USC HIST 101g - 13615801-Rav-Soloveitchik-The-Common-sense-Rebellion-Against-Torah-Authority (6 pages)

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13615801-Rav-Soloveitchik-The-Common-sense-Rebellion-Against-Torah-Authority



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13615801-Rav-Soloveitchik-The-Common-sense-Rebellion-Against-Torah-Authority

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University of Southern California
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Hist 101g - The Ancient World
The Ancient World Documents
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THE COMMON SENSE REBELLION AGAINST TORAH AUTHORITY By Rav Yosef Soloveitchik Jews defer only to recognized Torah scholars in the interpretation of Jewish Law Today many individuals claim the right to exercise their own common sense in determining the relevance and format of contemporary Judaism despite the fact that they are hardly Biblical and Talmudic scholars Synagogue ritual committees and popular magazine articles debate the continued usefulness of various religious practices and explore the possibilities of reformulating Judaism in line with modem thought These self styled poskim concede their lack of formal training in Jewish texts and sources but they insist nonetheless on their right to decide fundamental religious questions on the basis of common sense This is not a recent phenomenon It dates back to the earliest period of Jewish history To the very generation which received the Torah at Mt Sinai Not very long after that event the Torah Num Chap 16 relates Korah led a rebellion against Moses and Hazal imply that he sought to replace Moses as the teacher and leader of Israel Korah publicly challenged the halakhic competency of Moses and ridiculed his interpretations of Jewish law as being contrary to elementary reason Citing the Tanhuma Rashi records the following clever ploy of Korah What did he do He assembled two hundred and fifty distinguished men and women and he attired them in robes of pure blue wool They came and stood before Moses and said to him Does a garment that is entirely blue still require tzitzit or is it exempt Moses replied that it did require tzitzit Whereupon they began to jeer at him Is that logical A robe of any other color fulfills the tzitzit requirement merely by having one of its threads blue Surely a garment which is entirely blue should not require an additional blue thread Rashi Num 16 I Likewise the Midrash tells us of another provocation Does a house which is filled with Torah scrolls still require a mezuzah on its doorpost Korah asked Moses replied in the affirmative Korah retorted If one brief section of the Torah placed inside the mezuzah the Shema and vehayah im shamo a satisfies the mitzvah requirement most certainly a multitude of scrolls which contain many portions should Such halakhic decisions do not emanate from God but are fabrications Num R 18 Korah insisted that to require a mezuzah under such circumstances violated elementary logic Korah s Rationale Korah was a demagogue motivated by selfish ambitions His antagonism began when Aaron and his family were elevated to the priesthood while the Levites among whom Korah was prominent were relegated to mere assistants of the Kohanim Now we know that every rebellion against authority needs an ideology to arouse the fervor of the people and sustain its momentum It needs a slogan or a motto which projects a noble ideal to replace the intolerable status quo The rallying cry which Korah chose was common sense He proclaimed that all reasonable people have the right to interpret Jewish law according to their best understanding For all the community are holy Num 16 3 In down to earth logic the lowliest woodcutter is the equal of Moses This appeal to populism evokes considerable support because it promises freedom from centralized authority it flatters the people s common intelligence and it approves the right of each Jew or group of Jews to follow their own individual judgment The Midrash describes how Korah propagandized his cause Korah went about all that night to mislead the Israelites He said to them What do you suppose that I am working to obtain greatness for myself I desire that we should all enjoy greatness in rotation Num R 18 Korah was an intelligent man pike ah hayah Rashi ibid v 7 He would certainly concede that there were specialized fields in which only experts who have studied extensively over many years are entitled to be recognized as authorities The intrusion of common sense judgments in these areas by unlearned laymen would be both presumptuous and misleading Korah would not have dared to interfere with Bezalel s architectural and engineering expertise in the construction of the Tabernacle the Mishkan because construction skills were dearly beyond his competence Today reasonable people concede the authority of mathematicians physicists and physicians in their areas of expertise and would not think of challenging them merely on the basis of common sense Why then are so many well intentioned people ready to question the authority of the Torah scholar the lamdan in his area of specialized knowledge Korah s rationale can be understood more readily if we clarify three terms denoting the various levels of reason and intelligence The Torah says He has endowed Bezalel with a Divine spirit with knowledge hokhmah intellect binah and intelligence da at 6 Ex 35 31 Hokhmah refers to the specialized knowledge and scholarship which are acquired by extensive and detailed study Binah is the capacity to analyze to make distinctions to draw inferences and apply them to various situations When binah is combined with bokhmah we have the especially gifted and creative thinker Da at deals with common sense basic intelligence and sound practical judgment Korah s appeal to common sense in Judaism was basically a claim that only da at and not hokhmah is involved in the application of Halakhah He conceded that the legal aspects of Halakhah require expertise technical and academic But he maintained that there is also a psychological and emotional aspect in the practice of Halakhah and the observance of mitzvot In judging the utility relevance and beneficial effects of the mitzvot all intelligent people are qualified to render judgment on the basis of close and informed observation For this aspect he argued common sense human experience and basic judgment are the criteria And on this basis he challenged the authority of Moses Korah was committed to the doctrine of religious subjectivism which regards one s personal feelings as primary in the religious experience God requires the heart Rahmana liba ba i Sanh I 06b and it is in the mysterious recesses of his personality that man meets his Maker The mitzvot by contrast are physical acts which reflect the inner quest the hidden feelings of religious emotion The mitzvah is an external form of a spiritual experience each inner experience has its external correlate in the form of particular mitzvah performances On the basis of Korah s theory the mitzvah


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