The God Who Hates Lies
Confronting & Rethinking Jewish Tradition
By David Hartman with Charlie Buckholtz
Jewish Lights Publishing, 2011, 192 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - August 23, 2011
David Hartman points out that Modern Orthodox Judaism has in many respects been frozen in suspended animation, refusing to budge and grow despite moral imperatives and logic, resulting in many people being harmed. A prime example of this phenomenon is the failure of Modern Orthodox leaders to address the problem of the aguna, the wife whose husband refuses to give her a Jewish divorce. The rabbis refuse to resolve this problem because of an ancient, now no longer true, presumption about women. I describe this issue, which deserves extensive discussion in an article about what Hartman considers "Rabbi Soloveitchik's Mistake," which can be found, among other sites, in my website at www.booksnthoughts.com.
The reason for the stultification of Judaism is the commitment of leading Orthodox rabbis to now outdated presumptions about human nature and their refusal to recognize the right of modern rabbis to develop creative solutions to modern problems. Jews, they insist, must accept illogical commands based, as Rabbi Soloveitchik claims, borrowing a phrase from the nineteenth century Protestant Soren Kierkegaard, on a "leap of faith."
The yeshiva world seems to worship halakha, the Jewish legal system, rather than God. While the Torah teaches love of neighbor and even stresses love of a stranger 36 times, these rabbis focus on halakha. They teach that Jews must realize that generations decline in intellect. The further Jews are removed from Mount Sinai the weaker their intellect is and the less able they are to know the truth. Thus Jews dare not reject the views of former rabbis, and must unthinkingly accept what they say.
Thus a Russian immigrant to Israel who always thought he was Jewish and who followed Jewish law, who served in the Israeli army as a commander, who was killed defending his country, Israel, was refused permission to be buried in a Jewish cemetery because some rabbi discovered that his grandmother was not Jewish. The rabbis apparently didn't consider the Torah mandates of love, respect, and thankfulness. Thus a middle aged Jewish man whose family tradition was that he is a kohein, a priest, a descendant of Aaron, Moses' brother, was refused permission to marry the woman he loved, who had long ago converted to Judaism, because of the ancient rule that a kohein cannot marry a convert.
Thus, yeshivas and many synagogues refuse to allow the Torah commentary of Rabbi Joseph Hertz in their building and even toss it on the floor yelling treff, "unkosher," simply because it contains the views of non-Jewish scholars along with those of traditional commentators. Some of these misguided people did the same to the books of Moses Maimonides for the same reason. Hartman points out, as did Maimonides, that the truth is the truth no matter what its source and "without a grasp of the worlds of Christian and Muslim…out of which (the Jewish) commentators emerged, it was impossible (for rabbis and students) to fully understand their interpretations and halakhic verdicts."
Thus women are still excluded from many Jewish practices. Hartman asks, "Could I worship a God who considered half of the Jewish community to be not fully human and responsible?"
Hartman states that the rabbis who hold these views generally acknowledge "the gender discrepancy within traditional Judaism, (but then claim) that the discrepancy actually favors women." Some say that women don't need the commands; they lack the baser instincts that men have; and, therefore, men need the biblical commands to keep "them off the streets." The rabbis argue that, as stated in Genesis, women were created as a helper to men. She was meant to be servile, "subservient to his (her husband's) will."As disturbing as these views are, it is even more disturbing to note that many women have been brain washed to believe such notions. Who is guilty if these halakhot are violated – the Russian soldier, the kohein, the woman, the aguna - or the rabbis who have an opportunity to treat people properly and refuse to do so?
Hartman notes that: "For Maimonides, halakha plays an important, but secondary, role in the religious process, its function is to create the conditions of individual and social character optimal" for growth. He writes: "We find within halakhic history divergent attitudes…based on distinct theological conceptions of God, covenant, and the nature of the soul. The choice of which of these attitudes to emphasize as we create our own halakhic history is in our hands." Differences of opinion should be respected, but not when people are harmed. Will we allow certain views of halakha to stifle our growth and the rights of every human being?