What is Orthodox Judaism? Rabbi Asher Lopatin

Morethodoxy is one week old – Mazel tov! It’s time to talk tachlish: What do I think Orthodox Judaism is all about? This is a two-parter so if you read Part I today, please don’t give up on part II next Monday:

Five Pillars of Orthodox Judaism distilled by Rabbi Asher Lopatin
1) Torah Mi Sinai – Torah from Sinai – Both the Oral and Written Tradition come from God and were revealed to the Jewish people at Sinai. In contrast to the great Conservative halachist, Rabbi Joel Roth, who says, “the halackic tradition is the given, and theology is required to fall into place behind it,” I believe our halachik tradition needs to be driven by theology in order to keep Judaism alive and infinite, rather than ossified and limited. We need to start with this awe of the Torah and Talmud coming from God and being infinite and deserving infinite reverence, placing ourselves humbly below it, and only then establishing ownership of it, and making it our “plaything” as King David says in Psalms. Only when a couple accepts Kiddushin (betrothal) can they become intimate with each other, and our rabbis compare Matan Torah (Receiving the Torah ) to Kiddushin. Only if you feel the Torah is your God-given partner can you then become intimate with it; then you can really feel you are so connected to it that you can make a conjecture as to what it is thinking; then you can trust your instincts in interpreting it and its 3500 year tradition. This theology and intimacy leads to the second pillar:
2) 2) Chidush MiSinai – Innovation from Sinai –New understandings and innovative interpretations come if you really believe the Torah is Divine and infinite and, thus, can be interpreted into an infinite amount of ways. If you are truly “chared” – fearful, awestruck – of the “d’var Hashem” – the word of God – then you can never have the audacity, the chutzpa, to believe that you or any human being can truly know what it means. You can never say something is “clear from the Torah”. How can the Divine word of God, communicated to mere mortals, ever be “clear” or easy to understand, or “obvious”? However, any new interpretation must be processed and examined through the traditions of p’sak (rulings) of the last 2000 years, and that interpretation must follow the Talmud. So we may re-read the Talmud in a totally different way without changing the eternal Torah of God that the Talmud represents. Our rereading will be debated, will be resisted and challenged, but, ultimately, if it is a real interpretation of the Talmud – as far as can be humanly established – and it fits into the understanding of Rishonim (Medieval authorities) and the subsequent authorities, it will become part of “halacha l’Moshe Misinai” – the Halacha that was understood to have been given to Moshe at Sinai, even if Moshe never understood it the way someone in the 21st century correctly understands the word of God. Innovation comes from the dialectic of ideas and thoughts from the world around us and our allegiance to Torah, the eternal, infinite word of God. Within this dialectic, chidushim, innovative ways of understanding our Torah and tradition, arise in every generation.


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