that the Conservative and Reform Movement have left the works of Musar and Medieval Jewish ethics in the hands of the Orthodox. This has given the Orthodox a monopoly in defining what Musar says. This was a bad mistake.

But The Orthodox are right that morality in the area between man and man is not all what Torah is about.
There is the numinous aspect also. And in fact without this between God and Man aspect it is doubtful how far the moral aspect can go.
This is because as Israel Salanter noted many times we humans can only do good and act decently from a religious motivation., not from a moral motivation.