Sunday, July 23, 2006

Judaism, Who Needs It? Part 1

I wanted to share an interesting article about Judaism that I found. I think this article is a good place to start for anyone who is interested in developing a rational and modern approach to Judaism. I will post the first part now and later I will post part two. You can find the original at Atzor Kan Choshvim

1. Religion and Particularly Judaism Serving Ethics

The ethical is the primary value that centers on that which is – Being. It is expressed in practicing the truth for its own sake. That value and its expression are the components of moral goodness.

The ethical value pertains to the unity of a cosmic harmony of (1) the self, (2) the social group and (3) the totality of things insofar as human choice is concerned.

Morality is prompted neither by fear, blind obedience and social brainwashing nor by seeking health, prosperity and social approval. A deed is ethical only to the extent that it is motivated by a choice to love truth in itself. In fact, the morality of any act is impugned as soon as it is motivated by the prospect of reward. In religion, the gain of comfort is considered a reward for the moral effort, but should not be its precondition.

The highest principles of ethics are an integrate part of any religion, culture and ethical system. The gods are the ultimate guardians of moral behavior not enforceable by external authorities, since only a god's gaze penetrates the most secret recesses of the mind and heart.

The Torah is the constitutive principle of Jewish peoplehood in contrast to the machinery of state. Therefore its primary authority does not stem from the collective force which the people bear upon the individual, but from the will of god, which the people mediates for the individual. The morally healthy do not view god's will, as one of a mighty potentate who intimidates into obedience, but as one that expresses the principle of righteousness conceived in terms of unity, which ideologically and practically guide human life.

The Torah narrative unfolds the panorama of creation and the spread of mankind and indicates Israel's place in that panorama. Thus besides instructing its laws, The Torah conveys an orientation that ought to motivate man's loyalty to his people and love of his god, which shall arouse his eagerness to perform god's [Being's] universal ethical will as revealed in god's Toraic code.

The Torah law expresses the basic idea of channelling [god-given] power into moral law [god's will] and not into human whims. This is the meaning of a 'holy people'.

Judaism is unique in the high level philosophical basis and in the encompassing scope of its moral code, which create an atmosphere of constant furtherance of the ethical ideal.

To cite a few examples:
- The Jewish god's name is Being –the absolute- not a power within existence.
- The Jewish god's claim to allegiance and obedience is based on his having redeemed his people from bondage to a tyrant.
- Judaism demands of its entire population to set aside one day out of seven in which production is banned and only consumption is allowed, as a testimony to its allegiance to its god.
- Judaism has elevated the value of intensive Torah [its ideology and constitution] study for all age, gender and class groups.
- In Judaism, self-criticism came to be an ethical requirement or expectation.
- Certain civilizations tend to regard the physical hungers as man's chief moral stumbling block. This has been especially true in relation to the entangled blinding sex hunger. Judaism [through its prophets] views the field of human relations as the area most in need of being brought within the dimension of moral law. Only to the extent that human relations are implicated in the physical hungers, do they become subject to moral law.
- Judaism has a better external credibility as it claims that its revelation has been witnessed by a whole nation not merely reported by an individual.

2. Judaism Serving Ethics versus Philosophy

The Jewish people clung desperately to its group life despite the cruelest blows it suffered. It managed to survive by virtue of its confidence in its way of life as the one to bring salvation to mankind. The Jewish people regarded themselves as bound together by a common destiny, despite the fact that they lived in dispersion far beyond the borders of their own land. Noting the inner sense of security that Judaism afforded its adherents, many Gentiles joined the Jewish people. At that stage of human development, philosophic thinking had destroyed the confidence in the human capability to differentiate between right and wrong. Only super-natural revelation could restore it. Judaism's ardent conviction that the only true god had revealed the only true way of life to the Jews restored that confidence. By affirming the oneness of its god and prohibiting the worship of him under any conceivable image, Judaism was able to hold its own against the philosophies of the day. This rendered its teachings acceptable to the sophisticated as well as to the unlettered.

The Greek Stoics enunciated the concept of duty as stemming from the consciousness of 'ought', which reflects the ethical value. The Stoics became, however, private chaplains of the well-to-do, forgetting the underprivileged that constituted the bulk of the population. For the many rootless people, transported and sold into slavery, the intellectualized ethics of the philosophic schools had no message.

Humans normally experience the moral law as being autonomous from gain, as an intuition. In order to withstand the loss of moral intuition to moral nihilism, an extraordinary reassertion of one's will to live rightly is required. Judaism has provided man and especially its adherents with the necessary reassertion to choose moral intuition over moral nihilism [whether the hedonist nihilism which declares pleasure as the only criterion of the good or the more dangerous fascist nihilism which declares power over other's lives as the only criterion of the good]. Thus, the fact that Judaism regarded the moral intuition as divinely revealed, accomplished for the Western civilization what no individual thinker or school of philosophers did.

The brilliance with which the significant points of the Torah narratives are highlighted has probably done more to foster a rationale for ethical attitudes and conduct, than all the systematic thinking of the philosophers.

Also, the Torah laws have provided the actual experiencing of the moral intuition in the give-and-take of human intercourse. It thus motivated the moral intuition and channelled out for it the proper laws, customs and moral standards, more than any intellectual speculation concerning the ethical ideal.


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