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Running on Jewish Time

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Learning to Walk

[Note: In the midst of reading One People, Two Worlds by Hirsch and Reinman, a interchange between a Reform and Orthodox Rabbi, respectively. Any book in cherem by definition is worth reading ]

Hirsch alternately is deeply appealing and downright infuriating. His moving paens to Jewish unity and brotherly love are well written and relavent. But his theological arguments and discriptions of his position are wide ranging and poetical, bearing greater resemblance to a popular author's discription of quantum mechanics to the actual math and measurment that is Jewish thought.

The whole Reform position strikes me as one who would wish to run before he can walk. The attempt to extract wide ranging universal philosphilical insights before he has studied deeply logic or the nature of man. Of one who would build brigde the Hudson and ends up painting the Japanese Footbrigde. Beautiful, insightful but will not be supporting any major traffic anytime soon. Of one who would wants the results without ever doing the work.

In my own personal studies, it is a perpetual struggle to learn the actual material on the page. It is far easier to extract some similar peice from my mental library and impose on the pasuk, the ma'mar, and stretch here and there until it fits. But then I have learned nothing new and distorted that which I have learnt.

How can an answer be given if the question is not known yet? But to find the questions requires effort and the willingness to acknowledge ignorance and find uncertainty.

"What does the pasuk say?"

The simplest, most elementary question posed to every six year old in an Orthodox school. Translate and ask questions, like a perpetual Haggadah, the whole Torah is there to make the children ask, to make the adults ask again.

Love thy neighbor as thyself

What is 'Love'? Who is the 'neighbor'? Does 'as' mean 'as much as', 'equal to', 'except when he gets in my way'? How can emotions be dictated? and so on.

Before these questions are answered, all deep seated, beautifully composed sentiments on the love of humanity are facile and moreover, ignorant. It is like attempting to praise a man, having only seen his face and never spoken to him.

The infuriating aspect of Hirsch is precisely that he formulates profound thoughts without through aquaitence with his basic material. Without ever pausing on the question of 'What does it mean' before rushing to the issue of 'How do we understand it.' The onus is not on the Torah to be relavent to our lives but on us to work and labor is comprehend its... His intention not our interpretation.

This is the mismatch between Reinman and Hirsch. In some ways the disscusion bears more similarity to a phyicist and writer dicussing the nature of reality. One is explaining the world from first principles, is absorbed in the comprehension and detailed explaination of all sort of phenomena, large and minute. The other wishes to draw the world in broad strokes, a image to be redraw and reinterpreted with every change of light.

My bias is obvious. I have learnt that all the grand flourishes and phrases in the world cannot redeem an idea which simply contradicts the material it is based on. That the feet must be firm on the ground before building castles in the air. This is the one and truely only superiority that Orthodoxy can claim. That we are persistant in our attempt to understand and follow the whole Torah, not merely that which is 'relevant'.

A person who will not reconcile the meaning of the pleasent verses with the brutal ones and discarding the latter, is not interperting Torah, or explaining it, he is eviscerating it.

And it is this gutted and dried wisdom which is taught. Can anyone wonder that those who are taught how to fly without ever learning to walk, often find themselves tiring of their heights and landing on the ground, only to find themselves, crippled with their borrowed wings broken and no means of building new ones, no way to walk, no halacha.

Learning to walk is hard, is unromantic, opens the world one laborious step at a time but it is the only way to journey across this narrow bridge of life.


  • It is an excellent book.

    Like you, I certainly came in with a bias, but I found that one seemed to be a lot of talk (eloquent talk, but that's all it was...), while the other had clarity.

    Worthwhile read, if a bit saddening.

    By Blogger TRW, at 7:58 PM, February 19, 2006  

  • Well written..

    To me it comes down to...
    Religion = Beauty
    Religion = Truth = Beauty

    By Blogger David_on_the_Lake, at 9:52 PM, February 19, 2006  

  • Didn't read it and after reading your post I don't think I'll try to.
    I gather the reform guy can only say the equivalent of "if we only love everbody than everything will be perfect".
    As you wrote, walk than fly!

    By Blogger Pragmatician, at 9:04 AM, February 20, 2006  

  • This is a great post. I have to say that you are amazingly smart. I have not read the book but after reading this post I think I might.

    prag: If the entire message of the reform movement was to love everybody, and if they were honestly living what they preached, I cannot say that the entire thing would not look appealing to me. Perhaps then I would have something which seems to be lacking in our community. I will shoot your advice back at you; don't love everybody, demanding that is demanding that you fly before you walk. Maybe try to love other Jews-no matter what they do. This is walking, and you have just shown that you cannot even crawl.

    By Blogger araya(uh-ray-uh), at 5:43 PM, February 20, 2006  

  • TRW-
    It seems that long-windedness is half of eloquence

    excellent student of keats, i see

    Actually I think it's a worthwhile read, despite the fact because it is a beautifull illustration of the mismatch between the orthodox and reform perspectives and it illuminates several issues that otherwise might be ignored.

    Thank you.
    I agree that a religous path with would enable complete love holds deep temptation for me. But as a good friend reminded me tonight, Rav Nachman says, do talk about it, act as if you believe it.

    so don't talk about love, act as if you love

    By Blogger Masmida, at 11:49 PM, February 20, 2006  

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